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tv   Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  January 5, 2018 3:00pm-4:00pm PST

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happening now, like a child, the president's temperament and state of mind, as the author of a new book questions his fitness for office. tonight new warnings that mr. trump is quote, losing it. evidence of obstruction, we're learning about the focus of the special counsel's russia probe including attempts to dig up dirt on james comey and stop jeff sessions recusal. was the president behind it all. >> tweet spiral. mr. trump goes into a tailspin bashing the tell all book as phony and the russia investigation is a hoax and arch-rival steve bannon as sloppy steve. can the president focus on a pivotal meeting this weekend? and coming to the table, kim jong-un accepts south korea's offer for high level talks. we'll tell you why u.s. officials are skeptical.
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we want to welcome viewers in united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in the situation room. tonight, disturbing information that hits at the heart of two crucial questions about the president of the united states. did he obstruct justice and is he fit to serve? cnn is confirmed white house counsel done mccann tried to persuade jeff sessions not to recuse himself from the russia investigation. the "new york times" reports that he acted on the orders of president trump who was furious when sessions recused himself anybay. also tonight, the author of a stunning expose is claiming that everyone in the president's inner circle, 100%, question his intelligence and fitness for office. when asked about his mental health, he would say he -- former trump strategist by saying he's lost it.
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as that new tell-all went on sale today, president trump has been lashing out tweeting that the book is phony and full of lies and denying he spoke with the author. michael wolff stands by everything in the book and has recordings and notes to back it up. breaking tonight, the secretary of state rex tillerson insists he's never questioned the president's mental fitness describe reports he once called him a moron. tillerson also tells cnn that he expects to stay in his job at least through the coming year. we're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including congressman david sicillini and foreign affairs committees and correspondents and specialists are also standing by. let's go to our cnn justice correspondent, jessica schneider. a growing body of evidence that points to potential obstruction. >> he does, wolf, the new revelations that the president reportedly personally ordered
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mcgan to stop jeff sessions from recusing himself. that adds a layer of evidence to the obstruction of justice investigation. that portion was sparked after the firing of james comey and now that mueller has the latest information, the questions are getting louder. did the president improperly intervene? >> tonight a source close to attorney general jeff sessions tells cnn, white house counsel don mcgan reached out to sessions in early 2017 to try to dissuade the attorney general from recusing himself from the russia probe. the "new york times" reports mueller has learned about the outreach and it was a direct order from president trump who reportedly erupted in front of several officials when sessions announced his recusal in march. >> i have recused myself -- >> sources put it this way to the times. mr. trump said he expected his top law enforcement official to saveguard him the way robert f.
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kennedy, had done for his brother and eric h. holder jr. did for barack obama. ty cobb declined. former ethics czar says at the time he recommended recusal and expressed outrage when learning he was lobbying sessions against it. >> while he was on the phone talking to department of justice officials telling them that jeff sessions had no choice but to recuse in order to resolve a criminal conflict of interest, we now learn that don mcgan was pressuring jeff sessions on behalf of the president to do just the opposite. >> i think that we are in a neighborhood where i hope mueller is looking at this very seriously for obstruction of justice because it could be. >> obstruction is part of mueller's probe, prompted in part by the president's firing of fbi director james comey in may. in this letter to the president from deputy attorney general rod rosen stein, the reported reasoning for removal centered on comey's handling of the
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conclusion of the investigation of secretary clinton's e-mails, but shortly after firing comey, the president admitted he had russia on his mind. >> when i decided to just do it, i said to myself, you know, this russia thing with trump and russia is a made up story. >> the president spent the weekend before the firing at his club in bed minister where sources say the president drafted a letter he intended to send comey but never did. in it, president trump according to the times described the russia investigation as fabricated and politically motivat motivated. the paper reports mueller knows about this letter. a source tells cnn the special counsel also obtained handwritten notes from reince prieb priebus. they document the president telling priebus that comey had assured the president he was not under investigation. the "new york times" also reports that days before james comey was fired, one of jeff sessions aides asked a congressional staffer whether there was any damaging information on comey in an effort to underfine the fbi
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director. the doj denied this account. the new evidence relating to mueller's obstruction of justice probe raises new questions about jeff sessions' future as attorney general. he offered his resignation before but the white house suggests he's still safe. >> right now, he's focused on doing his job, we're focused on doing ours. we don't have any reason to see there's any different today than there was yesterday. we feel like we're in a great place and move being forward. the attorney general will continue showing up to work this week and next week just like he has every day since we started and keep doing good work and moving the president's agenda forward. >> and new developments tonight pertaining to the so-called steel dossier. republican senators chuck grassley and lindsey graham referred christopher steel to the justice department for a criminal investigation. these two senators say steel lied to the feds about how he distributed the dossier and the information in it. this criminal referral really
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does seem to further plit size this dossier and this dossier itself has been a flashpoint for republicans and now senators graham as well as grassley, they are even saying they want a special counsel. >> grassley is chairman of the judiciary committee. thank you very much. a very significant development. also president trump over at camp david in maryland preparing a talk 2018 strategy with republican leaders in congress. questions about his fitness to serve may cast a cloud over meeting now that the author of a new book has thrown a red hot spotlight on his state of mind. let's go to our senior correspondent jim acosta. we heard very, very briefly from the president today. >> he was not in the mood for questions on all of that but briefly talked to reporters before heading off to camp david but steered clear of the book that unleashed fire and fury. it was a rare moment who passed up a chance to punch back in
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person after taking a few hits earlier this morning. it was perhaps the only on message moment of the week for the president, touting his economic record as he was leaving for camp david. >> the tax cuts are really kicking in far beyond what anyone thought. the jobs reports were very good and we think they are going to get really good over the next couple of months. >> the president who boasts he always punches back made it clear there would be no on camera comments today about the fire and fury and starring his former chief strategist and sudden trump critic, steve bannon. >> have you read the book "fire and fury"? >> he saved his fury for twitter feed, i authorize zero access and turned him down many times for author of phony book. never spoke to him for a book. full of lies and misrepresentations and sources that zoents exist. look at thinks past and watch happens to him and sloppy steve, a new nickname for bannon. the author did not hold back.
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>> according to your reporting, everyone around the president, senior advisers, family members, every single one of them questions his intelligence and fitness for office. >> let pe pme put a marker in t sand. 100% of the people around him. >> wolf f thanked the president for drawing up interest in the book. >> what i say is where do i send the box of chocolates. >> you think he's helping you saw books? >> absolutely. not only is he helping me sell books but helping me prove the point of the book. this is extraordinary that a president of the united states would try to stop the publication of a book. this doesn't happen -- has not happened from other presidents, would not even happen from a ceo of a mid sized company. >> as for the attacks on his book, wolf was ready for that one. >> my credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone
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who has ever walked on earth at this point. i will quote steve bannon, he's lost it. the white house and the president's friends have fanned out across the airways to condemn the book. >> we said they spoke once by the phone for a few minutes but it wasn't about the book. we had a very short conversation but he never interviewed the president about the book. he repeatedly begged to speak with the president and denied access. >> slamming wolff's key takeaway that the president is not mentally fit for office. >> this is so absurd and so ridiculous. 100% i'm around the president. been around him quite a bit through the past year. i met him 20 years ago. he is not psychologically unfit or lost it as he claimed. >> rex tillerson told elise labott, he never raised the issue of the president's mental state. >> i have no reason to question his mental fitness.
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>> reporter: the president will spend the weekend meeting with members of the cabinet in camp david to go over the agenda for 2018. one cabinet member who won't be president, attorney general jeff sessions, just to give you a sense as to all of the top officials not only the cabinet and members of congress and white house staff, quite a number of them including the vice president there as well, but jeff session will not be there as you know. he has been frequently the subject of the president's fury but the white house says there's no message being sent to sessions and an official says the white house stands firmly behind him. we should note in the statement from the white house, they are not saying the president stands firmly behind jeff sessions just the white house, wolf. >> jim acosta at the white house for us, thank you very much. let's get to all of this. david sicillini, a democrat on the judiciary and foreign affairs committees. you're on the judiciary committee, the top democrat on your committee. reacted to the news on the white house council, by saying i'm
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quoting right now, suggesting that his behavior was completely unacceptable and should be removed from his post immediately. do you agree? >> yeah, absolutely. the attorney general was required to recuse himself both because of provisions in statute and because of the code of professional responsibility. the idea that the president of the united states attempted to change his mind and discourage him from recusing which he was required to do by law and the fact that don mcgan delivered that message is very disturbing. kpreetl lly inappropriate and whether they understand the role of the attorney general, his oath to the constitution of the united states and obligations he has to recuse himself in the circumstances of this case. it also raises questions about the president sort of understanding what the attorney general's role is. he keeps talking about the attorney general should be there to protect the president. that is not the job of the attorney general.
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the job of the attorney general is to be independent, to be the chief enforcement officer of our country, to impartially administer the laws of the united states. he's not there to protect the president. he knows that and his conduct is completely unacceptable. >> does the white house need to come and testify before congress? >> absolutely. i think mr. nadler already made that expectation, we need to understand exactly what happened here. and really reinforce this very basic idea that the white house counsel, counsel for the office of the president is not the personal lawyer for donald trump and certainly he should understand the recusal statute and the idea of trying to discourage the attorney general of the united states from recusing himself from an investigation, that he's required to recuse himself from, because the statute requires it, to undermine that is very, very disturbing. we need to know more about it.
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but again, i think it's a reflection of this notion that somehow everyone in the white house and administration works personally for donald trump rather than for the institutions and for the country and for the constitution that they were swore to uphold. >> the "new york times" reports that the attorney general jeff sessions was searching for dirt, negative information on the fbi director james comey and that sessions wanted one negative news article a day about comey, the justice department flatly denies this. does sessions behavior from your perspective congressman, need to be investigated? >> absolutely. if those facts are true, that is incredibly disturbing information. it makes it clear that his recusal was not only necessary but appropriate. but in addition to that, it raises real questions about the judgment of the attorney general, where did he get those instructions from? what was he attempted to justify? and so i think there are a lot of questions that the special counsel will have. there's a lot of questions that congress has with respect to
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those claims and we need to learn a lot more about it. >> in the "new york times" also there's a report that news report when prds trump decided to fire james comey, drafted a letter and first sentence read that the russia investigation was fabricated and politically motivated. is that additional evidence potentially of obstruction of justice? >> absolutely. the president has made it very clear. he's done everything he can to stop and impede and undermine this investigation, first characterizing it as a hoax and then trying to stop the concurrent congressional investigations by reaching out to senators and then telling jim comey to let this flynn thing go. then ultimately firing the director of the fbi. given the explanation in part because of the russia investigation. rub, wo remember wolf, he yucked it up with russian officials saying i got that off my chest.
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it was really hanging over my head. they were all laughing about it in the oval office. the press was not allowed in. we only learned that from the russian media. this is a president who has made every effort to impede this investigation to try to minimize it and now we have additional evidence that it's one of the reasons that he got rid of the director of the fbi. that on its face is obstruction of justice. robert mueller has lots more work to do and he'll make the final determination but there's been an ongoing and coordinated effort from this president to stop and undermine this investigation. you have to wonder why. what is he afraid of? why is he so eager to stop mr. mueller from doing his job? >> in the new book, obviously we have a copy of the book now, the author reports that a spokesman for the lawyers in the white house, the counsel's office quit over the president's false statement in response to the june 2016 trump tower meeting
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with the russians and spokesman felt according to the book that the statement amounted to obstruction of justice. what's your reaction to that? i think it's one more piece of evidence, if it is true that the president participated in the development of a fake story about russian adoptions to camouflage the real meaning of that russian meeting between trump officials and the russians, that's just one more piece of evidence. but one of the things that is so frustrating as you watch all of these things unfold is, this ongoing battle between steve bannon and president trump, the work of the american people is not getting done. we haven't reauthorized the program and funding for veterans and didn't dealt have the opioid crisis in our counted. any number of things. there's important work not getting done because we have a white house embroiled in scandals and conflicts and investigations and that's
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consuming all of the energy and we're not getting the work done for the american people. that's the untold story of this time and time again. my constituents here in rhode island and people across this country is are suffering because we're not getting the work done that they need us in addressing the urgent issues. my constituents want to know, what are we doing to create good paying jobs and reauthorize the children's health insurance program. this ongoing chaos at the white house is undermining our ability to get this work done. >> thanks for joining us. thanks for having me. >> we'll talk about the fate of the top white house counsel and whether the president effectively ordered him to obstruct justice. the former u.s. attorney, there you see him, standing by live and knows a thing or two about getting fired after being forced out of his job as the u.s. attorney in new york by president trump. your insurance company
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we're following a lot of new threads in the russia investigation and whether or not they amount to proof of obstruction of justice. fired from his post as united states attorney in new york by president trump, thanks so much for joining us. >> good to be here, wolf. >> you say that if this "new york times" report on jeff sessions seeking dirt on the fbi director today james comey is true, sessions should go. how do you determine that? does the special counsel robert mueller need to turn his attention to this? >> my guess is that robert mueller already turned his attention to everything you're reading. if you're reading about something in the press or in a book or seeing something on television that relates to the conduct of people like don mcgan
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or jeff sessions as relates to the firing of jim comey or russia investigation, bob mueller knows about it. the likelihood is they knew about it before we did. >> what would it mean if robert mueller and his investigation, what would it mean for the investigation if the attorney general goes for example, are you comfortable with session leaving even if that were to hamper the russia investigation as you know he's recused himself from the russia probe? >> look, you can't predict in the future what will happen to a particular investigation but if the report in the "new york times" is true, i'm not saying it is and we've seen reports that turn out not to be true out of various outlet's. if it is true, that jeff sessions was figuring outwei wa to have dirt come out with respect to jim comey and trying to get to come out on him and as the article suggests in the "new york times," a negative article about the sitting fbi director every day, that to me is unprofessional, outrageous and you can pick a number of other
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add jekt tifs to apply to it. if you engage in conduct that is a fireable offense, violation of your duty to uphold the rule of law, you have to go. whether or not that might have some implication for some other thing, like the russia investigation which is arguably important, you don't get a bye because you have some concern that the domino effect will affect in other investigation. if you do something, that is a fireable offense, and i think as described in the article, i think that would be, you have to let the chips fall where they may. >> the justice department, spokeswoman is denying that part of the "new york times" report. there's another element in the "new york times" report being that president trump ordered his white house counsel don mcgan to try to stop the attorney general sessions from recusing himself from the russia investigation. cnn by the way has confirmed that effort by mcgan. was that properappropriate?
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>> the best policy for a person sitting in the white house whether you're the president, or you're the white house counsel, to leave the justice department alone, unless you're talking about general policy matters and how to allocate resources and budget tri matters and best practices for the white house counsel, not to be directing the attorney general to do any particular thing in any particular case. and especially when you come to issues like ethics and recusal. and how things should be handled. they should be handled by the book. generally speaking, when i was united states attorney we had issues of someone who was related to someone, former law partner to someone came in on the case or target of an investigation, you have to consider the issue of recusal and you have career people in our office we had a career person been there 30 years and career people in the justice department who advise the political appointees or whether or not they should recuse. that process is best left respected and upheld and
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shouldn't be undermined from pressure from someone at the white house, particularly when there's an overlay of the president thinking about firing the attorney general. those conversations between -- i don't know what the details were but those conversations between a sitting white house counsel and attorney general i think are wrong, inappropriate and should not have happene. >> do you believe don mcgan should continue as the white house consulate? >> i'm not going to make a pro clamation of whether or not he should continue. i think that if more information comes out, that he did the political bidding of the president of the united states to interfere with in any way to push an investigation or stop an investigation, then i think he's compromised, yes, i don't know that's true as of this moment. >> can't he be forced to testify before the special counsel robert mueller or for that matter members of congress or can he cite executive privilege or attorney-client privilege? >> both of those things are true. he asked to come testify and there are some matters about you
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would presume he has no attorney-client privilege and that would be fought out before a judge. it's not uncommon for anybody in the white house when there's an investigation ongoing to claim some kind of privilege to get out of the hassle and the risk of talking about it. but we'll to see -- he wanted his attorney -- why do you think he needed that kind of protection? >> that's a great question. someone should ask him. maybe that's in that new michael wolf book. i don't know. the point is that the attorney general is not supposed to be a person who protects any particular individual, whether the president or someone else from the legal process that's legitimate and justified. he's supposed to be protecting the legal process itself. no one, not even the person who appointed him is supposed to be in a position, if you want rule of law to be respected and to be
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upheld, you're not supposed to allow that to happen. >> thanks so much for joining us. >> just ahead, more reaction to a disturbing portrait of the president from the author of the new tell-all book. >> i will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common, they all say he is like a child. hi i'm joan lunden.
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only five days into 2018 and president trump is facing new fire and feeling new fury. he's railing on twitter against the new book that's portrays him as unfit and unhinged and he's blasting the russia probe and been reports of incriminating potentially incriminating new evidence. we're following it all with our reporters and analysts and samantha, according to the "new york times" report and you're an expert, the attorney general jeff sessions was actually searching for negative information or dirt on the fbi director at the time, james comey, president trump also ordered the white house counsel to lobby sessions not to recuse himself from the investigation. president supposedly wanted protection from the attorney general. how damaging is this to the trump presidency. >> i think it's damaging to the presidency but more importantly it's damaging to our national security. we have to remember that the russians have for decades waged
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active measures to diminish the credibility of our democracy and our institutions, including the separation of powers. that's nothing new. what's new is that every time we have a thread about president trump trying to interfere in the investigation or den great the fbi, the president is now doing something that helps russian intelligence services in their mission to diminish confidence in our democracy. >> very serious point you're making. kaitlyn, the "new york times" also reporting that president trump decided to fire the fbi director at the time, james comey and drafted a letter first sentence read that the russia investigation was quote fabricated and politically motivated. how does that fit in with the other explanations we've heard from various white house officials? >> it completely contradicts what they originally said, that on may 9th, when he fired james comey, that he did so at the recommendation of the deputy attorney general rod rosen stein
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and at the recommendation of jeff sessions and that's what the white house maintained, telling reporters it was not a white house decision but strictly a department of justice decision. and it wasn't just the white house spokespeople saying that also kellyanne conway saying so, vice president mike pence saying so. they continued that for hours and the president himself was the one who said he did it because of the russia thing, saying he would have fired james comey regardless of any recommendation that he received. later saying that we couldn't expect the spokespeople to maintain perfect accuracy when they were at the podium because he was such a busy person. we've seen a big shift in that and it could be a basis why were they trying to cover up why he fired him and why were they not saying initially what the real reason was. >> ron brownstein, very significant revelations and could add to the potential case of obstruction of justice. what are you hearing from republicans? how are they reacting? >> i think it's a really striking pattern. if you look at this year as the
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questions about president trump's fitness for office have solidified for many voters and legal questions about his role on obstruction questions have mounted, republicans in congress are lashing themselves more tightly to his presidency and less skeptical of him than they were at the beginning. there's less distance and more of a reflexive kind of attempt to defend, not only in the house where we've seen kind of most pronounced but today with lindsey graham and senator grassley, pushing for a an investigation of the author of the dossier. and this is -- this is just -- you can't underestimate or understate what a political gamble this is because the biggest single risk to republicans in this mid-term election are voters who are uneasy about president trump at best if not actively hostile and want there to be more of a check on him and yet despite that current, they are very much sailing in the other direction of essentially saying they are acting more as defense squad
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than any independent inquiry or check or balance. >> rebecca berg, we have the book, generating a lot of commotion as you obviously know, "fire and fury." the president reacted this way in a tweet. well, now that collusion with russia is proving to be a total houx and only collusion is with hillary clinton and the fbi russia, the fake news media, mainstream and this phony new book are hitting out at every new front imaginable. they should try winning an election. sad. that was the president's tweet. what does that tell you how the president is handling these late breaking development? >> it tells us a lot. he's dealing with this in the way that the president deals with a lot of controversies, or chaos, by tweeting and lashing out and blaming his critics and blaming everyone but himself. but if you look at that tweet, just try counting all of the conspiracy theories and paranoia
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in one tweet, it's astounding and good thing they expanded the character limit because he used all of it. there is the fbi collusion with hillary clinton, one conspiracy theer and the author of this book michael wolff, it's astounding to see from the president of the united states. >> he's very concerned about his popularity and doesn't like to be questioned or have his intelligence questions. one time he joked he needed to compare iq scores with rex tillerson after it was reported that he called him a moron. that's all the book does, question his intelligence and fitness for office and shows he's deeply unpopular in the west wing with his own staffers because that's who michael wolf is quoting in the book and it's something he's lashing out about trying to distract from the book. >> go ahead, ron. >> that's the real meaning of the book, i think. if you go back to election day, we can forget now but on election day in the exit poll, a
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little over one fifth of the people who voted for donald trump did not believe he was qualified to serve as president. one quarter of the people voted he didn't have the temperament but willing to take a chance. didn't like hillary clinton and wanted an outsider. they voted for him anyway. what has happened over the past year is more tended to deepen than dissolve those doubts. this book, what this book really does above all, show that those concerns, the a.m. bifl lens that the voters expressed has now been solidified not only among the general population but people closest to him in the room when he was making decisions. that's why this book is such a cruise missile aimed at his greatest political vulnerability. somewhere between 55 and 62 to 63% of the public who says that he is simply not equipped to do the job. before you get to ideology and agenda, just on the personal qualifications.
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and that's why republicans are making this enormous gamble in positioning themselves without opposing any check on a president that many americans are a.m. bif lent at best about. >> more noews we're following, including an exclusive interview with secretary of state rex tillerson. cancer challenges us.
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secretary of state rex tillerson in a rare interview with cnn is pushing back on reports that he has one foot out the door over at the state department. our global affairs correspondent elise labott sat down with rex tillerson. >> we had a very successful year in 2017 helping partners understand those policies. we're now into the implementation and execute against those policies. i think we're going to have a very productive 2018. again, the state department gets stronger every day understanding
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what we're trying to do. and i look forward to having a very, very successful 2019. >> for the whole year? >> i intend to be here for the whole year. >> has the president given you any indication you won't be around for a while? >> none. >> none whatsoever? >> none whatsoever. >> i'm sure you heard about the new book, the talk of the town. it describes a president whose foreign policy is uninformed that he's not engaged and not interested and gets up and leaves meetings with world leaders because he's bored. you're at the white house several times a week. is that your experience? >> i think among all of the cabinet secretaries i probably have spent more time with the president than perhaps secretary of defense mattis who spends a lot of time with him as well. i've never seen the president leave a meeting with a foreign leerd. he's very engaged in the meetings and in our policy
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deliberations and meetings the national security council with him, a big challenge was pivoting policies in a different direction than they were placed when the president took office from north korea, to afghanistan, south asia policy and defeat isis campaign. that's the sequence within -- all of those deliberations and these have been not been easy deliberations -- he has been very deliberate tif and listened to the arguments and argues back as he should. >> he pushes back. >> in the end he makes a decision which we then implement. i would tell you all of the major policy areas, the president has made the right decision -- how we got there involves a lot of debate. it should involve a lot of debate. it's a very, very healthy exchange with the president and one which i think is important
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that we continue to have. >> everybody in this book questions his mental fitness -- did you ever question his mental fitness. describe your relationship? people would think through his tweets and stuff -- >> i never questioned his mental fitness. i have no reason to question his mental fitness. my relationship with him and it is a developing one and i remind people and i think it's well known that he and i did not know one another, we don't have a lot of history and past. part of this is us coming to learn and understand one another. >> you're also two different kind of people. >> we have different management styles, how i make decisions and process information, i have to learn how -- he takes information and processes it and makes decisions. that's my responsibility. i'm here to serve his presidency so i've had to spend a lot of time understanding how to best communicate with him so i can
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serve his needs with information. i do think one of my roles is to always give him all sides of theish yus, even when i know it's not the side he wants to consider, i think it's part of making good decisions, i know he at least has had visibility to all aspects of the decision he's about to make. that's my role as secretary of state to provide him that full 360 visibility of what these decisions mean for our foreign affairs with allies and partners and adversaries. and i think what comes out sometimes, what people see then, they think that is conflict when it's not. it's a normal process of having the president look at all sides and then saying i don't like that. that's healthy. that's good. people should feel good about the way decisions are made because it's not just one of giving in to what you think the president wants, rather helping him see the full array of all of the options and what the implications of those are and he decides, he's the commander in
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chief, he's the president, he decides and we'll implement against his decisions. >> reflecting back, what have you learned about yourself and what might you do differently next year? >> >> you never stop growing as an individual. in terms of what i would do different, i'm going to build on my ability to communicate with the president better, ability to communicate with others better. as i said, something i had to learn is what is effective with this president? he's not typical of presidents of the past. i think that's what i recognize. that's also why the american people chose him. they were tired of what was being done in the past, they wanted something to change. so i've learned over the past year better how to deal with the president, to serve what he, i think, he needs to know, so he can make good decisions. and i've learn add lot about the interagency process, which was new to me. and that will get better all the time as well. but that is our role here at the state department. >> elissa joining us right now.
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what's your main takeaway from this extensiver ten-tenser b t had? >> he came from texas where he lived the last 50 years or so and no government experience, i think he was very reflective of the fact he had a little bit of a rocky year trying to get his sea legs and get it know how to work for this president and i think really trying to say, like, i'm here now, i'm learning the ropes, i'm getting to know washington, i'm getting to know the government interagency process. and i'm going build on that. i think he knows he needs to engage a little bit more with congress, build that political constituency, and wants to stay. obviously, made clear he's not going anywhere, wolf. >> very good interview, thanks for doing it, elise labott reporting for us. just ahead, north korea agrees to face-to-face talks with the south koreans. u.s. intel insiders share their doubt th doubts, though, that kim jong-un has peacemaking on his mind.
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tonight, russia's warning the trump administration not to undermine landmark talks between north and south korea. representatives of the two countries will meet face-to-face on tuesday. brian todd is joining us right now. brian, now that north korea has accepted the south's proposal for talks, what can we expect? >> wolf, tonight we're told u.s. officials are going to be watching these talks intensely. they could be absolutely crucial in dialing back tensions in the rege ben. but at the same time, serious warnings, we've spoken to more people who have dealt face-to-face with the north koreans than just about anyone and say be wary of kim jong-un's diplomats potentially acting like mobsters next week. in a message sent by fax, kim jong-un's regime says it will come to the table and engage in peace talks with its south korean enemies. days after holding a muscle-flexing rally in pyongyang. it will be the first high-level
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contact between the rivals in more than two years. diplomats will meet face-to-face next tuesday. the day after kim's birthday in a place called the peace house in the dmz. the talks will center around the possibility of north korea sending athletes to the winter olympics next month in pyeongchang, south korea. which many observers feel could ratchet down boiling tensions in the region. but tonight, several u.s. officials tell cnn american military and intelligence officials are viewing these peace overtures with some skepticism and those who've sat face-to-face with the north koreans say there's a good reason for it. >> the first round of any negotiations with north koreans is usually very tough, sometimes even confrontational. often very, very demanding. >> reporter: we've spoken with several former u.s. officials who've negotiated directly with the north koreans. they expect kim's diplomats to try to exact concessions from the south koreans in exchange for sending north korean athletes to the winter games. to press for economic help, and
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they'll likely demand a scaling back of joint u.s./south korean military exercises. these veteran diplomats say at the bargain table, the north koreans can be friendly, charming, persuasive and then sometimes can turn into gangsters. evan s revere was with u.s. envy william perry during talks in 1998 when the north koreans got frustrated. >> is one turned to secretary perry and said to him and said we can turn your home of palo alto into a sea of fire. >> reporter: and the north koreans have carried out threats made at the bargaining table. former nsc official mike green says in 2003 north korean negotiators told him the u.s. had better end its hostile policies toward pyongyang or else. >> the north koreans said they would transfer their so-called deterrent, the nuclear capability, to another country. four years later the israeli air force bombed a nuclear reactor being built by the syrians with north korea's help. so they clearly demonstrated they're willing to transfer this
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capability. >> reporter: and tonight these diplomats warn beware of north korean promises. former envoy joe detrani says when the u.s. and north korea struck their first big nuclear deal in the 1990s, the north koreans promised to stop producing plutonium but secretly started producing uranium instead. >> that was in violation of the -- certainly the spirit of the agreed framework. we learned that and put it to them. they admitted to having the program. so were they, if you will, being disingenuous? absolutely. >> reporter: still if the talks next week go well, experts say they will be helpful in at least starting to dial back the tensions on the peninsula and the a this point, wolf, that's all we can hope for. >> there's another potential warning, brian, regarding just who the north koreans will send to these talks. >> that's right, wolf, analysts say most of the north korean negotiators who previously dealt with south korea during these earlier periods when the relations between the two countries were much better, those officials have been purged
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or executed by kim jong-un and include king's uncle. >> brian todd reporting, thanks very much. that's it for me. thanks very much for watching. i'm wolf blitzer in the "situation room." "erin burnett outfront" starts right now. next, the bombshell book that's raising a question loud and clear, is donald trump fit to be president of the united states? plus, damning new revelations in the russia investigation. do they point to obstruction of justice by the president? and defiant over pot. the growing outrage over the attorney general's move to get tough on pot. let's go "outfront." good evening, i'm erin burnett. "outfront" tonight, fitness for office. the explosive tell-all about trump's white house with a major claim. that 100% of the people around trump question his fitness for office. "fire and fury: inside the trump white house" went o


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