Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Announces Departure of John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff; Sentencing Memo for Michael Cohen Released; Donald Trump Announces Nominee for Attorney General William Barr; Special Counsel Releases Reasons for Ending Manafort Cooperation Deal; President Trump Tweets Newly Released Documents Concerning Special Counsel Investigation Clear Him; James Comey Testifies in Closed Door Meeting with Members of Congress; Annual Army-Navy Football Game to Commence. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 8, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again everyone. Thanks so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with this breaking news, a major shakeup coming to the White House. President Trump last hour confirming that Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his post at the White House at the end of the year. Here is the president moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John Kelly will be leaving, I don't know if I can say retiring, but he is a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing who will be taking John's place, it might be on an interim basis. I will be announcing that over the next day or two, but John will be leaving at the end of the year. He's been with me almost two years now, as you know, between the two positions. So we're probably going to see him in a little while. But John Kelly -- are you ready? So John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year, and I appreciate his service very much.


WHITFIELD: Kelly's departure comes amid CNN's reporting that he and the president have not been on speaking terms in recent days, and that the chief of staff recently sat down with the special counsel in the Russia investigation.

CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood joins us now from Philadelphia, that's where the Army-Navy game is going to be taking place as soon as the president who is on his way there will be doing the coin toss. So this major announcement before he arrives, Sarah.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. President Trump ended months of speculation about whether White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was eyeing the exits when he announced that his embattled chief of staff will in fact, be leaving in the weeks ahead. Their relationship had deteriorated in recent months. The president had begun circumventing some of the policies that Kelly had put in place to create order in the West Wing. And our colleague Kaitlan Collins reporting yesterday that Kelly and Trump were no longer on speaking terms, their relationship widely viewed within the White House as no longer tenable, and that is just an incredible shift from just a few months ago in July when the White House made a big show of publicizing the fact that Trump had asked his chief of staff to stay on through 2020 to try to quell some of that perennial speculation about Kelly's future in the West Wing, that we've seen him survive in the past.

Of course, the announcement of Kelly's departure comes just one day after CNN reported that Kelly sat down with investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team to answer questions about alleged obstruction, obstruction of justice occurring in the White House. So of course, Kelly's departure is going to come as the White House attempts to navigate these new developments in the Russia investigation.

As all of that has been unfolding, Trump has been announcing a series of major personnel changes. Just this morning he announced his new pick to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, that came a day after he announced his new attorney general pick Bill Barr, hs new pick for U.N. ambassador, Heather Nauert, to replace outgoing ambassador Nikki Haley. The president has just another high profile appointment to make to replace Kelly. And while Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff is said to be the leading contender, that's just another major staffing decision that the president has to make and unveil in the days ahead, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And the president did say on the lawn there that, the next person might be temporary. He seemed like he wasn't so certain about the next pick.

WESTWOOD: That's right. An interim appointment is what we saw at the Justice Department certainly when he implemented Matt Whitaker in that position, who has held it for several weeks until the president settled on Bill Barr for that position. It is something that he's done in the past to fill other positions until he's made them permanent, for instance that's what he did to replace Rob Porter, he elevated Derek Lyons to that position in acting capacity and eventually made him the permanent staff secretary. So that is something the president could potentially do to try out a new chief of staff. He said he'll be announcing that decision in the next day or two, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Sara Westwood in Philadelphia, thank you so much. Again, the president will be arriving there, and he will be doing the coin toss for the Army-Navy game.

Let's bring in Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief at "The Chicago Sun-Times," CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. Good to see you both. So Trump says his chief of staff will be out at the end of the year, so Lynn, your thoughts on this?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, my thoughts is, is that this is just going to be the start of a very, even more chaotic chapter in the presidential life of Donald Trump, because he will just have to start getting adjusted to either being his own chief of staff, which is what he probably prefers operationally, and whether or not he can deal with all of this new personnel coming in at one time.

[14:05:00] What we're really talking about is more than just a routine midterm change. This is an upheaval, for Trump, who has not necessarily demonstrated that he can deal with all of these streams of change at one time, because we should not just look at this chief of staff as one change in isolation. It is many. And on top of the stuff that is going to happen when the Democrats take over the House, and the Mueller probes come to a head.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So the timing is interesting, Brian, because, the president on the lawn said I'm not sure if he is retiring, or if he's just ending his term with me, it was just kind of strange that even the president seemed a little uncertain on that. But then our Kaitlan Collins had reported that they were not on speaking terms, and then Kaitlan has also just said that based on information she has learned from her sources that apparently, yes, President Trump and John Kelly had discussed his departure over the last 24 hours, according to a source, but it was not the plan to announce it on the south lawn.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Interesting. We've seen this before from President Trump. He tries to get ahead of some sort of pre-planned or staged announcement, maybe that's because he is trying to define the conversation, or define the terms of the conversation. We will see what Kelly's side of the story is because we've only heard Trump's side right now. But Trump's side is that Kelly will be leaving by the end of the year.

And the point you made earlier with Sarah about the interim nature of the next appointment is also noteworthy. We can't ignore the headlines of the last 12 hours while talking about Kelly. The president has been implicated in crimes, and that raises the question, who wants to work for this president? Who wants to work with him? Rex Tillerson yesterday quoted as saying this is a president who would oftentimes want to do things that would break the law and I would have to tell him you can't do that, sir. This is a president who doesn't want to read briefing, et cetera. So it raises this question of who wants to go to work at the White House and work for a president who is in this precarious situation.

But I do think it is worth noting, this is a very hard job. Chief of staff, this is a really difficult job. Barack Obama went through at least five chiefs of staffs during the eight years. George W. Bush only went through two chiefs of staff, though, in his entire eight years, now Trump after two years has been through two chiefs of staff as well.

And take a look at what now President Trump said in 2012 about Obama's turnovers with chief of staff, this is a direct quote here from then businessman Donald Trump in 2012, saying "Three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being president, that's part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage to pass his agenda." Obviously, at the end of two years, now President Trump will have three chiefs of staff.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and so, Lynn, is it, I mean is it a big demerit? Is it something negative for a White House to go through several chiefs of staff? Or given it is a very prestigious position, and there is burnout, this is a tough 24-hour kind of gig.

SWEET: Right.

WHITFIELD: Can it just simply just be accepted that a president will go through many chiefs of staff?

SWEET: Yes and no. As Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel once famously said the White House is family friendly. That is, for the president's family. Everyone --


STELTER: Not for anybody else.

SWEET: Absolutely. But I would just counsel everyone to see this for what it is. This is a churn of personnel. This isn't just the normal burnout. Rahm Emanuel left Obama to go run for mayor of Chicago. Bill Daley was there for a time, yes, and then there was an interim and then what Denis McDonough you in was there until the end.

What is interesting to note today, is you talk about why people come into the Trump administration, how unprofessional, in a sense, or unseemly, you treat a man who has given a lifetime of service to our nation, in the military and then in the White House, and you kind of toss him aside in an offhand comment, talking to reporters? The president is not even sure he is retiring or what? How can one person just do that to someone else.

WHITFIELD: He did thank him for his service.

SWEET: Well, it doesn't really seem to come through when you kind of announce it this way. There are nice ways to give somebody a more, a more --

WHITFIELD: A formality on the lawn, at a podium, and usually there is a very dignified transition and announcement, when it's amicable particularly.

SWEET: Or you have a press release, or something. He treated Nikki Haley, she got to announce her departure on her terms. Even if there is acrimony, what does this say, especially on the day as you go to the Army-Navy game which is a game of a great rivalry of one military that works together for the nation at one time, that you are dealing with a plan who has devoted his years to the military like this?

[14:10:05] It just goes -- I almost don't know what more to say about what this says about the commander in chief. Just because he didn't get along with him? That's reasonable. He should pick his own chief. Find someone who you can work with. That's OK.

WHITFIELD: Yes, Brian, that is a bit of a sour there. Here he is going to the Army-Navy game, John Kelly with his military service and to make this announcement even though he did say thank you for -- he thanked him for his service. It does create a very awkward situation.

STELTER: It does. And we won't really know, I think, the backstory for a little while. Kelly apparently wasn't speaking with the president in recent days, then there's the headlines yesterday about Kelly being interviewed by the Mueller probe. There is a lot to fill in the blanks here. But I'm interested in hearing Kelly's side of the story, Kelly's account of what happened. And it is also curious to see if Kelly is going to move into a new role in the government or elsewhere. Trump said maybe retiring, maybe not, we don't know, that was a curious comment from the president.

WHITFIELD: That was very curious.

STELTER: But I agree with Lynn, this is about a broader sense of turmoil and a broader challenge, recruiting and retaining talent in this administration that is racked by scandal.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much, Lynn Sweet, Brian Stelter, good to see you guys.

STELTER: Thanks.

SWEET: And thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, court filings shed new insights into the investigation surrounding President Trump. Prosecutors now implicating the president in at least two felonies, and the president just spoke about the revelations. More on that, next.


[14:15:50] WHITFIELD: Welcome back, now to the latest in the Russia probe. Stunning new memos are giving us unprecedented insight. Federal prosecutors now are implicating the president of the United States in two federal crimes during the 2016 presidential campaign. And in another memo, Mueller says former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about five major things, including how long he stayed in touch with White House officials after he was indicted.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me right now. So the president has just said that he's happy about the Mueller filing, and everything that has been gleaned from it. What more can you tell us?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, perhaps maybe overly optimistic about what these filings include, but I will let you hear it directly from the president. Here is what he had to say, his take on the Mueller filings today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the Mueller situation, we are very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia, because she financed the fake dossier, which I understand they tried to get some information and help from Russia, but you ought to ask them about that. Very one-sided situation, but I think it is all turning around very nicely.

But as far as the report that we see, according to everybody I've spoken to -- I have not read it -- there is absolutely no collusion, which is very important.


MURRAY: Now, Fred, in actuality, a lot of people around President Trump were in contact with the Russians, and as you pointed out, he has now been implicated in two federal crimes, but for some reason he seems very happy about the situation.

WHITFIELD: And then what can you tell us about these hush money payments, the president's role, what is being revealed?

MURRAY: Right, these are the crimes that President Trump has now been implicated in. We heard Michael Cohen talk about them previously in court. But this is the first time prosecutors are the ones who are saying that Cohen paid off these women at Donald Trump's direction, candidate Trump, and they say the principal purpose of the payment to one of these women was to prevent her story from influencing the election. So it was to manipulate voters, to manipulate the campaign. And because of this and because of the other crimes Cohen committed, the southern district of New York came down pretty hard on him and they said that he deserves a substantial term of imprisonment. So they only suggested slightly less than what the guidelines, the sentencing guidelines would have stated. There is no great deal that the southern district of New York thinks Michael Cohen deserves.

WHITFIELD: And what more is really being revealed about this Trump Tower project in Moscow?

MURRAY: Well, obviously, we learned that Michael Cohen lied when he went before Congress. He lied that when he said that Trump Tower deal in Moscow, you know, fell apart much sooner than it actually did. And the reason that this is so interesting is because the fact that Mueller's team has focused on this tells you that they are interested in it as part of their collusion investigation. They're interested in this business deal that did appear to go belly-up.

We also learned, though, in terms of Cohen's cooperation with the special counsel that there was another Russian national that approached him. This one was in November of 2015, this was a person who said they could help create political synergy and synergy on a government level, someone who offered to try to set up a meeting with candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. That meeting apparently never happened. But the other notable thing the Special Counsel pointed out is that Michael Cohen was still in touch with the White House this year. About what, we still don't know that, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss, Lynn Sweet is back with me, and we're joined by former federal prosecutor and counsel for Democrats on the impeachment of Clinton, Lis Wiehl is with us. So good to see you all, ladies. So Lynn, your reaction to the president who said on, from the White House, before boarding marine one, saying he's happy with the way things are going right now with the filing.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, I don't know if Mrs. Trump is going be happy because in that 40-page document, it talks about how Individual One, who is her husband, the president, worked with Michael Cohen to pay off women who he was having allegedly intimate contact with.

[14:20:04] So I don't know, that might not be legal trouble for the president, but it sure doesn't look good for his personal behavior. But it seems that the President Trump is focused just on the question of collusion, not seemingly to realize in his statement of happiness that he has serious problems now because of the details revealed in the documents filed yesterday in both the Manafort and Cohen cases.

WHITFIELD: So Lis, do you see this as very serious? Or is this the president, when he says he is happy about the filings, this is just a don't let them see you sweat kind of moment?


WHITFIELD: But then he is sweating.

WIEHL: Yes, then he is sweating. Look, he has cloaked himself with these guys who have now been convicted of all of these lies and he has cloaked himself with the liars. He's been the hub in this wheel of conspiracy, you see all of the spokes of these wheels now being convicted of lying. And after, in Manafort's case, after they are convicted of lying, they then go on to lie even more. And what do they do? They run back, who do they run back to? They run back to the person that had sent them out to lie in the first place, Individual One, Donald Trump, and the administration. So they run back to him, to lie, to figure out what they're supposed lie about, and then go back and they lose their deal because of that. That's in the Manafort position.

In Cohen's position, they're directed to lie by Individual One, and then go out and go forth and convict those lies. What is that, that is what I'm explaining there, what I am showing is, is a wheel, a wheel of conspiracy, with Individual One, being Trump, in the center of the wheel, the hub of the wheel, sending out those spokes. That is a conspiracy, that is what looks like Mueller is actually showing here, and what we're going to probably see come down the road in a report.

WHITFIELD: And Lynn, listen to what the president said just moments ago, compared to his words in July, of 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. Russia, if you're listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-

mails that are missing.


WHITFIELD: So, Lynn, no one can forget that moment.

SWEET: Well, one person can, apparently, President Trump.


WHITFIELD: Maybe he wants everyone to forget about it.

SWEET: Well, the, that video, where he invited Russia to come, is maybe not legally, I don't know the legal implication of saying that, if that will count -- it will count in the narrative where you're trying to put together the leaked e-mails. As we're talking about, there's a lot of moving parts here to go with it.

And one other thing, it could be true, and what Trump doesn't see here, it may be that he personally never colluded. But what you have is evidence of people in his campaign did, and that's the charge of Manafort, excuse me, of special counsel Mueller. That is his charge, to look for collusion in the campaign. That is the point of endangerment that President Trump doesn't seem to realize. It doesn't have to be him talking to a Russian in order to make these various cases. And that is -- I don't think that is a subtle point of difference. I think it is one that is just not clear to the president right now.

WIEHL: And that also goes to obstruction and conspiracy. That also goes to the exact same thing.

WHITFIELD: Right, they become reference points of suspicion of those things.

WIEHL: Exactly. When you have -- that's exactly right, when you have something like a conspiracy, a larger criminal act, then you have people acting in concert. It doesn't mean that Individual One or Trump or whatever does all of the overt acts himself. He sends people out to do different things, because people are acting in concert. So one person doesn't do every single act themselves. People are working as a unit, together. So just because -- so the president says, well, I didn't do x, I didn't attend x meeting or I didn't do a certain thing, of course he didn't because he had other people do it for him.

WHITFIELD: So Lis, are his attorneys just going bonkers here, that he just cannot, the president will not stop commenting about whether it is the filings or just talking off the cuff? His attorneys cannot want him to just keep talking because can't the Mueller team come back for some follow-up questions, particularly after this?

[14:25:00] WIEHL: Well, I thought what was interesting is we heard earlier, I think it was just today, that we heard some rumblings that the Trump team wants to come back with a report, sort of a rebuttal report, when the Mueller team does issue its report. Now, I sat there, I was there when Kenneth Starr issued his report. I was there at the House committee. I was there with them when he issued the report. There was no -- Democrats didn't issue a rebuttal. We listened to what Kenneth Starr, what the report said and listened to it, and then the articles of impeachment were actually meted out. So that is not how it works. So it said to me, that is very interesting. That smelled like, that seems kind of desperate that --

WHITFIELD: It hasn't happened. There is a sign post that it going to happen.

WIEHL: Right, how can you issue a rebuttal report when you haven't even gotten the report yet? It doesn't make sense.

SWEET: Even if they do, it wouldn't necessarily go to the part of any conclusion that Mueller reaches. They might do this just for public relations.

WIEHL: Right.

SWEET: So they can have their report. But I will tell you, the real curious are going to be the members of the Democratic run House Judiciary Committee.

WIEHL: You got it.

SWEET: And with Bill Clinton's impeachment, that was a Republican committee. So you can kind of see where we're going on this.

WIEHL: You got it. You got it, exactly.

WHITFIELD: Swearing in January 3. Lynn Sweet, Lis Wiehl, good to see you both. Thank you.

WIEHL: You got it.

SWEET: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, more bombshells from Mueller's court filings, and we're now learning Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort has been in contact with current White House officials this year and lied about it. So what does this mean for the current administration?


[14:31:13] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is laying out proof that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to his investigators. In all, Mueller accuses Manafort of lying about five key issues after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. The big one has to do with texts that show Manafort lied about contact with the Trump administration this year. CNN politics reporter Jeremy Herb joins us now. The filing is the first time prosecutors have laid out the why and the how they believe Manafort breached his plea agreement. What else is there?

JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Several of these lies are potentially significant. One of the things that Mueller says that Manafort lied about was his interaction with Konstantin Kilimnik, who is a Russian national close to Manafort that prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence. Now, this is potentially significant because there is lots of swirling about Kilimnik's role in the collusion, if there was any potential collusion. And we don't know from this filing exactly what Manafort and Kilimnik were talking about, because much of that section is redacted, so Mueller has something there, but we don't know yet what it is.

The other key lie, is, as you said, Mr. Manafort's communications with several administration official, including one senior administration official, as Mueller put, and Mueller has evidence of these contacts through conversations and text messages. We don't know yet who he was talking to or why he was having these communications.

WHITFIELD: So are there any inferences about what they could have been talking about?

HERB: I think with both this filing, and the Michael Cohen filing, Mueller has left bread crumbs and kind of hinted at what may have been the case. There isn't anything that says it was about x. Mueller cares about it and put it in the filing because Manafort denied having any direct communications with members of the Trump administration. But that said, there likely is some sort of underlying reason he was talking about it, and we may or maybe not learn it at a later date.

WHITFIELD: And so what might this mean for Manafort when it comes down to sentencing? He likely will be penalized for that kind of breach, wouldn't he?

HERB: Oh, absolutely. We don't know yet what the special counsel is going to do. But there is the potential for additional criminal charges for Manafort as a result of this violation of his plea agreement. He is already facing charges because he -- for the conviction he had in Virginia earlier this year, and for pleading guilty in a Washington, D.C. court. So he is facing sentencing starting next month. But there could be additional sentences on top of that in addition to just the violation of the plea agreement here.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeremy Herb, thanks so much.

HERB: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, President Trump nominates a new attorney general. Who is he? And how will he handle the Russia investigation? Next.


[14:38:28] WHITFIELD: A familiar face could head up the Justice Department for the second time in his life. President Trump has nominated former attorney general Bill Barr as the permanent replacement to Jeff Sessions. Barr served as attorney general under the late president George H. W. Bush and was the boss of Robert Mueller, who led the DOJ's criminal division at the time. Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" calling himself, quote, "one Democrat who thinks Trump made an excellent choice" with the Barr nomination. And he joins me right now. Harry, good to see you. So why is he an excellent choice?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks, Fredricka. Look, we have been bemoaning for a while the installation of a yes man, or possible crony, atop the Mueller investigation and the Department of Justice, someone who might tamp down on the investigation or funnel information to the White House. Bill Barr is nobody's yes man and nobody's crony. He fully understands the importance of the depoliticization of law enforcement, and he has the sort of stature and experience to stand up for it. So that is three quarters of the battle here, I think, that kind of insulation so Mueller can do his job. The other quarter, I can foresee possibilities where there are principal disagreements between him and Mueller about how to proceed.

[14:40:05] But so long as you have an institutionalist, someone who is of the department, believes in the department, understands the importance of the White House's not breaching that wall that they basically clobbered over the last couple of years, we are really way ahead of where we have been.

WHITFIELD: Well, you just said it, he is institutional. And Trump campaigned on being kind of the anti-establishment. And Mr. Barr is Washington establishment. So what do you suppose precipitated this nomination?

LITMAN: Yes, I think -- people have said to me, well, if he is so good, why did Trump pick him? But of course, if that's right, then there would be no possibility.


LITMAN: I think Trump understood, especially with the terrific blowback to the ill-fated choice of Matt Whitaker, that he really need someone -- he needed both to have a confirmed nominee, and someone who had the Washington stature, who, as you say, is not a bomb-thrower from the outside, is Republican, conservative, but will have the confidence especially of the Senate to do the right thing as far as the institutional prerogatives of Department of Justice go. So I think it is probably a move that he was sort of forced into, might not be thrilled about. But it was a political imperative.

WHITFIELD: So in your op-ed in the "Washington Post," you write, Barr plainly has the stature and the character to stand up for the department's institutional prerogatives and to push back on any improper attempt to inject politics into its work. And to this extent, he is a sea change from Trump's ill-advised, even shameful installation of the unqualified yes man Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general and presumptive supervisor of the Russia collusion probe being run by former FBI director Robert Mueller III.

So help elaborate on that, because the president has made it very clear that he wants people who are loyal to him. And it sounds like you're describing Mr. Barr as being anything but loyal to a person, but loyal to the institution.

LITMAN: I think that is where his first loyalty lies. And where any attorney general's first loyalty should lie. Look, he's obviously of the party. I have no doubt he voted for the president. But that's nothing new. You've had such pressure on the department over the last couple of years, it's demoralized the rank and file. Several times the Congress and the White House have forced, have shaken it down to get information. You just can't do that with a Bill Barr.

I don't want to portray him as a maverick who will be looking to slap the president around. He can't do that and won't do that. But I think he will gird against any attempts for the department to be breached in the way it has been over the last few years.

WHITFIELD: Is it at all worrisome, however, that Mr. Barr has been critical of the Mueller probe, and that's why he might be appealing to President Trump?

LITMAN: Well, I think this is a possible appeal for the president. And as I mentioned, I can see specific points where he and Mueller would have principle disagreements. Of course, as you mentioned, Barr was there when Mueller was the head of the criminal division, and surely shares -- I was there at the time as well, by the way, and he surely shares the universal respect for Mueller's professionalism, which Trump denigrates daily.

Can you see ways in which it would peck at the margins? Yes. Nevertheless, given where we are and where we could be, the fact that you will have somebody at the helm who understands the importance of protecting the institution of the department against political interference is I think the headline. And what you mentioned is a subsidiary issue to think about, but I think for now, the biggest point is the strength and stature of Barr.

WHITFIELD: All right, Harry Litman, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

LITMAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the newsroom. But first --


CASEY LYNN, MUAY THAI BOXER: I'm Casey Lynn. I'm a Muay Thai boxer. Muay Thai boxing is Thai kickboxing. You are allowed to use knees and elbows and clinch. And when I got into Muay Thai, it was never about self-defense. What I wanted to do was build my trust in men again.

I'm a domestic violence survivor. I dated this guy. It started deteriorating, and he threatened to kill my family, and he started hitting me. And he pulled out a revolver and threatened me. He stalked me for like a year and a half. I got out of it because he robbed a place and went to jail.

[14:45:14] Coming out of a domestic violence past, walking into a gym where men hitting other people, and like very few women, it was a big, big hurdle. When I first started sparring, all of the abuse flooded back to me. But in that moment, if you hit back, that just makes you a fighter. I'm an amateur level fighter. I fought over the U.S., in South

Thailand, and then also in Bangkok. Fighting has helped me overcome the things I've been through in the past.



[14:50:24] WHITFIELD: Today, we expect to see transcripts from former FBI director James Comey's closed-door meeting with members of Congress. Comey was hoping yesterday would be a chance to share his side of the story following his firing by President Trump. But he walked out clearly disappointed. Here's how Comey summed up the six- hour interview.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: After a full day of questioning, two things are clear to me. One, we could have done this in open setting. And two, when you read the transcript you will see that we are talking again about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, for heaven's sake, so I'm not sure we needed to do this at all.


WHITFIELD: Joining me right now, CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett. And Laura, he also, you know, said that he is going to be doing it again.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. He is going to be right back up there on December 17th, doing it all again. And sources in the room describe it as pretty tense, highly partisan, as one might expect for a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill given this environment. Lawmakers questioned him on the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, of course an investigation which was concluded over two years ago now. Take a listen to how one congressman in the room described the atmosphere.


REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI, (D) OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: The whole reason why the other side, the House majority Republicans are rehashing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, is to try to paint the DOJ and FBI as politically motivated or biased organizations. And the reason why they want to do that is they want to say, just as they mishandled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation for political purposes, the same is happening with the Mueller investigation.


JARRETT: Now, as you heard from the congressman there, Republicans in the room were quite dead set on pressing Comey to talk about the genesis of the Russia investigation, which of course started at the FBI in 2016. Comey was not allowed to answer some of those questions given the fact that there is still an ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, as we all know. And he was also asked about his opinion on Bob Mueller, the special counsel. And while he said he would stake his life on the integrity of Bob Mueller, he said they are not best friends, contrary to what the president has said, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Laura Jarrett, thanks so much.

JARRETT: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And in just moments, one of the biggest rivalries will kick off, the Army takes on the Navy in an iconic football game. And President Trump will officiate the coin toss. We'll take you there.


[14:57:26] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. New today, President Trump just nominated a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He announced Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, will take over the job after General Joseph Dunford's term ends next year. The chairman is the highest ranking military office in the country and serves as the principal military adviser to the Senate. It does require Senate confirmation.

And we're just minutes away now from one of the fiercest rivalries in football, Army versus Navy. It's the biggest sports day of the year for both schools. The alumni and the students on campus, and all vets, the president will be there and will officiate the coin toss per tradition. CNN's Coy Wire has been tailgating with fans in Philadelphia.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're here in Philly. This game is so big that nine sitting presidents have attended the Army- Navy game. The first was Teddy Roosevelt back in 1901. Today, President Donald Trump will become the tenth. He'll be on the field for the coin toss.

Now Army, they have, they are ranked in the top 25. They have won two straight.


WIRE: And for the first time ranked nowhere right now, but none of that matters, because in this rivalry anything can happen for these players. This is bigger than the Super Bowl, listen.


JEFF MONKEN, ARMY HEAD COACH: To beat Navy is going to be a huge task for us. We know it is going to be a battle. But it will be a big win, the biggest win we've had all year.

KEN NIUMATAL, NAVY HEAD COACH: Our goal for this season is to win this game.

BRYCE HOLLAND, ARMY OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: The dream outcome, winning. I mean, really, you don't have to get more than that. You just want to win the game.

ANTHONY GARGIULO, NAVY FULLBACK: Win, easy. That's the only goal. Nothing else matters. Not a stat. I can get injured in this game, and if we win, that's everything.


WIRE: The players want to win this one more than anything. You may recognize CNN's law enforcement James Gagliano here with us, a West Point grad. Here is Jimmy, tailgating with the Army football fans. Why is this game so special?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They have been playing it since 1890, and this is the crucible, this is where they test their skills, because these are going to be all combat officers in the Navy, on the Army side, all we care about for those three hours, Coy, getting that W, beat Navy again. Let's go.


WIRE: There you have it. Now, Benny, you've played in this game. What do you have to say about the rivalry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have just one thing to say. Go, Army!


WIRE: There you have it, the 119th edition of the Army-Navy game, live from Philly, kickoff just around the corner. Enjoy.

WHITFIELD: We're enjoying. Hey, Santa is there, too. Who couldn't enjoy that?

Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.