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Trump Tower Meeting Treasonous; Bannon: Don Jr. Will Crack; North Korea Calls South Korea; Trump Talks Nuclear Button; Trump Responds to Bannon's Comments Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired January 3, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Treasonous. That's how former White House Adviser Steve Bannon reportedly describes the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and the Russians. But his explosive criticism doesn't stop there.
Also, nuclear taunts. President Trump tells Kim Jong Un his nuclear button is bigger and more powerful than his.
And now, the war of words is raising questions about the president's stability.
And the two men in charge of the firm behind the infamous Trump dossier say they were shocked at its findings and are warning Congress to look at the president's past business dealings with the Russians.
All that coming up. But first, explosive words coming in from the president's former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon calling the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and the Russians treasonous and unpatriotic.
The quote in a new book by Michael Wolff and first reported by "The Guardian" reads, and I'm quoting now, "Even if you thought this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad expletive, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."
And Bannon didn't stop there. Let's go to our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica, what more are you learning about all of this?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is Steve Bannon unleashed which we have seen before. But this time, he's targeting the Trump family.
In particular, he's going after Donald Trump Jr. hard, calling out that June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, saying, at the very least, lawyers should have been president -- present and the FBI should have been called. And in terms of implications for Donald Trump Jr. from this investigation. Bannon put it bluntly, saying this, they're going to crack down Don Jr. like an egg on national T.V.
Well, Don Jr.'s defense, this whole time, of course, has been that he was a political neophyte. And that he viewed this as a business meeting to get opposition research.
Bannon, in this interview, also speculating that this investigation will turn on that red line the president has warned about it. The family and Trump Organization finances.
Bannon put it this way. He said, you realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose senior prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, first, and is he a money laundering guy.
Their path to expletive Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. It's as plain as a hair on your face.
And to top it off, Bannon goes after president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saying, it goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner expletive. The Kushner expletive is greasy. They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those two guys up and say, play me or trade me.
Of course, it was reported last month that federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank. That's the German bank that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Jared Kushner's property empire.
But, Wolf, those are very jarring, strong and damaging words from Steve Bannon. Of course, he's the man who helped usher Donald Trump right to the presidency.
BLITZER: Have we reached out to Steve Bannon for comment, the quotes in this brand-new book?
SCHNEIDER: We have reached out to him, Wolf. We have not heard anything back yet. But, of course, these are direct quotes from Steve Bannon himself. He spoke on the record.
And this is not the first time we've heard this fiery rhetoric from Steve Bannon. It was front and center at those rallies for Roy Moore in Alabama. And the first interview, Wolf, that he gave, after he left the White House, he promised to wage war on the president's opponents.
But now, it seems he's waging war on, really, the president's inner circle -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us. It's truly explosive words coming in. Thanks very much.
And remember, once again, it was that is interview with "Vanity Fair" last month during which Steve Bannon also opened up about the Trump Tower meeting, using it as an example of what he referred to as the maturity level of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Let's go to Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's over at the White House.
Jeff, the briefing with Sarah Sanders coming up, what, less than two hours from now, we're told. I'm sure this would be front and center right now.
What does this type of revelation mean for the White House right now, especially at this very sensitive moment?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it certainly does one thing above and beyond. It undercuts the argument that this White House has been making to downplay and discredit the Russia investigation. This has been happening for months now.
But Steve Bannon, of course, who sat steps away from the Oval Office as the senior, as the chief strategist of this White House, until he was fired in August, he's making these explosive charges.
Now, the reality here is that he does have an ax to grind. We -- he's been not private at all about his dislike for the president's son-in- law, Jared Kushner; his daughter, Ivanka Trump.
[13:05:04] But, still, Wolf, he was in the middle of these conversations here at the White House. These explosive charges in the book certainly add fuel to the fire that many people here at the White House had been trying to extinguish and move on beyond it, move onto the rest of their agenda.
But, so far, that will be a challenge here with all these new revelations. And there are so many more, Wolf. These are just a few of the excerpts that are coming right now.
But, again, it undercuts the argument that there is nothing valid about this Russia investigation.
BLITZER: With these latest comments in this brand-new book, Jeff, and the earlier controversy over the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama, where does the relationship stand, right now, between the president and Steve Bannon?
ZELENY: Wolf, that is one of the central questions here. And I am told it is, essentially, a personal relationship now with the president and Steve Bannon.
They do still have phone conversations, not all that often, but they do have conversations. And the president is in touch with him.
Now, of course, after that explosive Alabama Senate race with the Roy Moore campaign imploding, you know, it certainly pushed Steve Bannon out of the -- onto the outer edges here. He's not on the inner circle at all.
But it remains to be seen what the president, himself, thinks of this.
And, Wolf, the president also sat down for interviews with this same author. Those excerpts are not out yet.
That, of course, will fill in some of the blanks about all of this, certainly explosive as the White House tries to begin year two of the Trump White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thanks very much. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Let's get some perspective on all of this, Steve Bannon's latest bombshell comments.
Joining us, our White House Reporter Kaitlan Collins; Politico's senior investigative reporter, Josh Meyer; and CNN Political Analyst April Ryan.
What do you make of Steve Bannon, saying that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York City was, in his words, treasonous?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's huge in the president's words. Wolf, when I think of what Steve Bannon is saying, one, it lets me know for sure that the fight that Steve Bannon had with Jared Kushner and Don Jr. was real and it was rough.
Because this is hard. Treasonous, talking of the president's son, the namesake of the president. That's huge. Yes.
And also, it makes you wonder what more does Bannon know that we don't know or that's been trickled out? For Bannon to say this, who is still an adviser to the president, he calls every now and again on the phone, that's huge.
What happened -- you know, and not to have a lawyer present. That is saying something. He's putting something in the atmosphere. And we don't even know, maybe, that Mueller had already talked about that as well.
So, we don't -- we don't know how far this goes, what more Bannon knows. But if this is showing the fight between the family, meaning Jr. and Kushner, and Bannon was real and it's worse. I mean, he is going for blood with this.
BLITZER: Yes, that meeting at Trump Tower in June of 2016, Josh, you know, the -- Steve Bannon is saying there should have at least been a campaign attorney present. The Russians are there. The son-in-law is there. The son is there. Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, at the time, he's there.
But they don't even bring in a lawyer to monitor it. And there was apparently no phone call to the FBI saying, look what the Russians are doing.
JOSH MEYER, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO: Right, I think it's hugely significant.
And one of the things that he also said, Wolf, was that, in a case like this, you would want to have this meeting with the lawyers there and maybe not the principals there.
So, he was just suggesting that it was serious enough and enough exposure that they shouldn't have been there at all.
So, I think it advances the ball. I think we have to seriously look at what kind of exposure they're talking about. What else does Bannon know that hasn't come forward? Did Bannon, himself, call the FBI or did anybody else?
So, there's a lot of questions out there now, even more than before.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And it's also interesting because not only -- he said that it was treasonous, unpatriotic.
But then, he also suggested that the meeting was going to happen, that they should have held it at a Holiday Inn in New Hampshire --
COLLINS: -- with lawyers. So, not saying that it shouldn't have happened but saying that they should have chosen a different strategy or tactic there.
But his comments about Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner are very interesting. Because how will that affect the relationship between Steve Bannon and the president?
Because we know one of the president's biggest fears, with this entire Russia investigation, is it reaching into his family and something happening to one of them because of this investigation.
So, like Jeff Zeleny, my colleague, was just saying, it will be interesting to see how that dynamic changes between the two. Because we know that Steve Bannon and the president have stayed in touch since he left the White House.
RYAN: But you have to remember, Kaitlan, that fight has been going on for a long time. Remember, --
BLITZER: Which fight?
RYAN: The fight between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. And Steve Bannon didn't even care that Jr., Donald Trump Jr., would be road kill when he named him a couple of times before.
And remember when the president said, this is going to stop. Remember, there was -- there was a leaking about this internal fighting.
[13:10:00] And Sean Spicer got at the podium, when he was press secretary, and said, you know, we don't like this and it needs to stop.
So, they acknowledged that there was internal fighting at the time. And the president said, I'm going to stop it if it doesn't stop.
But it hasn't stopped and it's gone to the next level, to a politically fatal level, and even it could be suicidal, almost, politically. And just for reputation-wise for Donald Trump Jr. and for Kushner to have someone who still is calling the president, giving him advice to say these things about his own family members.
COLLINS: And keeping their history in mind, --
BLITZER: Yes, but -- go ahead.
COLLINS: -- it's important to note that Steve Bannon is not an unbiassed source, when it comes to what he's saying about Kushner, because of their history of not getting along.
But it's still startling that the former White House chief strategist made these comments on the record about another not only top advisor in the White House, but the president's son-in-law and son.
RYAN: Son, yes.
MEYER: Right and it's also criminal, --
BLITZER: Go ahead.
MEYER: -- potential criminal exposure. I mean, you can't have treason unless we're at a time of war.
But a possible criminal conspiracy case could be building right now. I mean, we don't know, really, what Mueller is doing. We don't know what the Hill is doing.
One of the things that he said that I thought was noteworthy was that Trump Jr. could be cracked like an egg before Congress. But they may never even call him back to testify in public.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens on that front.
You know, Kaitlan, there's an excerpt, a long excerpt, also just now being published in "New York Magazine." It's already online.
Michael Wolff, the Author of this article, a well-known writer, he describes President Trump's first days in the White House like this. He says, quote, "If he was not having his 6:30 dinner with Steve Bannon, then, more to his liking, he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger watching his three screens and making phone calls."
Michael Wolff also says, President Trump found the White House to be, quote, "vexing and even a little scary."
You've covered, from day one, this new president. What's your reaction?
COLLINS: Well, it was certainly a tumultuous first few days in the west wing. We're very well aware of everything that happened, from Sean Spicer coming out to the briefing room podium on that first day, talking about something as innocuous as crowd sizes, to that.
And it does go on to say, in this excerpt from this book, that the president, and a lot of his team, did not expect for him to win on Election Day, which is something we were well aware of on Election Day. If you were at Trump Tower in New York, they were not expecting this kind of a win.
And he wanted to be -- you saw that he wanted to be president by going on, you know, the glamour that comes with being president.
But then, he's also realizing what a spotlight you're on. And when he was in his first few days signing executive orders back and forth, it was almost like getting whiplash being in that west wing. And it was certainly something new for the president to take it.
BLITZER: April, you've covered the White House from day one of this presidency. Let me read another excerpt that's published in "New York Magazine." Between themselves -- and this is an excerpt about the president daughter and son-in-law. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal.
If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she'd be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton. It would be Ivanka Trump.
That's a quote from the book by Michael Wolff. What do you make of that?
RYAN: It makes sense. You know, this president believes he is royal. He has a dynasty. But, you know, just in his -- in the Oval Office, he has eagles, symbolizing what he feels he is, the majesty of an eagle.
And if you have that feeling of being a royal eagle, wouldn't you want an heir apparent? Even though we are not in that royal hierarchy.
But there are political dynasties in this nation. He would probably want -- Ivanka is by his side. Ivanka -- he doesn't has his -- have his namesake.
He has his daughter by his side, meeting with world leaders, sitting next to world leaders at state dinners. He is grooming her for something more, even as she, according to reports, is wearing her Ivanka items while she is in the White House.
Even though she's got this great empire for business, he is trying to groom her for something more. He's trying to groom her for the international stage, the women's stage and the political stage. And it makes sense.
BLITZER: And let me get your reaction. Go ahead.
MEYER: Well, I think that she doesn't have anything close to the kind of experience that she needs to do that. So, if he's grooming her for that, I think that's some kind of role with some administrative authorities and some operational.
RYAN: And he needs to groom, too.
MEYER: Yes, I mean, he -- I think we'd need to see more. But we -- there's three more years so we'll see what happens. BLITZER: The other excerpt from the book, you know, Kaitlan, the --
Steve Bannon, he reportedly refers to what he calls the brain trust that was involved in that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and the Russians. And Bannon says they should have called the FBI instead of taking that meeting.
Here's the question. Could that have been the result? They didn't call the FBI. They just went ahead with the meeting. They didn't bring their own lawyers into the meeting. Could that have just been the result of a lack of experience on the part of these three men?
COLLINS: Well, it certainly could be. And I think we've seemed to see them try to chalk it up to that, just a lack of experience.
But I think Steve Bannon is commenting there more on the strategy they took, and mocking them by saying, you know, if you're going to do -- go through with a meeting like this, you should have at least done it somewhere far away from Trump Tower where all eyes are on.
[13:15:02] And where it really has become the center of this firestorm and caused so many problems for this White House. So I think he was looking at it more of what a headache it is and how potentially problematic it could be and commenting on that.
BLITZER: All right, good discussion. There's a lot more going on. Thanks to all three of you for coming in.
As nuclear tensions, meanwhile, rise, and they are rising, the president is telling Kim Jong-un his nuclear button is bigger and more powerful. I'll speak live with one key lawmaker who's demanding that the president's nuclear power be limited.
Plus, the firm behind the infamous Trump dossier publically suggesting that the president's past business dealings with Russia may be criminal.
BLITZER: A shot across the bow from President Trump aimed squarely at the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Following up on Kim's threat about a nuclear button on his desk at the ready, President Trump tweeted this boast, and I'll read it specifically. North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works.
[13:20:05] That tweet raising fears of how North Korea's leader may respond.
North Korea, meanwhile, offered an olive branch of sorts to South Korea with talks of possible Olympic -- winter Olympic games participation. The winter Olympic games in South Korea, by the way, they start in only 36 days. South Korea has issued an invitation for further talks with the North Koreans. North Korea responded by picking up the phone for the first time in nearly two years, a potentially very significant development.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, was it that simple? Did North Korea just call the South Koreans? What do we know about the substance of the talks so far?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little information emerging. But one thing we do know, apparently President Trump on the sidelines of this olive branch. It doesn't involve him at all.
What we have now is North Korea announcing that it was -- earlier today that it would open this line at 3:00 local time on the ground there. And, in fact, it did. And it proceeded with North Korea essentially, through (INAUDIBLE), the truth village (ph), calling the South for the first call. It lasted a few minutes and then there was a second call on the line.
The South Koreans are indicating that it was mainly about technical matters, re-establishing that communications line, which had not been used, the North having not answered the South since February, 2016. Now, that is resumed. They are having these conversations, working out the technical details by all accounts of their communications.
The next step that is expected is some sort of discussion about North Korea sending a team of athletes to next month's winter Olympic games in South Korea. And right now, by all accounts, President Trump watching all of this, but not directly involved in any of it other than his tweets.
BLITZER: But, very quickly, what's the latest on North Korea potentially launching yet another missile in the coming days? I know that the U.S. has seen some evidence of that. What are you hearing?
STARR: This is a very fascinating intelligence question even as we speak, Wolf. There had been signs that North Korea was, in fact, preparing for another test of a potentially long range ballistic missile. These intelligence indicators were seen by the U.S. prior to Kim Jong-un extending this olive branch. So the question for the CIA and the intelligence agencies now is, will he continue with those missile preparations, will he test launch a missile in the coming days, perhaps by the end of the week, or will the olive branch discussions with the South overtake his interests in another test launch at this time? Will the test launch be a signal to President Trump, a provocation against the U.S.? Will Kim continue to pursue this olive branch on a separate track to the South? And, of course, the answer is, we don't know. Everyone is watching towards the end of the week.
BLITZER: We certainly are.
All right, Barbara, thanks very much. An irresponsible tweet aimed at an unpredictable leader. That's how former U.S. director of national intelligence, James Clapper, sees the Trump tweet on North Korea. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There are potentially millions of lives at stake, an untold death and destruction here. And, to me, it's very, very disturbing.
No one in the White House knows what is Kim Jong-un's ignition point. Where one of these tweets is going to set him off and he's going to hit that button.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now from Los Angeles, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: What's your initial reaction when you saw that tweet by the president?
LIEU: That the president is acting highly irresponsibly. What we want to avoid in foreign policy is a fatal miscalculation. And we know that North Korea is already a paranoid regime. We don't know what's going to set them off. And they could read this tweet as the president of the United States wanting to launch a nuclear first strike. That's going to put pressure on them to launch a nuclear first strike and that millions of people potentially are going to die.
BLITZER: Some of your colleagues have raised questions about the president's state of mind. Have you?
LIEU: I -- sorry, I just lost audio. I got it back now. I don't want to comment --
BLITZER: All right, the point -- the point was, some of your colleagues are raising questions about the president's state of mind. Are you raising those questions as well?
LIEU: I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist. But you don't have to be a mental health professional to know that this tweet was highly provocative and North Korea already acts as if they were under siege. They think the U.S. is going to attack them. This just feeds into their paranoia and it heightens tensions when we should be trying to reduce tensions.
[13:25:04] BLITZER: Let me also get your reaction to these reports now, the report from "The Guardian" on this new book. In it the former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, refers to that Trump Tower meeting in New York City between the Russians and Donald Trump Junior, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner as treasonous. That word from Steve Bannon. What do you think and how does this play into the current Russia investigation?
LIEU: I think this shows that the Russia investigation is not a partisan issue. It's an American issue. Not only do you have Steve Bannon, but you have other Republicans, like Senator Bob Corker and Senator Jeff Flake, as well as Bill Crystal of "The National Review," who are all saying many of the same things that Democrats are saying. We need to get to the bottom of this Russian investigation to see if there was collusion. But we already know that there was attempted collusion by lower level officials in the Trump campaign. The only question is, how far up did it go?
BLITZER: Congressman Lieu, I want you to stand by for a moment. Jeff Zeleny is joining us from the White House. He's got breaking news.
Jeff, what are you learning?
ZELENY: Wolf, we have just received a statement from the president of the United States about these explosive new allegations that his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is making in the new book. This is what the president said in a statement released just a few moments ago. Let's take a look at this, Wolf.
He said, Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican Party.
The president goes on to say this. Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men, women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than 30 years by Republicans.
The president then says this. Steve doesn't represent my base. He's only in it for himself.
Strong words here from the president, Wolf.
He continues saying this. Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he actually was.
The president goes on to say this. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and he only pretends to have influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue whom he helped write phony books.
The president concludes by saying this. We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the make America great again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back, rather than simply building it up and seeking to burn it all down.
So, Wolf, this statement here, which has -- again, just coming in, the strongest words this president has had for his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Now, certainly some of the things in there deserve some fact checking. The reality is, Steve Bannon was involved in many meetings. At the very beginning, Wolf, you'll remember almost a year ago, the week after the president took office, the president signed off on including Steve Bannon as a member of the National Security Council. His office, from January through August, was only steps away from the Oval Office. So probably not true to say that he was not in many one-on-one meetings with him.
But certainly the politics of this are clear. The president and the White House trying to extinguish this, distance themselves from Steve Bannon, of course.
Now, the question here is, what did the president say to Michael Wolf in this book that is going to be coming out later this month, Wolf. Certainly an explosive way to start 2018 here.
BLITZER: An explosive book indeed. And that line, second sentence in the statement from the president, when he was fired, referring to Steve Bannon, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.
There is a war going on right now between the president and his former chief strategist. He lost his mind. Obviously, powerful words from the president about Steve Bannon.
BLITZER: All right, stand by. We've got Ted Lieu, the congressman, standing by. But David Chalian's our political director.
Wow, a pretty amazing statement from the president of the United States.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wow indeed. You know, here in Washington, there's sort of an art form about how you throw someone under a bus. This is like strapping to -- a bomb to someone and actually just blowing them up rhetorically in front of the country to see. This is such a strong statement and, like many things with President Trump, unprecedented in the presidency to see words like this.
But as Jeff was just suggesting, for Donald Trump to suggesting that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with him or his presidency, I mean he says "has." Maybe he means today, in the present tense. This was his chief strategist. This was someone intimately involved from the general election campaign, when Donald Trump was like 12 points back in the polls in August of 2016, general election campaign through the transition into the presidency. This is somebody who was clearly part of the inner circle.