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Millions Facing Coldest Thanksgiving in Over a Century, Weather Threatening to Snarl Holiday Travel; Potential Rival Won't Challenge Pelosi, Disavows Support of Former Judge Suspected in Ex-Wife's Killing; Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebukes Trump. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 21, 2018 - 17:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Why did the chief justice feel the need to speak out now?

Expecting more questions. Rudy Giuliani tells CNN, the president's legal team, he believes it could get more questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, and that they might fight answering them. Why did Giuliani say Mueller's questions were like a law school exam, while the president said they were easy?

George of the jail. After pleading guilty to lying to the special counsel, former Trump foreign policy George Papadopoulos says he wants to delay going to jail, claiming he was framed by the Mueller team. Tonight, Mueller is weighing in.

And snow, rain and automobiles. Bad weather could create travel nightmares this Thanksgiving with snow, ice and the coldest air of the season potentially snarling traffic and delaying flights. We will have the latest on what is forecast to be the coldest Thanksgiving in more than a century for millions.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And breaking news tonight, an extraordinary public feud between President Trump and the chief justice of the United States.

The president is chiding John Roberts and urging him to -- quote -- "study" after Roberts rebuked the president's sharp criticism of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The president slammed the court after a judge temporarily blocked the administration's new policy on migrants seeking asylum.

I will talk about that and more with Senator Mazie Hirono, and our correspondents, analysts and specialists, they are also standing by.

But, first, let's go to our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He is in South Florida, where the president is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at the Mar-a-Lago resort.

Jeff, this is really a remarkable exchange between the president and the chief justice.


President Trump spent about six hours or so today at the Trump International Golf Course here in West Palm Beach, but once he got back to Mar-a-Lago, it was clear he was in a fighting mood, going after the Supreme Court justice who was trying to defend the judiciary. The president said he didn't buy it. He said he believes there are Obama judges.


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. That 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 started as the president left the White House yesterday, blasting the judge's decision for temporarily blocking one his executive orders to change U.S. asylum policy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You go to the Ninth Circuit and it is a disgrace. This was an Obama judge. And I will tell you what. It is not going to happen like this anymore.

ZELENY: The Supreme Court chief justice, appointed by President George W. Bush, has been striving to bring civility to the bench.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. 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 of 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 will 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 signal 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.

TRUMP: The written answers to the witch-hunt that's been going on forever, no collusion, no nothing, they have 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 are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.


ZELENY: So, even as that Russia investigation is still hanging over the president's head here with potential new questions to come from the special counsel's office, the president seems focused on the border again.

Look at this tweet he sent out shortly after he engaged in that back- and-forth with the chief justice. He says this. He said: "There are a lot of criminals in the caravan. We will stop them, catch and detain. Judicial activism," the president says, "by people who know nothing about security and safety of our citizens is putting our country in great danger. Not good."

So the president clearly escalating this, trying to bring the judiciary into his ongoing political fight about the border. But, Jim, the curious point of this is this. The president has never blasted the Supreme Court like this. He's always revered the Supreme Court and, of course, pointed to his two appointments on that court. He just could potentially use that Supreme Court, need that Supreme

Court with all of these court decisions going against him. That's what made this fight so interesting, never mind, Jim, that it is on the eve of Thanksgiving.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.


ACOSTA: CNN's Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Laura Jarrett, our CNN justice reporter.

Laura, take us through this spat. As Jeff was saying, this is unprecedented and a little unseemly. Why is there happening?


You never see Justice Roberts speak out like this, and it makes you wonder, why now? This is not the first day we have seen Trump attack judges, much less the Ninth Circuit. We all remember his attack on the so-called judge that he had for Judge Robart out in Seattle during the travel ban.

And, of course, who can forget during the campaign trail when he viciously attacked Judge Curiel for his Mexican heritage when he was overseeing the Trump University suit?

So, attacks on judges aren't new. The fact that Roberts actually hit back I think is the part that's fascinating and you wonder, why now? But this is a losing battle I think for the president. Justice Roberts is considered the cream of the crop in the Washington judicial circles.

Yes, conservatives are mad at him. They still talk about what he did on the Affordable Care Act, but members of Congress aren't going to like this.

ACOSTA: And the president would like to change the court. He wants to change these courts with judges that he likes, but, you know, he can't -- he can't change the contours greatly of what we're seeing right now. And so all he is really left with, I suppose, is lashing out in the way that he's doing right now.

JARRETT: Right. And he keeps talking. He has talked at length about breaking up the Ninth Circuit. He can't break up the Ninth Circuit on his own. You need legislation for that.

He has been talking about that for over a year. We're never going to see anything like that. But what he can do, and which he has been extremely effective at, especially with his former White House counsel Don McGahn at the helm, is putting in a number of very conservative, very young circuit court judges, and that obviously will make a huge impact for generations to come, way beyond his presidency.

ACOSTA: And is there a risk for the president in picking this fight with the chief justice? You know, I suppose the chief justice, the other justices on the Supreme Court will put all of this aside when weighing cases that matter to the president.

JARRETT: Perhaps.

But you have seen him go after Justice Ginsburg too. And I don't know, what has been the fallout from that, what have been the repercussions? The attacks, I think, again, by Monday we may not necessarily be talking about, but in the moment it is extraordinary just to see this kind of war of words, when Roberts really never does this and the way he went about defending his fellow judges.

He didn't mention Trump by name, but he didn't have to because everyone knew exactly who he was talking about. No one talks about Obama judges and Clinton judges and Bush judges, except for President Trump, at least not out loud.

ACOSTA: And it is amazing to see. Typically, you will see a Supreme Court justice and his opinion about a president or a president's policy in a Supreme Court decision, not in a statement coming from a chief justice from the Supreme Court issued in the way it was today. Just an extraordinary development.

Laura Jarrett, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN that special counsel Robert Mueller may have more questions for the president, but he says the Trump team will fight any questions they think violate executive privilege.

CNN national correspondent Alex Marquardt is working that story for us.

Alex, what now? Mueller read the Trump's answers and will that be the end of it? I suppose they may have more questions.


And then we understand from Rudy Giuliani, who's on President Trump's legal team, that the Mueller team will respond within about a week to 10 days. Remember, Jim, those questions, this first round of questions were really focused on two issues.

The first was Don Jr.'s meeting in Trump Tower with that Russian lawyer to try to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton. The second was President Trump himself calling on the Russians to dig up Hillary Clinton's 30,000 e-mails.


So, Rudy Giuliani has said that there could be more questions coming. The big question really, Jim, is whether this will -- another round of questions would focus on obstruction of justice, because that would pertain to the period of time since President Trump became president, which Rudy Giuliani and his legal team argue is protected by executive privilege.

What happens then? Robert Mueller could try to subpoena the president for a sit-down, in-person interview, which the president for a long time has said that he'd be willing to do, now he and his legal team say that they don't want to do.

But, remember, Robert Mueller isn't working independently. He falls under the attorney general's office, under the Department of Justice. So even if he were to subpoena the president, that would then need to be approved by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein the now acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, who has shown in the past his disapproval of the Mueller probe -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And also today, Alex, pretty fascinating development, Mueller's team today asked to judge not to delay George Papadopoulos' jail time scheduled to start next Monday. Where does that stand?


Now, remember, Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14, just 14 days in jail, in part of a plea deal. He could have gotten up to six months. And at the time of his sentencing, he was very contrite. He was very sorry. Now he's fighting back trying to delay it.

He is due, as you said, to turn himself in on Monday to a federal correctional facility in Wisconsin. And the basis of his argument is that there is a challenge in a different -- in a separate court to the actual legitimacy of the Mueller probe overall.

Now, the team has responded, saying that there shouldn't be any sort of delay. He -- the quote from his office was "The defendant received what he bargained for in that plea deal."

As I mentioned, when he was sentenced, Papadopoulos was contrite, he was sorry. But very publicly, his tune has changed and he's lashed out. He called this the biggest case of entrapment. He said that he was framed, that there was government misconduct, and that he now wants to renege on that plea deal -- Jim.

ACOSTA: OK, CNN's Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for that.

And let's get more on all of this with Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees. Of course, we remember that.

Senator Hirono, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for joining us.

Let's begin...

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Same to you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes, thank you.

And let's begin with this remarkable statement. I'm sure this jumped out at you all the way in Honolulu, to see the chief justice, John Roberts, rebuke the president of the United States. What did you make of that today?

HIRONO: I was very delighted that he finally took a position in defense of the independence of the courts, which, by the way, the president has no interest in an independent court. He wants a Republican court, and he has been working very hard to place all of his ideologically motivated Republicans vetted by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation on the courts.

So, I'm really glad that the chief justice finally came out and said, wait a minute. The courts are an independent branch of government. We have checks and balances.

ACOSTA: And this isn't the first time the president has attacked the federal court system.

Why do you think the chief justice chose to speak out now? And what about this sense that, well, yes, the president can make political comments all the time, but that the Supreme Court doesn't always put out statements like this? It is unusual to see a chief justice respond in this way.

HIRONO: Well, these are not normal times and we don't have a president who acts normally. So I don't think we can expect the judiciary and chief justice to also act normally.

I'm very glad that he came out to remind everybody that the judiciary is an independent branch of government. In fact, they are pretty much the last resort for people with complaints and cases that they'd like to have treated fairly .

ACOSTA: Let me ask you this, because you were there as Brett Kavanaugh, now the newest Supreme Court justice, tangled with Democrats on the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing this year.


ACOSTA: And we all remember that explosive hearing. And there were so many explosive exchanges, when now Justice Kavanaugh really sort of aired his own personal feelings.

And they smacked a lot of people as being very partisan. Do you worry the judicial branch is becoming overly politicized? Is there a concern there?

HIRONO: Clearly, I have a concern about the court packing that is going on.

And Judge Kavanaugh in his hearings made it very plain that he's a political operative. He also had said that the sitting president should be immune from either criminal or civil proceedings, and that's music to Trump's ears, who just cares about his own protection.

So I'm very concerned about the court packing that's going on and very concerned that with both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, but particularly Kavanaugh, who is a political operative on the court, I worry about the independence of the court.


And I'm glad that Chief Justice Roberts has come out to say and to remind everybody how the court is supposed to operate.

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

President Trump has turned over written responses to special counsel Robert Mueller. Do you think these written answers are useful without the opportunity to follow up? Are you disappointed that they are now just dealing with written responses?

HIRONO: Of course I am.

When I was practicing law, you always want to actually question the witness, but it is what it is, and it just raises further concerns for me about any efforts on acting A.G. Whitaker to stymie the Mueller investigation. So it points out various, several things.

First, as you know, I am party to a lawsuit to have the courts make a clear determination that officers such as an attorney general, acting or otherwise, needs to be confirmed by the Senate. That is very clear.

And the second thing is that the Mueller investigation needs to continue. And, therefore, Mitch McConnell should bring the bipartisan bill that was passed out of the Judiciary Committee on the floor of the Senate, so that special counsel, which includes Mueller, can be protected from political firings, et cetera.

ACOSTA: Now, let me ask you this, because the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, you probably saw this, suggested President Trump himself would decide whether or not to answer these additional questions that are expected to come from the special counsel's office.

If the president refuses, what happens then?

HIRONO: I think that it raises a constitutional question as to whether or not the president can refuse, claiming what? Executive privilege? I don't know, because I -- the calling of president -- of the executive privilege is one that probably the courts need to clarify.

So everything that this president does is motivated by concern to protect himself. And I think that we are heading toward a constitutional crisis on any number of levels, including, of course, his appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general.

ACOSTA: And, of course, if it heads to a constitutional crisis, he may need to rely on some of those justices on the Supreme Court.


ACOSTA: Senator Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, wishing everybody out there in Honolulu and across the islands a happy Thanksgiving. Thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate it.

HIRONO: Yes. Happy Thanksgiving. Aloha.

ACOSTA: All right. Aloha.

The breaking news continues. Next, we will get more on the stunning public feud between President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Plus, the president hoping to weaponize the Justice Department and use it against James Comey and Hillary Clinton, we will talk about that with former U.S. attorney and CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara.

That's coming up.



ACOSTA: We're following breaking news, President Trump in a shocking war of words with Chief Justice John Roberts, after Roberts defended the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the president sharply criticized.

Tonight, the president tweeted at Roberts and said that he needed to -- quote -- "study the numbers" and he insisted judges are biased depending on which president appointed them.

Let's talk about that and more with former U.S. attorney and now senior legal analyst here at CNN Preet Bharara.

Preet, let me ask you this. Let me read you, first of all, what Chief Justice Roberts himself wrote. Let's show the statement.

"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 before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."

How did -- how did this grab you, when you saw that a statement came from the chief justice of the Supreme Court rebuking the president on this?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, it's pretty stunning. I don't use the word stunning a lot on CNN or elsewhere.

Judges don't really speak outside the courtroom. They're not supposed to and they get in trouble for doing so. And it also I think undermines the weightiness of their position, and the Supreme Court especially so.

And then, even on the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts is one of the less outspoken people. Generally speaking, the court speaks through its opinions. And Justice Roberts, because he's the chief, also issues something of an annual report every year. And he will usually talk about some issue relating to the workload of judges around the country or the pay scale for judges around the country.

I'm curious to see what he writes about come this January 1. And maybe it'll be about this issue. But Justice Roberts, it's pretty extraordinary, A, because he's a fairly, if I can use the colloquial term, mellow guy. He believes in institutions, which is maybe why he felt the need to speak out on this.

But he has to also know that he basically had this one opportunity to issue the statement, knowing that this president when pushed or rebuked or criticized from any source, no matter how hallowed, whether it's the pope or the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, is going to comment back. And he did on Twitter.

And, now, you can't get into a back and forth. And now I think you're going to see Justice Roberts sort of be silent, having made his point, and defending his brother and sister judges around the country, which I think was a powerful message to them as well.

ACOSTA: And given the mellowness of the chief justice that you mentioned, and the fact that they don't do this very often from the high court, your sense of it is, is that Chief Justice Roberts must have felt this was so critical that he had to speak out?

BHARARA: I think so.

And probably what's also true is, it's been building for a while. In the opening segment on the program at the top of the hour, there was a correspondent who listed various other instances where the president attacked judges by name.


I'm personally friends with a lot of judges. There are people who are currently judges used to work for me and work with me.

And they will tell you quietly it is not a pleasant thing to have to worry that, even though you have life tenure, if you're a federal judge, and you do your job, and you follow the law and apply it -- these are both, by the way, Republican-appointed and Democratically- appointed -- to have to worry that the president is going to tweet at you, and that your family and your children are going to be attacked and ridiculed and mocked and assaulted, in words at least, because the president of United States has a different megaphone from everyone else in the country.

And so, yes, of course, from time to time, people criticize the judgments that courts make. I have done it. I was a United States attorney for seven-and-a-half years. And, sometimes, we didn't like what a court did.

But there's a difference between respectful disagreement that you largely deal with through your lawyers in court in response or in an appeal vs. on Twitter trying to school someone with language that's -- that doesn't have the kind of decorum that Kellyanne Conway and other people say should be deserved in the White House.

And you know something about that from the recent tussle.


And -- but let me ask you this. We saw a very partisan display from the newest Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, during his confirmation hearings last month. It seems that the president is trying to inject his pro wrestling style give-and-take that he brings to the press, that he brings to Congress, that he brings to all these different venues.

But he's injecting it now into our judicial system. Is it -- is it true -- isn't it true that judges aren't always impartial? Is the president putting his finger on something of a point here?

BHARARA: Look, judges are people. They don't get placed on a pedestal. I don't think they should.

But, generally speaking, the judges, particularly the ones on the federal bench, and then even the subset of judges on the federal bench who are on the Supreme Court, generally speaking, are very highly regarded, are very professional. I know the hearing you talked about, but, generally speaking, those judges are held in very high regard.

Is it possible that, from time to time, judges, like other people, like prosecutors, like journalists, like police officers, like defense lawyers, sometimes have a bias that they should deal with and try to suppress?

I'm sure that happens from time to time. The problem, though, is, I think, in this case, is, you have a president of the United States, as I said, has an outsized megaphone, and is trying to denigrate any and every institution or representative from every and any institution who dares to criticize him, or dares to uphold and stand up for its institutional power.

He doesn't believe in checks and balances. He's been attacking the fourth estate, which you are a part of. He's been attacking members of Congress by name. He's been attacking the judiciary also, and even members of his own law enforcement team, whether it's the FBI director before, the FBI director now, the attorney general then.

And we will see what happens with his relationship to the current attorney general. But I think the problem with the president overstating the amount of politicization that there is on the court undermines everyone's belief and faith in the judicial process.

ACOSTA: All right, Preet Bharara, I hope it not too cold there in New York for you to enjoy Thanksgiving.

BHARARA: Not yet. Not yet.


ACOSTA: Thanks again for joining us. Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

BHARARA: Thanks. ACOSTA: And just ahead: The president responds to Robert Mueller's questions, but will he answer more? His lawyer says, maybe not.

Plus: record cold temperatures threatening to disrupt holiday travel. We will get the latest forecast.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight. President Trump firing back at Chief Justice John Roberts after Roberts took the rare step of rebuking the president for criticizing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

[18:33:10] Let's get more with our correspondents, analysts, experts. Laura Coates, let me play some of the sound from the president that started all of this. Of course, he's criticized the Ninth Circuit before, but he did it again yesterday. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 -- because it is not fair.


ACOSTA: And then the chief justice today with just this amazing response. You just never see this from a chief justice. Let me put that up on screen: "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 before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."

I -- Laura, I can't remember every hearing from a Supreme Court justice, chief justice rebuking a president in this way. It's just unheard of.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is unheard of, and with good reason, because normally, they don't want to weigh into political matters.

But there's the impression that the president of the United States seems to have that it's not three coequal branches of government. It's constantly a David and Goliath game. And what Roberts reminded him was that they're both Goliath, perhaps, in this particular thing and that we can have this autonomy and that your presumption that we're political, that we're partisan because it just doesn't go in your favor, is actually not accurate.

In fact, the Ninth Circuit has been criticized widely for years as being maybe too large or that it's more liberal in their mindset. But think about this. The statement that Roberts made was nothing different than what Sotomayor said this past Saturday on Axelrod's show on CNN, where she said, "The terms conservative and liberal are political terms. We are objective people here."

[18:35:02] And so the president doesn't address that, doesn't address, as before, just this instance for some reason. And I have to say, the president is really disillusioned to think that the actual Supreme Court or any other judge is supposed to do what he'd like. They have to do what's right by law.

ACOSTA: And Jackie Kucinich, do you think it's a good idea for the chief justice to allow the president to sort of pull him into the wrestling ring? That's what he's doing here.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's trying. I don't think -- I can't remember seeing Roberts, like, in a tweet fight with the president.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I imagine he's actually working, unlike the president, perhaps.

KUCINICH: Right, but I feel like he felt like he needed -- this is a president who has defied norms, who is pushing the limits and trying to push limits in the judiciary.

Look how he views the Justice Department and how he's trying to intervene there. Justice Roberts, I don't think is going to, you know, issue statements about this. I think he's probably going to go back in his robe and his chamber and continue with his job.

ACOSTA: And Sam Vinograd, the president does have something of a point, does he not, in that most people recognize there are liberal and conservative justices. I mean, on a sort of basic level, kindergarten level, he does have a point here, does he not?

VINOGRAD: I'm sorry that we're out of kindergarten level with the president of the United States. Yes, perhaps he has somewhat of a point based upon which way judges have traditionally leaned, whether they're on the Supreme Court or before they got there.

But I want to make a distinction here. This is not just about bucking the norms. This is not just about the president speaking out against a Supreme Court decision.

I was at the White House in -- I believe it was 2010 when President Obama came under a lot of criticism for criticizing a Supreme Court decision. That's not what the president did here. The president made this about politics and party. He sowed divisions, and he undermined the credibility of the Supreme Court, our independent judiciary. That used to be what Vladimir Putin did. President Trump is doing that today. And in doing so, he's not just breaking the norms; he's undermining our nation security.

ACOSTA: And Ron, what do you think? RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Jim, look, the

irony here is that the message from John Roberts is exactly right. He should be standing up for the independent judiciary against this attempt by the president, as he does with any institution that he thinks can threaten him, to delegitimize it.

On the other hand, it is reasonable to look at John Roberts record and question whether he is a plausible -- he is a credible messenger on this. I mean, he has shown himself willing, over and again, with the Affordable Care Act, as one big exception, to engineer 5-4 decisions that are essentially party line decisions, all the Republican justices voting against all the Democratic-appointed justices on big issues like the Shelby County decision, which is probably the principle reason that we are engaged in this years-long fight over access to the ballot box, was John Roberts engineering, in effect, a party-line decision to hollow out a big part of the Voting Rights Act. Citizens United, which was the decision that President Obama criticized. The Ohio voter purge that again, on a 5-4 vote, they upheld last year.

He is right to be doing it, questioning the president, but his own record kind of, you know, to your point, kind of does suggest that he has been voting -- and I wonder if this may be counterproductive for the president, because by forcing Roberts to more explicitly defend the independence of the judiciary, will that make him more reluctant in the future on big issues to have them decided by this 5-4 party- line vote? I really wonder if this attack from the president could be counterproductive in the way it influences the chief justice's decisions going forward.

COATES: On that point, I agree with Ron, particularly in the notion of consider the timing. Why would Justice Roberts weigh in now? There's been multiple attacks by the administration while he's been president of the United States against members of the Ninth Circuit, against others, even before he was a candidate and his own university was being sued. Why now?

Well, the timing difference is we've had the confirmation hearings. And we've had our most very recent, turbulent one, where people are looking at this and saying, is this opportunity by the president of the United States suddenly going to shift the pendulum irrevocably and irretrievably towards the conservative majority and solidify this is going to be a partisan court? And there was some pushback to them and saying, hold on.

I wonder if the chief justice honors the integrity of the court enough to say, "I'm not going to allow tribalism to come inside of a black robe." And is this now why he takes his first opportunity to say, "Excuse me, but I'm going to make sure everyone knows it's not a conservative- or a liberal-leaning court. It's a court."

ACOSTA: Sam Vinograd --

BROWNSTEIN: He hasn't ruled that way so far, though.

ACOSTA: This just came in a few moments ago. The publisher of "The Washington Post," Fred Ryan, weighing in on the president's comments yesterday about Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed, the CIA says, by his own government. And this is a pretty extraordinary statement made by the publisher of "The Washington Post."

It says here, "A clear and dangerous message has been sent to tyrants around the world. Flash enough money in front of the president of the United States, and you can literally get away with murder. When officials here in Washington abandon the principles that the people elected them to uphold, it is our duty to call attention to it."

[18:40:08] Yes, tough things are said and written about the president all the time. That is scathing.

VINOGRAD: It is scathing but it's well-deserved. I mean, on the first point, President Trump wears his heart on his Twitter sleeve. Before this presidency, foreign intelligence agencies had to work hard how to manipulate the president. At this point it's pretty clear: you throw some money at the president, you pump some oil, you flatter him and you're on his good side; and he'll defend you despite anything that you've done.

What Fred is really pointing out here, though, is that the president's statement, which yesterday was supposedly about putting America first, puts America last because it licenses despots like Mohammed bin Salman and others -- keep in mind, Vladimir Putin, Russia is the third largest producer of oil. It really licenses other murderers to keep murdering, because there's no repercussions for doing so. That doesn't make me, as an American citizen, feel any safer. It makes me feel more insecure.

BLITZER: Jackie, it makes governments wonder if they can push the envelope around the world.

KUCINICH: It gives them carte blanche to lie to the president's face. Let's not forget Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and now MBS have all said, you know, they didn't do whatever the intelligence agencies said they absolutely did; and the president has taken the despots' word over the intelligence agencies.

And it just -- yes, it opens the door. And we 've also heard him say things that are pure Saudi propaganda. We've heard him say North Korean propaganda. We've heard him say Russian propaganda. So they're also -- he's using their words, and it -- they're listening; they know how to get him to do it, and he's more than happy to.

ACOSTA: Yes. Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Jim, I say like so many things with the president, it comes back very quickly to Congress. I mean, you know, with the latest count that's going on right now, it looks like Democrats are going to win 40 seats in the House with 4 percent unemployment.

And the principle reason for that was that many voters felt that the Congress was too deferential to Trump, was not checking him or restraining him in any way.

This will be another test on that front, because you had the letter from Corker and Menendez to the White House under the Magnitsky Act, requiring him to specifically respond to the crown prince's culpability. And you have opportunities for the Congress to weigh in with hearings, to investigate what happened or even to threaten the arms sales.

So as often, when Trump breaks a window, the Republican Congress's response was to sweep up the glass. Will that continue to be the case after this election?

ACOSTA: All right, Ron Brownstein. Thank you, everybody. It is -- the Congress is supposed to put a check on the president, but it's the president who has to be the leader of the free world. And in a case like this, he's telling governments all over the world they can kill journalists. It's just not right. All right. Thanks, guys, very much.

Just ahead, millions of Americans are facing what could be the coldest Thanksgiving in a century. We have a new forecast coming up in just a few moments.


[18:47:22] SCIUTTO: Breaking news: a new forecast for what could be the coldest Thanksgiving in over a century in parts of the U.S.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the latest for us.

Jennifer, it looks frigid out there across a big chunk of the country.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's going to be incredibly cold tomorrow morning. In fact, we could break more than 20 record lows for tomorrow morning. So, it is going to be a cold one.

Morning wind chills, when you factor in the wind, it is not only going to be cold, it is going to be windy. New York City will feel like seven degrees tomorrow morning. Boston will feel like two degrees below zero. And then, Friday, Boston will feel like zero in the morning. Syracuse will feel like seven below. Philadelphia will feel like the teens.

So, yes, very, very frigid air is going to work its way into the Northeast. That's going to last until at least Saturday, so a very cold Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Temperatures -- actual temperatures will be in the teens and 20s, but the feels-like temperature, when you factor in the wind, it will feel like five degrees when the parade gets going, feeling like six by 10:30 and only 10 by noon.

So, look at these temperatures. We should be at 52 this time of year. High temperature on Friday, 26 degrees. We finally start to warm up by the end of the weekend, getting closer to normal, but it is going to be just a frigid, frigid morning for all of the Northeast -- Jim.

ACOSTA: We don't like to hear that, but we'll have to take it.

All right. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much. We appreciate it. And with the cold weather threatening to snarl holiday travel, we have

to check in now with our CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She is at Reagan National Airport outside of Washington for us tonight.

Rene, any big problems right now? It seems the cold is not having a big effect at the airport from what we are seeing right now.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: So, Jim, if you're driving or if you're flying, you're going to see that the roads are packed, as well as many airports because they are expecting record number of travelers. I mean, on the roads, we're talking about more than 48 million people, and flying, more than 30 million people. So, we are expecting to break records here.

I want to go live to our flight tracker. This is from FlightAware. This just shows you how many aircraft are flying over the United States at this hour, so you can see there is a heavy amount of traffic. We know that the FAA actually worked with the military to clear military air space to make room for all these additional flights. Again, airlines increasing the number of flights, also using larger airplanes to accommodate the large number of travelers.

Today, we know that this was a high traffic day at many airports across the country.

[18:50:05] Although people were able to get through the checkpoints rather quickly, still volume is very high.

But the big day we're going to be watching is on Sunday. That is what airlines are preparing for now, now that we've pretty much gotten through the day-to-day. Sunday will be the high traffic day and we'll be waiting to see if everything runs smoothly, Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. Hope some of those folks out there are heading somewhere warm.

CNN's Rene Marsh, thank you very much.

Up next, a potential challenger to Nancy Pelosi for House speaker bows out. What role did a controversial letter play in that decision?


[18:55:19] ACOSTA: Tonight, an Ohio congresswoman who was considering a challenge to Nancy Pelosi's bid to be House speaker is taking herself out of the running. Her decision comes amid questions about a letter she wrote praising a former judge who now is a suspect in the killing of his ex-wife.

CNN's Brian Todd looked into this bizarre case.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a bizarre case indeed, Jim. This congresswoman, Marcia Fudge, denies that her withdrawal from consideration for House speaker is in any way connected with the former judge's case, but there are serious questions being raised tonight because of that letter she wrote supporting the judge after he had been involved in a horrific domestic abuse case with his wife.


TODD (voice-over): Witnesses say the sheer brutality of the attack was jarring. Lance Mason, a county judge near Cleveland, Ohio, arrested for beating his wife, Aisha Fraser, four years ago.

According to court records, Mason struck Frazier repeatedly in the head, broke a bone near her eye, bit her in the face, and slammed her head on the dashboard of the car they were in. That was in August of 2014. Mason pleaded guilty to domestic violence and served less than a year in prison.

Tonight, Aisha Fraser is dead, stabbed to death in the driveway of an Ohio home on Saturday and Mason has been arrested in connection with the killing, though he has yet to be charged with her death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need the police immediately. My brother is attacking his ex-wife.

TODD: Among the evidence, this 911 call, a woman who says she is Mason's sister tells the dispatcher Mason admitted to the crime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Se stabbed her and he said she's dead.

TODD: Fraser's murder in Ohio might never have garnered any attention in Washington, D.C., but tonight, there's a twist in the case involving Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge whose name was being floated as a possible challenger to Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the house.

REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: It has been heartwarming and humbling to know how many people think that I should do this.

TODD: So, what does a prominent congresswoman have to do with a man who may soon be charged with murdering his ex-wife? It turns out they've known each other a long time, and in 2015, after the incident where Mason smashed his wife's face into the dashboard of their car, Fudge wrote this letter of support of his early release.

In the letter to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Fudge wrote she'd known Mason for more than 20 years, saying the 2014 assault was, quote, totally contrary to everything I know about him and that he had assured me that something like this will never happen again.

Lance Mason, she wrote, is a good man who made a very bad mistake.

DR. LISE VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: It's very naive to suggest that what you see a person in public doing is going to reflect necessarily what's happening in the past, and secondly, it was one year after this event. You can never know the level of viciousness would suggest that it was something that she should be exceedingly wary of.

TODD: Late Thursday, Fudge withdrew her candidacy to be speaker, saying Pelosi is addressing concerns Fudge had about voting integrity and diversity. Pelosi also agreed to give her the chairmanship of a subcommittee dealing with the issue.

Fudge's office tells CNN her decision to withdraw from the speakership race, quote, was not based on the tragic death of Aisha Fraser. But those who cover Fudge say they are skeptical.

ELANA SCHOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: No sooner did Fudge get out there than these series of damning headlines about her support for this judge who committed a grievous and heinous crime came out there and that's not great. It's not great for her candidacy. It's not great for her political fortune.

So, sure, they can say what they say, but we can treat it with a grain of salt.

TODD: Tonight, Fudge says her heart breaks for Fraser, while back in Ohio, Fraser's family is grieving the loss of the mother of two and her ex-husband remains in custody, held without bond.


TODD: We asked Congresswoman Fudge for an on-camera interview. Her office said she was not available. We pressed the congresswoman and her aides on whether the congresswoman actually regrets writing that 2015 letter in support of that former Judge Mason after the domestic violence incident. They did not answer that question, but the congresswoman did issue a statement saying that the person who committed those crimes is not the Lance Mason that she is familiar with, but they were horrific crimes and she condemns them -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Brian, you're learning more about this alleged 2014 incident. What can you tell us?

TODD: That's right, Jim. According to court documents, the former judge basically beat his wife very severely in front of their two young daughters who were sitting in the car. There are horrific details of this case, all of which the congresswoman likely knew about because she wrote that letter in support of him almost a year after this incident took place, so a lot of this was documented.

ACOSTA: All right. Awful, awful story.

CNN's Brian Todd, thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thank you very much every for watching.

And to all our viewers out there, a very happy Thanksgiving.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.