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Roger Stone Associate Negotiating with Mueller; Trump's Bizarre Thanksgiving Call to Troops Attracting Criticism; Comey Pushes Back on GOP Subpoena to Testify in Closed-Door Hearing; Dire Warning Issued about Global Warming; Jerome Corsi, Associate Of Trump Ally Roger Stone, Confirms To CNN He Is In Plea Negotiations With Special Counsel's Team; Political Aftershock Over Trump Using Holiday Call With Troops To Highlight His Own Grievances, Political Priorities; Kellyanne Conway's Husband Slams Trump Again. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: -- special edition of "THE LEAD." I'm Jim Sciutto. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:12] JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Plea market. Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi appears to be in the market for a plea deal and is now in negotiations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. All this after previously saying he didn't do anything wrong. What did Corsi know about WikiLeaks' plan to publish Clinton campaign e-mails hacked by the Russians? And will he now turn on Stone?

Contradicting Trump. A new report that was just released by the government and their scientists contradicts the president's often- repeated claim that climate change is a hoax. The report says global warming is transforming where and how we live and presents serious challenges to the health and lifestyles of all Americans.

So why did the Trump administration decide to release it late today during the holiday weekend? And why does the president continue to mock the idea of global warming?

Not behind closed doors. Former FBI director, James Comey, says he'll fight a subpoena from the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, hauling him in front of that committee. Comey says he's willing to testify, but only if it's at a public hearing and not behind closed doors. Why are some Republicans trying to use the final weeks before they lose power to make Comey talk in secret?

And Trump's thanks-getting. The president hits the golf course again today after making a bizarre and self-serving call to U.S. Troops on Thanksgiving day. Why did it seem the president was much more interested in getting thanks for himself than giving thanks to the troops?

Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Jim Acosta, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

There's breaking news tonight, and Special Counsel Robert -- there is breaking news tonight in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Jerome Corsi, an associate of Trump ally Roger Stone, confirmed to CNN he's in plea negotiations with Mueller's team.

And we're following the political aftershocks after President Trump told reporters he's ready to side with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over his own CIA's assessment of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Tonight, Democrats say they now want to investigate the president's ties to that country.

Congressman Ted Deutsche, a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee, is standing by to take our questions. And our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

But let's begin with the breaking news in the Russia investigation and CNN senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, what is the latest?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the fact that Jerome Corsi is working on a plea deal is a real sign that Robert Mueller and his team think that Corsi has something quite significant to share.

So it's a big development that could give the Russia probe a crucial missing link in the investigation into the collusion with Russia, specifically linking WikiLeaks and the hacked Democratic e-mails that they dumped to the Trump campaign.

Now, Corsi has not said anything more about his plea negotiations, so we don't know where those talks stand, but this comes after Corsi himself said just last week that he expected to be indicted by Mueller for allegedly lying. Take a listen.


JEROME CORSI, ASSOCIATE OF ROGER STONE: I fully anticipate in the next few days I will be indicted by Mueller for some form or other of giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other grand jury or whomever they want to do the indictment. But I'm going to be criminally charged.


MARQUARDT: Now, many people may not have heard of Corsi, but the special counsel's office is very interested in him because of his friendship with Roger Stone. And his possible role as an intermediary to WikiLeaks, which, of course, released the hacked e-mails of the DNC and then the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Corsi claims that he came up with a prediction that Podesta's e-mail would be hacked and released right before the election. That theory, he said, he shared with Stone, who then tweeted something to that effect. And then, of course, that prediction turned out to be true. Corsi denies that he has any ties to or sources inside WikiLeaks.

Roger Stone also responded to this news of the plea deal on the radio this afternoon, and denied also that Corsi told him that the Podesta e-mails would be stolen and then published.


ROGER STONE, TRUMP ADVISOR (via phone): I'm unaware of any plea bargaining. I have no idea what this is about. Other than to say that the assertion that Jerry Corsi knew in advance that John Podesta's e-mails had been obtained and would be published would be news to me.

This idea that Jerry Corsi could implicate me, there's simply no evidence whatsoever.


MARQUARDT: And Stone also said today that Corsi is under what he called a tremendous amount of pressure and he is being asked over and over to say things that he does not believe occurred -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And Alex, how problematic could this be for President Trump? People might say that well, Jerome Corsi -- sounds like a small fish in all of this. But this could be problematic.

[17:05:08] MARQUARDT: It could be very problematic. If Corsi admits that he worked with WikiLeaks and coordinated with them on those e- mails and then gave that information to Stone, that then creates a direct line between the Russian hackers who carried out those hacks and the Trump campaign. And then the question becomes who on the Trump campaign, who else may have known? Did the president know?

Alex, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Also tonight, there are plenty of aftershocks in the wake of President Trump's politically-charged holiday phone call with U.S. troops, as well as more pushback on his treatment of U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that the Saudi government is behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who is covering the president down in Florida.

Jeff, the president is in Florida, but that has not stopped his critics from pouncing all over his performance yesterday.


The president's embrace, repeated embrace of the Saudi Arabia leadership is drawing more fire from world leaders as well as Democrats and Republicans. But even as the president spent hours on his own golf course here in West Palm Beach, Florida, he's getting a new taste of what the political order in Washington has in store for him next year.


ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, the White House could be contending with another investigation, this time over President Trump's cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will say very strongly that it's a very important ally, and if we go by a certain standard, we won't be able to have allies with almost any country.

ZELENY: After the president contradicted the CIA's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi --

TRUMP: They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways, but they didn't -- I have the report. And you can ask Mike (ph) -- they have not concluded. Nobody has concluded. I don't know if anyone is going to be able to conclude that the crown prince did it.

ZELENY: Congressman Adam Schiff, incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is now promising a deep dive, telling the "Washington Post," "We will certainly want to examine what the intelligence community knows about the murder."

The president is drawing new fire for repeatedly siding with Saudi leaders over the U.S. intelligence community.

TRUMP: I hate the crime. I hate what's done. I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this. The crown prince hates it more than I do.

ZELENY: Schiff said Democrats, after taking control of Congress in January, will explore any potential financial conflicts of interest between Trump and the Saudi kingdom. At the White House this week, the president denying any such ties.

TRUMP: I don't make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don't have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn't care less.

ZELENY: As the president spends the Thanksgiving holiday at his resort and golf course in Florida, he's fixated on immigration, tweeting today, "Republicans and Democrats must come together. Finally with a major border security package, which will include funding for the wall." The president even threatening to close the border with Mexico.

TRUMP: If we find that it's -- it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where our people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire border?

TRUMP: The whole border. I mean the whole border.

ZELENY: Immigration was only one of several issues the president touched on during a Thanksgiving day call with troops meant to show support, but instead turning highly political and at times bizarre.

TRUMP: The large numbers of people are forming at our border, and I don't have to even ask you. I know what you want to do. You want to make sure that you know who we're getting in. And we're not letting in anybody, essentially. Because we want to be very, very careful.

So you're right. You're doing it over there. We're doing it over here.

ZELENY: He overstated the urgency of caravan immigrants heading to the U.S.

TRUMP: We have fencing and walls like very few people have. We've been able to do it rather quickly. Cozentino [SIC] wire. Cozentina [SIC] wire. And so many other things are there now that they didn't have.

ZELENY: That concertina wire strung by soldiers at the border, illustrating the president's fixation on immigration.

He also used the call to rail against some federal judges.

TRUMP: We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side.

ZELENY: After spending Thanksgiving with his family at Mar-a-Lago, the president was asked what he's thankful for. His answer? Himself.

TRUMP: I made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office, and you wouldn't believe it.


ZELENY: So that is the mindset of the president heading into this weekend after Thanksgiving, Jim. And the president also, we were told, is considering still making some changes to his cabinet, potentially replacing homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The president said he will potentially talk to other likely candidates during his time here. The White House not saying if that has happened.

But as the president heads into the second half of his first term in office, there is one thing that's clear. It will be a new political order in Washington. Those comments from Democratic Chairman Adam Schiff, soon to be Chairman Adam Schiff, certainly signaling to the president that things will be different come the new year -- Jim.

[17:10:13] ACOSTA: They certainly will be. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

There are also new battle lines tonight in a legal fight between House and -- House Republicans and former FBI director James Comey. At issue is whether Comey will answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee behind closed doors. Comey says he's happy to provide answers, but only in public.

Let's go to CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's here. Sunlen, the timing here is quite surprising.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It essentially is a last-ditch effort by the Republicans on the committee, Jim, essentially trying to take action while they're still in power during these last few weeks of the lame-duck session.

And everyone on Capitol Hill is just bracing, of course, for the Mueller report to hit.

Now, the Republican chairman of the committee, Bob Goodlatte, who's been investigating the FBI's action in the 2016 campaign, he wants James Comey and also former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, before his committee on December 3 and 4. And most importantly here, he has subpoenaed for them to appear behind closed doors in private.

James Comey making it very clear, very quickly, that he is willing to appear, but only if it is done in public. He is concerned about leaks if he testifies privately with the potential for what he says being potentially misconstrued.

Comey tweeted yesterday, quote, "Happy Thanksgiving. Got a subpoena from House Republicans. I'm still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions. But I will resist a closed-door thing, because I've seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion. Let's have a hearing and invite everyone to see."

And an attorney for Comey says that they will fight the order, potentially in court if need be, and call this a political stunt by Republicans. Now, there has been no response yet from Loretta Lynch, but, of course, Jim, this is very likely to potentially go away in January when the Democrats take control.

ACOSTA: And we learned today, Sunlen, one of the things that Democrats want to start looking into when they take control of the House is the president's handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Tell us about that.

SUNLEN: That's right. Add this to the likely growing list of investigations for President Trump.

Adam Schiff, who, of course, is the incoming House Intel Committee chair says he intends to investigate what the intelligence community found about the Khashoggi murder and, of course, look at whether Trump misrepresented those findings.

And important here, as Jeff Zeleny noted in his piece before this, Schiff says he's going to go broader. He's really going to take a deep dive in the relations between Saudi and the U.S., including potentially looking into Trump and his personal business dealings with Saudi if they potentially influence the president's decision. This, of course, just another preview of what's to come for President Trump in the new year. New reality on Capitol Hill.

ACOSTA: It's going to be very different for him here in Washington, come January. Sunlen, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. He's a member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Happy Thanksgiving, happy holidays. I know we want to get into --

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: And to you and the viewers.

ACOSTA: Thank you. And we want to get into the situation with former FBI director Comey in a moment.

But I want to ask you about these subpoenas from Republicans on your committee in just a moment. But let's begin with the news on Roger Stone, associate to Jerome Corsi, who says he's entered into these plea negotiations with the special counsel.

Do you believe Corsi could be -- people might think, well, this is -- he's kind of a small fish in all this. Do you think he could be key to this collusion investigation?

DEUTCH: Yes, this could be a really dramatic turn in this case -- in this investigation. There's so much information surrounding the Mueller investigation that sometimes it gets hard to keep it all straight.

This -- this news about Corsi provides the opportunity, potentially -- and we don't know what Mueller's investigating or what he has. But it provides the opportunity to see a line from Russia, who stole the e- mails, to WikiLeaks, who distributed the e-mails, WikiLeaks to Corsi and Stone, and Stone to the president.

We don't know -- this is why the Mueller investigation is so important. This is why instead of holding hearings about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, we ought to be holding a markup on legislation to protect the Mueller investigation. But this is potentially the most significant piece of information in this investigation, because of the way that it could connect all of these dots.

ACOSTA: And Roger Stone says Jerome Corsi is being pressured to say things he doesn't believe. What does that tell you about the legal jeopardy Roger Stone might be facing? It is odd somewhat to hear Roger Stone commenting on Jerome Corsi and this looming, you know -- legal fix that he might be in.

DEUTCH: Sure. I don't -- I don't think there's anyone who's at all surprised by Roger Stone's reaction to this. The decision that he made to go out in front and start vehemently denying, based on this information that's now become public, it's just not surprising at all.

[17:15:17] And it's, I think, further proof that there is real concern about the ability for Robert Mueller to draw that line from the Russians to WikiLeaks to Corsi and Stone, to the president. That's -- that's, I think, what's so concerning for Roger Stone.

And it's certainly further evidence of why the president has tried so desperately over the past year and especially since firing Jeff Sessions, to try to shut down the Mueller investigation altogether. We ought to be protecting it. We ought to, on behalf of the American people, make sure that he completes his work so that we get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

ACOSTA: And moving on to Jim Comey, you sit on the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans on your committee, as you now know, have subpoenaed the former FBI director and the former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to testify behind closed doors. Some Democrats are calling this a political stunt. How do you see it?

DEUTCH: Yes. Well, it's a political stunt, and it's a bad one, at that.

The leadership of the House Judiciary Committee clearly -- they clearly weren't paying attention to what happened on election day. They didn't get the memo. They didn't -- they failed to understand even after the sweeping indictment against the way that this committee and this administration has handled things these past two years, that still they want to conduct hearings in private, focusing on Hillary Clinton so that they can leak information to the press.

And by the way, all of this comes -- this decision to call for these closed-door hearings came immediately after the president said he thought that these hearings should take place.

It's all orchestrated, and it's all an attempt to avoid the really important work that the Judiciary Committee ought to be doing, which is to get to the truth about what happened in 2016, to protect the Mueller investigation from any political efforts by the president to sabotage it, and to start conducting the necessary oversight of the administration, which the leadership and the Republican leadership of this committee has failed to do.

But rest assured, when we return in January, Democratic leadership under Chairman Nadler will certainly look forward to conducting that oversight of the administration and pursuing all of these leads that have been left out there and left for others to consider, because the Republican leadership has shown no interest in pursuing them.

ACOSTA: I'm sure it will be a whole new ball game. All right. Congressman Ted Deutsche, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

DEUTCH: Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: And still ahead, more on the breaking news. Roger Stone's ally, Jerome Corsi, telling CNN he's in negotiation over a plea deal with Robert Mueller's team. And a dire new warning about the impact of climate change. But if it's so bad, why did the administration bury it by delaying its release until late afternoon on the Friday after Thanksgiving?


[17:22:35] ACOSTA: Breaking news this afternoon. The Trump administration issued a dire new warning about the impact of climate change. A warning that's at odds with just about everything claimed by President Trump.

Rene Marsh, our government relations correspondent, has been going over the report.

Rene, what's actually in this report and how badly could global warming hurt the U.S. economy? It sounds very serious.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT RELATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the report does. It paints a deadly picture for people living in the united states. And it's a major blow to the economy if climate change is not brought under control.

Some context is a congressionally mandated report is put out by the Trump administration, led by a president who continues to cast doubt on whether climate change is a real thing or not. And this report directly contradicts where the president stands on this issue of climate change.

It's frightening. The highlights from the report include higher temperatures will kill more people. Specifically in the Midwest, it's predicted that they will have the largest increase in rising temperatures. Additional 2,000 people could die per year, prematurely by the year 2090. 10 percent of the U.S. Economy could disappear because of damage to infrastructure. Our crops. Things of that sort.

Six times more forest area will burn during the wildfire season. The U.S. food supply will be hit hard. Farmers will produce less crops as a result of flooding and drought. And the report points out that disproportionately, low-income people will feel the impact. But that's not to say everyone won't feel this. But they will be hit the hardest.

So Jim, there is actually no good news in this report, no matter where you read within the hundreds of pages.

ACOSTA: And Rene, the release date for this report was moved up to the day after Thanksgiving when most people are out, you know, shopping for Black Friday deals and that sort of thing. Why is that?

MARSH: You know, that question was asked today. And they said that there are two very important scientific conferences that are happening next month. And that is why they wanted to get the news out there.

But that still doesn't answer the question. Why put it out on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, where people most likely are not tuned into the critical information in this report?

So many people are speculating within the scientific community, "Hey, when you make a move like this, this simply means that you are trying to bury the information that is in this report." Information, again, that really contradicts everything that the president stands for as it relates to climate change.

[17:25:05] Just think about when he was out in California, touring the wildfires. He talked about the main issue being raking forest floors. He made no mention about climate change. This report specifically talks about wildfires and makes a direct link between climate change and wildfires and how it is impacting our lives on a daily basis.

ACOSTA: And thank goodness we still have government scientists working on this kind of information and bringing it to the public. Rene Marsh, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Coming up, new political fallout over President Trump's Thanksgiving phone call to U.S. troops, which sounded more like a campaign ad for himself. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.


[17:30:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Tonight, there's more breaking news in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Jerome Corsi an ally, a Trump ally; Roger Stone telling CNN he's in plea negotiations with members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office. Let's discuss now with our political and legal experts. Laura Jarrett, you know, people out there might be wondering who is Jerome Corsi, it's not a name that, you know, jumps out at a lot of people. Why is he crucial to this investigation?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: Yes, he's been sort of a fringe conspiracy theorist, but he's popping up more and more lately and he could be the missing link here. There's always been the question for prosecutors: how do you make the direct link or some of -- indirect connection between Russians, hacking, WikiLeaks distributing the e- mails and Trump's knowledge of those things or even someone else on the campaign. And given Corsi's relationship, not only with the president, but with Roger Stone, depending on what he has, and we still don't know if this deal is done yet. But depending on what he has, if he had advanced knowledge, if he worked with WikiLeaks at all, there's legal issues. Well, I'm sure we'll get into about what happens. But if he had it, he could provide that puzzle piece that's been missing.

ACOSTA: And Michael Zeldin, let me just play some sound of Roger Stone earlier today. He was responding to all this. Let's play that and we'll talk about it on the other side.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ASSOCIATE: I'm unaware of any plea bargaining. I have no idea what this is about, other than to say that the assertion that Jerry Corsi knew in advance that John Podesta's e- mails had been obtained and would be published would be news to me. This idea that Jerry Corsi could implicate me, there's simply no evidence whatsoever.


ACOSTA: Michael, why do you think it's a -- do you think it's a good idea, I should rephrase the question, for Roger Stone, to be commenting on what's happening to Jerome Corsi, and what do you make of his comments? MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no, I don't think he should

be speaking. I think throughout this investigation, we've seen a lot of people speaking that I thought if they listened to their lawyers, they wouldn't be speaking. Roger Stone is uncontrollable in that respect. And what's problematic for Stone here, potentially, is that in the Russia hacking indictment that Mueller brought, Mueller said that there was a U.S. person who was in connection, who was in connection with the investigation, coordinating between the Trump campaign and Guccifer 2, the organization that hacked. That person is Roger Stone, self-acknowledged by Stone.

So, if Corsi can participate in the fleshing out of that information, maybe it's detrimental to Stone's legal interests. Equally, though, it could be that Corsi has nothing to add. He's just flat out lied to Mueller, and Mueller doesn't count his lies and he's going to be charged like George Papadopoulos and all the others in one count of lying to Mueller with no real cooperation to provide.

ACOSTA: But there could be some critical information here that ties a lot of this together, which that really is something we have not seen at this point in the investigation up until now.

ZELDIN: Exactly. Stone to Corsi to (INAUDIBLE) is the communication channel. They all have some connection with WikiLeaks who is believed to have been the organization that distributed the hacked e-mails. So, could that all be a criminal conspiracy? Depending on the facts, yes.

ACOSTA: And Sunlen, let me ask you about that because Roger Stone is obviously somebody who is connected to the president. He has been an adviser to the president going back to his days as a businessman and when he was plotting this campaign for president. I would imagine that, yes, it was distressing and so on to see Paul Manafort and all these other folks being hauled into court by Mueller's team. But Roger Stone kind of gets us to a lot of these conversations that Michael is talking about; these conversations that are very critical to this whole notion of collusion that might have been going on.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And if you're President Trump right now, your kind of feeling a little bit like the walls are coming in a little closer with each passing day. And, you know, this is just one more person and one more potential conversation in his overall orbit around the president as he was a candidate as well. That's potentially talking, potentially giving information and going back to Corsi here, you know, the fact is, if he makes a plea deal, that means he has information that would be valuable to Mueller and that has to be making President Trump tonight potentially sweat, especially as they inch towards potentially doing this deal.

ACOSTA: And Sam Vinograd, I wanted to get your take on this. Because obviously this -- it seems like, it feels like maybe we're moving closer to the nitty-gritty in all of this.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does. And I think what Mueller's next move is going to be is largely going to determine at this juncture by Jerome Corsi. As Sunlen just mentioned, if Jerome Corsi is getting a plea deal from Robert Mueller, we should assume he has something of value to the special counsel. And if that something a value of information on who helped him, for example, launder information through WikiLeaks, and who else was in touch with the Russians, who else knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to dump e-mails, that could help determine Robert Mueller's next move. And so, we should wait to see what any kind of plea agreement looks like. And from there, we can start to ascertain who might be next on Robert Mueller's list.

[17:35:28] ACOSTA: And Laura Jarrett, I mean, this Corsi information comes just a few days after the president submitted his written responses to the Mueller team. If Mueller's team is getting new information from Corsi in all of this, what does this do to that whole dynamic we were talking about a couple days ago, if Mueller gets new information and they have these written responses, do they go back? How does that work? And how might the Trump legal team respond to all that?

JARRETT: Well, this is one of the reasons, at least according to our reporting that there was some delay in getting those answers. I think they wanted to see what was going to happen with Roger Stone and how all this would shake out before they provided those answers. Because they knew if they conflict in any way, Mueller is only going to have more questions.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Michael, what does that mean for the president's legal team? How do they handle potentially very damaging revelations coming from Jerome Corsi being caught up in this?

ZELDIN: Right. So, they just submitted their written answers to the interrogatories from Mueller. That period of time, only included the pre-election of Donald Trump, which meant the only topic was collusion. As Laura said, they want to make sure that they know everything they can know before they answer those questions. Now, we'll see how they answered them and what the implications of that will be.

ACOSTA: OK. All right. There's more to talk about. Standby we want to take a quick break and we'll be right back on the other side. Be right back.


[17:41:18] ACOSTA: And we're back with our political and legal experts. And guys, I wanted to play some of this sound from the president yesterday when he was talking to the troops. It really struck a lot of people as being off key, to say the least. Let's listen to what the president had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You probably see over the news what's happening in our southern border and our southern border territory. Large numbers of people, and in many cases, we have no idea who they are, and in many cases they're not good people. We're doing very well in the southern border. We're very tough. We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit, which has become a big thorn in our side.

We always lose and then you lose again and again and then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we have done. But it's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services with what's going on in the region, how they're feeling about things. How they're feeling about trade. Because, you know, trade for me is a very big subject all over. We've been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals. We don't have any good trade deals. How are you finding things in the region, Nick?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, from our perspective out on the water, sir, we're seeing that there is an abundance of trade happening in the region. There are vessels moving through the straits and across the Arabian gulf on a daily basis carrying cargo to and (INAUDIBLE), and we don't see any issues in terms of trade right now, sir.

TRUMP: OK. Well, you'll keep it that way. And we want to have good, free trade. And we also want to have fair deals where we can do well.


ACOSTA: Sam Vinograd, it sounded as if the president was reading his tweets to the troops here. But I guess he was reassured that maritime trade is in good shape right now across the world. What do you make of all of that?

VINOGRAD: Well, Jim, it's pretty clear at this point that we have a Pavlovian president. He cannot miss a public opportunity to list his accomplishments and to go through his greatest hits, and at this point, his greatest hits are to talk about trade and to really focus on the supposed other. And in this case, it was the 9th circuit or judges that he thinks don't vote with him. But I think part of the reason why he spent so much time going through his personal report card on this phone call is he just doesn't have a lot else to say to the troops right now, particularly when you look at the southern border and the troops that have been deployed. That's a political mission; it's not a mission actually driven by a need. And so, he was filling air time by going through what he likes to talk about, because there isn't a whole lot of other substance there.

ACOSTA: And Sunlen, you're up on Capitol Hill, you know Republicans are uncomfortable with the fact the president hasn't visited troops in the combat zone and that he has troops stationed on the border with Mexico for reasons that a lot of people think is hogwash. I mean, I would imagine that that video right there is just going to make them more uncomfortable.

SERFATY: Yes. I mean, it made everyone uncomfortable watching that video. And I was thinking as I was watching him on that phone call just how the troops felt on the other end. This is a -- you know, a call they looked forward to. They certainly would like a visit. And, you know, the president is getting political and asking them about trade. That's not a position they want to be in. That's certainly not a position Republicans on the hill want to defend when asked why has the president not been to a war zone, why can't he handle just a simple Thanksgiving call with troops. Again, just highlights his inability to kind of really own that position behind that resolute desk.

ACOSTA: And just with the little bit of time we have left on FBI Director Jim Comey being subpoenaed for a closed-door hearing, he's obviously balking at that and saying he doesn't want to do that. What do you -- what do you make of that, Laura, why do you think this is happening now? I mean, I can't imagine this is going to happen and then January comes and the Democrats are going to take a break.

JARRETT: Yes. No, this is their last gas to try to go after this idea of DOJ, FBI impropriety during the 2016 election, the lead up to the Russia investigation. They've been at this for a long time. It's a last-ditch effort when the house takes over by the Democrats come January, this is going nowhere. It appears Comey is ready to fight in court. We're not sure what Lynch is going to do yet, but by the time it goes through the court process, Jerry Nadler will be the head of the Judiciary Committee, not Bob Goodlatte.

[17:45:27] ACOSTA: And Michael, Jim Comey has said that he is concerned about selective leaking coming out of a closed door proceeding if he goes and speaks with these lawmakers.

ZELDIN: Exactly. And throughout this entire Russia investigation, the thing that has upset me most is that all of these hearings, or the predominant number of these hearings, have been behind closed doors. I would have much preferred --

ACOSTA: no open hearings throughout the whole thing.

ZELDIN: That's right. I would have much preferred Watergate and Sam Nun and so we could get a sense ourselves of who's telling the truth and who's not and then we could make a decision. Here this closed- door selective leaking, Comey is right, it's just not Democratic.

ACOSTA: And it sounds like we might be getting some open hearings coming soon. We'll see if some of these witnesses cooperate.

ZELDNIN: Be careful what we wish for.

ACOSTA: Exactly. All right, thank you all of you and happy holidays. We appreciate. We'll be back with more news in just a moment.


[17:50:59] ACOSTA: Tonight, President Trump is taking flack over his attacks on the Ninth Circuit Court. George Conway, the husband of President Trump's top aide, Kellyanne Conway, sent a series of tweets accusing the president of citing misleading numbers and attacking the court, but that is mild compared to his most recent assessment of the entire Trump administration. CNN's Brian Todd has more on Conway's escalating war of words on Trump. Brian, Conway was especially harsh on Trump during his first sit down interview, isn't that right?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's not a surprise that George Conway, the husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, is critical of the president. He's been skewering him for months. But it is surprising, jarring really, that George Conway is so brutal in his latest broadside against Mr. Trump.


TODD: The contrarian husband of one of the president's top aides, Kellyanne Conway, isn't just raising eyebrows; he's dropping jaws, speaking publicly for the first time about his disdain for the Trump administration.

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: It's like the administration is like a shit show in a dumpster fire.

TODD: George Conway, a conservative lawyer and prominent Republican, was once on a short list for a top position in the Trump Justice Department. Now, he's become one of the president's chief critics. In a new interview on Yahoo podcast, skullduggery he explained why he turned down the job.

CONWAY: I'm like, I don't want to do that, I don't know. And then it's like, then you got the Comey firing and then you got him going on T.V. saying, I had Russia on my mind. It is like, oh, no.

TRUMP: She just destroys them.

TODD: Despite his proximity to one of the president's most ferocious defenders, George Conway has unabashedly slammed President Trump in recent months. He recently established checks and balances, a group of conservative lawyers who publicly question the president's adherence to the law. He has also chided Trump on Twitter with tweets like this one questioning the president's comprehension of the law, and he's written op-eds including this one saying: "Trump's appointment of his acting attorney general is 'illegal.'" But until recently he avoided the president's ire.

TRUMP: You Mr. Kellyanne Conway?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wrote you un unconstitutionally appointing --

TRUMP: he is trying to get publicity for himself.

TODD: George Conway says he took the president's broadside in stride, saying he also calls himself Mr. Kellyanne Conway. His wife even changed her Twitter handle to read: "The Kellyanne Conway" in Kellyanne Conway's husband. George Conway admitted his wife is not a fan of his push back on the president.

CONWAY: I don't think she likes it, but I've told her I don't like, you know, the administration. So, it's even.

TODD: Despite their differences, Conway says he's very proud of his wife and what she accomplished in 2016.

CONWAY: My wife did an amazing thing. I mean she basically got this guy elected. And other people like to take credit for it, but she got this guy elected. She steadied that boat. She did it. She went on television, she imposed message discipline on that campaign. I mean he was in the crapper when she took that campaign over.

TODD: Perhaps the great irony, analysts say, is of all of Conway's criticism, that remark, supporting his wife's role in the campaign, might be the one that pushes the president's buttons the most.

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTONTON POST EXAMINER: We know that the idea that anybody had anything to do with his success except for him really seems to drive him bonkers. He's very narcissistic. It always has to be about him.


TODD: When asked if he thinks President Trump is fully stable, George Conway laughed and said, no comment. We asked the White House for comment on George Conway's latest remarks about the Trump administration. We did not hear back from them and neither George nor Kellyanne Conway would comment specifically for our story. Jim.

ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you. Coming up, more on the breaking news: Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi confirming to CNN he's negotiating a possible plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.

[17:54:50] And a dire new warning about the impact of climate change here in the United States. Why is the Trump administration releasing it on the Friday after Thanksgiving?


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Plea talks. Roger Stone associate, Jerome Corsi, confirms he's now in negotiations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller for a plea deal after previously saying he didn't do anything wrong. What did Corsi know about the WikiLeaks hack of Clinton campaign e-mails?

Damning report. A new congressionally mandated report from government scientists that contradicts President Trump's view that climate change is a hoax. The report says global warming is transforming where and how we live and presents challenges to health, life and the economy. Why did the administration try to bury its release and why does the president continue to mock the idea of global warming?

[18:00:03] Comey did it. The former FBI director tells congress to come and get, saying he'll fight the subpoena from the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee.