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Trump Fires Back at Chief Justice in Fight Over Judicial Independence; Giuliani: Mueller May Need to Ask More Questions. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, bench slap. In a rare and stunning rebuke, the chief justice of the United States smacks down President Trump for insulting a judge who ruled against the administration. Chief Justice John Roberts says there are no Trump judges or Obama judges. Moments ago, the president fired back on Twitter. Is the president now spoiling for a fight with the judiciary branch?

[17:00:20] Law school exam. The president's lawyer tells CNN the questions Robert Mueller submitted to Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation were like a law school exam, but that the -- he answered them anyway. Tonight members of the president's legal team say they expect Mueller could come back with more questions.

And we're learning why Mr. Trump waited so long to respond to Mueller in the first place.

Fudge bows out. Representative Marcia Fudge backs out of the House speaker race one day after it comes to light she wrote a letter supporting a man now suspected of killing his ex-wife. The congresswoman says the case has nothing to do with her decision, but did her decades-long friendship cost her the speakership?

And frozen turkey. Bad weather could create travel nightmares over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Snow, ice and the coldest air of the season may snarl traffic and delay flights. We'll have the latest on what's expected to be the coldest Thanksgiving in more than a century for millions.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: Breaking news. In an extraordinary back and forth, President Trump and the chief justice of the United States are in a war of words at this hour about the independence of the U.S. Judiciary And whether there are Trump judges and Obama judges.

The president is firing back tonight after a rare and shocking broadside from the bench.

We're also following new revelations in the special counsel Robert Mueller Russia investigation. now that the president's written answers have been submitted, His attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN Mueller may have more questions, questions the president may go to court not to answer.

I'll discuss all the news with Democratic congressman John Garamendi, and our correspondents, analysts and specialists have full coverage of the day's top stories.

But first, let's begin with CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, in Florida. Jeff, tell us more about this extraordinary war of words between the president and the chief justice.


President Trump spent about six hours or so at his golf course here in West Palm Beach, Florida. He had not been to Mar-a-Lago for about an hour or so when he fired back to the Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts, attacking him for what he was saying that there is no politics in the federal judiciary.

But the president, of course, says -- had a long-running feud, although quietly, with the chief justice. Before he came into office, he called him a nightmare for conservatives. But today, Jim, he brought him into a political feud about the border.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump in an extraordinary public feud tonight with Chief Justice John Roberts.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, an unprecedented and unseemly exchange that started earlier in the day when the chief justice issued a rare rebuke of the president for criticizing a member of the federal appeals court as an Obama judge.

"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts said. "What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges, doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."

The president firing back on Twitter: "Sorry, Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have Obama judges, and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country. It would be great if the Ninth Circuit was indeed an independent judiciary."

In a second tweet, the president went on to ask why there are so many opposing views on border and safety cases filed there, and why there are a vast number of cases overturned. Then he admonished Roberts to study the numbers and added, "They are shocking and making our country unsafe."

It all started as the president left the White House yesterday, blasting a judge's decision for temporarily blocking one of his executive orders to change U.S. asylum policy. The Supreme Court chief justice, appointed by President George W. Bush, has been striving to bring civility to the bench.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: We speak for the Constitution. That job obviously requires independence from the political branches.

ZELENY: It was his statement defending the judiciary that provoked the response from Trump.

All this tonight as the president finally submitted his written questions in the Russia investigation. But Rudy Giuliani telling CNN Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be far from finished with the president.

Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, is bracing for new questions from Mueller about potential obstruction of justice, a move he said the Trump team would fight. "We'll consider them and answer them if necessary, relevant and legal," Giuliani telling CNN. "If it was something that would be helpful, relevant, not a law school exam."

As Trump opens his six-day holiday visit to his Florida resort, Giuliani's comments tonight signaled the Russia probe and the president's role in it is very much alive, despite repeated attempts to diminish it, like yesterday while leaving the White House.

[17:05:07] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The written answers to the witch hunt that's been going on forever -- no collusion, no nothing -- they've been finished.

ZELENY: Giuliani said any questions about Trump's transition and actions during his time in office, including whether he obstructed justice firing FBI director, James Comey, would violate the president's executive privilege.

CNN has learned the president did answer Mueller's questions about potential Russian collusion, including what he knew at the time about his son, Donald Trump Jr.'s, meeting with Russians at Trump Tower and whether he knew anything about Russian hacks when saying this about Hillary Clinton's e-mails on July 27, 2016.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


ZELENY: So for all of the questions still hanging over this president about the Russia investigation and the potential questions to come, it is still that fight, Jim, that he is picking with the Supreme Court justice that is the most extraordinary thing of all.

Of course, he could need -- the president could need the chief justice on many of these legal cases he's complaining about. But just a few moments, again, ago, the president sent out another message, not talking about the chief justice himself, but take a look at this tweet.

He says this: "There are a lot of criminals in the caravan. We will stop them, catch and detain. Judicial activism by people who know nothing about safety and security of our citizens is putting our country in great danger. Not good."

So the president clearly there talking about the federal appeals court out in California, the Ninth Circuit he's been going after. But very interesting and purposeful that the president is trying to make this judicial fight and wrap it in his ongoing immigration fight -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, we'll get more on all of that in just a few moments. But first, more on the Russia investigation.

Let's bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. Jeff Zeleny was just talking about this a few moments ago. What happens now that the president's written responses have gone to the special counsel? What do they do with them?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's clearly the biggest question right now, is what is Mueller up to? What's next? And you know, time and time again, any time there's some development, we always ask, what does this mean, what's next? We really don't know.

Look, I think from Rudy Giuliani's comments, they do perhaps expect that Mueller will come back to them for follow-up. They have the questions now. The Mueller team was in today. So they've been reviewing them. They probably started reviewing them the minute they got the questions. And, you know, there could likely be some follow- up.

I think one of the -- or the two important points in this is that the two questions that Mueller has asked, has sought answers for from the president in these written responses was about Don Jr., the Russia meeting, obviously, with that lawyer at Trump Tower, and then also whether or not he had any knowledge about these WikiLeaks -- whether or not these e-mails -- whether he had any knowledge ahead of time that this was going to come out. Obviously, through Roger Stone.

Those questions are still big questions. We know that Roger Stone is still under investigation by the special counsel. Don Jr., we don't know where things stand in terms of him with the special counsel. But I do think those two things -- those two questions to the president are really important and shows that Mueller is still looking into all of this. We still don't have a full picture of where things stand.

ACOSTA: And we're all wondering when we're going to find out the answers to these questions, as well.


ACOSTA: Shimon, did the White House consider delaying their response to Mueller? I mean, this took a long time, and now it's finally here.

PROKUPECZ: Right. And the president said he had answered the questions last week and they were easy questions and he answered. But, yes, they did. They delayed it. And the reason is, we're told there is concern that Mueller was going to announce some indictments, just as they handed in the questions. And they didn't want to do that without knowing whether or not there was going to be an indictment. So far there hasn't.

We've all been waiting. We've all kind of expected something before the holiday. Nothing has happened. It could also be that Mueller was waiting for the questions before he does anything. Because they're going to have to review these answers and see how they pertain to perhaps parts of the Roger Stone investigation and whatever else that they may be looking at.

ACOSTA: And there's some new developments on George Papadopoulos. Mueller's team responded to the effort by Papadopoulos to delay serving his jail time. That was a pretty short sentence he received.

PROKUPECZ: I was in the court when the judge sentenced him. And the judge was moved by him, you know. Felt that he was remorseful and really could have sentenced him up to six months in jail but decided to give him just two weeks in jail. Significant decrease in the amount of time that he was expected to get.

And now he's been fighting it, making all sorts of accusations, that there's entrapment, that he didn't do this. He is waiting to see what happens in another case, of this Andrew Miller guy, to see if -- whether or not an appellate court, the appeals court somehow invalidates the entire special counsel and then, therefore, maybe he can kind of then get his entire case thrown out also.

I think for Papadopoulos, the big concern is that he's now stuck with this conviction. Jail time is jail time. But I think his bigger concern -- his biggest concern right now is that he's stuck with this conviction.

[17:10:06] As of right now, he is fighting the jail time, whether or not he's going to surrender on Monday. As of right now, he's still expected to surrender on Monday at a jail and -- where he'll serve -- begin to serve his time. The judge could rule on Friday or not, or we could be back on Monday talking about this.

ACOSTA: And he still seems to be battling in the court of public opinion with all of these tweets, as well.

PROKUPECZ: Constantly, constantly. And his wife.

ACOSTA: Exactly. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

Let's turn back to the breaking news: this extraordinary war of words between President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for joining us.


ACOSTA: Let's begin first with your reaction to what is just an extraordinary comment from Chief Justice John Roberts, issuing this statement, criticizing President Trump's attacks on the federal court system. How -- how stunning is this, do you think?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think it's extraordinarily important. Ultimately, all of these questions are going to wind up at the Supreme Court. And the chief justice is laying down, I think, a very, very important marker here. And he is defending the judiciary, the third branch of government.

He says, basically, "We are independent. We'll take the facts as they come. We'll measure them against both the law and the Constitution. And Mr. President, notwithstanding whatever you say, we are here. And ultimately, we will be the deciders of whether law is appropriate, whether an interpretation by the president or any other thing is appropriate." It's very, very important.

Equally important is the way in which the president is once again seeing himself as a dictator, as above the law. That it's all about him. It's all about his power, that he can dictate whatever he -- whatever he wants. He's going to find out something quite different, both because the Democrats will have the Congress and we'll do investigations. And the court just said, "We're independent, Mr. President."

ACOSTA: And the president is firing back on Twitter, saying, "No, Chief Justice Roberts, there are Obama judges and so on." Do you think this back and forth is degrading trust in the court system, the sense of an independent judicial system?

GARAMENDI: Well, certainly not at the -- at the judge level. I can just imagine judges all around the nation are going, "OK." They're taking it all in. And when the cases appear before them, they'll be looking at them in the appropriate way, with independence and with scrutiny. And certainly one should assume that the Supreme Court is doing the same thing.

It's not good to get in a fight with a judge. Any lawyer that's been before a judge will tell you, don't get in a fight with the judge. You're going to lose. The president is not in a strong position in a fight with a judge. But as I said, he seems to think he's the imperial one and can do whatever he wants to do. I think he's going to find out something quite different as the days go by.

ACOSTA: And how important is that? How rare is it to have the chief justice of the Supreme Court speak out in this direct rebuke of the president? Typically, you know, the court system will weigh in on a president's actions in a court decision. And you'll read about it in a court decision. This was a statement issued by the chief justice outside of any kind of court decision.

GARAMENDI: Well, that's certainly true. But also, you gave a brief clip of an earlier speech that the chief justice said. And he's been quite clear over the last year, two years, maybe even before that, that the judge -- the judges and the courts are independent. They have a task under the Constitution, and that at least he, as the chief judge in the United States, intends that that task of interpreting the Constitution and the laws against the Constitution, as well as actions by the president or others. He's laid down that very, very clearly, and he's already shown his independence from the Republican effort to try to squelch the Affordable Care Act. So, you know, my advice to the president is you've picked the wrong fight here.

ACOSTA: And let's turn to the Russia probe.


ACOSTA: The president and his legal team, they've submitted those written responses to questions from the special counsel's office. But the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is not committing, at least at this point, to answering follow-ups. They anticipate that there will be follow-up questions.

What if the special counsel comes back with follow-up questions and the president refuses to answer? Should that lead to another confrontation, perhaps impeachment hearings?

GARAMENDI: Well, there will certainly be steps before that. And that's probably going to be a subpoena. We've already seen the Supreme Court back in the Nixon days approve a subpoena. And we also saw that with the -- with the Clinton situation. So it's a lot of precedent here that, if Mueller wants to issue a subpoena, he will do so.

[17:15:00] One big question is where is Whitaker, the acting attorney general, on this, who seems to be in the pocket of the president? We're going to have to watch that very, very carefully. And incidentally, there's another constitutional issue right there that's going to wind up very, very quickly before the Supreme Court.

The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have filed a petition in court, saying that Whitaker is not appropriately in the job, that he did not go through the confirmation process. That's going to be before the Supreme Court.

Once again, OK, Mr. Trump, you've decided to get in a fight with somebody that's going to have a serious bearing on your future.

So anyway, all of this is in play. Bottom line, the Mueller investigation must go forward in its fullness, take it wherever it's going to go. Will that lead to a question of impeachment down the road? We'll find out. Once that report is in and, well, whatever other actions the president may take between now and then.

ACOSTA: OK. And we'll be watching all of that. And thank you very much for your perspective, Congressman John Garamendi. Thanks for joining us, and again, happy Thanksgiving.

GARAMENDI: And to you too and everyone. Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Stay with us for more on the breaking news. President Trump hitting back at the chief justice in a fight over whether there are Trump judges and Obama judges, or an independent judiciary.

Plus, a forecast of potentially record-breaking cold for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.


[17:20:47] ACOSTA: Breaking this day before Thanksgiving, an extraordinary rebuke of the president by the chief justice of the United States and the president firing back. Of course, it didn't take too long for that.

Let's bring in our experts to talk about what lies ahead. And Susan Hennessey, I want to read this first. This is the president -- actually, let's show this first. The president talking yesterday -- we'll set this up. The president talking yesterday about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals out in California, that he seems to have such a big problem with. Let's play that as he was talking to reporters yesterday.


TRUMP: They file it in what's called the Ninth Circuit. This was an Obama judge. And I'll tell you what. It's not going to happen like this anymore. Everybody that wants to sue the United States, they file their case -- in almost -- they file their case in the Ninth Circuit. And it means an automatic loss, no matter what you do. No matter how good your case is. And the Ninth Circuit is really something we have to take a look at. Because it's -- because it's not fair.


ACOSTA: and of course, all of this is over the president's new asylum policy being blocked in federal court.

Let's show what Chief Justice John Roberts said in this statement today. It's just extraordinary: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing about of them. That independent judiciary is something we should be thankful for."

And of course, the president didn't wait very long, followed up on Twitter with a number of tweets. We can show that one: "Sorry, Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do have -- indeed have Obama judges, and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country."

We should point out, sometimes Trump judges go against Trump. But Susan Hennessey, what do we make of this exchange here?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: First of all, it's pretty remarkable, and it's sort of remarkably petty to have the president of the United States tweeting insults, essentially, at the chief justice. I think it's sort of worth noting that.

There's nothing about Justice Roberts' statement that is actually all that extraordinary, right? A justice of the Supreme Court saying justices -- judges are nonpolitical. It's an independent branch. Ordinarily, we wouldn't view that as a direct insult to the president of the United States.

You know, this pattern of attacking judges has been a feature of Trump since the earliest days of his campaign, whenever he accused a judge of Mexican heritage of not being able to sort of impartially judge that case. In the early days of his presidency, he attacked judges who had enjoined his travel ban early on by name. The U.S. Marshal Service actually had to deploy to protect those judges.

And so I think one of the interesting questions here is why Chief Justice Roberts thought that now was the time, now he's finally had enough, considering the president's really long-term pattern of attacking the judiciary.

ACOSTA: And Sunlen Serfaty, I mean, this is the president again chipping away at another key U.S. institution that's supposed to keep the executive branch in check, but it's also a day ending "Y."

My question is, I'm wondering if there are other Republicans up on Capitol Hill who are going to perhaps come to the chief justice's defense here, come to his side here. What do you think?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think so far we haven't seen that. We'll see how long this kind of back and forth between Trump and the chief justice continues on. And I think, if anything we know, is Trump likes a fight. Likely, the chief justice does not. It was interesting that he waded in here. So we'll see how Republicans respond.

But I thought -- I was most struck by what Chief -- how Chief Justice Roberts kind of attacked Trump. It wasn't specifically going after him, but it certainly was questioning kind of his intelligence, his mastery of the U.S. government, the tenets of our democracy, the three branches of government.

And I think in large part, that's why we saw President Trump respond, because someone questioning his intelligence, of course, is something we all know is something he does not like. Almost like a teacher schooling a child in a civics lesson.

ACOSTA: And Laura Jarrett, I mean, this -- this comment that the president makes about the Ninth Circuit, he does this a lot when things don't go his way. We saw this with the travel ban early on in his presidency. How difficult is that, potentially, for, you know, just judges out there trying to do, as the chief justice was saying today, to do equal justice, to provide equal justice under the law?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you pointed out, it's not just the Ninth Circuit. It's courts here in D.C. Judges that he has appointed have ruled against him.

ACOSTA; I know that all too well. Yes.

[17:25:02] JARRETT: I wasn't going to go there, but yes.

ACOSTA: Yes. JARRETT: And so he -- he kind of sets it up as this dynamic where, "If you rule in my favor, I'm good with you. If you don't, somehow you're an Obama judge or somehow you have a partisan tint to you," instead of trying to see judges as an independent judiciary branch that is supposed to be insulated from political influence.

And to Justice Roberts' point, it's not that judges have -- don't have a political viewpoint on things. It's the idea that they're still supposed to do their job at the end of the day. And their job at the end of the day is not to do the president's bidding.

ACOSTA: And Mark Mazzetti, the president has been critical of the chief justice in the past, calling him an absolute disaster. He's going after him on Obamacare, which was a big letdown for a lot of Republicans.

What do you -- I mean, what do you make of that? Does that wash with a lot of people out there, that, yes, OK, there are "R's" and "D's" next to judges' names now, as the president is trying to say?

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, it's interesting, because I mean, one of the things President Trump does seem to have a great deal of reverence for is the Supreme Court. He takes his picks very seriously, obviously invests a lot in them. So it is interesting to see him directly attack the chief justice.

But, you know, here it is. It's a sleepy day before Thanksgiving. You've got the president at war with the chief justice. I mean, this is the Trump era. And he, as we said, doesn't you know, shy away from a fight. And maybe the civics lesson set him off.

And but it is interesting, just given how there are not a lot of things he does seem to have reverence for, but the Supreme Court seems to be one of them.

ACOSTA: Well, hopefully, it doesn't interrupt 3 p.m. tomorrow, because that's when turkey is severed at my house. So I agree with that. We need a break from that.

All right, guys. Thanks very much. We're going to have a quick break here and on the other side, we'll talk about some of the other stories like the Russia investigation, these written responses coming from the president's legal team to the special counsel's office and more. That's coming up, straight ahead.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Breaking news. President Trump firing back after a rare rebuke from the chief justice of the United States.

[17:31:37] We're back with our experts talking about all of this. And I want to play some of this sound of the president going off on the chief justice. Let's play some of that sound and then talk about it on the other side. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Justice Roberts turned out to be a nightmare for conservatives.

Justice Roberts turned out to be an absolute disaster. He turned out to be an absolute disaster. Because he gave us Obamacare.


ACOSTA: That was January of 2016 as the campaign was really getting going, Susan Hennessey. I mean, how -- how is it something that most Americans can absorb and say, "OK, that's just Trump. He's just going after whatever target he has on this day." But he has so many supporters out there willing to listen and accept, basically, everything he says, and he's chipping away at the credibility of the Supreme Court?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So first of all, Chief Justice Roberts is one of the most, you know, reliable conservative justices on the bench. So he's also just outright false.

The Supreme Court is already up against a little bit of a legitimacy crisis. We saw this after the Senate's refusal to even meet, in some cases, with Merrick Garland, now with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh under highly contentious circumstances.

And so this is already a relatively precarious moment for sort of the institutional legitimacy and credibility here. And Trump really has sort of made it his mission to take this long-standing impulse that he's had and really try and push it over the ledge.

ACOSTA: And Laura Jarrett, let me ask you about -- we mentioned the Russia investigation earlier in these written responses going back to Mueller's team. What exactly do they do with these written responses? And what about this reporting we had earlier today that, well, if they have follow-up questions, what happens next? I mean, you know, sometimes they don't like follow-up questions over at the White House. What happens next?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, at this point, this exchange, this dance, if you will, has been going on for over a year. And according to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, they may have follow-up questions. They may get back to the president's team in a week or so. But we've seen these goalposts move time after time.

And at a certain point, I think Mueller's team wants to do a little bit of saying, "Look, we asked you the questions. You wouldn't answer questions on obstruction. We're moving on, and we're putting this to bed finally."

ACOSTA: And -- and Mark Mazzetti, I wanted to get to Jamal Khashoggi, because I mean, it just sort of -- we have three waves of major news yesterday: Ivanka's e-mails and then Khashoggi and then the "New York Times" story on the president wanting to go after Comey and Clinton. But I mean, to me, Jamal Khashoggi was -- it was just sort of an

incredible, jaw-dropping moment where just a lot of people on both sides of the aisle across Washington just sort of looked at the statement that came from the president saying, "Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn't," talking about the crown prince and his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

You wrote a pretty tough piece in the "New York Times" about this. And we'll put this up on screen. I just want to show this to our viewers. It says, "Mr. Trump made clear that he sees alliances as transactional, based on which foreign partners buy the most weapons. American jobs outweigh American values."

The president called it "America first" yesterday. What did you make of that when you saw him, I guess, put that in a statement and then repeat it again to all of us?

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It was basically the most pure distillation of the Trump doctrine, if you will, in this 633-word statement. Alliances, effectively, are transactional. Whoever buys the most from the United States may get the best deal. Might be a better partner. Might be a better friend to the United States.

I mean, as we said today, it really could be, effectively, a blueprint for autocratic regimes on how to get their way in a Trump White House. You can do what you want at home, but if you push certain buttons, you promise to buy things, you promise to create American jobs in any way, you'll be protected, and no one is going to ask too many questions.

[17:35:22= And that's really departure from the way American presidents usually handle foreign policy, with this basic understanding that there is something like American values, and they have to carry those values overseas. And you did not see that yesterday.

ACOSTA: And Sunlen, let me show some of the members of the president's own party who were quick to push back on his decision. Can we expect more Republicans to join this? There you have Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Mitt Romney, who hasn't even arrived at the Senate yet, but he put out a pretty strong statement, essentially condemning this.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Very strong road to Republicans, and notably two Republicans up there on the screen, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham, for the most part, recently, have not been too critical of the president. So notable that they really all came out with very strong words. You know, Corker saying that "I never see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince." That's pretty tough.

The question is, of course, what they will back that up with. There has been, you know, some group writing of letters, triggering an investigation to look into not only what happened, but the crown prince's alleged involvement in this. Also some legislation to stop Saudi arms sales. But will that be pushed forward in the new Congress? That remains to be seen.

ACOSTA: And Corker wants a briefing.

SUNLEN: That's right. Corker wants a briefing. And also, notably, silence from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's been absolutely silent since Trump's statement yesterday, in his response.

ACOSTA: And Mark Mazzetti, how much can the Congress force the president's hand on this, to make him do something about Jamal Khashoggi? Do something about Saudi Arabia? I mean, we saw the Congress, to some extent, defy the president on Russia sanctions. And that battle went on for some time. Could that happen again here?

MAZZETTI: Right. I mean, it was extraordinary. Even under the Obama administration, you saw a growing kind of consensus inside the Senate to sanction Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen: try to block arms sales. And among a lot of Republicans. And this was pretty extraordinary when you're talking about Saudi Arabia. You don't usually see members of either party want to sanction Saudi Arabia.

It does appear that that is changing. So you would see not only the House but also the Senate perhaps try to put some tough measures.

The other thing they can do, at least on the House side, is keep hauling American intelligence officials up to the Hill for briefings about what they know and try to get answers, because that's where you kind of create a potential wedge between the intelligence community and the White House, especially on this issue of Saudi Arabia.

ACOSTA: And Laura Jarrett, one of the other items that the incoming Congress may have deal with is the acting attorney general, Mark -- Matt Whitaker and exactly what to do about him. Because all of these questions that have been raised.

We got a look at some of these financial disclosure forms yesterday. You have some new reporting on this. What can you tell us?

JARRETT: Yes, so we're just learning that this independent federal agency, the Office of Special Counsel, not to be confused with Robert Mueller's office of special counsel --

ACOSTA: Different one.

JARRETT: Different office. But they're looking into some campaign contributions that Whitaker received in early 2018. Once he's already at the Justice Department, serving as Sessions' chief of staff, he gets these four campaign contributions, totaling roughly $9,000, related to his failed bid for state Senate in 2014. So we're questioning, well, why is that happening? A watchdog group, American Oversight, actually filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, and we have now confirmed that they have opened a case file on this.

ACOSTA: And how likely is it that Matt Whitaker survives and becomes the permanent attorney general? We're just -- we just don't know. JARRETT: Well, based on all of our reporting, the president is

perfectly happy to keep him in there for a while. You know, under the Vacancies Act, he can serve there for 210 days, which means, foreseeably, he can be there through the length of the Mueller probe, which is the thing everyone wonders he will do anything to curtail.

So the president doesn't have to do anything, and moreover, if he nominates anyone else during this period, it's told. So then Whitaker can stay there until that person gets confirmed to the Senate.

BLITZER: What do you think of that, Susan?

HENNESSEY: I think that's one of the reasons why it's so incredibly remarkable to see the lack of any call, any pressure, any sort of outrage on the Senate side, for the president to actually produce a nominee. We've already seen that he has totally side-stepped the process of confirmation. Ordinarily, this kind of information would have come out in a deputy attorney general's confirmation hearing or an associate attorney general's confirmation hearing. So it shows, you know, the consequences of sort of stepping outside that line.

Unlike the days following the Comey firing, which we had a lot of discussion about who the replacement was going to be, whether or not it was going to be an establishment pick, here we are seeing essentially silence and sort of, frankly, some increasingly bizarre trial balloons of who the president might -- might put in that spot.

[17:40:07] At the same time, he appears to be perfectly happy to sit back, you know, let that 210 days expire, you know, and potentially re-up it again.

ACOSTA: Yes. And a lot of Republicans want to show deference to the president and who he wants to have in his cabinet and so on, but it's sort of running up against all of these questions about the Russia investigation, how Whitaker will handle it.

Thank you very much, all of you. We appreciate it. And happy Thanksgiving.

Coming up, heavy rain raises the threat of mudslides in California's fire disaster zone as potentially record-setting cold heads for the northeast, affecting millions of holiday travelers. Stand by for the latest forecast.


[17:45:14] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Just in time for Thanksgiving, winter is arriving. Millions may endure record-breaking cold this holiday weekend. Let's go to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

Jennifer, this is an unwelcome visitor for this Thanksgiving. What's the latest forecast?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, yes, temperatures are going to be brutally cold. Not only will they feel cold, but with the wind chill, some areas in the northeast will feel like the single digits. We could break more than 20 records tomorrow morning.

Morning wind chills will be at seven degrees in New York City, a very cold Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Friday, 10 degrees will be your morning wind chill. Syracuse, below zero on Friday. Boston, below zero tomorrow morning.

So that cold, Arctic air is going to take over the northeast, at least until Saturday or so. Then temperatures will start to rebound just a little bit.

The parade, high temperature, 26 degrees. So during the parade time, temperatures will be in the 20s. But look at this. It will feel like five degrees at 9:00 a.m., six at 10:30 a.m. So very, very cold.

Here we go. We should be at 52 this time of year. So temperatures are going to be well below that, but we're not going to see too many delays as far as the airports are concerned. We will have a couple of wind delays, but they shouldn't be too bad in the northeast.

Much of the country enjoying a very nice Thanksgiving. The West Coast will be really the only problem area, where we could see a lot of rain that's going to slow down some of the airports up and down the West Coast.

California, especially, could get two to four, possibly six inches of rain in some of those burn areas, Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much. Appreciate all of that.

Coming up, a change in the weather that will help California firefighters but may make things more complicated for rescue crews.


[17:51:46] ACOSTA: There's breaking news in fire-ravaged northern California where heavy rain has threatened to unleash a different kind of disaster. CNN's Nick Watt is there live for us tonight.

Nick, almost one million people are under a flash flood watch. That sounds like it'd just make matters worse out there.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Listen, Jim, the wind is going to pick up. We're going to get gusts of about 40 miles an hour, and that could bring down trees already damaged by these fires.

And between now and Saturday morning, we're expecting six inches of rain. And where we are right now, in this tent city filled with evacuees, well, this is in a flood zone.


WATT (voice-over): Some are ignoring the warning to leave, hunkering down. Others like Linda Baker and her granddaughter, Cammy (ph), moving out to stay with family. WATT (on camera): So you two are off to Arizona now?

LINDA BAKER, EVACUEE: Yes, but I don't know how we're going to get there yet. We're not sure yet.

WATT (voice-over): This fire, started nearly two weeks ago, now also taking a toll on firefighters. Physically --

JESSE ALEXANDER, DIVISION CHIEF OF ADMINISTRATION, CHICO FIRE DEPARTMENT: Usually, you're out there for 24 or 36, 48 hours, so you really don't get that opportunity to clean out your lungs a lot. All of our lungs hurt. Almost every single one of us comments about how our lungs hurt.

WATT (voice-over): -- and emotionally.

ALEXANDER: I just want to thank everyone, not just the firefighters but all the civilians who helped out throughout the entire process.

WATT (voice-over): And the financial cost? Well, Cal Fire was allocated $443 million by the state to fight wildfires for the year starting July 1st and burned through nearly all that budget in just 2- 1/2 months, fighting summer fires like the gigantic Carr Fire which burned nearly 360 square miles and destroyed more than a thousand homes.

So the state gave Cal Fire an extra $243 million. That extra money also now near running out, and it's supposed to last another seven months.

So far, fighting the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire, the most destructive and deadly in the state's history, has cost $130 million. And it's still smoking.


WATT: And the issue is really going to be the intensity of the rain over the next few days. If we get, in any one-hour period, half an inch of rain or more -- and the forecasters tell me that is very possible -- that's when we might see these debris flows and mudslides triggered.

And that is what everybody is afraid of right now, that hampering the effort to find human remains and help people get back into their homes.

Now, one bright spot. Already, we have a team of chefs led by Jose Andres who are in the kitchen preparing for tomorrow when they are going to serve Thanksgiving dinner here to 15,000 people in Chico.

Remember, nearly 13,000 homes, Jim, have been destroyed by this wildfire. So the pain here through the Thanksgiving holiday is great, and that will be a little bright spot for some -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And we're thinking about all of them, and we're wishing all of them the best Thanksgiving possible under these circumstances.

[17:55:02] CNN's Nick Watt. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, more on the breaking news. President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts get into a war of words about whether the U.S. judiciary is independent or whether there are Trump judges and Obama judges.

Plus, new revelations in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN Mueller may have more questions.


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Hail to the Chief. In a rare statement, the Chief Justice rebukes the President after Mr. Trump insulted judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And tonight, the President is firing back. Why did the Chief Justice feel the need to speak out now?