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Former Ethics Chief: Trump's FBI Tweets Could Be Witness Intimidation; Bone-Chilling Cold And Snow Grip Northeast; Who's The Better Golfer: Trump Or Obama?; Top 7 Climate Stories of 2017. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: -- "the Clinton puppets during the investigation."

The former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter responded.

"Using Twitter on Christmas Eve to intimidate a witness (McCabe) in a criminal investigation is not a very Christian way to celebrate the holiday. But it does make Mr. Mueller's job easier, and that's a nice thing to do. Merry Christmas."

Richard Painter joins us now. He's currently the vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Good morning. A belated Merry Christmas to you.


WEIR: Let me ask about the idea that yes, he's being dismissive. Yes, he's sort of attacking the ability of these men to do their jobs.

But does it go beyond the bar of tampering with a witness? Does he create legal --

PAINTER: Well, in and of it -- yes, in and of itself, I don't think this tweet would lead to a criminal charge, in and of itself.

But the problem is that this is part of a pattern of the president injecting himself into the Russia investigation.

First, by asking Director Comey of FBI for loyalty, pressuring Director Comey not to go after Gen. Flynn and to drop the Russia investigation, and then firing Director Comey. And then, repeated attempts to try and figure out a way to curb the Mueller investigation. And now, repeated attacks on Mr. McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI.

If this tweet were combined with any other actions by the president or people working for him to retaliate against McCabe in his capacity as deputy director of the FBI, then you could get to a point where there was witness intimidation. So we don't know what's been going on behind the scenes. But I have to say, this is an incriminating tweet. It certainly shows his state of mind. So if there were people working for President Trump who were taking actual concrete action against Mr. McCabe, he could be in very, very hot water. It was not -- it was a very, very stupid thing for him to do to tweet that out.

WEIR: Let's pivot to another major beef you've had with the president since he took office. That's the emoluments clause -- the conflict of interest keeping his properties.

Jimmy Carter got rid of his peanut farm to avoid any impropriety. Even Nixon divested of his holdings as well.

But the president has spent 111 days, nearly a third of his time in office this year, at a property bearing his name.

You tried to sue the president, along with some plaintiffs who claim that they were losing business as a result of this unfair advantage. But a judge -- a federal judge actually appointed by Clinton -- threw that case out.

What was your reaction now to losing that and is that fight over now?

PAINTER: Yes, we're going to -- we're going to appeal that holding. We do not agree with it.

The judge did not rule on the Emoluments Clause, which is the provision of the constitution requiring a president -- no, anybody who holds a position of trust in the United States government not to accept any profits or benefits from foreign governments. The judge did not rule on that -- did not rule on whether President Trump was in compliance.

What the judge decided was that our organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was not an appropriate plaintiff for that lawsuit and that, really, is what we're going to appeal.

There are two other lawsuits, one brought by members of Congress, one brought by state attorneys general in separate courts with different standing arguments. Those suits are proceeding as well so this is a matter yet to be resolved by the courts whether the president is in compliance with the constitution or, as we believe, in violation of a critically important anti-corruption prevision of the constitution.

And furthermore, it's critically important that Congress play its role in enforcing the constitution. And out here in Minnesota where I live a lot of people are very upset with the fact that Congress -- the people that are supposed to be representing us in Congress are doing absolutely nothing to make sure that the president complies with the constitution.

We shouldn't have to be running to court to litigate against the president. Congress should be doing its job, but they're not.

WEIR: Right. But when it comes to the president actually enriching himself, "The

Washington Post" has reported, interestingly enough, that of the 25 galas and other gatherings scheduled for Mar-a-Lago up in the Palm Beach social season -- a very popular, busy time for them -- 19 left. They canceled because of the polarizing nature of this administration. In the end, it may turn out that his brand has turned more toxic since gaining the presidency.

Do you still believe that he and his family are enriching themselves through that office?

[07:35:00] PAINTER: Well, I don't know. They say out here in middle America there's not must interest in the Palm Beach social scene and what's going on there with the billionaires who, of course, got a huge tax cut so they're all very happy with him. It's not just who's patronizing his establishments, though.

He enriches himself through his sources of financing. It's who's lending him money. We have no idea who is lending him money. All we know is the New York bankers cut him off back in the 1990s because he wasn't paying them back.

So he's borrowing large amounts of money from somewhere, from some country. We don't know if that's a foreign government involved or not.

So to look at his entire business portfolio, his empire, and find out whether he's making or not is going to be a challenge and I hope Robert Mueller's on top of that. The courts ought to be on top of that and the same with Congress.

Of course, he's got a tarnished brand. Many people don't want to stay in his resorts.

WEIR: Right.

PAINTER: But there are also oligarchs from all over the world who want to curry favor with Donald Trump because of the immense power of the presidency.

WEIR: Seeing his tax returns might put some of that to rest but he doesn't seem inclined to do that.

PAINTER: Oh, yes.

WEIR: Richard Painter --

PAINTER: No, he doesn't want to do that.

WEIR: -- thanks again for your insight. Appreciate it.

PAINTER: Thank you.

WEIR: Alisyn --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Bill. An arctic blast is gripping much of the country with bitter cold temperatures. We'll show you the record-breaking snow burying some spots.


[07:40:33] CAMEROTA: The Pennsylvania National Guard put on active duty as bone-chilling cold and record-breaking snow pummel the northeast. A disaster emergency declared in Erie, Pennsylvania -- look at it there -- after five feet of snow buries the city, with more on the way.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now with some incredible pictures. What are you seeing, Chad?


WEIR: Wow.

MYERS: That is has snowed 99.5 inches so far this December.


MYERS (voice-over): Blizzard conditions walloping Erie, Pennsylvania with record-breaking snowfall. More than five feet falling in just three days.

On Christmas day, alone, 34 inches of snow blanketed the city. This time-lapse video capturing the treacherous white-out conditions.

The severity of the storm catching many in the region off guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a little too early compared to what we normally get. This is a -- this is a February snow.

MYERS: The city declaring a snow emergency on Tuesday. Police warnings residents to stay off the dangerous and impassable roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden it's gotten really, really bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is about as bad as I've seen.

MYERS: Plow crews working around the clock, some getting stuck as they try to clear the roadways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really hard to keep up with this amount of snow.

MYERS: Cars buried under a wall snow. Residents spending hours trying to just dig out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I could do was laugh, you know. It's a little ridiculous.

MYERS: Others, having a little fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dad is cross-country skiing around the neighborhood.

MYERS: The snow pummeling northern states across the U.S. In Washington State, the icy conditions wreaking havoc on slippery roadways. In upstate New York, snow blanked the region complicating holiday travel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could only do about 20 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't see in front of the truck at all.

MYERS: In the Midwest, a one-two punch with frigid temperatures dropping below zero after the snow fell. In Minnesota, sea smoke rising from Lake Superior as the bitter cold snap set in. The windchill in Fargo, North Dakota reaching a bone-chilling 40 below zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won't get used to it. It's too cold.


MYERS: Congratulations, Fargo. You're now up to 29 below from where you were yesterday, and it's going to stay cold -- cold for the next few days, and I can even see this lingering all the way through January fourth or fifth.

We're in a pattern now -- cold in the east, warm in the west. Yes, it's almost record warmth in the west, we just don't see it here, whatsoever.

So, what are we going to see here for the next couple of days, especially for New York City? Well, we do see temperatures briefly warming and then getting cold again. And even Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper are having a windchill factor at zero or below for New Year's Eve.

Bundle up if you're going anywhere, I think, in the eastern half of the U.S. But if you're with 700 other million people all bundled up on Times Square it doesn't really matter.

CAMEROTA: Oh, God. You know, I'm supposed to go skiing in Vermont this weekend and I don't want to anymore now that I see this. Me no likey.

WEIR: Sharpen your edges.


WEIR: Sharpen your edges.

Thanks, Chad.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Chad.

WEIR: Other news now.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is being investigated by Washington, D.C. police after a singer accused him of sexual assault. Joy Villa, posting this picture on Twitter, says it was taken just seconds before Lewandowski slapped her on the bottom. Lewandowski has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

An Egyptian court sentencing a British woman to three years in prison on drug smuggling charges for carrying painkillers for her ailing husband.

Laura Plummer was arrested at an Egyptian airport in October. It turns out she had nearly 300 pills of a painkiller which is legally prescribed as a medication, but it's illegal for a private citizen to sell in Egypt. Plummer says she was just carrying it for her Egyptian husband who suffers from back pain. She plans to appeal.

WEIR: President Trump was back on the golf course yesterday despite repeatedly railing against President Obama for golfing too much office. So, who's the better golfer?

CNN's Jeanne Moos fills us in.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Golf Digest" called him the golfer-in-chief, but because he used to slam President Obama --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

MOOS: -- Trump is getting heat because he, himself, has been doing so much golfing.

[07:45:03] SETH MEYERS, HOST, NBC "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": He's the Tiger Woods of hypocrisy.

MOOS: Before he was president, Trump posted tweets like "Can you believe that with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf?"

TRUMP: Because I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf, believe me.

MOOS: Hard to believe. President Trump seems to have played golf -- we say seems because the White House avoids talking about it.

As a CBS reporter tweeted, "White House press aide wouldn't say if POTUS played golf. Told of Twitter photo of POTUS in golf attire. He said he may have hit a few balls."

MOOS (on camera): Reporters have resorted to pouring over photographs like this, looking for tell-tale signs.

MOOS (voice-over): Ah-ha, he's wearing a golf glove.

Trump has said it's best for a president to play with other leaders.

TRUMP: I would not have made certain deals if it weren't for golf -- big deals.

MOOS: The time we saw him play golf with a leader, the president gave Japan's prime minister a pat on the shoulder. Golf diplomacy?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Help foster deeper relationships in Southeast Asia -- in Asia, rather.

MOOS (on camera): So who is the better golfer, Obama or Trump?

"Golf Digest" calls Trump the best golfer to ever hold the presidency, with a 2.8 handicap compared to Obama's 13.

And look who else golfs. There's Ivanka in a dress billowing like Marilyn Monroe's and high heels instead of golf shoes.

But with the president sneaking off we're going to need a little birdie to tell us when he's gone golfing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump for the birdie.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


WEIR: You know, one of the -- golf is one of those games that reveals a lot about one's character.

CAMEROTA: Does it?

WEIR: It's not just about how you hit the ball, it's how you behave because you really have to police yourself. And, Oscar De La Hoya and Samuel Jackson, both people who have played with the president, say he's a cheater.


WEIR: He'll take four shots off the tee and then oh yes, I found my first one in the middle of the fairway. He'll drive -- he'll drive his cart onto the greens.

CAMEROTA: That's bad.

WEIR: That's bad. But there's no way to know that because he won't allow our cameras to follow him around. So maybe Trump-Obama, 18 holes, televised to settle it all.

CAMEROTA: He's not going to like this segment. I know that much, wow. All right, Bill, thank you very much.

There was an unprecedented year in weather, as we can both tell you. There were several powerful hurricanes and, of course, those ferocious wildfires, and the memorable solar eclipse. So we take a look back at the top seven weather stories of 2017, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:51:44] CAMEROTA: Of course, the Trump presidency made a lot of headlines in its first year, but it's also faced one natural disaster after another that cost billions in damages.

WEIR: And who can forget that spectacular show in the sky, turning day into night, bringing millions of people together.

CAMEROTA: Cool -- that was very, very cool.

So, CNN's Chad Myers has the top seven weather and climate stories of the past year.


MYERS: It was an incredible year of weather extremes. Two thousand seventeen produced 15 different billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S.

Here are the top seven weather and climate events of 2017.

Number seven. Every acre of California was in drought and nearly two- thirds of the state was classified exceptional. Tens of millions of trees dying, creating concern for a major wildfire season ahead.

Rain and snows returned with a vengeance to California in the fall of 2016 and continued through the spring of this year. By April, Gov. Brown officially declared the drought over. The heavy rain and melting snow was beneficial to most but for some, it became too much of a good thing.

In February, the Oroville Dam was in danger as an emergency spillway began to erode. One hundred and eighty-eight thousands residents below the dam were evacuated. In the end, the dam was shored up and the disaster was narrowly avoided.

Number six, the eclipse of the century. On August 21st, millions of Americans stopped what they were doing and witnessed something that hadn't happened in almost a century.

Those lucky enough to be in the path of totality, which was about 70 miles wide -- it went all the way from Oregon to South Carolina -- they were plunged into darkness for just a couple of minutes. But millions drove hours to see the amazing show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. You can -- look at the corona. The corona is crazy.

MYERS: Number five. On Earth Day 2016, countries around the world came tougher to sign a historic agreement. The U.S. pledged to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. But in one of the most significant moves in his first year in office --

TRUMP: The United States will cease all implementation of the non- binding Paris Accord.

MYERS: -- President Trump pulled out of the deal. The U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of fossil fuel gases behind

only China and is now the only country in the world not part of this agreement.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We're following breaking news. The death toll from the wildfires raging in Northern California has now climbed to 29 with hundreds of people reported missing.

California wildfires are number four on our list of the biggest weather stories of 2017. In October, Northern California was hit with deadly wildfires, the worst damage and highest death toll occurred in wine country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the city of Santa Rosa, entire neighborhoods have been reduced to ashes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no words. It's a nightmare. It's a real- life nightmare.

MYERS: The fast-moving fires killed dozens and destroyed thousands of structures.

BLITZER: A new blaze that's erupted in the fire-ravaged Southern California.

MYERS: Strong Santa Ana winds violently spread these large fires just north of L.A.

[07:55:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of these embers fly toward the houses that haven't burned yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the foothill area of Ventura, California this home completely lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twenty homes that we can count that are burned to the ground. They look just like this.

MYERS: The Thomas Fire alone, in Ventura County, scorched an area bigger than Boston and New York City combined and will likely continue to burn into 2018.

MYERS: In 2017, our hurricane drought ended abruptly. Irma, Maria, Harvey brought death and destruction from the islands of the Caribbean right through the Florida Keys and up the Gulf Coast.

Now, it's not like we didn't have major hurricanes in the Atlantic or Caribbean, they just never hit the U.S. They were what we call fish storms. But with these, many are still picking up the pieces or even waiting for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurricane Irma has made the turn. It is moving up the west coast.

MYERS: Irma is number three on our list. The storm set many jaw- dropping records. It was the strongest Atlantic Basin hurricane ever recorded outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

It spent three days as a cat five, the highest category hurricane with winds that approached, at times, 200 miles per hour.

It brought its fury to Florida on September 10th, starting with a direct hit on the lower Keys, then flooding Miami, and landing again near Naples where our CNN crew experienced being in the eye of the storm.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": These gusts are the real deal.

MYERS: Over six million people were ordered to evacuate along its projected path and impacted at least nine states in the southeast leaving a trail of destruction and millions without power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most devastating storm either in the century or, quite frankly, in modern history.

MYERS: At number two, Hurricane Maria. This devastating storm reached category five strength and hit the small island of Dominica on September 18th.

The storm then made a direct hit on Puerto Rico. It was one of the strongest storms to ever hit the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been trying to find the words. Ferocious doesn't seem to even be enough for how this storm has intensified.

MYERS: At the peak of the hurricane, 100 percent of the island was without power. Even now, months later, power is still out to many.

A CNN investigation found that the death toll has been vastly underreported.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems that every hour I keep telling people that it's -- it couldn't get worse, and yet every hour it does seem to get worse.

At number one this year, Hurricane Harvey. The numbers are staggering. They're still being counted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heart-wrenching. Everything is gone.

MYERS: By some estimates, Harvey could be the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. The storm made landfall as a category four storm with winds of 130 miles per hour, just north of Corpus Christi, but the damage had just begun.

Houston was especially hard hit with flooding. Parts of the metro area saw over 50 inches of rain. Beaumont-Port Arthur picked up 26 inches of rain in just 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just got rescued right now. We've been at it since 10:00 a.m. in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paramedics and volunteers are carrying her through the floodwaters.

MYERS: And in the end, an incredible 27 trillion gallons of rain fell on Texas and Louisiana over just six days.


CAMEROTA: So, I covered Harvey in Houston, and that is the most searing memory of just entire neighborhoods, you know, flooded. And that neighborhood right there -- I had gone out with the Cajun Navy because we were trying to get to some of these marooned neighborhoods where people hadn't left --

WEIR: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- to see if they were OK, if they needed water, if they needed food. And sure enough, we found people.

WEIR: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: I mean, there were people who obviously weathered the storm and stayed behind and the water had filled up in their house five feet, you know.

WEIR: Sure.

CAMEROTA: And so, that was just eye-opening and tragic. And listen, yours was a whole different --

WEIR: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- ball of wax in the Keys.

WEIR: Yes, we were in Key Largo during the storm and then went down to the Keys for the recovery. I was in Puerto Rico -- a couple of trips there.

But the one thing I take away and I think about every time we talk about these storms is the five million people who have applied for FEMA disaster relief know that when the wind dies, and the sun comes out --


WEIR: -- and the smoke clears, that's just the beginning. Then starts this slow motion, years-long disaster when it comes to insurance and clean-up.

CAMEROTA: They have to rebuild everything.

WEIR: You have to rebuild. And when you realize how much of your life is gone, then the psychological toll takes on. So we tend to cover the storm, you know, for the dramatic blowy pictures but so many souls out there are going to be hurting for so long.

And this could be the new normal if you believe the climate scientists who say this is what happens on a hotter planet -- stronger, more frequent storms.

CAMEROTA: It's really hard to imagine there could be worse than that trifecta that hit from Harvey, and Irma, and Maria.

All right.

Meanwhile, we are following a lot of news this morning, so let's get to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could see the president roll out the infrastructure plan in January.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Yes, I'll work with him on infrastructure if he'll work with us.