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President Trump's Former Attorney, Michael Cohen, Broke Campaign Finance Law; President Confirmed Some News About His Chief Of Staff; President Trump Firing Back Against His Former Secretary Of State, Rex Tillerson, Calling Him Dumb As A Rock; Kushner Became The Prince's Most Important Defender Within The White House After This Scandal Broke; Trump National Golf Club At Bedminster, New Jersey Knowingly Hired Illegal Immigrants; Tensions In France Have Turned Violent And Deadly. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 8, 2018 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: So you have this intersection of money and power here. It's very ugly. And it goes to show these big companies, not just CBS, but other big companies have been racked by misconduct scandals. They have got a lot of house cleaning still to do. I think it's really important the "New York Times" obtained this report because we need more sunlight. We need a deeper spotlight on these alleged crimes.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Again, more of that. More sunlight, more spotlight in your show tomorrow, "RELIABLE SOURCES," 11:00 a.m. eastern here on CNN.

Brian, thanks.

STELTER: Thanks.

CABRERA: Top of the hour. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

The President of the United States has been implicated in two felonies. That is one of if not the biggest bombshell revealed in brand new court filings. According to the documents, President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, broke campaign finance law when he paid off two women who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, and he paid these women at the direction of Trump is the allegation.

Here is the key line. Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments that he acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one. Individual one is Donald Trump. But the President says the news filings are good for him.


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. Very one-sided situation. But I think it's all turning around very nicely, but as far as the report that we see, according to everybody I have spoken to -- I have not read it -- there's absolutely no collusion, which is very important.


CABRERA: To be clear, these three court filings were released last night. Two are on Michael Cohen. The third is on Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. And I don't want to conflate them so let's start to Cohen before we move on to Manafort.

CNN's Sara Murray has poured over these documents.

Sara, what do they reveal on Cohen?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it's interesting that the President seemed so bullish about all of this because it shows that this investigation is actually inching closer to President Trump.

As you pointed out, in the latest filings from the government on Michael Cohen, prosecutors say for the first time that Donald Trump was the one who directed Michael Cohen to make these hush money payments for women implicating President Trump in these flown decisions.

Now, Michael Cohen also provided a lot of information to special counsel Robert Mueller. He met with him on a number of occasions. He talked about how he was still in touch with the White House in 2017 and 2018 and also, he talked about his contacts with Russians.

Part of this we know because he came clean to the special counsel about lying to Congress, about pretending like this Trump tower in Moscow was wrapped up earlier than it was. He also made it clear to the prosecutors that he actually shared more information with then candidate Trump about that deal. Even talked about potentially going to Moscow while Donald Trump was running for President.

There was also another contact from a Russian national that Michael Cohen revealed, though, and this is someone who approached him in November of 2015. Someone who wanted to help with political synergy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government apparently. Even offered to set up a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now, Michael Cohen never took them up on that meeting, but this is yet another example of someone in Donald Trump's orbit being open to and willing to accept some kind of assistance from the Russians. Obviously, we saw Donald Trump Jr. accepted that meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump tower. We saw Michael Flynn willing to have conversation with the Russian ambassador and lie about them, and of course, Paul Manafort also in hot water with the government right now for lying, in part, about his contacts to a Russian national, Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Sara Murray, thank you. Let's stick with Cohen's case for now and discuss the impact of it. With us is former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers and former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle. Kim worked on the Whitewater investigation. Jennifer, according to this filling, federal prosecutors are now

directly implicating Donald Trump in a federal crime. How big of a deal is this?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a huge deal. I mean, we knew from the plea of Michael Cohen that he was saying that the President directed him in doing this. But this is different because prosecutors are very careful with their words. So had they wanted to, they could have just said Michael Cohen says that the President directed him, but instead they use different language. They said as Michael Cohen has admitted, the President directed it. So that means to me that they have other evidence independent of Cohen's say-so that shows that the President is the one who directed this crime.

CABRERA: And the President continue to deny this. He also argues, Kim, that this has nothing to do with Russian collusion, but the memos do get to that too, because there are two separate fillings, one is from southern district of New York. That's where he heard about the hush money payments. But then we also have a filing from Mueller's team.

Let me read you a quote. It has to do with Michael Cohen's lies. This from Mueller's team. The defendant amplified his false statements by repeating and releasing his lies to the public, including to other potential witnesses. By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what occurred in the hopes of limiting the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, an issue of heightened national interest.

So Kim, public statements we know don't necessarily get you in legal trouble. Why do you think Mueller is homing in on that?

[16:5:36] KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think are several things in the Mueller's filing with respect to Cohen that are really important. One is, that it's clear that there were communications with the Russians and the campaign and that Trump was in the loop. That is extremely clear.

The second one, to your point, is that we have a motive now. It is clear from these filings that the Trump tower deal in Moscow was worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the President, and that the Russian President would have been looped into that as well. So then we have a motive for why people are lying.

The third is that we know that people within the current Trump administration has been -- have been communicating with Manafort, with Cohen since they have been talking to prosecutors. So that that creates some questions about obstruction and other issues. And then also, we saw on the Manafort filing that we know there are other investigations and other unindicted people.

So, in on so many levels this is a blockbuster series of filings. I just think the American public is a little tired and it's hard to make sense of why all of this matters. But in the Cohen filing, in particular, that the southern district actually filed, they do a really great job, I think, of laying out why campaign finance crimes matter that regular people vote. They go door to door. They go to the polls. They pick up the phones. And so people doing it behind the scenes who have a lot of power. That's really a problem for our democracy. And they make that case, I think, quite -- in a quite compelling way.

CABRERA: One more question on Cohen before I move on to Manafort because one of the things that just talked about and touched on was from this filing, Kim, that really Mueller's team reveals how they see the Trump tower Moscow project irrelevant to the Russia election meddling probe where he emphasizes the timing that Trump was going after this business deal as Russia was actively interfering in the election. Also, the fact that any deal like this would likely have required Russian government assistance.

Jennifer, what's the significance?

RODGERS: Well, you know, I don't know that you are talking about a crime here with this unless it's a bribery crime, and that's possible, but very hard to prove. But it, again, goes to all of these conflicts that the President has surrounding him in these deals. You know, at the same time, he is trying to do this business deal. The Russians want something from them. They want something from the Russians. There are all these entanglements. And the big deal, of course, is the election. You know, it is one thing to have a conflict of interest with a business. But the other thing is if the Trumps really want this business deal, then they are willing to get -- to give the Russians what they want, and vice versa. And, you know, at the time it wasn't clear that the President even thought he was going to win the election. But you know, of course, we know now that the Russians were working toward that goal as well. So it is all kind of entangled. And you know, as I say, the legal step isn't entirely 100 percent clear yet. But the conflicts are enormous.

CABRERA: And again, so much lying. I want to turn to the memo on Manafort because it reveals Manafort lied about five separate matters including contacts he had with a Russian with ties to the group that hacked the DNC. It also says he lied about contacts with Trump administration officials this year. We also learned that he has testified to the grand jury twice.

Kim, which one of Manafort's alleged lies spells the most potential trouble for the White House?

WEHLE: God, that's difficult to say without getting into tremendous weeds here. But I think the point with Manafort that's of interest is we have also pending in this whole story this question of Russian sanctions, right?

So again, back to motive and I agree, we don't know where the crimes are. We have conspiracy to (INAUDIBLE) the United States. We have seen the Mueller team indict a number of Russians for that particular crime. We also have disclosure laws relating to lobbying, relating to if you are part of -- if you are a candidate for office, are you being honest about your communications with foreign and your interests with foreign governments? So I think here what we are seeing is what is it about Manafort and

his relationship with the Russians that could give a quid pro quo for the campaign? I think that's really what the Mueller team at this point is going to be looking into. Was there a question of hey, listen, if you ease sanctions on us, we will help you with the dirt on Hillary Clinton. We will help you in other ways with the WikiLeaks, et cetera.

Those are the two -- the motive I think is what we are starting to see come out. And I think it's extremely important for people to understand why that matters. That is, voters want to know the scoop about the people they are going to vote for. And if that stuff is kept under wraps, we are not voting for the people we thought we are and we don't have a functioning democracy.

[16:10:15] CABRERA: Jennifer, remember, the Trump team has tried to downplay Manafort's role on the campaign. And yet, in this court filing we are learning according to Mueller, Manafort was allegedly lying to them about multiple contacts they say that he had with the Trump administration this year. This is after Manafort himself was indicted. He was still in communication as recent as May of this year as they said. Why would Manafort be hiding these contacts? Why lie?

RODGERS: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, if his cooperation wasn't real cooperation. You know, the whole time he was really just trying to get information to feed back to the Trump folks. Now that's supper a risky move that I think that is probably not what he was doing.

The other issue is the pardon issue, right? Is he in communications with people in the Trump administration hoping to kind of lay this ground work that at the end of the day what he really wants is a pardon, you know? Those are the two big things.

But I want to make one other point which is, you know, we know what was revealed in the documents. What we don't know and what is probably even worse for the White House in the long run is what was redacted, right? Because the purpose of these memos is just to sentence these two guys. So the memos did not go into all the things that both Cohen and Manafort told prosecutors that they are keeping under wraps. And to me what they were saying when they were actually trying to cooperate before this all fell apart for Manafort and before Cohen decided not to become a real cooperator, that is the information that Mueller and his team is taking and that they are going to use. And that, we really know nothing about yet at all.

CABRERA: And on that point, Kim, I mean, the Trump tower meeting I don't recall saying in these documents mentioning. We don't know Manafort was there.

WEHLE: Yes. Absolutely, Manafort was there. Jared Kushner was there. The Trump tower meeting is a critical component as well as Cohen's alleged, you know, trip to Europe and to basically -- this came out of the -- the dossier, right? The question of whether he went over to sort of quiet things about Russian collusion. These are, to Jennifer's point, not only the redacted portions, but my

guess is there's mountains of information supplementing the redacted portions. We are just seeing a tiny piece of it. And at this point, it is going to come down to accountability. What happens next as this stuff gets revealed, as the stuff comes to the public sector, are we going to see any movement in Congress to actually have some oversight? Are we going to see the court address it? We really moving to big constitutional crisis around this.

CABRERA: All right. Crisis. Kim Wehle, Jennifer Rodgers, there is more to discover, for sure. Thank you.

The military man brought in to restore order and discipline at the White House is now out. Chief of staff John Kelly is leaving at the end of the month. A look at his tumultuous tenure ahead on CNN.


[16:17:20] CABRERA: Moments ago, President Trump in the crowd with army cadets after tossing the coin after at the start of the annual Army-Navy football game. And at half-time as is tradition, the President will then move over and sit with the navy and the chief men (ph).

On his way to the game, when he was leaving the White House, the President confirmed some news about his chief of staff.


TRUMP: 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 will 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.


CABRERA: Despite those words of praise from the President, his relationship with Kelly hasn't exactly by smooth sailing.

CNN's Ryan Nobles takes a look back at Kelly's embattled tenure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, John Kelly, does he still have a job?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kelly, the former Marine Corps general was expected to bring a military style sense of order to the White House.

TRUMP: As chief of staff.


NOBLES: Kelly quickly reigned in access to the President, tried to control who could call Trump directly, and played a big role in staffing as evidence of his quick disposal of former communications director Anthony Scaramucci. Something Scaramucci is still sore over as evidence from his interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He served the President. And so - and he has hissy fits.

NOBLES: But within weeks, Kelly was forced to confront a series of controversial moves by President Trump that left the White House reeling.

In the wake of the racially charged riots in Charlottesville, Kelly was photographed in the background of Trump tower looking dower as Trump spoke.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either.

NOBLES: Kelly had urged the President to offer a more forceful condemnation of the white supremacists involved, but Trump did not take the advice.

The relationship really started to unravel during the public relations disaster surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter was accused of abuse by two ex-wives. Kelly initially defended him. The President personally blamed his chief of staff for the fall-out.

Despite the hiccups, the President repeatedly sang Kelly's praises on twitter and pushed back on reports that he was unhappy with his work.

TRUMP: He is doing a great job. He will be here, in my opinion, for the entire seven remaining years.

NOBLES: Behind the scenes, it was a different story.

In Bob Woodward's book "Fear," the veteran journalist quotes Kelly is describing Trump as a quote "idiot and also said we are in crazy town. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I have ever had."

Kelly later called that quote BS. And Trump said publicly he believed him. Their public pronouncement aside, the tension inside the west wing was obvious.

Kelly recently got into a heated shouting match with national security advisor John Bolton. And now that it may be finally the end of his tenure, Kelly and the President are no longer speaking.

For Kelly, leaving this job may actually come as a welcome relief.

[16:20:25] KELLY: The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security. But I did something wrong, and God punished me, I guess.


NOBLES: Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.


CABRERA: And again, as we just learned from the President himself, John Kelly will leave his position as chief of staff by the he wanted of the year.

President Trump firing back against his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, calling him dumb as a rock. This after Tillerson finally breaks his silence and claims some of Trump's ideas would have broken the law. Wait until you see this.

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


[16:25:42] CABRERA: Welcome back.

President Trump with a harsh, harsh response to his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Take a look at the President's tweet.

Quote "Rex Tillerson didn't have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy was lazy as well. Lazy as hell, actually."

Keep in mind, the president himself hired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. But as President Trump often says, he only hires the best people. So what sparked this feud? Listen to Tillerson in a rare interview this week.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have never met Donald Trump until the day he asked me to be secretary of state. He acts on his instincts. In some respects that looks like impulsiveness, but it's not his intent to act on impulse. I think he really is trying to act on his instincts. It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things.


CABRERA: Bear in mind, Tillerson is known to be disciplined, to be rather tight-lipped, safe with his word choice. Now, this feud just adds to what was a heck of the week for this President.

Joining me now Olivia Nuzzi, the Washington correspondent for 'New York" magazine and "Esquire" magazine's chief political correspondent Ryan Lizza.

Olivia, Rex Tillerson is a former cabinet member. He now says he had to tell the President that some of his thoughts into what he wanted to do weren't even legal. Why do you think he is just speaking up about this now? OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: You know,

it is unusual because there were a lot of reports to this effect that I believe Tillerson denied when he was still in the administration. We have seen a lot in the various books that have come out about this administration, the first year of the White House that pretty much say exactly what Tillerson was saying, that the President did not understand the process. He would just want something done, want it done now, and he would have to be kind of talked to or scolded like a child and told that's not how the government works. That's not how you run a country.

I don't know why he would wait so long to speak out other than perhaps he was hoping to kind of not find himself the subject of the stories, not mentioned anymore, be able to kind of fade away into the background, or maybe he felt he had a duty to speak candidly about what really went on. But not very many people even in the books that have been written with the exception of someone like Omarosa have come out and On the Record, at least, spoke about what it was really like to work there. I think people are still afraid of upsetting him because you see the result of it.

CABRERA: Speaking of palace entry, now we know John Kelly is leaving. And we know the two. There have been a lot of comments about when John Kelly would leave. It seemed inevitable, Ryan, but now the President and his aren't even on speaking terms, we have learned. And, yet, he is not leaving until the end of the year. So are you surprised he is sticking around a few more weeks?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I imagine the closest person you are at work, the person who is, you know, your chief of staff and not even talking to them, right?

NUZZI: Awkward Christmas party.

LIZZA: Imagine you and your executive producer just didn't talk at all. I mean, that's the equivalent here.

CABRERA: That's the mountain of dysfunction that's just like the icing on it.

LIZZA: And that position is just impossible, right, because the chief of staff's job is to do all of the things that Trump doesn't want you to do, right? It's to control who he talks to. It's to control the flow of information. And Trump doesn't like that. When he ran the Trump organization, he did not have a chief of staff-like role, right. He had this competing power centers, and a sort of flat hierarchy. So I mean, this is - who would want that job, right? I is impossible job to do. You can't do it for very long. It's starting to feel like the drummer in his spinal tap, you know. Like you're not going to be around all that long.

CABRERA: The punishment. And other White Houses have had multiple chiefs of staff, so in some ways you can say, you know --

LIZZA: Eighteen months is usually -- the average -- the pre-Trump average was about 18 months, right, you know? So he is the co-star in the summer.

CABRERA: He is a little had of that average, obviously.

But the President - there is a tweet for everything. The President has tweeted about other chiefs of staff, moving on. Let me remind you of this tweet.

This is three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being President. Part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage to pass his agenda.

Olivia, who do you think could do this job well in the Trump administration? Because clearly, he hasn't been happy with Reince Preibus or John Kelly.

[16:30:23] NUZZI: Well, I guess the question is how do you judge doing this job well, right. If we are judging it by the previous ways, you say that you typically do this job organizing the White House, making staffing decisions, making sure there's a process, making sure the President is informed. I don't think that anyone could really do that job and remain in the President's good graces.

LIZZA: And he is the chief of staff, right? I mean, the President, that's how he runs the White House. He runs it -- he sort of -- if not micromanages it, he doesn't want one powerful person in control of the staff, right.

NUZZI: Right.

LIZZA: He wants to be there, you know? Like the day that he brought you in to the oval office when you were working on that story.

NUZZI: Right.

LIZZA: That clearly came from him, right. No one else on the staff. Like Trump is talking to his staff. He is not, you know, distant from the staff the way previous presidents have been. And where they leave a lot to the chief of staff to run.

NUZZI: Right. And I think he is sort of - he is (INAUDIBLE) communications director. Because he is not like he is running the White House as he said like (INAUDIBLE), well-known machine. He just doesn't want there to the organization. He doesn't want there to be a process. And I that think that there is a lot about him that really thrives on chaos, thrives on the uncertainty of someone like John Kelly kind of hanging in the balance, not sure if he is going to survive or not. And I think that a lot of the day to day of governing really bores him. And so to fill up to kind of make up for that, he is having these petty dramas about who is going to survive into the next year.

CABRERA: Well, contemplate this. If you are approached to do the position, you got to factor in what other people in his inner circle are now experiencing, because people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty have been very close to Trump. Look at this. This is in the Mueller investigation. Trump's personal

attorney, trump's former campaign chairman, Trump's former White House national security advisor, Trump's former campaign advisor, Trump's former deputy campaign chairman. I mean, it is proving to be risky to be in Trump's orbit.

LIZZA: Day one, you will hire a lawyer, right, on the job in that White House.

NUZZI: Yes. I spoke to someone yesterday actually who I know the President has spoken about, how the interest in them being the chief of staff, and I asked would you take the job, and he said absolutely not, under no circumstance. I would rather be outside advising. And I think that's how a lot of people who would be -- who would seem credible who seem like they have the credentials that would typically make them qualified for this job. I think that's how they feel right now. That it's just not worth it. And it's not as though you gain a sheen of credibility spending time in this White House that you could go trade on in the private sector, like in previous administrations. I think it makes people reluctant to hire you.

LIZZA: That's a good point. I mean, he already had trouble getting people into his administration like Republicans, because he was such a controversial Republican. But if you are on the outside, and you look at what happened with Rex Tillerson, someone who was the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world and well-respected, if you look at Kelly, this general who was admired by both sides of the political aisle, you know, I don't think anyone looks at them and says their reputations are enhanced having gone in and worked for the President.

NUZZI: And you look at someone like Reince Preibus, right, the former advisor.

CABRERA: The list goes on and on, guys. I have to wrap this up because we are out of time. But thank you for the thoughts, and we'll have you back once we find out who the next person will be, I'm sure, which should be in the next, hopefully, couple of days, if not couple of weeks when we see John Kelly leave. Thank you.

LIZZA: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Good to see you both. Olivia Nuzzi and Ryan Lizza.

Well, the prince and the President's son-in-law. The "New York Times" revealing shocking new details on just how tight the relationship is between Jared Kushner and the Saudi prince believed to have ordered the killing of a journalist.

That's ahead here in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[16:37:34] CABRERA: We have breaking news in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul back in October. Well, according to the "New York Times," White House advisor and son-in-law of the President Jared Kushner offered advice to Mohammed bin Salman about how the Saudi prince could weather the storm after international condemnation of the Khashoggi death.

Now, this week the CIA director reinforced the agency's belief that the prince ordered the journalist killed. CNN has reached out to the White House for a response. Khashoggi's editor at the "Washington Post" Karen Attiah responding to the "New York Times" reporting tweeting this is insane.

And joining me now is Washington investigative reporter for the "New York Times" Mark Mazzetti. He co-wrote this story.

Mark, you write that Kushner became the prince's most important defender within the White House after this scandal broke. Tell us about the advice Kushner gave to the prince and the relationship the two have cultivated.

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The relationship is one that's gone on for about two years. Really since President Trump was elected during the transition. Kushner starts getting kind of a tutorial about the region, and he comes to understand the significance of this young prince, who at the time, remember, was the third ranking person in Saudi Arabia. Now he is the crown prince, the heir to the throne.

Since Khashoggi's killing, we report that he has continued these messaging conversations with Mohammed bin Salman. And some of the advice he has given is unclear, but it's our understanding that he has been advising him to settle some of his problems in the region within the kingdom, avoid mistakes that clearly the killing of Khashoggi was more than a mistake, but he sees MBS as someone who is the future and I think an important ally of the United States.

CABRERA: President Trump is obviously been criticized for his lack of response to Khashoggi's death. Is Jared Kushner part of the calculus this administration is making?

MAZZETTI: So our understanding are on understanding, certainly, is that Jared Kushner has argued since the killing basically that this relationship is important. It needs to survive, and in essence, there's a lot at stake in the U.S. Saudi partnership. And so, sort of keep the big picture in mind known as saying that he is condoning the killing, certainly, but that he is saying that you have got to look at the long-term and also that this young crown prince is the long-term future of Saudi Arabia, someone who could potentially rule the kingdom for decades.

[16:40:18] CABRERA: I think it's so fascinating that in your reporting, you talk about this relationship between Kushner and MBS being something the Saudis really wanted, that Saudi officials sought out. Is there a chance that they're using Kushner as a pawn?

MAZZETTI: Well, I don't know about that and we don't infer that in our reporting, certainly. We do say, though, that they saw Jared Kushner as an important voice and influential voice in the White House. Someone who he said at the very beginning wanted to deal with the Israel-Palestine issue, something he believes in very strongly. And the Saudis have always been seen as a lynch pin for that. So they saw each other as important. And they saw each other as useful partners to get the things done that they wanted done.

CABRERA: Mark Mazzetti, really interesting piece. Thank you for reporting and for joining us and sharing it with us. we appreciate it.

MAZZETTI: Sure. Thank you.

CABRERA: We will be right back.


[16:45:49] CABRERA: President Trump's signature stance since the first moment of his campaign has been a zero tolerance policy against undocumented immigrants. But a story first reported by the "New York Times" is now raising questions of hypocrisy. As originally reported by the Times, managers at the Trump national golf club at Bedminster, New Jersey knowingly hired illegal immigrants. The paper tracked down two women, one was a housekeeper, who says she interacted with the President and his family.

And CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us now.

You spoke to these women. What have you learned?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I had an opportunity to speak to two of the four women who have been talked about and reported on by the "New York Times" as you mentioned here. They say that they have no regrets about stepping into the spotlight, sharing their story. They say that this is a blatant example of hypocrisy from the commander in chief.



SANDOVAL (voice-over): Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales are the first to speak out publicly about their experience working at a Donald Trump golf resort as undocumented women.

As first reported by the "New York Times" Thursday, both were hired as housekeepers at the Trump national golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Morales says she was hired in 2013. Diaz says she worked there from 2010 through 2013 and has since become a legal permanent resident of the U.S. both claim managers employed by the Trump organization knowingly hired them as undocumented workers.


SANDOVAL: Diaz tells me her decision to go public was made, in part, because of what she calls a high level of hypocrisy.


SANDOVAL: The President launches such hardline immigration rhetoric, says Diaz, yet his organization is doing the complete opposite. Morales, Diaz's former colleague says she has additional reasons for speaking out. The undocumented Guatemalan alleges she was subjected to demeaning verbal assaults by her superior.


SANDOVAL: After trump became president, the housekeeping manager became more aggressive towards the employees, recalls Morales. She described as being threaten for deportation repeatedly.

There are also allegations of illegal hiring practices. Diaz claims managers at the property went as far as to arrange for fraudulent documents to keep them employed.


SANDOVAL: Morales tells me she was taken to an offsite location after being hired away from the club. She says it was there that she was provided with a bogus Social Security card and identification. The woman's attorney, Anibel Romero, says they are prepared to provide proof to authorities if an investigation to the Trump organization's hiring practices is launched.

ANIBEL ROMERO, LAWYER FOR DIAZ AND MORALES: Absolutely. We have documentary evidence. We have the testimony of workers. We have the fraudulent documents. All of this could be provided to federal authorities and/or state authorities. Both of my clients are willing to cooperate with federal and state authorities.

SANDOVAL: In response to the claims, Trump organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said in a statement, we have tens of thousands of employees across our properties and have very strict hiring practices. If any employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately.

No public criminal or civil actions have been filed against the Trump organization regarding the allegations from Morales, Diaz, and two other women mentioned by the "New York Times." Morales and Diaz tell CNN they do not believe Donald Trump was actually aware of the alleged illegal hiring practices. They even have fond memories of their early years working at the Trump property.


SANDOVAL: I was very proud to say that I worked there, says Diaz.


SANDOVAL: And we spoke to Morales and asks her if she is still technically employed by the Trump organization. She says that she still - she hasn't heard otherwise, Ana, which leads her to believe that she technically is still in the books.

Now, as for the attorney who we just heard from, he said that he is now considering potentially following up with a civil lawsuit against the Trump administration. This case it would be for employment discrimination. Certainly going to be something to watch, especially if he says what he says he would do, which is produce evidence at the Trump organization provided this kind of falsified documents which, again, is still an allegation at this point.

[16:50:19] CABRERA: And I know he wouldn't actually show you the evidence that he says he has, but he is also calling for state and federal investigators to get involved. How likely is that to happen?

SANDOVAL: We do have to remember, of course, it is a Trump administration right now. The commissioner for immigration and customs enforcement who would potentially investigate this was appointed, of course, by President Trump. So that would certainly leads you to ask one of these questions whether or not an investigation would come together. The attorney did say that he would also like to put pressure perhaps on the state of New Jersey to see if they have any potential opportunities here to investigate. So, yes, two requests right now coming from him. And an investigation at the state level and from the feds as well.

CABRERA: Stay on it for us, Polo.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you.

SANDOVAL: Thank you.

CABRERA: Racing for bad weather and nasty winter storm targeting the southeast, where the storm is headed next.

And salad chain sweet green is now worth $1 billion. Here's how its founder created this now booming business.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweet green was really a solution to a problem of how do we find and bridge the gap between health and convenience and do it with values and a mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just wanted it to be faster and cheaper, but not lower quality and not diminish the experience.

NATHANIEL RU, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF BRAND OFFICER, SWEETGREEN: We opened our second restaurant in 2009. It was a much bigger restaurant, and when we opened our doors, we have no business. And we were really scared, and the only things that we knew how to do in terms of marketing was to make healthy food and to DJ and play music, and so that's what we did.

JONATHAN NEMAN, CO-FOUNDER/CEO, SWEETGREEN: We took that little sweet green festival into something we called the sweet life festival. And it went from about 500 people in a parking lot to over 20,000 people at Mary weather post pavilion. What it was, it was a way for us to connect to culture beyond just food. But it was this crisis, this moment of what do we do? How do we fix this that led us to this answer? You know, I think it look it a lot of, you know, founder stories or start of businesses and hear the story when it started and then you see a story of, you know, soul there, you know, when it is made it. But nobody talks about that messy middle. It is never a straight job.

RU: For us, as founders, success is making an impact. Fast food in America is normally thought of as not great and not good for you. And at SweetGreen, we really wanted to change that.



[16:57:27] CABRERA: For the fourth weekend in a row, tensions in France have turned violent and deadly. Streets of Paris, including the iconic Champs-Elysees filled with cars on fire. Police in riot gear and tear gas, the yellow vest protest started as a grassroots protest against fuel taxes. It is now becoming nationwide movement against the Macron administration.

And across the country 135 people have been wounded. Almost 1,000 taken into custody. Tens of thousands of police are deployed in all the major tourist attractions are closed. Four deaths have now been attributed to the protests, including an 80-year-old woman who was hit in the face by a tear gas canister flying through her window.

A major winter storm is now creating dangerous conditions for more than 20 million people all across the southern U.S. This is what Lubbock, Texas, woke up to this morning. More than nine inches of snow blanketing streets, trees, cars, states across the entire southern tier are prepping for heavy snow and ice, an arsenal the plows, salt, and sand. This is expected to be a crippling storm with a mix of rain, snow, and ice.

The snow is beginning to fall in North Carolina. Mountain towns could get up to 16 inches before it's all over. This storm began Thursday in southern California where it triggered flash floods that stranded motorists and closed roads. And as that moisture moves eastward, it is colliding with a high pressure system over the Ohio valley that is funneling the cold air into the region. Now officials across the south are now asking people to take this storm seriously.

Heads up. Tonight at 8:00 CNN heroes, young wonder, proves that the smallest among us can make an impact in a big way. They are five extraordinary young people who are making a difference in their communities. Tonight we recognize them. Join us as we salute our youngest heroes when we present CNN heroes, young wonder. That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being here.

Our breaking news this hour, House Republicans have just released a transcript of what was described as a tense closed-door interview with fired FBI director James Comey about how he handled investigations having to do with the President and Hillary Clinton.

Let's get right to CNN's Laura Jarrett.

And Laura, I know you are still going through these transcripts. What are the big takeaways so far?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Ana. We have got 200 plus pages here.