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Russia Cloud Darkens As Trump Tries To Change The Conversation; Former Nixon Lawyer: Congress Has "Little Choice" But To Impeach; Kushner Advised Saudi Price After Journalist Murder; Comey: Firing Mueller Alone Won't Derail Investigations. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 9, 2018 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:10]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion whatsoever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit any violations of the law?

TRUMP: No, no, no.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The House is going to have little choice the way this is going other than to start impeachment proceedings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tense, closed door interview with fired FBI director James Comey.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Comey also fact-checked the president on this claim that he is somehow best friends with Robert Mueller saying -- quote -- "I have never hugged or kissed the man."

TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year and I appreciate his service very much.

COLIN JOST, ACTOR: That's how awful it is to work in the Trump White House. By the way John Kelly spent 40 years in the marines. He did three tours in Iraq and he couldn't finish one tour with Donald Trump.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Victor Blackwell.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone, I'm Jessica Dean in for Christi Paul this morning.

Deny and distract. That's the president's playbook this weekend as he tries to shrug off the very real threat posed to his administration by the Russia investigation. BLACKWELL: Federal prosecutors accused the president of breaking election finance law by instructing his personal attorney Michael Cohen to pay hush money to two women he alleged or they allegedly had affairs with him.

Now, the president vehemently denies that he did that. Since that broke the president has launched Twitter tirades at ex FBI director James Comey, the French president, the European Union, NATO, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

DEAN: And despite reports that Trump's chief of staff John Kelly would announce his departure from the White House Monday the president decided to do it yesterday. The two of them reported haven't spoken in days.

So how far will the president go to change the conversation?

BLACKWELL: CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez joins us now. Boris, some of the staff changes were expected but the timing seems a bit questionable.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Victor and Jessica. Yes. Absolutely. Especially when you consider that John Kelly was suppose to make the announcement that he was leaving the White House on Monday to his senior staff. The president stepped all over that yesterday when he was answering questions about the Russia investigation.

As you noted, he was asked directly whether he directed Michael Cohen to pay hush money to two women who allegedly had affairs with the president, something that amounts to campaign finance violations. The president flat out said, "No."

I then asked the president if he knew that Paul Manafort was having conversations with senior administration officials as recently as May. The president didn't answer the question. He then went on to talk about John Kelly.

Here's a bit more of what the president actually said regarding the Russia investigation. Listen to this.

It appears we don't have that sound bite, but ultimately what the president said was something that we've heard before, that there was no collusion, that he himself actually hadn't read those sentencing documents that were filed against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. He said that everyone that he talked to told him that it was good news for the president, that essentially it didn't implicate him, though that's not exactly what's in those documents, and it appears that the president is hearing interpretations from people that are, at the very least, favorable, and that's why he has such a sunny view of the Russia investigation at this point and what it could mean for his administration.

As for a successor to John Kelly, sources indicated the president may tap Mike Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers. He's someone who has gone through the ranks as an established Republican, working for a number of prominent Republicans like Sonny Perdue. He worked for the Republican Governors Association. And according to sources at this point he's still negotiating with the president who wants him to serve out the rest of his presidency, a full two years. Ayers reportedly is thinking about going back to his home state of Georgia to spend more time with his family -- Victor and Jessica.

DEAN: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House this morning. Thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: Despite his protest the Mueller probe poses a threat to the president and his administration. John Dean, the former White House counsel for President Nixon says, depending upon what the final report finds, impeachment may be the only option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: The House is going to have little choice the way this is going other than to start impeachment proceedings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's talk now. CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson and Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University are both with us. Good morning and welcome back, gentlemen.

JULIAN E. ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Goo morning.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Joey, let's start here with what we just heard from John Dean. The president tweeted that these filings totally cleared the president. They do not, obviously. We've talked about that.

He has tweeted quotes from FOX News personalities saying that they see nothing impeachable here.

[06:05:00]

What do you believe about what Dean says is that there is little choice for House Democrats but to move forward with impeachment proceedings?

JACKSON: Victor, I'm in accord with that, because obviously you have to protect the democracy first. Now as to the tweets there's a political component certainly that Julian will get into and that is is that you have to appeal to your base everything is fine, this is all a big hoax, it's a witch hunt, et cetera, don't believe the hype, shouldn't have happened in the first place. It's flawed, everyone is conflicted. And so that will continue, to be clear.

However, on the essential issue of whether or not something needs to be done, I think the House of Representatives now in Democratic control will certainly seize upon the moment to do something. And that is not pure politics. That's the reality of having a constitutional function to check the president and to do what they believe to be the proper and right thing and what could be the proper and right thing pending the report that we get from Mueller, of course.

But as it stands now, I mean, I don't see any way around it. You have the president implicated in crime. You have other instances certainly where you can point to potential collusion.

Again, we've talked about before the Trump Tower meeting.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

JACKSON: Why was the meeting taken? The business deal that was going on to build the Trump Tower in Moscow. Negotiations stopped in January, I think in June.

And so I think Congress certainly has a role and a function and I think that role and function will include taking up an investigation, taking up impeachment proceedings where I think it will be stalled. I don't think there is any possibility, in my view, of a conviction in the Senate.

And just as a reminder, of course, it takes --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

JACKSON: -- a majority of the House to impeach. The Democrats have that. But to convict it takes 67 senators.

BLACKWELL: And they're got to that Republican-controlled Senate. And that takes me to this question of what of will Republicans do?

And there is a fascinating piece by this great professor at Princeton and historian and CNN analyst Julian Zelizer -- let's put up a bit of it here. It's on CNN.com.

It said -- you write here that, "The same intense partisanship within the Republican Party that has protected President Trump until this point could just as easily turn against him. That is the essence of intense partisanship. Decisions are not" -- made about -- "decisions are not about loyalty to an individual or principle but about power. When a person stands in the way of power, then they become disposable."

Do these filings make that turn that you talk about here any more likely?

ZELIZER: It does make it more likely. We have to remember the Republicans always, like any party, have an eye on whether they can maintain their power. They just lost their power in the House of Representatives and in many parts of state governments and they did so in a bad way, so Republicans are anxious about what's coming and this week was pretty devastating.

It was one piece of information after another that something seriously wrong might have happened, both in the campaign and then once the president was in office. So while at this point Republicans are still standing firm, it's not impossible that the scandal takes on its own dynamic, and that once the Mueller report is out, if the House conducts hearings, it changes the calculations of Republicans in the Senate.

We just have to see how bad is the information in the report? Do we reach a point where Republicans eventually reached in 1974 where they concluded this is enough?

BLACKWELL: Joey, the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon told the "Washington Post" there is a piece out this weekend, that 2019 for this president will be a year of siege, warfare, and that the president's inner circle is naively optimistic and unsophisticated.

Now the new White House counsel Pat Cipollone is reportedly going to start on Monday. More than getting him in the door and ready for the job and up to speed, what else does this White House have to do based on what we know about the counsel's office to prepare for this growing Mueller investigation and what's coming from the new Democratic Congress -- Democratic House I should say?

JACKSON: Yes. Victor, I think there is two ways to answer that. I think, you know, history really tells us a lot, and if you look at what happened with Bill Clinton, he had an amazing ability to do his job for the American people, and he would constantly come out and he would say, I'm just going to do my job for the American people.

So I think one component of it, of course, is that the president needs to do his job. He needs to continue along the lines, I guess, of satisfying his base. That is, you know, keeping taxes at bay and having more people and people -- more money in people's pockets and doing everything that he needs to do, deregulation. The same course he's followed.

At the same time you have to beef up your legal team to prepare for the reality. And that reality, of course, is that the House is going to seize upon all of the information out of the Mueller report and any smoking guns, and remember, there doesn't need to be a smoking gun. There is something called circumstantial evidence.

[06:10:01]

And that is that very rarely is there that gun that shows the blood all over, but there is, of course, pieces and pieces and pieces that make a whole.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

JACKSON: And so I think it's incumbent upon this president to be prepared with counsel to deal with that and be prepared with the political component, of course, that's going to come out of the congressional investigation that I believe will end in the impeachment of this president. Not the removal, but the impeachment of him.

BLACKWELL: Julian, let's talk about this big shift happening in the chief of staff's position. John Kelly will be out at the end of the year. Now, CNN analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman tweeted out this element that, "Kelly and Trump met in the White House residence last night" -- this would have been Friday night -- "to hash out his departure, which was supposed to be announced by him" -- Kelly -- "on Monday at senior staff meeting. Instead, Trump told reporters on the White House south lawn today."

What do you make of the suggestion that the president is doing all of this, the Nauert, the Barr, the Kelly movement, going after Macron and Blumenthal and NATO and the E.U. to change the subject?

ZELIZER: Well, it's plausible given that's what he's done throughout his presidency. The one thing he likes to control is what the news is talking about. That's been a skill of his, his ability to shift the conversation, but in this case I'm not sure it's going to work.

Again, evidence does have power in politics even though many people are skeptical. And I don't think all his announcements and all his tweets have really changed the basic story, certainly that House Democrats are now keeping an eye on as they get ready for January.

And let's remember, he is shedding himself of people who he needs to achieve the kind of protection and the kind of political response that he'll have to have as this unfolds come January. And he's on his own at this point. So I'm not sure --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

ZELIZER: -- these announcements are doing much, other than adding to the chaos.

BLACKWELL: It is certainly a peculiar moment to be in such flux. Julian Zelizer, Joey Jackson, stay with us. We have got a lot more to talk about.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

DEAN: White House chief of staff John Kelly has had a tenure that was at times combative and controversial. Here's a refresher. He called Congressman Frederica Wilson a quote -- "empty barrel" after she criticized the president for comments he made during a phone call with the widow of a fallen soldier. When White House aide Rob Porter was accused of domestic abuse Kelly defended him as a man of true integrity and honor. But he had to walk that back when pictures surfaced of Porter's ex-wife with a black eye.

Kelly called some undocumented immigrants -- quote -- "lazy." He also got into a physical fight with Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski forcing the secret service to step in. And most recently got into a shouting match with National Security adviser John Bolton over a surge in the illegal border crossings.

BLACKWELL: There are new details this morning about communications between the White House and the Saudis following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to "The New York Times" President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner offered advice to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on how to weather the storm. "New York Times" investigative reporter Mark Mazzetti broke the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: 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 try -- he sees MBS as someone who is the future, and I think an important ally to the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Now if this is true, messages between Kushner and the crown prince would be a violation of White House protocol, which says that any communications with foreign officials requires a national security staff member to be present. A spokesperson for Kushner said he has always followed protocol regarding the relationship with foreign officials.

The Saudis have continued to offer a number of contradictory accounts of how Khashoggi was killed. Last month the CIA concluded Khashoggi's murder was personally ordered by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman.

DEAN: New details about ex-FBI director James Comey's closed door hearing on Capitol Hill, Comey telling the House judiciary committee about one person that he has -- quote -- "an admirer but not that kind of admirer of" and that he has never hugged or kissed him.

Well, you who he's talking about. That's next.

BLACKWELL: Plus, a new HBO documentary explores the life and death of 28-year-old Sandra Bland. Three years ago she was pulled over and arrested and then later found dead in a Texas jail cell. Her family still has lots of questions about that arrest and her death.

We'll speak with one of her sisters ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:19:05]

BLACKWELL: We are learning new details this morning about fired FBI director James Comey's closed door interview Friday with House Republicans.

DEAN: Transcripts released Saturday describe that interview as tense. Comey told House Republicans he does not believe firing Robert Mueller alone would derail that investigation. CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett has more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: In over six hours of testimony, the former FBI director went over familiar territory about the beginnings of the FBI's investigation in Russian influence in the 2016 election, saying he bet his life that special counsel Robert Mueller is handling it the right way, and suggesting, you would have to almost fire everyone in the FBI and the Justice Department to derail the relevant investigations at this point.

But Comey also fact-checked the president on this claim that he is somehow best friends with Robert Mueller saying -- quote -- "I have never hugged or kissed the man." And -- quote -- "I admire the heck out of the man but I don't know his phone number.

[06:20:03]

I've never been to his house. I don't know his children's names."

And while Comey's testimony did not shed new light about his views on whether the president obstructed justice in his firing last year the testimony from another senior official at the FBI, former general counsel James Baker described how those at the highest level of the FBI were seriously concerned about Comey's firing.

And finally, Comey was also asked to weigh in on Bill Barr, President Trump's pick for the next attorney general, and he said he thinks very highly of him, joking that -- quote -- "I probably just damned him by saying he's a friend of mine. But I respect him and I think he's certainly fit to be attorney general."

Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: Laura, thank you. And back with me now are Joey Jackson and Julian Zelizer. Thank so much for both of you being here this morning.

JACKSON: Thank you.

DEAN: For more than six hours, lawmakers asked Comey about a number of things, including Hillary Clinton, her e-mails, a lot of other topics that had been covered in congressional testimony before for his book and or news interviews. And so Comey said this after that whole interview. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FIRED 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 sakes, so I'm not sure we need to do this at all, but I'm trying to respect the institution and to answer questions in a respectful way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: Julian, what's the point of bringing Comey back? He's also coming back December 17th. ZELIZER: Look, the point for Republicans is to try to discredit someone who is at the heart of this story and investigation. They've done it repeatedly. The president in public has tried to discredit Comey, which is why he is saying the things that he does, and so it's really -- the reasons are really partisan at this juncture.

For Comey, it still does offer an opportunity to remind people of the truth, from small parts of the story that he's not friends with Robert Mueller, to bigger parts of the story which he said, that the Steele dossier was not the origins of the investigation. So this is really a political process that's playing out over something at the heart of the investigation.

DEAN: And, Joey, keeping in mind what Julian is saying, that this is -- this is so partisan at this point, is there more fireworks than anything actually real happening here, or do you think they're getting real necessary information out of these interviews?

JACKSON: Jessica, good morning.

I do not believe they're getting any real necessary information. I think, to Julian's point, it's completely partisan and, you know, it's very unsettling. You know, one thing you do have to say about James Comey, though, is that he really brings it to the heart of protecting the institutions.

How? By reminding the American people, hey, you know, fire who you want, but it's deeper than one person. You would have to fire essentially, you know, everyone.

There are a lot of tentacles to this investigation. That's important, by reminding the public that, yes, you can say what you want about Peter Strzok and him not having affinities to Trump but isn't he the guy who helped me draft the memo to -- that we sent to Congress saying, we need to reopen the investigation?

And so I don't think there was any basis to do it behind closed doors. I think we all should have heard it, seen it, been able to evaluate for ourselves. There is a difference between reading a cold hard transcript and between getting the flavor and essence of the demeanor of the parties, how they respond to each other et cetera.

But I think that clearly this is an attempt even when you're speaking about Hillary -- Hillary Clinton's e-mails, she's not the president of the United States. She's no longer secretary of state.

And so why are we going there? We're going there to say, hey, maybe there is a disconnect between the way the FBI handled her and -- but look at what they're doing to this president. So I think at the end of the day, Jessica, it's purely political and I think it's the Republicans attempting to smack for the very last time Comey, perhaps to get him into other inconsistencies as he testifies further, but I think it really was without basis.

DEAN: And, Joey, I know you kind of alluded to this, but do you agree with that assessment from Comey that you would have to -- quote -- "almost fire everyone in the FBI and the Justice Department to get that investigation off base"?

JACKSON: You know, Jessica, to some extent I do, and to the majority extent, I mean, it perhaps is a bit of an overstatement, but the realities are is that investigations take upon a life of their own. It's not by one person, and one person, I don't think, you know, can end it.

I think there are a number of people who are committed to it, a number of people who are involved in it, and it's just is not going to go away by the unilateral firing of one particular person.

DEAN: And, Julian, quickly before we go, we heard Laura Jarrett talking about that quote about Comey having to say I never hugged or kissed Robert Mueller. "I don't know his children's names." She was quoting through that quote.

Historically, you know, we're kind of at this point where you're having to like fight back against rumors and innuendo in a congressional interview.

[06:25:08]

Historically is that where we typically are on these sorts of things? Kind of help us put into context --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELIZER: Sure. Look, we've had many investigations where the supporters of the president fire back by spreading all kinds of rumors and accusations that have no basis in fact. What we don't have until now is a president who does so incessantly through Twitter kind of constantly spreading these conspiratorial arguments.

And so that's why the words of the people he's talking about become more important than ever before in any other presidential investigation.

DEAN: Those words do matter. Well, Joey Jackson and Julian Zelizer, thank you so much. And enjoy your Sunday.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Jessica. Good morning.

DEAN: All right. Thanks.

JACKSON: You too.

BLACKWELL: So after Robert Mueller's team says President Trump directed his personal attorney to break campaign finance law the president denied it. And then it launched into a round of attacks on a number of different targets.

Will he be able to shift the focus away from the Mueller investigation?

DEAN: Also ahead "Saturday Night Live" brings back Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller appearing at Eric Trump's bedside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT DE NIRO AS ROBERT MUELLER: It's just me Robert Mueller. Your dad's friend from work.

It was pretty clear early on that you don't know anything.

ALEX MOFFAT AS ERIC TRUMP: No.

DE NIRO: I wish I could say the same for some of your dad's friends.

MOFFAT: Like Mr. Pillow Fort?

DE NIRO: Manafort. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:31:09]

BLACKWELL: Welcome back. I'm Victor Blackwell.

DEAN: I'm Jessica Dean in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: So after Robert Mueller team said the president directed his personal attorney to break campaign finance law, President Trump began spinning it saying the filing clears him and calls the investigation a waste of money.

DEAN: He is also taking aim at a number of seemingly random targets, the unrest in Paris, NATO, and Senator Richard Blumenthal. All of this as Mueller and his team continue to move forward with their investigation.

Meantime, Robert De Niro returned as special counsel Robert Mueller on "Saturday Night Live," playing the boogeyman at Eric Trump's bedside in Trump Tower.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOFFAT: There's something in the closet.

MIKEY DAY AS DONALD TRUMP JR.: Yes, bud. That's just the cheap steel Dad uses to build his towers. They just groan (ph) in the wind.

Look, buddy, nothing in the closet.

MOFFAT: Mr. Mueller, people say you're the worst thing that ever happened to my dad.

DE NIRO: No, Eric, getting elected president was the worst thing that ever happened to your dad. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: You see there "Saturday Night Live" shows Robert Mueller haunting the Trump family, but the president says the latest Mueller filing clears him.

DEAN: Well, joining us now to talk more about what was revealed in the filing and more, CNN contributor Walter Shaub. He was the director of Office of Government Ethics during the Obama years. Good morning, Walter.

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning.

DEAN: Thanks for being with us. I want to take a look at the tweet -- let's bring that up that you put up. You said, "How many presidents have called their secretaries of state dumb as a rock and lazy as hell?" You were referring, of course, to Rex Tillerson and what the president said about him earlier. We were talking about, you know, just kind of the ethics surrounding this and just kind of the general unrest there in the White House.

Give us a sense of what you think is going on in that ethics office right now.

SHAUB: Well, you know, it's certainly troubling language to see coming out of the a president regarding somebody that he nominated to one of the most important positions in government. I think it's a sign of flailing around.

I mean, there is always a certain amount of chaos in the Trump White House, and it's a mistake to read the tea leaves too closely. But in the wake of the filings from the special counsel and the southern district of New York on Friday, I think we've seen a lot of efforts that could be described as potentially trying to distract us from the news, including his declaration that the filings exonerate him, which they certainly don't.

BLACKWELL: So let's talk about the news, and specifically Mueller's filing on Manafort saying that he lied about communications with the administration, either in February or May of this year himself or directing someone to speak with the White House on his behalf. Administration officials, at least one senior administration official.

The legal element aside depending on what they spoke about, but from an ethics perspective, what's your view of someone in the White House having those communications with Manafort?

SHAUB: You know, I think one of the key things that we're seeing here is time after time you're having not only the president lie publicly, but now associates of his are being charged criminally for lying. And one of the fundamental concepts of government ethics is supposed to be that the government is accountable to the people, which includes transparency, and that's obviously the opposite of lying. It also begs the question, what are they lying for? [06:35:01]

We know some of what they're lying about, but if they feel the need to lie, and so many of them so consistently, it raises a concern and really makes the smoke a lot darker as the investigation seems to get closer and closer to the president all the time.

DEAN: And, Walter, you kind of alluded to this, but you said that the president is not cleared, contrary to what he tweeted which, after those memos came out, he said that that clears the president.

Help us kind of understand why, in your opinion, specifically related to the ethics and the law of this, he's not cleared.

SHAUB: I think for me the most significant aspect of that is the first time now that we've seen the special prosecutor in the Southern District of New York link President Trump explicitly to the activities of Michael Cohen. He had -- they had previously recounted his claim that he had been working with the president.

These new filings state that he had been directed by the president to engage in acts that ultimately led to his prosecution for violating campaign finance law. I think one of the things to keep in mind as well is that the president omitted from his June 2017 personal financial disclosure report, which he filed with my office and which I signed, assuming that the things in it were true. He omitted from that filing the debt that he owed to Michael Cohen.

And the defense had always been, or at least the speculation of the public had been you could never actually prove that he knew of those payments to the women and, therefore, may not have known about his debt. Well, this latest filing sets that aside and now we know that he no longer knew but directed those payments. Well, it's a felony to admit information intentionally from a financial disclosure report that you file with the government. And I'd like to see more focus on that from the special counsel and from people who are analyzing this situation.

BLACKWELL: So suggesting that in addition to the two campaign finance violations that were pretty clear in this filing that there may be more based on not disclosing that earlier. Walter Shaub, thank you so much for being with us.

SHAUB: Thanks.

DEAN: China's lunar mission is off the ground. A new rover will explore the far side of the moon while looking for evidence of water. A former astronaut joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:41:52]

DEAN: China aims to go where no one has gone before, to the far side of the moon. BLACKWELL: So the rocket carrying a lunar lander blasted off Saturday to start this 26-day journey. The mission is to put a remotely controlled rover on the surface to do some deep space listening. That's a thing. And to look for evidence of water.

Now I spoke to retired NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao about the mission and what we can learn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: This is actually a very exciting mission. As you just said, this will be the first time that any nation or entity has tried to put a probe on the far side of the moon.

We know a little bit about the far side of the moon. We believe the craters are smaller there and, you know, it's going to be the first time we put a probe there so it's going to do a lot of different measurements. There is certain technical complexities.

For example, the Chinese had to launch a relay satellite back in May so it could relay the radio signals back to earth and instructions to the spacecraft as well. And so what this spacecraft will do it's going to analyze the structure underground using ground penetrating radar. And it's going to do a little radio a astronomy.

Being shielded from all the radio transmissions from the earth, it will be able to do measurements that wouldn't otherwise be be really possible. And it's also going to see if it can grow some plants there in the reduced gravity environment of the moon.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about NASA. This was supposed to be a landmark year for the U.S. space program.

Let me take you back to 2005 --

CHIAO: Sure.

BLACKWELL: -- when NASA then released a plan that declared and these are quotes -- "in 2018, humans will return to the moon. NASA astronauts will again explore the surface of the moon, and this time we're going to stay building outposts and paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond."

Now the Trump administration says they want to return to that in 2019 with their budget priorities.

CHIAO: Right.

BLACKWELL: But how far is NASA from doing what they said they wanted to do in 2018?

CHIAO: Well, unfortunately, this is kind of a repeating pattern, and so when I was selected as an astronaut way back in 1990, that was a very exciting time, too. President Bush 41 announced the exploration initiative to send humans to Mars by 2019, and what a great time to be joining NASA. And, of course, none of that panned out. So unfortunately what you're seeing is, you know, grand ideas. The funding for one reason or another doesn't materialize, there's some other problems. And so right now there is a pivot back toward the moon, as you know, under the new administration, which I think is the right thing to do.

BLACKWELL: The U.S. spends more on its space program than the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Europeans, far more. But it's the Chinese who are going to the far side of the moon.

CHIAO: Right.

BLACKWELL: When an astronaut wants to go to the international space station, they have to hitch a ride on a Russian vessel.

CHIAO: Right.

BLACKWELL: Is the U.S. still dominating in space? Is that disparity in spending reflective of U.S. dominance?

CHIAO: Well, first of all, you're right. We do spend more on space exploration than any other country.

[06:45:02]

However, put that in context in that right now the NASA budget is about at 0.4 percent of the total U.S. budget and at the peak of the Apollo program it was much closer to 5 percent. So the proportional amount of money that NASA receives these days is a far cry from what it used to be.

Your question about whether China is going to take over, that's a real concern, because they are up and coming. The government, the Chinese government, is committed to this long-term program. They're doing ambitious missions to the moon.

They're also planning to send rovers to Mars, and they've even announced, although not with a date, their intention to land their astronauts on the moon. And so they are definitely planning for the long haul whereas, frankly, you know, our government is -- and it's not NASA's fault. I would put that on to the White House and the Congress.

They need to decide what we, as a nation, want to do and if we want to continue to lead in space, which I think we absolutely should.

BLACKWELL: All right. We will see what we learn from this robotic probe from China, and what's ahead next for NASA. Leroy Chiao, always good to have you.

CHIAO: Always a pleasure. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN: A major winter storm is bearing down on the southeast. More than 216,000 customers are currently without power already this morning.

BLACKWELL: Let's go now to meteorologist Allison Chinchar joining us with details. Allison, this is a lot for some of these communities. A lot.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, some of these. And some of these towns really overachieved in terms of how much snow is expected. Take Lubbock, Texas for example. They ended up with over 10 inches yesterday.

Areas of North Carolina already picking up over a foot and it's still snowing there. Other states like Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia also starting to see their snow fall numbers begin to tick back up. And that's really where the focus is going to be today.

States like Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia because this is really where most of the moisture is. When we look at the radar, again, you can see heavy rains to the south, but take a look. Say Nashville, especially the northern suburbs, you're getting that wintry mix, sleet, freezing rain, where the snow is more heavily focused say right now in places like Virginia as well as North Carolina.

But here's a tighter look at Nashville. The city proper still right now looking at rain. But off to the north, you're looking at areas coming down with either heavy sleet or very thick freezing rain in some places and that's going to make those roadways very slick.

Further off to the east places like Raleigh, Greensboro looking at straight snow right now, and in some cases it's coming down heavily. Charlotte right now this all depends on where you are. In the northern tier, you're getting that snow.

Near the downtown area it's kind of a mix. And in the southern area, guys, it's still looking at mostly rain. But we do expect some changeovers in all three of those cities as we go through the rest of the day.

DEAN: All right. Quite a storm. Alison Chinchar, thank you so much.

Army-Navy giving the country everything it could have asked for out of America's game. Coy Wire is in Philadelphia.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Presidential coin toss, the tradition, the pageantry. It was an incorrigible desire to win in the Army-Navy game.

We're going to show you who won. We have the highlights and sound from the winning team on the field after the game here in Philly coming up on NEW DAY.

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[06:52:40]

DEAN: Army-Navy, the 119th edition of America's game had pageantry, camaraderie, and even a visit by President Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: Coy Wire is live in cold Philadelphia. Coy, it also gave everyone something we haven't seen in quite awhile.

WIRE: Yes, yes. Good morning to you both.

Navy -- they've struggled all year. Army has been awesome. Favorite for the first since 2001 but in this game none of the odds matter, throw them all out the window because anything can happen. And this one came down to the final minutes. Let's check it out.

The tradition, the pageantry run, full display. Parachute teams delivering game balls. Flying American flags, fighter jets flying overhead there were the black hawk helicopters. President Trump was there initiating the coin toss.

Which Navy won but from there Army took hold on very first run. Kell Walker look at him go. Slicing through the defense like a hot knife through butter. Fifty-one yards, the very next play quarter back Kelvin Hopkins punches it in. The Black Knights swarm (ph), cadets going crazy.

Late in the fourth, a Navy down hoping for a comeback, but Kenneth Brinson, Campbell Award finalist shuts it down. Brinson, knocking the ball out forcing the (INAUDIBLE) recovering it, Army holds on strong. A 17-10 win, their third straight win in this series. It's the first time that's happened since the '90s. For fellow cadets, the cherished tradition, and they get to sing their song (INAUDIBLE).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELVIN HOPKINS, ARMY QUARTERBACK: We never want to quit. That's a great team over there and they played a great game and we're excited to (INAUDIBLE).

JEFF MONKEN, ARMY HEAD COACH: That one is for them, always. Wearing these uniforms, representing the men and women who serve, that's why we're out here every -- every time we play, that's who we represent and we're really proud to do it. Keep doing that work.

KENNETH BRINSON, ARMY CADET, OUTSIDE LINEBACKER AND CAMPBELL AWARD FINALIST: This is my last one. It just all kind of hit me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Strike a pose, nothing to it. Oklahoma's junior quarterback, Kyler Murray your 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, hugs from mom and dad as he beats out Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State Dwayne Haskins for the most coveted trophy in football.

It's the first time in history the QBs from the same school won it back to back years (ph). Baker Mayfield won it last year.

Another record set at Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, 73,000-plus, the largest crowd for a standalone single game of any type in MLS history. [06:55:00]

Atlanta United crowned MLS cup champs. It's Atlanta's first pro sports title since the Braves in '95. Josef Martinez had a goal and assist. The MLS cup MVP to the city of Atlanta, congratulations.

United, you conquered. You are champions. And, Victor, and everyone else I haven't met everyone here yet so come to the parade on Monday. We're going. We're celebrating.

BLACKWELL: Jessica, Coy. Coy, Jessica. Now we've met.

WIRE: I can't wait to meet you. We're going to a parade with Victor.

DEAN: It's (ph) like a party.

BLACKWELL: And he quoted "Vogue" there, "Strike a pose there's nothing to it." It caught that. Coy Wire in Philadelphia, thank you so much.

DEAN: It is that time of year when we honor some of the best humanity has to offer, CNN Heroes.

BLACKWELL: Yes. They are 10 extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things around the world and we cannot wait to see who gets the top honor this year. So join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa as they announce the 2018 CNN Hero of the year live tonight at 8:00 Eastern only on CNN.

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