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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Trump Issues Another 26 Pardons; Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); New Covid Model Forecasts Even Darker Winter; CDC: More Than 1 Million Vaccine Doses Administered Across The Nation. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 23, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: The President flying out of town continues right now with John Berman and AC 360 right now.

[20:00:05]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: And we do have breaking news. For a second straight night, the Christmas message is, it doesn't matter how naughty, nasty or even last night, murderous you are, being nice to the President changes everything.

Twenty four hours after pardoning corrupt congressmen, Medicaid scammers and war criminals, the President is at it again. This time the big three are his disgraced campaign chair, Paul Manafort. His campaign operative and self-described dirty trickster, Roger Stone and real estate tycoon, Charles Kushner.

Stone and Manafort refused to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. Charles Kushner is Jared Kushner's father.

Paul Manafort, the President once tweeted, quote, "Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to break, makeup stories in order to get a deal." Family values if the family's last name is Corleone.

Another big night, CNN's Evan Perez starts us off at the Justice Department. Evan, these pardons were again people who were close to the President. What can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The big names that stand out on this list of 26 pardons and three commutations are the President's campaign associates.

These are people who were sentenced to prison for essentially trying to protect the President. That's according to special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors.

In the case of Paul Manafort, he was sentenced to seven and a half years for bank and tax fraud and witness tampering. He has been in home confinement since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and the President has now granted a pardon to him saying that essentially, he was mistreated by the special counsel, Robert Mueller as part of the Russia hoax is what the President calls the investigation. In the case of Roger Stone, he lied to Congress, to the Republican

congressional committee that was investigating the Russia involvement with the 2016 election, and one of the things that the judge said in his sentencing was that he tried to protect the President, and now, he has gotten a pardon as a result of what he did for the President.

In the case of Charles Kushner, he was convicted in 2005, or rather pleaded guilty. Chris Christie was the U.S. Attorney at the time in New Jersey and he has been out since 2006. Obviously, he is the father of Jared Kushner. We've been told by White House officials that Jared Kushner did not play a role in this pardon. But obviously, this is something that has been on everyone's mind for some time to come.

Another name that stood out tonight, John is that of Margaret Hunter who is the wife of Duncan Hunter -- the former Congressman who was pardoned last night, she is the estranged wife of Duncan Hunter. She also is getting a pardon. They were both involved allegedly in misusing campaign funds.

The underlying thing here, John, is that, you know, obviously, the President is using his pardon power, which he has been very obsessed with, since he first got into office and realized that it essentially -- there is no curb on it.

And he is using it in the last days in office to try to reward people, friends and those associated with his campaign that he believes were wrongly wrongfully pursued or prosecuted.

BERMAN: So evidence or any reason to think that these highest profile pardons went through the traditional process involving the Justice Department?

PEREZ: No, we don't think that they have so far. In the case of the 20 last night that were announced, only three of them had existing petitions here at the Justice Department with the Office of Pardon Attorney.

One of the unusual things about this presidency is the fact that you have an entire bureaucracy here in the Justice Department that is supposed to go through these pardon -- these requests for clemencies. They review them, they make sure that people even are sorry, have some remorse for what they've done and that they qualify.

The President has kind of bypassed all of that process. He has relied on friends and donors, FOX News hosts, even the Kardashians and ignored the Justice Department officials.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, thank you so much for your reporting. We'll let you get back to work as more develops here.

So as Robert Mueller's lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann played a key role in the Manafort case, perhaps the crucial role. His new book is titled, "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation." We are pleased to have him with us tonight.

Also with us, CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero and John Dean, CNN contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel.

Andrew, I want to start with you. I mean, the Manafort case was your life. This was your work for years, and now, with one stroke of the pen, it's all up smoke. Your reaction?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, LEAD PROSECUTOR IN MUELLER INVESTIGATION: Well, it's not an entirely up in smoke. I mean, there is no question that his pardon and the others that we've seen in the course of this presidency have really flouted the rule of law.

[20:05:15]

WEISSMANN: But it's important to remember that Paul Manafort will still have spent two years in jail and because we anticipated this, the forfeiture of tens of millions of dollars was taken both criminally and civilly because we were concerned that if the President were to pardon Paul Manafort, that the criminal forfeiture would be eradicated by the pardon, but its civil forfeiture is not.

So there still is -- there still are consequences to Paul Manafort. They're just not commensurate with the extensive criminality that he was convicted of and pled guilty to.

BERMAN: And I was just rereading an operative section in your book, which I have right here. And the pardons were not some abstraction during your investigation and dealings with Paul Manafort. They played a central role.

In fact, during the whole process, even after he was convicted, and was supposed to be cooperating with you, you felt that he was angling for a pardon, behaving in a way to get a pardon, lying to you, in some cases you felt to get a pardon?

WEISSMANN: Absolutely. And I think Evan got it exactly right, which is the President used his pardon power during the investigation in order to thwart cooperation. In other words, for people who were thinking they should cooperate with us, because otherwise they might spend a long time in jail, this President was saying, not so fast because if you hold fast and you don't do what Michael Cohen did, you'll get a pardon and he's made good on that promise.

And if you think about this from a big picture perspective, what he is really doing is setting an incredibly bad example for the presidency, because it basically means how do you go about holding any President to account if the pardon power is going to be used to basically be a get out of jail free card for anyone who would cooperate with an investigation into the President?

BERMAN: And just one last question on this point. You had never really witnessed or experienced anything like this before. In the process of prosecuting and working with Paul Manafort, this was a huge obstacle for you.

WEISSMANN: Absolutely. You know, many of us have -- I have prosecuted mobsters. I've prosecuted Enron executives and those people as heinous as they can be don't have two powers that President Trump had. He had the power to pardon and to dangle pardons. And I would ask people to think, what's the legitimate reason to dangle a pardon? There is none. It's only to thwart cooperation.

And he also had the power to pull the plug, in other words, to fire the prosecutor, something that no mob boss or Enron executive had the power to do and he wielded both of those to try and get out from under this investigation.

BERMAN: So John, I quoted that tweet from President Trump about Paul Manafort back in 2018, which read, unlike Michael Cohen, Manafort refused to break. So to Andrew's point to that tweet, what message does that send about the rule of law in America?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's not a very good message. It certainly indicates that he was very effective in his dangling of the pardons. We think the same thing happened with Roger Stone who was pardoned today. We think the thing happened with Michael Flynn earlier, and it was always that potential.

Back in my history during Watergate, Nixon tried the same thing. He quietly sent messages to people that if they didn't cross the line, he would be able to pardon them possibly.

Well, I didn't buy into that and a lot of people didn't buy into it. So historically, it hasn't always worked as it worked here.

BERMAN: Carrie, I want to play you some sound from Chris Christie. Chris Christie was the prosecutor who put Charles Kushner in jail, and I want you to listen to how Governor Chris Christie, who was a U.S. Attorney, describes the crimes committed by Charlie Kushner. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: I want to talk about Jared Kushner, you talk about him in the book because frankly, it comes down that he is the one who fired you. Right?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: That's what Steve Bannon told me. Yes.

QUESTION: And you believe that?

CHRISTIE: Sure.

QUESTION: Right. You believe that because there's history between the two of you.

CHRISTIE: Between me and his father, not between me and him.

QUESTION: But you can understand why he takes it personally.

CHRISTIE: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, would you separate your experience if your father had been put in jail from the prosecutor who put them in jail? CHRISTIE: If my father was guilty, I would. I mean, listen, if I

thought that my father had not done something, and that he had been wrongly accused and wrongly convicted, that would be one thing.

In this instance, Mr. Kushner pled guilty.

QUESTION: To illegal campaign contributions.

CHRISTIE: Tax evasion and witness tampering. Significant crimes.

QUESTION: I was surprised that you didn't give yourself more of a defense for prosecuting Charles Kushner in the book.

CHRISTIE: I just think that it was so obvious he had to be prosecuted that -- I mean if a guy hires a prostitute to seduce his brother-in- law and videotapes it and then sends the video tape to his sister to attempt to intimidate her from testifying before a grand jury, do I really need any more justification than that?

I mean, it's one of the most loathsome and disgusting crimes that I prosecuted when I was a U.S. Attorney, and I was the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Margaret. So we have some loads of disgusting crime going on there.

But I just laid out the facts and any objective person with the facts knows, confronted with those facts. I had a moral and an ethical obligation to bring that prosecution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[20:10:47]

BERMAN: So one of the most loathsome crimes that he prosecuted, Carrie, Charles Kushner, who did serve time now receiving a full pardon. The connection, it is safe to assume is that he is Jared Kushner's father. Your reaction.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course, he's part of the friends and family category of individuals that the President is pardoning and Governor Christie's description of Mr. Kushner's crimes and his prosecution of them really speak for themselves.

With the other pardons, the President is clearly unraveling the Mueller investigation, and so the Stone and the Manafort pardons are part of that. But I think if we look at the bigger picture of what's going out, when we look at last night's pardons and we look at the new pardons tonight, what it shows is what this President is doing in his last days of office, and what he's not doing is he's not actually doing the work of President.

Instead, he's doing what he's always done, it is catering to his own political interests, rewarding individuals who had his back and didn't cooperate with investigations in order to save his own political interest and he is rewarding friends and family and close political allies. What is he not doing? He's not leading a government response to the

coronavirus. He's not leading a government response to the major cyber intrusion by the Russian government. He's not even signing the National Defense Authorization Act. He's not doing what we need to give our military a pay raise and pass additional cybersecurity legislation.

Instead, he is rewarding friends, family, cronies, and criminals.

BERMAN: And of course he does have that power, Andrew Weissmann. The President does have the unencumbered power to pardon.

But I know Adam Schiff feels and I believe you feel this way also, based on some of the writings that you've put out that if the President uses the power to pardon to obstruct justice, that isn't completely unencumbered. And in fact, you think perhaps Donald Trump should be prosecuted after he leaves office. Why?

WEISSMANN: Well, with respect to the pardon power, well, it is very broad. There are a lot of limits. It doesn't cover state crimes. It doesn't cover civil matters. It doesn't cover future crimes.

So for instance, I fully expect that the President is going to try to pardon himself and that itself is an open question. But even if that were to be the case, if he commits a crime in the future, for instance, he's going to have to file tax returns going forward and that's going to be a quite a conundrum for him.

So there are still a variety of things that can play out, as well as Roger Stone can be put in the grand jury to find out why he lied and obstructed justice for the President.

In other words, what the truthful answers have been? And if Roger Stone lies, then there are going to be consequences to that.

With respect to the President's prior Federal crimes, that is going to be a really big issue depending on what the Attorney General, the new Attorney General wants to do and whether the President tries to pardons himself away and out of that legal conundrum.

But I think that's something where we have to really wait to see what's going to happen.

BERMAN: So John Dean, you know, look, you lived through the Nixon presidency and still have the scars to show for it. How does this compare as we're looking at the final days of the Trump presidency and the actions he is taking and the situation that I think Carrie describes quite well. How does what you're seeing now compare to those years?

DEAN: Well, it's ironic that Nixon actually looks good. As I knew at the time and learned almost contemporaneously, at the end as he was leaving, his former top aides, Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, top domestic adviser, John Ehrlichman, and also his former Attorney General, John Mitchell all wanted pardons. They got word right to the President. He spoke with Haldeman about it.

He said, Bob, I can't do it. It'll only make things look worse and be worse. A remarkable measuring rod that he thought that the country had had too much of Watergate and that he didn't want to add any more agony to at all. So he turned them down for pardons.

Now, that isn't a measuring rod that we anymore see with this President. So Nixon actually did the right thing in that instance and he didn't know he was going to get a pardon for sure from Ford at that point. So we have a very different picture today.

[20:15:25]

BERMAN: And Carrie, we have 28 days left -- 28 days left at this point, so what more do you expect to see?

CORDERO: I think we potentially will see -- well, we saw the veto of a major national security legislation today. He has wreaked havoc in other legislation regarding COVID relief, so he's going to continue to create chaos, I think it is a major thing that he's going to do.

He is not assisting, he is actively obstructing the transition to the next administration. And other senior leaders, for example, at the Defense Department have also obstructed the transition. So he's actually affirmatively making it harder for the next administration to be as prepared as they possibly can be to do their job when they come in on January 20.

And then we'll see what other pardons. We'll see what lobbying other individuals close to him have done and if there's additional pardons. He has some political allies and advisers who are under indictment or reportedly under investigation and we'll see if his next wave of pardons includes pardons for individuals who have not yet been convicted of crimes

BERMAN: Rudy Giuliani, stay near your phone, in other words. Andrew Weissmann, Carrie Cordero, John Dean, I have to say, terrific discussion. I can't think of three people with more perfect perspective for what we just witnessed tonight. So thank you.

And we have more now from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat from Texas and a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us. Your reaction to this latest round of pardons?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, John, let me just say this as we are here tonight, there are families whose loved one is dead because of COVID-19 and there are families who will not see their loved ones this Holiday season because of COVID-19.

And the President, the United States has taken what is constitutionally granted from a nation that has been grounded in the adherence to the Constitution, the Executive has consistently -- meaning the president -- taken those powers and used them effectively for the American people. And we've seen this President, very sadly, turn them into a

destructive torpedo. He's really imploded. The collegiate relationship between the branches of government, the Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary.

And so what he's done with the pardon powers, which really Presidents do have absolute pardon powers. We acknowledge that as the members of the Judiciary Committee, but not to abuse those powers, 15 pardons yesterday, no one knowing whether these individuals have been particularly processed or vetted, as was carefully done under the Obama administration, 26 tonight, all of them are many of them tied to, in essence, undermining and tearing apart the hard work of the Mueller investigation.

And as we know, in his report, Mr. Mueller said if he could have held the President nonculpable, he would have done so and he did not.

And so what does that mean? The President one by one wants to eliminate those who would provide testimony in other settings to get to the truth of what happened with the Russia investigation. It's sad that a Commander-in-Chief has taken his powers and used them in this manner.

BERMAN: So when you take these pardons over the last two nights, you take the veto of the Defense Authorization Act, if you take his veiled threat to veto or to not sign the huge relief package, what do you think he's trying to do in his last 28 days in office?

JACKSON LEE: You know, I'm on the Budget Committee, I deal in numbers. Fifty four million Americans are food insecure. I've been home for two days, and I've been in more than one food giveaway and we will be going to one tomorrow and people are lined up. They are hungry.

As well, there are people facing eviction. They need either the extra unemployment or they need some cash disbursement. So what I see is a President who is now leaving Washington, where he is not engaging with how do you solve this problem, Democrats have laid out a $3 trillion project almost eight months ago, that really would have in essence saved America, but it could have been part of negotiation.

We'll be on the floor tomorrow with the unanimous consent plea of which we could have a unanimous consent if the President left a message for the Republican leadership to say join with the Democrats to get this $2,000.00 cash disbursement per individual.

He is on a plane. So I guess what we see what the American people have to see is that this is a President who left his job. This is a President who will use the next 28 days to my sadness, because frankly, I agree with $2,000.00. We wanted more in May, most Democrats do agree with it, and I imagine a few Republicans because I have co- sponsored a bipartisan bill, that was Republicans and Democrats for increased amount of cash disbursement.

[20:20:31] JACKSON LEE: But in this instance, you have to play the game, you

have to be part of the operations on the field to get our job done. On the NDAA, tragically does he realize that as Commander-in-Chief, he is over all these -- a million plus young men and women in the United States military with families who are wearing the uniform unselfishly in faraway places defending this nation and he would take that bill that they depend upon and actually veto it.

What consciousness is there in terms of leadership? My fear is that the 28 days, going forward, will be a continuous effort to interject, to interfere and to undermine the branch of government that is trying to really serve the American people. Right now, that is the United States Congress. And that's what we have to be careful of.

We are coming in next week, excuse me, the week after next, we will have our swearing in. What will he do? We'll have January 6th. So, I think we have to be diligent and vigilant and we have to be very much having the American people number one and number one priority.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thanks so much for being with us tonight. I do appreciate it. Have a Merry Christmas.

JACKSON LEE: Merry Christmas. And thank you for having me.

BERMAN: More on all this next, and throughout the hour, including look at what might be going on inside the President's head from the man who co-wrote "The Art of the Deal."

And later with holiday travelers not staying home, a new COVID forecast and yes, sadly, it's grimmer than the last one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:26:10]

BERMAN: So now we know the warmth of Mar-a-Lago does nothing to stop a blizzard of pardons: Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, the father of the President's son-in-law, the latest today, that's on top of a Defense Bill veto today and the threat of one on the COVID relief legislation, with all those checks about to go out.

Quite a busy night for CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who joins us now not far from Mar-a-Lago. So Jeremy, is there a sense of whether the President has other sudden announcements in store over the Christmas holiday, whether it's pardons or anything else for that matter?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know if the President is going to be doing more pardons this week. But what is clear, John is that the President will be doing more pardons in these next 28 days before Inauguration Day.

This is a President who is only getting started as it relates to these pardons, and that is stunning when you think about the pace and breadth of the amount of pardons that we have seen in just the last two days, 49 pardons and commutations, four people prosecuted by Robert Mueller, pardoned three corrupt former Republican congressmen, pardons one father of the President's son-in-law, also pardoned today.

And so it's clear that the President is going to continue this in particular, John, because what we are seeing from the President right now, his efforts to exert what power he has left.

He is a lame duck President, he knows that and he is fighting it any way he can and vetoes are one way that he can do that, pardons are certainly another.

BERMAN: Jeremy, who is going to be around him over the next few days? Who is going to be whispering in his ear?

DIAMOND: Well, I can tell you that advisers to the president are nervous anytime he comes to Mar-a-Lago and that is because this is the place where so many of the President's allies, including those on the fringe of his political orbit get the most unfettered access to him.

They don't have to go through the normal White House process to be able to see the President or speak with him if they call into the White House switchboard. They can just go up to him when he's you know, schmoozing with guests at the Mar-a-Lago courtyard.

And this is where we have seen some of the President's most erratic behaviors where he tweeted that baseless claim about President Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. It's where he mused about firing special counsel Robert Mueller and where he considered and ultimately followed through afterwards, in terms of firing the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.

So this is the place where the President tends to engage in that kind of behavior. And given where the President's head is already at, the fact that he is considering a range of these, you know, delusional attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Watch this space. Watch what happens during the next week as the President spends his holiday here at Mar-a-Lago.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, Jeremy, you're suggesting that aides are concerned given how erratic he has been the last few days, he could be even more erratic in Mar-a-Lago?

DIAMOND: That is what I would say, John. Yes.

BERMAN: Jeremy Diamond. Get some sleep tonight. You're going to need it.

Perspective now from CNN Senior political analyst, Kirsten Powers, CNN Senior political commentator and former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum, and CNN White House correspondent JOHN Harwood.

John, let me start with you, all these persistent questions over the past four days about Donald Trump's feelings about national security and the rule of law. What do these pardons say to you?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think the pardons he did tonight represent open corruption. This is a President whose goal for much of the last four years has been to try to absolve himself politically and legally from the connections with Russia that prompted the Mueller investigation.

And these do not -- pardons do not dispense with those questions, they affirm those questions.

Let's just recap briefly. Donald Trump -- Russia was a financial benefactor of Donald Trump before he ran for President. Russia helped Donald Trump become President by interfering in the election. Donald Trump lied about what he knew about that, fired the F.B.I. Director who was investigating that.

And as President, has taken actions that no other post World War II President has done to advance Russia's objectives, that is to say to weaken NATO, to question America's commitment to enforcing Article V of NATO, weakening the Western alliance.

[20:30:33]

HERE

[20:30:00]

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- before he ran for president. Russia helped Donald Trump become president by interfering in the election. Donald Trump lied about what he knew about that, fired the FBI director who was investigating that. And as President has taken actions that no other post World War II president has done to advance Russia's objectives. That is to say, to weaken NATO to question NATO's America's commitment to enforcing Article V of NATO, weakening the western Alliance. His administration is now ending with a massive Russian hack of the U.S. government and U.S. business.

And when he, when his own Secretary of State said it was Russia at fault, he spoke to absolve Russia and point to China. The -- it is true that Robert Mueller did not show or demonstrate or have enough evidence to demonstrate collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign in 2016 and Russia. However, he laid out, he said that Russia helped him the Trump Welcome to help. And the Trump had taken a series of actions that amounted to efforts to obstruct his probe.

Now, the President has pardoned a series of figures who declined to cooperate with Robert Mueller who know things about him. He shielded Michael Flynn, he shielded Roger Stone, he shielded Paul Manafort, these are all efforts to shield himself. And I think that -- those efforts will culminate in his attempting to pardon himself before leaving office on January 20th.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Senator Santorum how good do you feel about these pardons tonight?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first off, I completely reject everything that John Harwood just said, I don't think anything that that this, the whole Russian collusion conspiracy, frankly, you know, has fell flat and the American public sought for that. And the reality is that what Donald Trump is --

HARWOOD: Are you kidding?

SANTORUM: -- doing right now is affirming is affirming one thing, and that is that he believes he's not going to be president on January 20th. Because if he did believe he was going to be president on January 20th, he wouldn't be doing these things. So, I think if there's anything that shows inside the mind of Donald Trump right now, is that, that he's -- that he has lost, and that, that he now, you know, wants to do some things that he believes are just before he leaves office. So, that's the insight I see from these pardons and really nothing more in this wild conspiracy that everybody has been trying to allege against him for the last four years.

BERMAN: Well, aside from your --

HARWOOD: You've to be kidding.

BERMAN: OK, John, go ahead.

SANTORUM: I'm not kidding, John. Not at all not a cent.

BERMAN: John?

HARWOOD: I think it is it -- everything I just said --

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Because the Attorney General doesn't believe --

HARWOOD: Defies logic.

SANTORUM: No, it doesn't define it, what defines if we spent four years talking about something that is unproven. And that is more of a hoax than what we ever could have anticipated.

BERMAN: Well, let me just ask you this rig. Paul Manafort was convicted, Roger Stone --

SANTORUM: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: By the way the election had to do with his dealings prior to their --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: So, on those charges do you feel good about those points tonight?

SANTORUM: Look, I don't feel I mean, I'm not big fans of those guys. And, you know, I think what Paul Manafort did prior to being involved with the Trump administration was something that was wrong, and he should suffer the consequences for it. So no, I don't agree with the Manafort. Roger Stone, you know, again, I don't like the way he handled himself in this situation. I don't think -- I think he was cavalier and undermine the rule of law. No, I don't think he should be pardoned.

But to suggest that those pardons somehow grease the skids. They've already been through the trial.

BERMAN: Right.

SANTORUM: John. They've already been convicted. You can't leverage them anymore. This part had nothing to do with unshackling people who are leveraged, that's just not the reality.

BERMAN: Well, I will say Andrew Weissmann, who was on before said that Paul Manafort did not cooperate with the investigation --

SANTORUM: Right.

BERMAN: -- and lie to them because he was trying to get a part. So pardons absolutely did play a role in the investigation.

Kirsten tonight, we have 28 days left in the Trump administration. Rick Santorum says that Donald Trump knows we have 28 days left in the Trump administration now, which is a development in and of itself. But what do you think will happen in that time period?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I have no idea. But I don't believe that if that that he wouldn't have been doing this if he thought that he was going to be in the White House. Because I really haven't seen anything in the last four years to suggest that he has felt hemmed in any way by the guardrails that are supposed to exist for presidents to not do things that maybe aren't illegal but typically not been done. So this falls into that category right? What he's doing isn't actually illegal, but it's completely unethical and inappropriate. He has demonstrated over the last four years that he's always more than willing to do things like that.

[20:35:15]

So, I think he has to have known for quite some time that he did not win the election. And I don't think that he's in denial, I think that he's running a grift. And he's raising money off of it. And he's trying to gain more power. And to drag, you know, to basically, mislead people, take their money, could maintain his power. That's what he's been doing. And that's what he will continue to do all the way out of the White House as he drags everybody down with him and causes harm to people through, you know, trying to mess with relief, or COVID. And things like that. I mean, it's just what he does. And that's what he's going to continue.

BERMAN: I will say, Kirsten that if you are unemployed, looking for an enhanced $300 benefit to your check. If you are a service member, looking for your paycheck to come over the next few months with the National Defense Authorization Act. And you see what the President is actually focused on, which is partner Charlie Kushner and Paul Manafort. How does that make you feel tonight?

POWERS: I mean, I can't speak for other people, but it's repulsive to me. You know, the way that he is absolutely unconcerned with what is going on with people in this country. And there's just no way around it. If you look at his behavior, that he would be throwing a wrench in to these into providing relief. Now he is right. He is substantively right that the check should be $2,000. I agree with him on that. But where has he been? He hasn't been helping people. And that's the point.

It's, he is completely consumed with himself. He's always been consumed with himself, and he will be consumed with himself all the way out the door. And if people choose to follow this, that's their right. But he's causing a lot of real harm to people. I mean, he always is causing harm to people. But right now, there are people that desperately need this money. And the military also needs to have --

BERMAN: Let me --

POWERS: -- you know, have approval of this. So, I think that this is these are just really immediate needs.

BERMAN: We have about a minute left. So 30 seconds to each you, Rick and John, on the question of what position does this all put Republicans in for the next few days? Rick, first you?

SANTORUM: Yes, I think this puts Republican, particularly two senators in Georgia in a very tough bind to have a president, you know, having voted for the National Defense Authorization Act now, having to decide whether they're going to buck the president and what the impact of that is on the base on their base in Georgia. And number two, the COVID relief package, same thing. I mean, they're, you know, having the President put that number out, there is a tough thing for these members, because I think most Republicans don't feel that that's an appropriate amount. So it's it presents not doing anybody any favors on either side of the hour, and particularly himself when it comes to helping to win those Senate seats.

BERMAN: John Harwood last word.

HARWOOD: I think it all depends on whether the President is actually serious about trying to take down the COVID relief bill and the omnibus. I don't know if he is yet. If he does, that puts him in a real problem. But I got to go back to one thing on the Russia probe. If there was nothing to this, why did Mike Flynn lie? Why did George Papadopoulos lie? Why did Paul Manafort and Roger Stone lie? Why did Donald Trump lie? Why do you try to get Don McGahn to lie? Why did all those things happen? Why did he take all those actions? And why did he in Helsinki say that he believed Vladimir Putin over his own United States Intelligence Services? Was a pretty big questions that I think cannot be dismissed by saying, oh, it's all a hoax.

BERMAN: John Harwood, Rick Santorum, Kirsten Powers, our thanks to you.

(voice-over): We're going to delve more into the mindset of the President tonight with someone who knows better than most how and why Donald Trump operates the way he does. The co-author of The Art of the Deal when we return.

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[20:42:13]

BERMAN: So one big unanswered question tonight. What could the President possibly be thinking and is there an end game here? Off on his Christmas trip to Florida leaving behind a veto defense spending bill with rusty do the same to COVID relief and government funding. Also, two days of controversial pardons leaving the rest of Washington, especially his own party holding the bag. You just heard Rick Santorum say that Donald Trump is not doing anybody any favors.

Perspective now from someone who knows how the President operates, Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal. He also wrote, Dealing With A Devil, My Mother, Trump And Me.

So Tony, thanks so much for being with us. And I, what do you make of this? What what's your takeaway from these pardons of the President's friends, his associates, family? What do you think?

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, ART OF THE DEAL: Well, I think he's determined. The Trump modus operandi is, particularly under these circumstances is maintain dominance in any way I possibly can and make other people suffer more than even I am suffering. So, all this is consistent with it. I think this is exactly the scenario that I foresaw in the fall of 2016, just before his election. At that time, I thought he was going to lose, but even then, my assumption was that he would never, never acknowledge it, that he would do everything possible, to mobilize opinion against it, and that he would do whatever he could to cause a destruction.

I don't believe Donald Trump has a moment's interest in $2,000 for every American, Donald Trump doesn't care about any American. So the idea that he would suddenly care about giving them $2,000 when he's allowed hundreds of thousands of Americans to die on his watch is preposterous. He's doing it because he wants to show he's powerful. He wants to show he can still step in and blow it all up.

BERMAN: Is there a plan? What is the plan? Do you think if such a thing exists?

SCHWARTZ: Well, Donald Trump's long term plans are, you know, I would say five to 10 minutes ahead of the present moment. So no, I don't think that he has, first of all, he doesn't think clearly, he doesn't think in a rational and logical way. So no, I don't believe he has a plan. I do believe he has a bunch of ideas and they're swirling in his head. But mostly John, what he's feeling right now is rage, white hot rage, because he feels obliterated by this.

Everywhere he looks, even sometimes, on his own prove among his previous allies. He's hearing failure, failure loser, loser. I think he's I -- think he's beside himself. He's like King Lear. You know he's furious to the point of madness.

[20:45:09]

BERMAN: Is there any part of him that accepts responsibility for being a loser? And by that I mean, someone who lost the election, by that I mean, a one term president.

SCHWARTZ: No, there is no part of him that accepts that. There is a part of him now that recognizes that short of, you know, blasting with guns to try to save himself, he's going to have to leave the White House on January 20th. But there is no part of him, no part of him that believes that is fair. He has told himself this story. And anyone who disagrees with this story, including his closest allies, I mean, we're talking people like Bill Barr, who were there for him in every moment. Now he sees Bill Barr is an enemy.

And so, anybody is an enemy who will not support the fantasy that he's bought himself into. And the reason is, because to acknowledge that he has lost his to acknowledge that he's a loser and that is obliterating, that really makes him feel as if he doesn't exist. He's almost dead, when he calls himself a loser.

BERMAN: If anyone surrounding him wanted to do anything, to make the situation better, to stop him from doing some of these things. Could they? I mean, what could someone do if they wanted to, quote unquote, save the country? And I'm not suggesting that's what necessarily stake here. But if they wanted to steer this in a different direction, could they stand up to them?

SCHWARTZ: Invoke the 25th Amendment. I mean, what was the 25th Amendment made for but to deal with a situation in which a president is completely incapacitated? There are -- there's so much evidence that he is incapacitated? He's mentally incapacitated? He's not functioning as President. He's taking criminals and giving them pardons. And he will continue. I don't agree with one of your previous guests who said no, I don't think he'll, you know, I don't think he'll do anything. Or maybe that person didn't say exactly this, but I don't think he'll do something terrible beyond this. Yes, he will. He will. We're not done. Anything he can think of to do that will allow him to continue to feel dominant, he will continue to do.

So, the 25th Amendment would be one way. It's problematic this close to the end of the election. But I don't think short of a straight jacket, there's anything that even the people closest to him could do. Jared Kushner is thousands and thousands of miles away because he doesn't want to be in his line of fire. So if Kushner doesn't want to be there, and Ivanka doesn't want to be there, who guts?

BERMAN: Tony Schwartz, I appreciate you being with us. And thank you very much.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: We are finished with the breaking news as a million holiday passengers reported screen yesterday at American airports. Another sobering milestone is reached by Americans hospitalized with coronavirus. That's next.

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[20:52:04] BERMAN: More breaking news tonight. The U.S. has reached another milestone in the pandemic. More than 119,000 people are hospitalized with the disease. Along with that, more than 179,000, 79,000 new cases and more than 2,700 deaths reported tonight. Numbers that are certain to climb as the night goes on. These alarming figures come as more than 1 million pre-Christmas passengers were screened yesterday alone at U.S. airports. Also, at 1 million tonight the number of inoculations government officials say have already been administered across the nation. The latter number is good news obviously but officials say they do not expect to reach their previous estimate of 20 million vaccines allocated to Americans by the end of December. Now they're saying early January.

Add to that numerous state officials tell CNN the White House Coronavirus Task Force won't be sending states weekly reports with targeted data and recommendations. Instead, states will have to request reports each week. And they're still worry about those new strains of the virus, one from Britain and the other from South Africa.

Joining me now, Dr. Chris Murray, the Director of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington whose models track the impact of the pandemic. And Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst.

So, Dr. Murray for the second week in a row, your model projects an increase in U.S. deaths by April 1st the most likely scenario you say now has 567,000 people dying, the worst case scenario 731,000 people. What's driving these numbers? And do you think this upward trend is going to continue?

CHRISTOPHER MURRAY, DIRECTOR, IHME UNIV. OF WASHINGTON: When we think the upward trend will continue and probably continue well into January, depending on how people react and how governments reacted, could even continue in the worst case scenario going up right into February. What's driving the increase is the big epidemics, particularly in California that are larger than I think any of us expected. And so, it's the it's the same thing that through for the last six months, it's people's behavior, it's mask wearing, it's how much social interaction is, you know, driving transmission.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Wen, a lot of concern and confusion over these two new variants, one from England, one in South Africa. Experts in England said today that the two different strains are, quote, more transmissible. Here in the U.S. the head of Operation Warp Speed said there is no evidence the new variants have a different impact on people. So clarify exactly what that means.

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, both of these variants in the UK and South Africans appear to have mutations that make them more easily to enter themselves to bind to cells and to enter them. And so, that means that they are probably more transmissible. A huge issue, because already we know that this coronavirus is extremely contagious that just by breathing and speaking we can exhale these droplet. And so, if something is even more transmissible that's definitely a worry.

[20:55:00]

Now, it's good that so far it doesn't appear that these variants are more deadly. Although if you have more infections, by definition, you're also going to get a higher level of hospitalizations, which is something that when we have hospitals that are so overwhelmed right now, that's hardly something that we can take at the moment. And so, I think this is a warning to all of us to really double down on the precautions that we know well work like masking and social distancing. And also, the sooner we can control the impact of the spread, the better it is for controlling future mutations that may occur.

BERMAN: And Dr. Wen, I know there are also questions about whether or not children might get this more often. What do we know about that?

WEN: So, it's not so much that the virus is somehow specifically attacking children. But what we've seen in the UK and in South Africa is some preliminary data showing that the increase in the rate of infection in children for this variant is greater than the increase in adults. We don't know if that's because of behavior of children or because of some specific characteristic of the virus. But again, that's cause for concern, and for us to keep a close eye on that here in the U.S. too.

BERMAN: So, Dr. Murray since last Monday, more than 1 million Americans have received their first dose of vaccine, how many people do your models projected will be vaccinated by April 1st? And what does that mean in terms of life saved?

MURRAY: Well, in terms of vaccination, we're now predicting with all the data that's available on supply, you know, how quickly things are rolling out about just over 70 million people vaccinated on April 1st. And that's going to make a modest difference to the number of people whose lives, you know, how many lives we can save. But because the vaccination doesn't come soon enough in this winter surge to make a really large dent on the death toll.

BERMAN: And just put numbers on that because I think it is interesting. You're talking about 30,000 plus lives saved because of vaccinations.

MURRAY: Yes, and we're expecting 250,000 deaths between now and April 1st, and you can save 30,000 with the scale up with a vaccination. If you were to scale up vaccination, super fast like twice as fast as we think currently is the possibility. You could save you know quite a few more lives than that.

BERMAN: But mask wearing, universal mask wearing would save how many lives?

MURRAY: Well, we're already at, you know, we've made progress in the country, I think it's really important to recognize that people have been listening, we've got mask use up to about 73, 74%. But going up to 95% you can save a further 50,000 lives in between now and April.

BERMAN: That's what I was going for. It still is so interesting. Your model suggested mask wearing could save more lives in the short term than vaccines.

So, Dr. Wen more than a million people have been vaccinated, more than 9 million doses have been distributed. As Baltimore's former Health Commissioner, can you talk about the challenges that public health departments have ahead of them to get the doses, from the freezers to people's arms. There's this difference between allocated and administered, that people are just coming to understand.

WEN: That's right, as we say, it's not the vaccine that's going to save lives. It's the vaccination. Local health departments have been substantially under funded and under resourced and understaffed over the years. Since 2008, local health departments have actually lost about a quarter of their staff. And these are individuals whom at the start of the pandemic had to be pulled off of whatever they were working on, maternal child health, working on the opioid epidemic, STI and HIV issues that did not go away with a pandemic, by the way, but they were pulled off of these other things to work on testing, contact tracing. And now we're asking them to also set up the most ambitious vaccination program our country has ever undertaken.

And so, we really desperately need to get resources to these individuals. Local state health departments know what to do, they can stand up vaccination programs, but if they don't have the resources to do so, I'm afraid that Operation Warp Speed for scientific development is not going to translate to anything close to warp speed for distribution. And that's just so tragic when we have thousands of people dying every single day.

BERMAN: Dr. Murray, this new set of data, you look at how many people are willing to receive the vaccine, what do you find?

MURRAY: Well, just under half say yes, they'll take the vaccine and about another quarter say they're unsure and then the last quarter says they don't want the vaccine. So, as we go from, you know, the supply of the vaccine being the limiting factor to when there's more vaccine available, those ensures and the nose will really become absolutely critical for us getting to that point where we can put COVID behind us.

BERMAN: Dr. Murray, thank you so much for your time. Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much for your time as well. I know the message both of you want to send it out is stay safe. Stay close to home within your family for Christmas. And I wish both of you a Merry Christmas.

Reminder tonight, don't miss "Full Circle". That's Anderson's digital news show that gives us a chance to dig into some important topics and have in-depth conversations. You can catch us streaming live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at cnn.com/fullcircle or watch it there and on the CNN app at any time On Demand.

[21:00:09]

Another night of major breaking news, which continues, so let's head over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME".