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President Donald Trump Believes There Is No Collusion; President Trump Is Now Considering Four People For Chief Of Staff; Investors Are Nervously Watching And Hoping For A Santa Claus Rally As Financial Markets Get Set To Open For Trade This Week; EPA to Roll Back Obama-Era Emissions Rule; Time Runs Out for Young War Victims in Yemen; Major Winter Storm Dumping Snow, Ice on Southeast; 2018 CNN Hero of the Year Revealed Tonight. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 9, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:02] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are in CNN NEWSROOM.
And the President wants you to believe he is totally in the clear. No collusion. We don't know that yet. While there may not be fire, holy smoke.
Here is what we know so far. Russia actively interfered in the 2016 presidential election, every single arm of U.S. intelligence confirms this. They have gone so far to conclude that Russia didn't just interfere but did so with the intention of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. We know that the effort reached the highest levels of the kremlin.
According to the "Washington Post," the CIA captured Putin's exact orders to interfere. And Mueller has indicted 12 Russian officers for hacking the DNC and systematically providing the Clinton emails to WikiLeaks.
We know that while the Russians were trying to sway the U.S. election, they were reaching out to key members of Trump's family and key members of his campaign. According to the latest court documents, the Russians offered Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen political synergy as early as 2015. Then in 2016, a mediator on behalf of a wealthy Russian family offered Donald Trump Junior dirt on Hillary Clinton.
That mediator wrote in an email to Trump's son quote "this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but it is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump."
At no point that we know of at least did a single member of Trump's family or his campaign alert anyone, not even the FBI about these contacts and offers of help. Instead, in some cases, we know they accepted the help.
Trump Junior famously responded to the offers of Clinton dirt by emailing back quote "if it's what you say I love it. He then set up a meeting at Trump tower. Jared Kushner was there so as Paul Manafort as well as a Russian government attorney who describes herself as an informant. We know even Trump himself publicly called on the Russians for help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Trump says that was a joke. But according to court documents, on or around the same day Trump asked for those emails, Russians began attacking new email accounts tied to Hillary Clinton for the very first time.
It didn't end there. Even after the election, contacts between the Trump team and Russians continued. According to the "Washington Post," Jared Kushner went so far to suggest as to suggest a secret back channel with the Russians, one that would prevent U.S. intelligence from eavesdropping.
Michael Flynn talked with the Russian ambassador about easing sanctions during the transition and still amid all the contacts and offers and acceptance of help, Trump for some reason repeatedly and continues to deny Russia was behind the Democratic hacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Could be Russia but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?
Hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act, you are not going to catch them. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace.
I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Those repeated denials against all the evidence are mysterious at best, suspicious at worst. And now we learned that during much of this time, Trump had a vested business interest in creating cozy ties with Russia.
As he was campaigning and becoming the GOP nominee for president, Mueller's latest filing says he was secretly hah hashing out a deal to build a Trump tower in Moscow. Again, what is key here, this was going on during the run-up to the election and Trump never let voters know about this. Instead, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't deal there. I have no businesses. I have no loans from Russia.
I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we have stayed away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: We know Trump isn't the only one who was less than forthcoming about his dealings with Russia.
Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions initially failed to disclose their contacts.
Paul Manafort is accused of lying about his ties to Moscow.
Michael Flynn admits he lied about his contacts.
And Michael Cohen also admits he lied about his Russia contacts.
So here is what the President wants you to believe that even as Russia reached out to his campaign and even as his campaign accepted, didn't report and lied about that Russian help and that even as all of this was happening while he was trying to close a business deal with Russia, he insists there is absolutely no collusion and nothing to prove otherwise.
With us to weigh in on all of this now, CNN legal commentator and former White House attorney Jim Schultz and CNN legal analyst and federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
Gentlemen, the President is right about at least one thing. As of right now, Mueller hasn't shown evidence of collusion on its face but cases are presented every day without a smoking gun. Is this circumstantial evidence that is already out there damming enough, Renato?
[18:05:41] RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there is certainly a lot of evidence. You have done a very nice job laying all of that out, Ana. And there is even more out there that you didn't layout. You only had a few minutes to do it. You probably could have done a whole one-hour show at this point.
We saw a recent filing. You mentioned the political synergy. You know, what does that mean offering a foreign government offering political synergy with the U.S. presidential candidate at the same time that that candidate is seeking help from that government as to a business deal. I mean, that is corrupt at best. Unlawful at worst.
Now I will say that the Mueller investigation is still not at the stage where there is any charges that have been brought relating, that relate to this with the President. But that's because like any other grand jury investigation, it's operating in secret.
The New York obviously, which we are not talking about the New York federal prosecutors did, you know, produce charges that implicated the president on Friday and that is, you know, totally separate problem but -- CABRERA: Right. Having to do with the hush money payments.
MARIOTTI: Exactly. Exactly right.
CABRERA: Jim, could a case be made on - Jim, could a case be made by what's known so far?
JAMES SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Look, we don't have enough information at this point. You know, I think it was Senator Marco Rubio today that said look, there is a lot of information that's in these filings, but there has been no charge of conspiracy. There has been no allegation that the president or his campaign was engaged in it.
Yes, Manafort was doing things he shouldn't have been doing and was he acting on his own because he was indebted? Was he acting on behalf of the campaign? A lot of that is - it hasn't been shown. And there is a lot of redactions in that filing. So it is very, very difficult to make any judgment one way or the other.
The optics are bad on this, no question. But that doesn't mean there has been any illegality or any criminal conduct at this point in time, you know, that is able to be prove.
CABRERA: I want to come back to that court filing on Friday from the southern district of New York that says now Michael Cohen broke campaign finance laws when he paid the hush money payments for the women who have claimed to have affairs with President Trump when he was candidate. And he says Cohen did this at the direction of that candidate Trump that essentially implicates the President and at least two alleged felonies.
Listen to what Congressman Adam Schiff says about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My take away is there is a real prospect of that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the justice department may indict him that he may be the first president in quite some time to face real prospect of jail time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Jim, could Adam Schiff be right?
SCHULTZ: There is a real question as to the conduct and whether it violates FEC rules. And I mean, it goes back to the Jon Edwards case where he had similar conduct and he was charged, Jon Edwards once charged in that case, but that was an unsuccessful prosecution, not guilty on at least one of the charges and a number the jury didn't make a decision on.
So I think that there is a real question as to whether these are real FEC violations or not. The fact that Michael Cohen played guilty to them is not in and of itself, you know, that's not this positive of the issue as to whether there is, you know, illegality of criminality as it relates to hush money payment. And whether they need to be paid out campaign (INAUDIBLE) or whether this is a personal issue is certainly an issue -- a legal issue that is going to be taken up by the courts at some point in time. Maybe not in connection with this largely because this is really becomes down to a political question because this is an issue that if Congress decides to take it up and decides to review this issue in connection with an impeachment investigation or hearing, they are the ones that are going to have to make a determination on this, it is whether it's a high crime or misdemeanor and take it before the Senate. This is not something that is going to go before the court of law as it relates to the President.
CABRERA: And that's because DOJ guidelines essentially say you don't indict a sitting president. But what if when he is no longer president? I mean, that is the possibility here that Adam Schiff is laying out.
Renato, you are a former federal prosecutor. Do you think the DOJ would pursue charges against the President and say two, possibly six years from now for campaign finance violations?
[18:10:10] MARIOTTI: Well, certainly, the statute of limitations runs until 2021, which if President Trump lost in the upcoming election or didn't run for whatever reason, he could be prosecuted at that time. You know, on my podcast this week, former solicitor general Neil Katyal said he thought the statute of limitations could run, could be told past the time of the President's term, the second term. It's possible if that legal argument is valid, you can imagine an indictment after that time.
I certainly would say this. You know, I advise clients now at times who are under investigation if I was advising the President in this situation, I would tell him he needs to be prepared for a potential indictment for the southern district of New York after he is in office. Because the southern district of New York made very clear that the same crimes that Michael Cohen is going to be serving time for were directed by him. They have concluded it based on whatever evidence they have. The probation department totally separate form of government came to the same conclusion. And if the judge agrees with the prosecution and the probation department, which I suspect the judge will, then you have got another branch of government concluding the same thing. So that's a lot of jeopardy for him.
And regardless of what happens in the meantime, after he leaves office, there is a very significant question as to his potential liability.
CABRERA: Let's comeback to the special counsel probe. Mueller has accused three people close to the President now of lying about their Russian contacts, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Flynn was working in the White House. Cohen and Manafort, they were obviously in contact with the White House around the time they allegedly lied according to the court documents.
Jim, how do you make sense of it? Why people in this investigation with open lines to the White House keeping deceptive? SCHULTZ: Well, it looks in every single instance the folks had other
problems outside of all of the issues in connection with the campaign or their official roles or otherwise. They had issues as it related to Paul Manafort's case, you know, FERA, the foreign agent's registration act and he had issues there and a number of issues beyond that bank fraud and financial fraud.
CABRERA: Right. But then he pleaded guilty and was supposed to be cooperating. But he kept lying.
SCHULTZ: Well, that's the thing, right.
CABRERA: This administration including as recently as May of 2018, that's this year. Why would he be lying about his contacts with the current administration with senior member of it?
SCHULTZ: So we don't know what other exposure he may have. Again, all this is largely unknown. To make the conclusion that he is doing it to protect administration or to protect the President is a real leap and somewhat irresponsible. But he may have had other problems, personal reasons why he continued down this road and the justice department doesn't believe him.
Same thing with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen, the justice department again charged him with further lying and that makes him all these folks very difficult witnesses when it comes down to the rubber hits the road to put them on the stand or to otherwise rely upon what they are saying without other corroborating evidence.
CABRERA: In just a few seconds, I will give you the final thought, Renato.
MARIOTTI: Well, I wonder why people in the Trump administration were having continued contact with a man who is indicted in multiple courts with felonies and why he was going around his lawyers on the slide to contact members of the administration when the ordinary course would for him to go through his lawyers to Trump's lawyers to do that. It suggests to me that there is something that Manafort and those other individuals didn't want their lawyers to know about.
CABRERA: Jim Schultz, Renato Mariotti, thank you both, gentlemen. Good to have you with us and your expertise is always appreciated.
We have some news just in to CNN. Nick Ayers is the leading candidate to replace John Kelly as White House chief of staff says, thanks but no thanks who President Trump is now considering for the job.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[18:18:20] CABRERA: The news just in to CNN.
President Trump is now considering four people for chief of staff. We also just learned Nick Ayers, the chief of staff for vice president Mike Pence will not be taking this new position with the President. A senior White House confirming this to CNN. In fact, we are told, Nick Ayres will be leaving the White House altogether.
Back now to the four that President Trump is considering. The source would not give all names but the official says the President is expected to make a decision by the end of the year when John Kelly is to leave. One name we have learned being floated is Republican congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. White house senior staffers have asked outside advisors today what they think of Meadows for chief of staff, a source familiar with the matter tells us.
Now Meadows, chairman of the House freedom caucus, is known to be close to President Trump.
Joining us now Elaina Plott, staff writer for "the Atlantic" and Sahil Kapur, national reporter for "Bloomberg News."
Sahil, your reaction to this potential Meadows chief of staff idea?
SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, obviously, House Republicans are going to be in the minority right now. Mark Meadows and his freedom caucus are going to have much less power. But their power has a share of the caucus' actually going to go up because many of the people, the Republican that are swept out are the moderates. So the conservatives have power and meadow than as allies like Jim Jordan are going to, you know, are setting themselves up to have some powerful positions atop of the committees as ranking members.
So one way or another, whether Mark Meadows is in the House or whether he is in the White House, he is going to be one of the President's most vocal and most prominent defenders.
CABRERA: And whoever ends up being his next chief of staff could have to face the fallout of the Mueller probe and be in the White House during that time whenever the final report is issued.
We have President Trump this week dipping into the playbook of denial and distraction in the wake of Robert Mueller's new bombshell revelations.
The President says he is quote "very happy with the Mueller situation" and that the latest court document dump quote "totally clears the President."
Elaina, so far, he is staying on message no collusion but you report when Mueller's final report does drop, there is no strategy of how to respond. The only plan is to fight. What does that look like?
[18:20:28] ELAINA PLOT, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: When I write that, the only plan is to fight. Rudy Giuliani told me that the only clear response pattern that they have prepped for is if the President issued a subpoena, they will do whatever they can to resist it.
And you know, I think the news about Trump looking for a new chief of staff is really relevant here because when there is no plan whatsoever for how to respond to Mueller's report when it does drop, you have to think if you are one of Trump's choices to be chief of staff, is that the kind of situation I want to walk into? So somebody like Mark Meadows, I imagine that is going to be kind of top of mind for him if in fact he has made a formal offer for the position.
CABRERA: Sahil, this weekend, the President, he is trying deflect. He is denying. He is deflecting. John Kelly is out. Look at what is happening in France. He seems to be in the full throttle mode, nothing to see here, look over there. Meantime, Mueller just keeps plugging away. He has been very methodical.
KAPUR: Right. Well, the President's legal strategy here is largely more of a political strategy. He is trying to undermine the credibility of this investigation because the justice department will have tools to fight any potential indictment if it comes to him in court.
This is going to be at the end of the day a matter for Congress. And right now, Republican voters still approve of this President by margins of 85 to 90 percent. And that is going to scare away Republican members of Congress especially in the Senate right now which is where it matters most from wanting to take any action to confront him.
One great example of this is that there is a piece of legislation in the Senate that would protect the special counsel investigation and there are only two Republicans who were On the Record saying they support it and want to do bring that up. One of them is Jeff Flake who is retiring. The other is Susan Collins, the only Republican senator left from, you know, a blue state that is up for reelection in 2020.
So by in large, Republican senators are sticking with the President. And I will note in the event, in the hypothetical event that his new Democratic house tries to impeach the President and succeeds at impeaching the President, it will take 20 Republican senators to remove him from office. That's a towering bar to cross when his approval is that high with his own base.
CABRERA: There are so many questions, Elaina. Are Trump's continual distractions though impacting his allies, even his own lawyer's abilities to effectively defend him?
PLOTT: One thing that I found it interesting as I reported my story earlier this week, Ana, is that when I spoke to people in the Clinton White House, for instance, who were there when the star reporter was about to drop and they, of course, they said it never occurred to them that the President had not been honest about the worst-case scenario, sort of what the, you know, worst findings in the report might be. And because of that, they felt they had several plans in place and kind of knew what they would do whatever, you know, Ken Star was to reveal.
That's not necessarily the case in this White House. You have people close to the President, including I believe his own lawyers who may not feel particularly feel that they have been given even the full story. When that's the case, there is not much you can do but wing it or quote-unquote "fight back" when the report drops. CABRERA: So if there is not a real strategy, Sahil, I have to wonder
does the President just think his own strategy, his reactions, his communications is better than anything his team could come up with collectively?
KAPUR: Right, that certainly seems to be the case. The President is winging it and kind of going at it, you know, and shooting from the hip on this because he believes his instinct, his political instincts are going to keep his voters on his side and that at the end of the day as I mentioned is, you know, is his strategy I think when it comes down to it. He is in the words of one White House, a former White House aide I spoke lawfully (ph) unprepared for a Democratic House especially with subpoena power is going to snare his inner circle.
And this aid that I talked to doesn't believe the White House is ready for what's to come. The likely next chairman of the intelligence committee Adam Schiff is going to be investigating things like the President's finances. Democrats are going to try to get their hands on his tax returns. There is a storm coming. And it remains to be seen if the White House is ready for that.
CABRERA: All right. Sahil Kapur, Elaina Plott, good to have you both with us. Thank you.
PLOTT: Thank you.
KAPUR: Thank you.
CABRERA: The environmental protection agency announces it will do away with regulations restricting coal plant emissions. This man, Andrew Wheeler, the current acting head of the EPA says the rules put unfair burdens on the coal plant. Would it surprise you to learn that Mueller or rather Wheeler was recently paid millions of dollars as a lobbyist of the coal industry?
More on that ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Meantime, investors are nervously watching and hoping for a Santa Claus rally as financial markets get set to open for trade this week.
CNN's chief business correspondent Christine Romans has more - Christine.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana.
Hopes for an end of the year rally are fading, trade warfares and concerns about rising interest rates pummeled markets last week. Constant volatility is something investor investors may need to get used to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:25:12] SAVITA SUBRAMANIAN, BANK OF AMERICA: We need to just prepare ourselves for volatile markets. I think the name of the game from here on out is that volatility is the new normal. I think the worst thing to do in a volatile market environment is to sell on emotion or panic sell, you know. That is the route to under performance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: One of the big questions on Wall Street, just how many interest rate hikes are coming next year?
Friday's jobs report showed hiring slowed in November. That could give the Federal Reserve room to slow down even though it's widely expected to raise rates again this month.
Investors will be listening closely to Jerome Powell's news conference a week and a half from now. If he telegraphs fewer hikes next year, maybe investors will get the Santa Claus rally after all.
In New York, I'm Christine Romans.
ANNOUNCER: Before the bells is brought to you by e trade. The original place to invest online. And go to CNN.com/beforethebell to stay on top of the market and sign up for the daily newsletter.
[18:30:34] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: This next story got very little attention in the news last week because of President Bush's state funeral and developments surrounding the White House, but the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is rolling back an Obama-era emissions rule put in place to help regulate climate change.
This rollback actually loosens restrictions on the American coal industry. Strangely, it comes just days after a U.S. government report warning that aggressive action is needed now to cut way down on greenhouse gases in the face of global warming.
The man who made that announcement, the acting head of the EPA, made his name in Washington lobbying in favor of the coal industry.
Let me say that again. Andrew Wheeler, former coal lobbyist, is now in charge of the government agency whose job it is to protect the environment.
CNN's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin wanted to talk to him about that potential conflict of interest but getting face time with Andrew Wheeler is easier said than done.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Try to ask the acting administrator of the EPA a tough question --
GRIFFIN (on camera): Mr. Wheeler, Drew Griffin with CNN.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- you are more likely to get a stiff shoulder from his security --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to go back from here.
GRIFFIN (on camera): All right.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- than a chance at even a glance of Andrew Wheeler.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Take a window question. Your security guards won't be bothered by it. Mr. Wheeler?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Why? Perhaps because the question we want to ask Wheeler is, just how is it possible one of the biggest lobbyists for the nation's biggest coal companies is now leading the Environmental Protection Agency?
ELIZABETH GORE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: Andrew Wheeler was in bed with the coal companies and now he is --
GRIFFIN (on camera): And he was in bed with them last year.
GORE: And now he's in a role where he is regulating them. It makes no sense.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever you can do --
GRIFFIN (voice-over): By his own resume, President Trump could not have chosen found a swampier, more conflicted person to run the EPA than Andrew Wheeler.
Just take a look at this photo from last year. It's a meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry who appears to be getting an ear full from Bob Murray, the CEO of the largest coal mining company in the U.S.
Who else was in the room? Murray Energy Corporation's top lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.
From 2009 until just last year, Murray Energy paid nearly $3 million to Wheeler's lobbying firm to deliver government access just like this.
Months after the photo was taken --
ANDREW WHEELER, ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I'm Andrew.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- President Trump would nominate Wheeler from coal company lobbyist to deputy administrator of the EPA.
MICHAEL GERRARD, ANDREW SABIN PROFESSOR OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I'm not surprised. I am appalled but not surprised.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): To those who track the Trump administration's actions on the environment, like Columbia University's Michael Gerrard, Wheeler is a worst-case scenario.
GERRARD: Wheeler is carrying out the wish list of the industry lobbyists who have wanted to shut down environmental regulations as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly that objective. But now he's in the driver's seat.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): That industry wish list, it turns out, is real. Shortly after Donald Trump took office, Murray Energy, the coal company, delivered an action plan, a recommended agenda of rolling back regulations to get the government off the coal industry's back.
SCOTT PRUITT, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: You have promised to put America first.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Trump's scandal-ridden initial EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, got the ball rolling before he was fired.
WHEELER: When Congress established the EPA's authority --
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But it is Wheeler, barely five months at the helm of the EPA, who has done these -- rollbacks on coal plant emissions, rollbacks on car emissions, proposed rollbacks on methane emissions in oil and gas production. And he is doing it like a man who knows how to play the Washington game.
In strictly controlled environments like this forum at "The Washington Post," Wheeler will answer questions like a pro. Like this response on the newly released government report on the effects of climate change.
WHEELER: I haven't read the entire report yet but I've gone through it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And carefully choosing his words about the human impact on climate.
WHEELER: I believe that man does have an impact on the climate, that CO2 has an impact on the climate, and we do take that seriously.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund and a Senate staffer while Wheeler was there, says she doesn't believe it.
GORE: He's a science skeptic. He was calling people who were studying this climate alarmists, shrugging off the risks of carbon pollution, calling climate change a hoax.
[18:35:06] GRIFFIN (voice-over): Wheeler, before lobbying for big coal, spent 14 years as a top aide to the top climate change denier on Capitol Hill --
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: It's a snowball.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): -- Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe.
INHOFE: For the past hour and a half or so, I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Inhofe is a staunch opponent of environmental regulations. And when in charge of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, he held hearings challenging climate-warming science.
At his side, whispering in his ear, helping to direct questioning, lining up witnesses was Wheeler.
Capitol Hill sources with intimate knowledge of his involvement tell CNN Wheeler was the top man in charge and a driving force behind his boss' climate change denying agenda.
Five former Inhofe staffers now work beside Wheeler at EPA, including his chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior advisor for policy, and an associate administrator for policy.
All former staffers of the senator who believes climate change is a hoax.
GORE: The EPA is stocked with former Inhofe staffers, and this is reflected in the types of policies that you see coming out of EPA right now.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So do you think the goal is to just destroy EPA flat out?
GORE: I think the goal is to undermine climate protections, to rollback existing rules, and to erode fundamental environmental laws.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Mr. Wheeler --
GRIFFIN (voice-over): What is Andrew Wheeler's response?
GRIFFIN (on camera): -- just one question.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): We're waiting.
GRIFFIN: And while we have yet to hear from Mr. Wheeler himself, we did hear from the EPA who wanted to reiterate that Acting Administrator Wheeler does believe that humans have an impact on the climate.
As for his lobbying work, the EPA wants us to point out that Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy and says he also didn't work on or receive a copy of that Murray Energy wish list or action plan.
Drew Griffin, CNN Atlanta.
CABRERA: One more disturbing environmental note. This evening, scientists studying sea turtles that live in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea found traces of plastic in the bodies of every single turtle they examined. Every one of them.
Researchers say the type of plastic they found is the kind used in car tires, cigarettes, fishing nets. The plastic didn't kill the turtle in every case but measurable amounts were picked up in their digestive systems.
Scientists call it clear evidence that the amount of plastic waste in the oceans is alarmingly high.
To California, where in the chaos of an incoming wildfire, one family was forced to evacuate without their dogs. You won't believe what they found when they finally return to their burned-out home. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[18:38:10] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: The two sides in Yemen's four-year-long civil war, now sitting down to talk about how to end it for the first time in more than two years.
The U.N. is mediating the talks in an effort to end this war that has had a horrific toll. The stark reality is thousands of civilians have been killed, tens of thousands injured, millions have been driven from their homes.
And listen to this. The U.N. estimates almost 12 million people are on the verge of starvation. The stakes are high but for some, any sort of peace will come too late.
I need to warn you, what we are about to show you is hard to watch. But if we don't shine light on what is happening, who else will? You need to see this.
CNN's Nima Elbagir brings us the desperate moments as doctors try and fail to save the life of a 9-month-old child in Yemen.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the front lines in Hodeida, every inch of territory gained and lost has been brutally fought over, paralyzing Yemen and ravaging its people.
As the world finally works to force the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led collision and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to an agreement, for so many here, it's already too late.
What we're about to show you is almost unimaginable in its horror. These are 9-month-old Akhil's (ph) last gasps filmed inside a local clinic.
Akhil (ph) died as the medical team fought to revive him. His desperate father borrowed the money to bring him here and all he's leaving with is a little body wrapped in white.
In hospitals and clinics across Yemen, time is running out. Little Mohtashim (ph) is also 9 months old. He struggles to even keep his eyes open.
Support for the war in Yemen is waning and many U.S. lawmakers want out. Although U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says without American involvement, life here would be worse. It's hard to see how.
Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.
[18:45:05] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: A Pittsburgh community still reeling from a deadly anti- Semitic attack is now facing a new threat.
It's just over six weeks since a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue, and now police are investigating anti-Semitic pamphlets being spread across the city, including the Squirrel Hill neighborhood targeted in the attack.
Pittsburgh's Department of Public Safety released a statement on these pamphlets. And it reads, in part, such hateful material will not be tolerated in Pittsburgh. Not be residents, city officials, nor law enforcement.
[18:49:58] The Department of Public Safety assures the community that we are taking this matter very seriously and will follow every investigative avenue. Pittsburgh is and will remain stronger than hate.
Now, a story of fierce loyalty in the midst of a desperate situation. A dog left behind in the deadly Camp Fire in California was found protecting the ruins of his former home when his owners were finally allowed back to check on their decimated property.
Madison's owners were away from their house when the fire began to spread. They could not return for two weeks. They prayed for Madison's safety and those prayers were answered. We're back in just a moment.
[18:55:52] CABRERA: A massive winter storm is pounding the southeast right now, dumping more than a foot of snow in some places. And more than 18 million people remain under some kind of winter weather alert.
Earlier today, more than half a million homes in the southeast had no power, and officials say they expect days of transportation delays. More than a thousand flights have been canceled since this storm began, and hundreds more are already canceled for tomorrow.
The worst of this storm will continue through the night. Let's get a quick check with meteorologist Ivan Cabrera for the latest. Fill us in where will the hardest hit places be.
IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Ana, a crippling storm, no question about it here. And it continues, as you mentioned, tonight, I think for North Carolina. We're getting crushed right now in Virginia.
I just want to show you some of the totals here because they are incredibly impressive. Over a foot in some areas here in the Carolinas. Take a look. Twenty-four inches, two feet, of snowfall across portions of southern Virginia, and it continues to snow.
I think Richmond about to get in on a pretty good band here. The entire area you see here, 18 million under a winter storm warning or a winter weather advisory. Not just for snow, mind you. This is going to be snow with some ice mixed in.
In fact, I'm really concerned about Greensboro right now. It is raining there, and the temperatures are below freezing. You're likely getting some freezing rain. It's going to be snow to the north of that.
Look at Richmond. You see the purple there? That's what we call banding. That means that two to three inches could fall in just one hour here. So we're talking an additional four to six inches. And just south of Richard, six to eight inches of snowfall as the storm continues to push to the east.
On the backside of the storm, we have actually another one coming in. And that's why it's going to enhance, I think, the snowfall as we head into tomorrow. So as you mentioned, 2,000 plus flights now canceled. Crippling storm across the southeast, Ana.
CABRERA: Ivan, thank you. Good to have the Cabrera tag team this evening.
I. CABRERA: Absolutely. Always.
CABRERA: Always. Good to see you.
It's that time of year, the time when we honor some of the best humanity has to offer, CNN Heroes. These are 10 extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things all around the world.
And we can't wait to see who gets the top honor this year. We hope you will join CNN's Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa as they announced the 2018 Hero of the Year live tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
And our Athena Jones is on the red carpet for us. Athena, what's happening there right now?
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Well, a lot of excitement here on the red carpet. We've seen various celebrities arriving.
Lenny Kravitz, who will be performing, arrived just a few minutes ago. And now you have several CNN personalities.
This is, as you said, a big night, a very special night for us here at CNN, showcasing and spotlighting everyday people who are changing lives in their communities and around the country and around the world. These 10 nominees span the globe.
There's a computer programmer from Nigeria who teaches girls how to code. There's a doctor in Peru who helps make sure that families of young children who are going through serious treatments have a place to say. There's an E.R. doctor in Brooklyn who has implemented an anti-violence initiative.
And it's so important because so many of the stories we tell on a daily basis here at CNN deal with conflict and controversy, with scandal, with tragedy. This is a chance to tell hopeful stories, shedding light on these ordinary folks who are doing extraordinary things.
These 10 -- top 10 honorees get $10,000 each. And the big reveal, of course, comes later in the night. The CNN Hero of the Year will get $100,000 to further their cause of service.
So a night of celebration of selflessness, of generosity, and of service. Truly feel-good stories. It's going to be an exciting night to see -- to hear from the heroes themselves, to hear from the celebrity presenters, and to see who wins top honors just a couple of hours from now -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right, Athena Jones for us. Thank you. If you want to feel good, if you want to be inspired, be sure to tune in.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for rolling with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
[18:59:54] Impeachment, fraud, Nixon territory. These are the words swirling around the President of the United States tonight as we get a clearer look now at the investigation that the White House wants us all to believe is just a witch-hunt.