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THE SITUATION ROOM

Roger Stone Associate in Plea Talks With Mueller; Trump Administration Releases Report on Climate Change; Trump Gets Political in Call to Troops; Interview With Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego; Doctors Take on NRA Over Gun Violence; Roger Stone Associate Negotiating with Mueller; Trump's Bizarre Thanksgiving Call to Troops Attracting Criticism; Trump Backs Saudi Claims on Khashoggi Murder. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 23, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Comey get it. The former FBI director tells Congress to come and get it, saying he will fight a subpoena from the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee. James Comey says he is willing to testify, but only if it is a public hearing. Why are Republicans trying to haul Comey before Congress just weeks before they lose control of the House?

And Trump's Festivus. President Trump engages in an off-the-rail conference call with troops and the news media, in which he seems more interested in airing of grievances than listening to service men and women, all before declaring he is thankful for himself.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

And we're following breaking news in the Russia investigation.

An associate of former Trump adviser Roger Stone says he is in talks to strike a plea bargain with special counsel Robert Mueller. Jerome Corsi has said publicly he expected to be indicted by Mueller for giving false information.

I will talk about that and more with the Congressman Ruben Gallego of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they are also standing by.

But, first, the breaking news on the Mueller investigation.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett is working that story for us.

Laura, what is the latest?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, Jerome Corsi, an associate of both President Trump and Roger Stone, confirming to CNN today that he is in plea negotiations with the special counsel's office. And while Corsi may not be a household name to most people, he could

provide an answer to one of the most significant open questions left in the Russia investigation: Did the president or his campaign have advanced knowledge that WikiLeaks would release those stolen e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign?

Well, how could Corsi speak to that? Well, he says he developed a theory, that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had access to the e- mails, and Corsi shared that theory, which turned out to be true, with Trump's confidant Roger Stone, something Stone denies vehemently.

And, today, he suggested Corsi is in over his head.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I'm unaware of any plea bargaining. I have no idea what this is about, other than to say that the assertion that Jerry Corsi knew in advance that John Podesta's e- mails had been obtained and would be published would be news to me.

But this idea that Jerry Corsi could implicate me, there's simply no evidence whatsoever.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

JARRETT: But this potential plea deal could all fall apart as just last week Corsi said he expected to be charged with lying to federal investigators or to the grand jury, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Laura, what thread could this pose to the president? I mean, this is sounding serious now.

JARRETT: Well, this is someone certainly in Trump's orbit. Apparently, they bonded over this birtherism lie about President Obama.

But the question is, how do you actually connect what Corsi to President Trump when it comes to WikiLeaks? That's always been the open question. You would think if he's cooperating, if he actually has a deal that's fleshed out like that, he's probably got something good, something that makes it worth prosecutors' while.

But we're going to really have to wait and see on that. And the question is, is this really a President Trump issue or is it a Roger Stone problem?

ACOSTA: Right. It'll be fascinating to see what Mueller's team has at this point.

All right, CNN's Laura Jarrett, thank you very much.

Tonight, a key House Democrats is vowing to hold President Trump accountable for siding with the Saudi crown prince over U.S. intelligence on the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in South Florida tonight, where the president is spending that Thanksgiving holiday weekend at the Mar-a-Lago resort.

Jeff, Congressman Adam Schiff says he plans to investigate this when he becomes the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, yet another investigation for House Democrats of the president.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jim. Good evening.

Even as the president is embracing the Saudi leadership more and more, he is learning that Adam Schiff and others are criticizing him, Democrats, Republicans, and even some world leaders.

But the president trying to get a break here on Thanksgiving weekend, spending some time on the golf course. But, as he's doing that, he's getting a fresh look and a fresh taste of what's to come in Washington in the new world order, when Democrats take over in January.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, the White House could be contending with another investigation, this time over President Trump's cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will say very strongly that it's a very important ally. And if we go by a certain standard, we won't be able to have allies with almost any country.

ZELENY: After the president contradicted the CIA's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi...

TRUMP: They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways, but they didn't -- I have the report. And you can ask -- you can ask, Mike. They have not concluded. Nobody's completed. I don't know if anyone's going to be able to conclude that the crown prince did it.

[18:05:01]

ZELENY: Congressman Adam Schiff, incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is now promising a deep dive, telling "The Washington Post": "We will certainly want to examine what the intelligence community knows about the murder."

The president is drawing new fire for repeatedly siding with Saudi leaders over the U.S. intelligence community.

TRUMP: I hate the crime. I hate what's done. I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this. The crown prince hates it more than I do.

ZELENY: Schiff said Democrats, after taking control of Congress in January, will explore any potential financial conflicts of interest between Trump and the Saudi kingdom. At the White House this week, the president denying any such ties.

TRUMP: I don't make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don't have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn't care less.

ZELENY: As the president spends the Thanksgiving holiday as his resort and golf course in Florida, he's fixated on immigration, tweeting today: "Republicans and Democrats must come together finally with a major border security package with will include funding for the wall."

The president even threatening to close the border with Mexico.

TRUMP: We find that it's -- it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control.

QUESTION: The entire border?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: The whole border. I mean the whole border.

ZELENY: Immigration was only one of several issues the president touched on during a Thanksgiving Day call with troops, meant to show support, but instead turning highly political and at times bizarre.

TRUMP: Large numbers of people are forming at our border. And I don't have to even ask you. I know what you want to do. You want to make sure that you know who we're letting in. And we're not letting in anybody, essentially, because we want to be very, very careful.

So you're right. You're doing it over there. We're doing it over here.

ZELENY: He overstated the urgency of caravan immigrants heading to the U.S.

TRUMP: We have a fencing and walls like very few people have. We been able to do it rather quickly, concertina wire -- concertina wire. And so many other things are there now that they didn't have.

ZELENY: That concertina wire strung by soldiers at the border illustrating the president's fixation on immigration.

He also used the call to rail against some federal judges.

TRUMP: We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side.

ZELENY: After spending Thanksgiving with his family at Mar-a-Lago, the president was asked what he's thankful for. His answer? Himself.

TRUMP: I have made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office, that you wouldn't believe it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: One other thing the president may be thankful for is Republican control of Congress. That, of course, is coming to an end in about a month or so. That is when there will be a whole new order in Washington, Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, of course.

The president getting an early taste today of what that may look like, Jim, so many investigation, so many other things, from the Trump finances to his policies to other matters. Even as he enjoys the rest of this holiday weekend here in South Florida, Democrats are getting ready -- Jim.

ACOSTA: They certainly are.

All right, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

President Trump is facing a backlash tonight after upending the traditional presidential Thanksgiving phone call to U.S. troops, injecting it with a heavy dose of politics and personal grievances.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the details on that.

And, Barbara, how unusual was the president's call? Because it seemed unusual to a lot of people.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jim, this was absolutely extraordinary.

If -- most Americans, I think, do realize in fact that this country is not structured on having a politicized military. This is a professional military force for the American people, for American interests and priorities and to defend the nation. The president is the commander in chief, but he is not politician in chief when it comes to being the commander of the U.S. military.

So what did President Trump do? He went right into his partisan political action agenda, as you and Jeff discussed, the border, the courts, all of the things that he wants to see happen on his political agenda.

Trade. He asked one of the troops he spoke to, how do they see trade in the Middle East? These are not issues that professional military personnel address. They are focused on their jobs defending the nation. In their capacity as military enlisted members or military officers, they are actually prohibited from getting into political agendas.

So what the president, as commander in chief did, he put his troops very much on the spot on a world stage.

ACOSTA: And, Barbara, when we saw that video earlier, you could tell that one of those service members who was on the phone did an admirable job of talking with the president. But, putting all that aside, the president has not visited the troops

in a war zone yet. He's coming under more and more criticism for this. It's something he says he will do soon. Is there a concern that he would turn such a trip into a political rally?

[18:10:05]

STARR: I think there is no answer but, yes, there is concern.

There's concern on the part of top commanders. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has never directly criticized the president ever. But he has said publicly, General Joe Dunford, now several times to remind the country that the military is apolitical.

And that's what they want to see the president do, if he goes to a war zone. If he goes to Kuwait, which is not exactly the front lines, the same issue. He comes out in front of a bunch of troops, they will applaud him. He is their commander in chief, but what will he do? There's a lot of concern he will see that visual, people applauding him, and he will simply launch into his political message.

I spoke to one person today here at the Pentagon who said, who is briefing him over at the White House? Why does he understand? And I think a lot of people feel that probably, if anybody is briefing him, he is just charging ahead and proceeding as he wishes to -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And not heeding that advice.

All right, CNN's Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us, and happy holidays.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Thank you.

ACOSTA: You're a veteran who served overseas in Iraq. So I want to get your thoughts on the president's phone call in just a moment.

But, first, let's talk about the big breaking news of the day, the latest in the Russia investigation. Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi says he's in negotiations with the special counsel's office.

Do you think Corsi's potential cooperation here could be a key break in the Mueller probe? What do you think of that?

GALLEGO: It could be. But, I mean, this goes back to the most important point about -- that has to happen right now, which is we need to protect the Mueller investigation.

The president needs to back off on all his pressure points, particularly acting A.G. Whitaker trying to undermine the investigation. And there's -- and at least the Senate should start by passing the bill that Senator Flake and a couple other Democratic senators have been trying to push to actually protect the investigation, since there's even more and more always being revealed.

ACOSTA: And what does that say to you, Roger Stone's response in all of this? He's been pretty outspoken, not on what may happen to him, but what's happening to Jerome Corsi right now.

GALLEGO: You can never trust anything comes up Roger Stone's mouth.

I think the most important thing we could do is have a thorough investigation at least done by Mueller, and, if not, by the House Intel Committee, a real one, not the sham one that was done by the Republicans in the last session, because, right now, there's so much up in the air that I think the American public deserve to have the truth. And we're not getting it right now.

ACOSTA: And does it look like the investigation is moving closer and closer to the president? Are the walls closing in, do you think, with this potential next shoe to drop with Jerome Corsi?

GALLEGO: Yes, I couldn't tell you. I don't have -- I am not privy to any information. That's because Mueller has been running such a professional investigation, that we hardly hear any leaks. We hardly hear any direction where this is going.

The most important thing that I want to do is to make sure that he's able to do his job in a professional manner without interference. And once he has issued his report, then I will actually make an opinion what the next steps are.

ACOSTA: All right, and let's talk about the politically charged Thanksgiving phone call. You just heard parts of it a few moments ago that President Trump held with U.S. troops serving overseas.

You served in the Marines in Iraq. What did you think about this partisan tone coming from the president? He was talking about the border. He was talking about the Ninth Circuit and so on. Is that kind of subject matter appropriate for a phone call between the president and the troops serving overseas?

GALLEGO: Certainly not.

But this is not the first time he's done that. He's actually slammed the press in front of our members of the military, which I think is very inappropriate, considering that we have to -- we are sworn to protect the Constitution, which -- meaning the First Amendment.

And, of course, these military members have to clap whether they agree or not. This is their commander in chief. To slam our Supreme Court justice also to our -- and in general our jurist system, I think, is also disgraceful.

He is breaking down a very strict line that goes back to the time of General George Washington, where our military is strictly apolitical. And I think that it's one of the many norms that this president has just started to ignore. And it's quite disgraceful that he did, especially on Thanksgiving.

ACOSTA: And Barbara Starr star was just talking about this a few moments ago.

Here we are, two years in the administration. The president still has not made a visit to troops in a war zone. I guess, first of all, do you believe that he should? And I guess the other factor in all of this as well, if he does go, might he engage in some of the same political rhetoric that he did yesterday?

GALLEGO: Well, I do you think he should go. Every president should go and visit our military members overseas, both whether they are in a war zone or whether they're not in a war zone, because we deserve -- and when I say we, as someone that was stationed in Iraq, we do deserve to see our leaders, whether they be members of Congress or our president.

I hope that he would be mature and not engage in that type of rhetoric while he was overseas, but it just isn't in him. The president doesn't understand the presidency is about the nation. It's not about his opportunity to get out his personal grievances.

[18:15:11]

And I hope that he will actually learn from the men and women that are overseas that this is about service over self.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you this.

The president, as he was taking questions from reporters after that call, the president falsely stated that the CIA had not come to a conclusion about the murder of "The Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

As you know, the intelligence community has determined with a high degree of confidence that the murder was ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman himself.

What message is the president sending, do you believe, when he seems to be siding with these autocrats over his own intelligence agencies?

GALLEGO: Well, it really says around the world is that the United States is for sale, both the country as a whole, if somehow you have a grasp on our economy, like the Saudis do when it comes to oil prices, and, number two, that the country is also for sale if the president has business with you.

We know the president does have business with Saudi Arabia. He bragged about it during the election. He has talked about it in the past. He conveniently has forgotten that, now denies it. And I think it really creates a scenario where we have a conflict of interest when it comes to the executive office.

This is why it's important that we do see the president's taxes. It's why it's important that our forefathers have decided that we should not have government -- I'm sorry -- presidents entangled in business with foreign agencies or foreign governments while they're serving in the White House. There's a reason this is all happening right now. And there's a

reason why we really need to get to the bottom where the -- who the president owes money to and who owes the president.

ACOSTA: Well, that leads me to my next question, which is, some Democrats -- we saw -- I think we saw this today -- Adam Schiff, the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, talking about some of this.

There are Democrats like yourself who want to use this newfound power in Congress when you take control of the House to investigate the president's financial ties to Saudi Arabia. There's also been talking about investigating his ties, financial ties, whatever he may have in Russia.

What do you -- what do you make of that? Do you support that effort to look into the president's financial ties to Saudi Arabia, in light of this decision that was made on Jamal Khashoggi?

GALLEGO: Absolutely.

We need to decide if the president's being bought or the president's being sold. Unfortunately, I wish it wasn't the Democrats who are doing this. I wish we had a partner in Republicans who had been in charge of the White House for the last -- I'm sorry -- in charge of Congress for the last two years.

They had the same capability. They had the same ability. This is why they have been voted out, at least in the House, because they have no accountability and no oversight over the president and a lot of his abuses.

But, at the end of the day, it's not just that I worry about this president, but I worry about future presidents, if they think that they can get away with this type of action. And also, if other countries around the world know that they can buy the United States, I'm afraid that it could quickly unravel the world order that we have established.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you very much for joining us. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, and happy holidays.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

ACOSTA: It was good talking to you.

GALLEGO: You, too.

ACOSTA: All right.

Now, just ahead, former FBI Director James Comey vowing to fight a subpoena from House Republicans for a private deposition. Will he get the public hearing that he wants?

Plus, breaking news -- a new report by government scientists just released and directly contradicting President Trump. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:57]

ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight: A U.S. government report on climate changes just been unexpectedly released ahead of schedule. It contains dire warnings. And it's at odds with President Trump, who's called climate change a hoax.

Government relations correspondent Rene Marsh is working that story for us.

Rene, this report shows that government scientists are directly contradicting the president on something that he has said over and over again, that climate change is a hoax. It doesn't sound like a hoax to these scientists.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely not.

And, in fact, this report paints a very deadly picture for people right here in the United States. It also predicts a major economic blow for the United States.

And just some context here, this report released by the Trump administration, an administration led by a president who continues to cast doubt on whether climate change is really a thing, clearly, this report contradicting everything that the president has to say when it comes to climate change.

So, some of the more frightening highlights in this report, higher temperatures will kill more people, specifically in the Midwest; 2,000 more people could die prematurely each year; 10 percent of the U.S. economy could disappear. So that would be a very large economic blow to the United States.

Six times more forest area will burn during the wildfire season. The U.S. food supply would be hit hard. Farmers would produce less because of flooding and droughts. And low-income people would be disproportionately impacted by this.

Make no mistake, everyone will be impacted by climate change, but low- income people would be hit the hardest. So, this report, really no good news here, and, boy, opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to what the president has said or not said about climate change and what these scientists and these federal government agencies are saying on this dire warning that they are essentially releasing to the public today.

ACOSTA: And there's some very serious warnings in this, and yet the government moved up the release of this report to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when people are out shopping and looking for deals and so on out at the stores.

[18:25:03]

Why was it moved up and buried over the holiday weekend?

MARSH: Yes, I mean, I think most people would agree, putting it out on a Friday afternoon, most people will say, if a government official does that, they're trying to bury it.

But putting it out on a Friday afternoon after a major holiday like Thanksgiving really, it begs the question, why that day? And there is a lot of speculation that they just wanted to bury the dire warning that is within this report. Again, it contradicts everything that the president says.

It comes a day after that tweet questioning whether global warming is truly a thing. And don't forget when the president went out to California, when he was touring the wildfires. He -- the big takeaway for him was that we're not maintaining our forests. He made no mention of climate change.

This report does the total opposite. It looks at things like hurricane season, where we had some of the most severe hurricanes, Harvey, Maria. It looks at the wildfires, the deadly wildfires we're currently seeing in California.

And it makes the direct link, that that is directly because of climate change, something both the president and even some of the members of his Cabinet, like Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, they just haven't done that.

ACOSTA: That's right.

And just because it's cold this Thanksgiving holiday weekend doesn't mean that the climate is not changing. The government...

MARSH: That's weather. That would be weather.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: That is weather and climate, two different things.

MARSH: Right.

ACOSTA: And the government be may be burying it this holiday weekend, but you're not and we're not.

All right, Rene Marsh, thank you very much.

Breaking news next: another potential plea bargain in the Russia investigation. Will Jerome Corsi, an associate of Roger Stone, strike a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller?

And Stone is now reacting to the news about Corsi. A look at what the former Trump adviser is saying tonight -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight, Jerome Corsi, an associate of former

Trump adviser Roger Stones, says he's in talks to strike a plea bargain with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, even though he has previously said he's done nothing wrong.

[18:31:40] I want to talk about all this with our analysts and experts. And Joey Jackson, let me go to you first. When somebody says they did nothing wrong but they're in talks for a plea agreement, what does that tell you? What's happening?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It tells me two things. No. 1, remember, self-preservation is the most basic of human instincts. Right? So at the end of the day, you look to a plea deal, which is No. 2, in the event that there's some criminal culpability.

And so what you do is you sit down with your lawyers, and having spoken, for example, as Corsi has, for 40 hours with prosecutors -- and when you speak to prosecutors, I hasten to add, it's not only -- they're not only evaluating what you say, Jim, in a vacuum. They're evaluating what you say against a backdrop of what other information they have.

And so ultimately, you sit with your lawyers and, if there's criminal culpability, you do a cost-benefit analysis. Is what you said, is this something that could expose you to liability? And if so, can we get by it? And in the alternative, did you say everything straight, and is there nothing we have to worry about? If there's nothing we have to worry about, we fight. In the event that there is something we have to worry about, the path of least resistance, self- preservation, is to cut a deal. That's what it says.

ACOSTA: And Susan Hennessey, Roger Stone, who is a friend of Jerome Corsi, he's responded to all of this. One would think he would not want to be on camera or an interview or anything of that regard talking about all of this, but he did respond earlier today. Let's see what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, TRUMP ADVISOR (via phone): I'm unaware of any plea bargaining. I have no idea what this is about other than to say that the assertion that Jerry Corsi knew in advance that John Podesta's e- mails had been obtained and would be published would be news to me.

This idea that Jerry Corsi could implicate me, there's simply no evidence whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: What does that say to you, Susan, that Roger Stone is commenting on what's happening to Jerome Corsi right now?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it certainly sounds like Stone is nervous enough about Corsi being able to implicate him that he's trying to distance himself. Right? He's saying, "Well, whatever Corsi knows, he certainly didn't tell anything to me."

The problem is, is that Stone couldn't resist sending that August 21 email -- or that August 21 tweet in which he said that John Podesta had -- his time in the barrel was coming up. Now, that's before anybody, including John Podesta, knew that his e-mails were compromised.

And the significance here is that, if Mueller is able to establish that either Corsi or Stone had that direct communications with the Russians or with WikiLeaks, that is a big step forward between establishing that direct line of communication or that direct line of activity between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Now, look, maybe -- maybe Corsi really did just guess this thing, this thing that was unknown to even U.S. intelligence officials, based on public information. That's sort of his story. You know, these are two people who have a long and documented history of not telling the truth. And I do think that this is a case in which they might be brought down kind of by their own hubris. And I think the big question is are they also in position to bring down the president or his family members or his close associates?

ACOSTA: Ron Brownstein, what do you make of that?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I really struck by Susan's last point there. Because I mean, this is what -- this is what the Mueller -- this is how the Mueller investigation differs from the normal political debate.

We have people who are making arguments, you know, maybe public cases, kind of putting out -- putting out their spin on things, and then ultimately, they have to face a legal process. And as Joey said, they have to, at that point, make a very hard cost-benefit analysis.

[18:35:02] So we have Jerome Corsi saying, "Hey, I just figured this out off of public -- publicly-available information," and it may be that that is ultimately the case.

But if it is not the case, I think the precedent of the last, you know, year and a half or so is that Mueller's team is able to discern that. And I think that is why, I think, you see the potential for the story behind closed doors being very different from what we have been told in public.

ACOSTA: And, Ron, do you think it could be a big problem for the president?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, as Susan said, it's just getting one step closer. I mean, one of the biggest hanging kind of threads in this entire investigation has been the tweet from Roger Stone saying that John Podesta will have his turn in the barrel.

And he is saying that, you know, of course his -- again, in the public line of argument when they are not under oath is that, you know, that does not reflect any kind of back door communication. But as Mueller focuses in on that area, sure, I mean that brings the

entire -- that is, in fact, you know, an element of collusion. You don't really have to go any further than that, if they can establish that was done -- that that was leaked in coordination with WikiLeaks operating with these adjuncts of the Trump effort. I don't know what else would fit the -- you would need beyond that to fit the definition of a coordinated effort.

ACOSTA: I want to switch gears and talk to our retired admiral, John Kirby, about the president's phone call yesterday. I want to get your thoughts on it. The president made a phone this call yesterday to members of the U.S. military overseas, and it just turned into sort of a political rant at times during this phone call.

Let's play a little bit of that and get your thoughts on it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You probably see over the news what's happening in our southern border and our southern border territory. Large numbers of people -- and in many cases we have no idea who they are, and in many cases they're not good people.

We're doing very well on the southern border. We're very tough. We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side. We always lose, and then you lose again and again and then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we've done, but it's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services with what's going on in the region.

How are they feeling about things? How are they feeling about trade, because, you know, trade for me is a very big subject all over. We've been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals. We don't have any good trade deals.

How are you finding things in the region, Nick?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, from our perspective out on the water, sir, we're seeing that there is an abundance of trade happening in the region. There are vessels moving -- moving through the Straits of Hormuz and across the Arabian Gulf on a daily basis, carrying cargos to and fro; and we don't see issues in terms of trade right now, sir.

TRUMP: OK. Well, you will keep it that way. And we want to have good, free trade. And we also want to have fair deals where we can do well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And John Kirby, you wrote a column for CNN.com about this and put it up on screen. This is from that column. "Let me be blunt, the United States military is not a voting bloc. It's not a MAGA rally crowd. It's not a play thing, and it's most certainly not an arm of the Republican Party." You served in the U.S. Navy. How stunning was this?

ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: I wish I could say, Jim, that I was surprised. I wasn't, because he pulled the same kind of prank last year when he made this phone call at Thanksgiving time.

He simply can't help himself. I mean, I think he honestly thinks that because the military is subservient to him, appropriately so, and obedient to him, that they are an extension of him and his politics, and that they all sign up and support all of the policies that he's doing. They execute those policies, but they may have different views, and they keep those views to themselves appropriately. The military is an apolitical organization, and I just don't think the president understands that.

And that's why I also wrote in that column that I would be just fine if he decided not to go visit the troops in the war zone. Yes, the commander in chief should do that. I fully appreciate that fact. But I don't know that he's capable of doing it and keeping the politics out of it.

ACOSTA: But why is that important that it be -- that the military be non-political? For folks out there who say, "Oh, you know what? Let the president say whatever he wants. You know, why is that such a bad thing?"

KIRBY: Because they have to be able to execute the policies of the commander in chief from year to year, to year to year, from generation to generation; and they don't get to control who is the commander in chief. There needs to be separation there, a gap there so that they can honorably execute those orders. That's why it's important.

ACOSTA: All right. Very important perspective there. Thank you very much.

All of you, stand by. There's a lot more to talk about, but we need to take a quick break; and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:13] ACOSTA: and we're back with our analysts. I want to talk more about some of the president's comments yesterday when he was down in Mar-a-Lago. You know, after he got finished with that phone call with the troops, he was talking about the case of Jamal Khashoggi and the intelligence community's analysis that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for all of this.

Let's play a little bit of that sound, and then we'll get you to talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The CIA doesn't say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn't. But there's no -- that was another part of the false reporting, because a lot of you said yesterday that they said he did it. Well, they didn't say that. They said he might have done it. That's a big difference.

But they're vehemently denying it, and we have hundreds of thousands of jobs.

[18:45:02] Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs? And, frankly, if we went by this standard we wouldn't be able to have anybody as an ally, because look at what happens all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: A lot to unpack there, John Kirby. What are your comments on that?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), U.S. NAVY: We don't have enough time to fact check all of those comments. But, look, he's just wrong. What he is doing here with the CIA and the intelligence assessment is dancing on the head of a pin. What they do is they provide an assessment, varying levels of confidence, low to medium to high.

And we know that they assessed a high level of confidence. Is it 100 percent conclusive? No, but that's not their job. And that's what he's trying to get you to think that because they weren't able to give 100 percent that we can say that MBS was actually involved. There is no such thing as a rogue operation in Saudi Arabia. The regime, the royalty have ultimate control over everything that happens. You have to assume that the crown prince was involved in some way.

What Trump is doing is not just absolving the crown prince. He is absolving himself because he doesn't want to have to take action. He knows Congress will. And that way he can go to the crown prince and say, hey, look, I'm sorry for the sanctions, I'm sorry they got you under Magnitsky, it wasn't me, let's keep our deals going.

ACOSTA: And, Susan Hennessey, what does the intelligence community do? How does it respond when they hear the president misconstruing, intentionally misconstruing their analysis and spreading it all over the world?

SUSAN HENNESSEY: Yes, look, I think it's incredibly insulting, but I think what they actually do is put their heads down and do job as they've done under all kind of different presidents. When the president says the CIA hasn't really concluded this, what he means is he doesn't care that the CIA concluded this because it doesn't fit with his personal narrative. He doesn't care about human values, he doesn't care about human rights, he doesn't care about protection of journalists around the world. What he cares about are Saudi dollars, a number he has grossly sort of inflated.

And I do think it is an example of the incredible weakness of the Trump administration's foreign policy. The Saudis need us more than we need them, and that we are seeing an administration that really is, you know, bending over backwards because Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have made the Saudis the linchpin of their regional policy. So, I do think, once again, it is an example where the administration was smarter than anyone else, you know, disregarded experts, had Jared Kushner come in and take on the Middle East portfolio kind of just like he felt like it, once again diminishing our standing with our allies and enemies alike.

ACOSTA: They put a lot of their egg goes in that basket in Saudi Arabia.

And, Ron Brownstein, what does it say about the president's world view, everything that you just heard there?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, look, he's obviously not the first president who struggled between balancing our strategic interests in Saudi Arabia with our concerns about their behavior. But what is striking about the episode is the weakness that it conveys from the U.S. I mean part of the president's appeal has been that he is a tough deal maker who will defend our interests in a dangerous world, as he talked about himself in that phone call.

But in this case, he is basically saying that because we buy a lot of oil from them, they have leverage and because they buy a lot of weapons from us they have leverage. It's like getting hit on both sides by a swinging door. I mean either way he is basically saying they have the upper hand and there is nothing we can do. And I think as Susan said, that misconstrues the underlying balance of the relationship, and it will be striking to see again, you know, we have seen this pattern so many times before, complaints around the edges of the Republican caucus in the Senate about this.

Will it lead to any action? We just had an election where Republicans lost the most seats in the House since Watergate, largely bought voters felt they would not restrain or respond to Trump in any meaningful way. This will provide another chance to see if they can clear that bar but you would not bet on it from the history.

ACOSTA: And, John Kirby, I mean, one of other things that the president said in addition to understating what the CIA is concluding what happened there, he is sort of overstating the ramifications, the consequences, that the economy would blow up and all of these jobs would be lost and so on. What would happen if he were to toughen his stance with Saudi Arabia? Would it blow everything up?

KIRBY: No, not at all. I mean, Susan is right, that we have more leverage in this relationship. We are more energy independent than we used to be. They don't control fuel and oil and our economy the way they used to.

But, look, this $110 billion he keeps touting, it's promissory notes. They've only executed about 4 billion so far. So, yes, it's a lot of money but not a shattering amount of money that's going to bring down the American economy.

And this argument that, well, if we don't sell them arms, they will get them from Russia and China, not going to happen. They've been buying American arms for decades and it's what they train on. It's what they know. It's what they trust. And they know American arms are the most reliable. They don't want to

go anywhere else. They're not going to run to Russia and China.

ACOSTA: All right. And, Joey Jackson, I want to finish with what's happening in New York state. The attorney general in New York state, this lawsuit against President Trump's charity, the Trump foundation, and the lawsuit saying they allegedly used the charity for personal and political purposes.

[18:50:03] As you know, Joey, today, the New York Supreme Court denied the Trump Foundation's motion to dismiss that suit.

Where is all this headed? It sounds as though this could take us into an area where we start to see some of the -- what's going on inside that foundation.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it certainly could, Jim, and that's exactly where it's heading in the short term. The reality is, is that obviously the president is not above the law. The foundations have a purpose, if that purpose is deemed political, then it's offensive to what the statutes say. So, inasmuch as the president denies the motion to dismiss, the suit will continue.

You can bet there will be appeals going forward as to what extent the president could be involved in state legislation. That question has been answered however, and the president is indeed subject and not immune, particularly for conduct not involving his official actions. And so, there's a balance.

Foundations serve many societal purposes. They support and do a lot of things to communities. When they run afoul of that as this appears to be doing, it becomes a problem. So, stay tuned. The legislation continues. And as for now, they are in that suit, look to other courts to determine whether or not it was an appropriate decision.

ACOSTA: OK. Fascinating case, and another window into the president's world. We're seeing all these pending investigations just about every where you turn when it comes to the president.

All right, gentlemen and Susan, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Stay with us. There's more news coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:04] ACOSTA: Finally tonight, a war of words is escalating between two groups you wouldn't expect to be at odds, doctors and the NRA. Doctors have been posting tweets like these covered in blood from gunshot victims. The photos are a response to a tweet from the NRA telling doctors to, quote, stay in their lane.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with more -- Brian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, tonight, the NRA and some prominent doctors, many of whom work on trauma patients, are in a heated political battle, a public spat that's drawn more attention because it comes in the context of two horrific instances of gun violence.

(voice-over): In the aftermath of two deadly mass shootings a heated political showdown between two unlikely rivals, the National Rifle Association and the doctors who treat victims of gun violence. The fight stems from a recent article published by the American College of Physicians calling firearm violence, quote, a public health crisis that requires the nation's immediate attention.

Doctors shared new recommendations on how physicians can help reduce gun violence such as counseling patients on the risks of having firearms in the home. But the doctors also weighed in on the issues of background checks and illegal gun sales. That prompted this tweet from the NRA. Quote: Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. The medical community seems to have consulted no one but themselves.

But that broad side came hours before the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, where 12 people were gunned down. Some doctors are outraged.

DR. JOSEPH SAKRAN, TRAUMA SURGEON, JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL: For a group to simply dismiss the medical community, that is on the front line of taking care of these patients, is absolutely unacceptable.

TODD: Joseph Sakran is a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He not only treats many gunshot victims, he was one.

SAKRAN: The bullet ruptured my wind pipe right here. And these scars are where I had the emergency surgery.

TODD: In 1994, when he was just 17, Sakran was at a high school football game when a fight broke out and someone started shooting. He ended up with a paralyzed vocal chord. After the NRA tweet, Sakran responded, quote, I cannot believe the audacity of the NRA.

SAKRAN: Where is the NRA when I'm having to tell those loved ones that their family member has died and is not coming back?

TODD: Sakran's tweet was followed by an avalanche of others from fellow doctors slamming the NRA. One accompanied by an x-ray says, quote, I helped save a gun violence victim in med school. Those are my hands holding pressure on his femoral artery. The bullet is right by my fingertips. This is me in my lane, NRA.

Recent accounts from weapons experts on the guns used in high-profile shootings have intensified the political debate. CBS's "60 Minutes" recently profiled the effects of bullets fired from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, one of the guns used in the synagogue shooting.

Compared to a standard handgun bullet fired on a gelatin target simulating human soft tissue, the AR-15 bullet is much more devastating. That's one of the many complaints from doctors that it's harder and harder to save the lives of people hit with high power ammunition.

The NRA refused to do an on-camera interview with us but NRA is pushing back hard, telling CNN the doctors are pushing a gun control agenda that wouldn't prevent those shootings.

(on camera): When the NRA says you guys weighing on policy issues like background checks, well, it isn't in your lane, don't they have a point?

SAKRAN: We have both the possibility and the responsibility to weigh in on this issue that we're having to deal with on a daily basis.

TODD: But the NRA's push back includes several tweets from doctors who support the NRA's position. One physician tweeting that the articles written by anti-gun doctors are not from people practicing medicine in the trenches and --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And, Brian Todd, thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

"The Kennedys" starts right now.