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Sources: Pres. Trump Predicts Exoneration, Allies Fear 'Meltdown'; Wash Post: Mueller Team Expects To Be Working Through Much Of 2018; At Least 3 People Dead, 100+ Taken To Hospital After Train Derailment; Pres. Trump Promises Big Spending On Infrastructure His Budget Cuts It; Sarah Palin's Son Accused Of Assaulting His Father; Pres. Trump's Judicial Pick Withdraws After Viral Hearing Video; House Republicans Seeking $81 Billions Disaster Aid Package; CNN Probe Prompts Review Of Puerto Rico Hurricane Deaths. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The president is expecting to be exonerated in the Russia investigation. He is expecting it soon and he is expecting it in writing. This is new reporting tonight from CNN's Manu Raju, Jeremy Diamond, and Sara Murray. Sarah joins me now.

So Sarah, why is the president suddenly feeling so optimistic?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's certainly feeling less agitated. He is telling his friends and allies that he expects to get a letter of exoneration from Mueller's team, from the special counsel. Part of this is because his lawyers have painted very optimistic timeline of the investigation. They're saying they expect it to wrap up early in the New Year. They expect the president, the White House to be cleared.

Now people who are close to this investigation, other lawyers who are involved in this investigation, are much more skeptical saying there's little indication that Mueller is wrapping up his work. At a key tipping point in all of this could come later this week that's when Mueller and his team are supposed to sit down with the president's lawyers. And of course, the president's lawyers want to get a better sense of, OK, where exactly this investigation going. Is there anything else you need so that we can close this? The concern is that if that meeting doesn't necessarily go the way the president wants, there could be problems.

BERMAN: And that's the rub there. What if the president doesn't get what he wants here? Is there concern that he might be frustrated with the outcome?

MURRAY: Absolutely, not only that he would be frustrated, but he might even be more frustrated than he was initially because he had hoped to be exonerated in this deadline has shifted a number of times. And maybe shifted again, one person familiar with these conversations predicted the president could have a meltdown, that he could do something rash, that he might decide to move forward and try to fire Mueller or try to fire others who are overseeing this investigation.

Now, it was not too long ago just yesterday, the president insisted that that was not a consideration. He was not planning on firing Mueller, but we've already seen his political advisers out there taking a much sharper tone about this investigation, insisting that it is not fair. That could just be a signal of what's to come.

BERMAN: But it's his legal team, it is Ty Cobb, the lawyer inside the White House who's been dropping words and language that he thinks that this investigation is wrapping up.

MURRAY: That's right. And there are other lawyers, of course, on the president's legal team. They think they have convinced the president that things are wrapping up, that he doesn't really have anything to worry about. And it's worth noting that he hasn't really known Ty Cobb that long, but the president and Cobb seemed to have struck up this kind of rapport and the president does seem to trust him and seems to trust his assessment of the situation, I think. That's part of the reason you see him out there talking to his friends and allies about being cleared in the investigation, even potentially cleared in writing, which is worth nothing would be extremely unusual especially that came before Robert Mueller decide to close the full investigation.

BERMAN: In deed, Robert Mueller may have other ideas completely. Sara Murray, at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's get more now from CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, host of "The AXE Files" podcast, and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents.

David Gergen, the fact that President Trump thinks that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to write some kind of letter exonerating him, a piece of paper he'll be able to hold up as some sort of trophy, is that how these things work?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not ordinarily, but, you know, we're talking about a president here. So, if, in fact, Mueller does exonerate him, I think the president would be entitled to ask for a letter, something that would clear his name. But I think it's premature to go too far down this path. I don't know and what basis the White House possibly knows that the president had -- for exoneration if it is all about to come to an end. We may hear a very different story after the White House lawyers is going to see Mr. Mueller later this week.

BERMAN: Yes, maybe legally premature and question is, is it politically problematic, David Axelrod? I mean, does it make sense to you that people around the president, his legal team, might be setting these expectations that he'll be cleared of all wrong doing, especially given that when he gets disappointed, you know, we know how he acts?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL: Yes, well, I mean, I think one of the questions is, are they managing the president or are they imparting facts to him? You know, right after the indictment of Flynn, and this was true after the Manafort indictment as well, he loses control in those periods, and becomes very, very angry, we know that. And he lashes out.

And so, my sense is that the lawyers are trying as much to manage the president as they are to manage events. But at some point, you know, the rubber hits the road. If they come back from the counsel's office with bad news, you know, who knows how the president will react?

[21:05:06] The other issue here is, if they are about the business of raising expectations that there's going to be some letter of exoneration and it isn't forthcoming, does it just add to this drum beat that we now see on the right just hammering Mueller and the investigation as politically motivated?

BERMAN: David Gergen, you know, managing the president rather than informing him in some case, whose job should it be within the White House? His lawyers to sort of steer him back to reality?

GERGEN: I think it's a combination of his lawyers and the Chief of Staff, John Kelly. Traditionally, the chief of staff is the single most important adviser for a president, has to deliver the bad news as well as the good news. Should team up with the lawyers if that's what they're looking at. There's one thing that's very inconsistent, though, if they have any confidence that the president is going to be exonerated, I would think that they would call off the attacks by Fox and by some of the allies of the White House, which seem clearly aimed at discrediting Mueller. If they think they're going to get away, you know, from all of this with a letter of the exoneration, you know, it seems to me they should call the dogs off.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, it just gets to the issue of the president is the most important person in how he deals with this message that he's delivering. You know, if he believes he did nothing wrong, you know, who's to tell him otherwise?

AXELROD: Well, no, I think that's a real problem. You know, one thing that seems very, very clear is there's an impetus, and I think it comes from the president to try and shut all of this down. We know he's talked to members of Congress about it. And you see this growing momentum on the Republican side, at least in the House, to try and shut this investigation down. So he wants to get this behind him. I suspect the Republicans would love to get it behind them as well because this is not an issue they want hanging over the 2018 election.

BERMAN: David Gergen, if I can, I want to ask you about the president's national security speech today.


BERMAN: And he not only tried to define, I think, what this administration will do in the future, but he did a lot of backwards looking as well, where he seemed to directly criticize the foreign policy of past administrations.

GERGEN: There's no question about that. He went after both the Obama administration and the George W. Bush administration and did it in a very harsh way. I must say that -- on one hand, I think the president is entitled to crow some about the economy. He, you know, he inherited a good economy, it was a growing economy, but every president, a good things happen as (INAUDIBLE) crows about it, Donald Trump made that a feature of his speech today.

But I thought the rest of the speech about foreign policy itself echoes of the inaugural address. That is a very dark vision of how the world is unfolding. And seeing China in particular but also he named Russia as these rivals that we're competing against, we have to build up our defenses and we have to do this and do that because they're coming at us, you know, they've got the discipline, we have to pull ourselves together. That's a far cry from the positive, how do we partner with the world? And how do we work with others to really make a difference on climate, for example? No mention of climate in this.

So the speech in that sense was consistent with what Trump has been thinking and saying. But I think it's going to -- I don't think it's going to be well greeted in foreign capitals.

BERMAN: And David Axelrod, there was one line that jumped out at a lot of people. I'm very curious about your take here. He says, the president says, "A nation that is not proud of its history cannot be confident in its future." Now, some people are looking at this as some kind of a reference to what Republican critics have always called President Obama's apology tour where he ride around the world and gave around speeches just after he was sworn in. Or maybe he's talking about, you know, confederate statues and the discussion there. How did you see that one line?

AXELROD: Well, I think the first is probably what he was referencing. But, you know, a strong, confident nation also acknowledges past mistakes. President Obama and obviously I worked with him, felt strongly about America's leadership role in the world and America was sort of guarantor of stability in the world and a guarantor of the stability of global institutions.

BERMAN: David Gergen, David Axelrod, great to have you with us tonight. Thanks so much, gentlemen.

GERGEN: Thank you, John.

AXELROD: Good to see you, john.

BERGMAN: Coming up. Breaking news about the possible timeline of the Mueller investigation as Sara Murray reported. The president expected to wrap this up soon, but new reporting from "The Washington Post" says not even close.

Also, the latest on the deadly train derailment in Washington State, a horrifying sight. What we know, next.


[21:13:15] BERMAN: Robert Mueller and his team have tens of thousands of Trump transition e-mails as part of the Russia investigation. The president says he thinks it's, "pretty sad," for the special counsel got the e-mails. Lawyers from the transition say they were unlawfully obtained. Now Mueller spokesman says that is not true.

Meanwhile, as CNN Sara Murray has been reporting, the president has been telling people that he expects to be exonerated and soon in the Russia investigation. And that the special counsel is going to write him a letter saying he has been cleared. Again, he expects this to happen soon.

Now, Mueller and his team haven't given any indication that the investigation is in its final stages, and tonight there's new reporting from "The Washington Post", people with knowledge of the investigation said it could last at least another year. And members of Mueller's team had said they expect to be working through much of 2018 at the minimum.

Joining me now, CNN Political Commentator, Former Trump Transition Communications Director, Jason Miller, CNN Political Commentator, Former Obama White House Communications Director, Jen Psaki, and CNN Military Analyst, a Retired Army, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

You know, Jason Miller, to you, this gets to one of the problems as Sara Murray was reporting on from sources close to the president. He thinks this investigation is going to be over soon. He thinks he's getting a letter soon that he's cleared in the Russia investigation. Yet "The Washington Post" reports tonight it's going to go on for another year. How much of a problem is that?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, John, I don't think it's fundamentally a problem because I don't think that President Trump did anything wrong. And so, whether this goes another couple weeks or whether it goes on for another year, I don't think that's going to be an issue for him --

BERMAN: -- the issue is will he get upset if it doesn't end soon, as apparently his lawyers told him it will, is that going to set him off?

MILLER: No. I think probably the American public is going to be upset here because we have this booming economy and all these great things to talk about, but after a year there's still absolutely nothing that says that the Trump campaign did anything to collude with a foreign government in this election.

[21:15:08] And in fact, let's go to these e-mails that we're talking about here, these transition team e-mails. I thought the whole purpose of this was to talk about the campaign supposedly colluding with a foreign entity, but here we're talking about transition team e- mails. This is well after the campaign.

And so I think at a certain point here -- look, even though I don't think this fundamentally changes anything to do with a broader investigation but, with some of the news that we've seen lately with some of the agents being dismissed or we see (ph) through folks at the DOJ, whether it be the gentleman who went to Hillary Clinton's election night party or some of the different things like that, I think most folks just want to see all the politicizing completely out of any sort of investigation, and after a year if there's absolutely nothing that says that the campaign or President Trump did anything wrong, let's get moving -- we have to go on with the country here.

BERMAN: Jason, first of all the transition. Michael Flynn, you know, was just convicted of lying, you know, admitted lying to the FBI about conversations that happened during the transition. So the transition obviously for illegal ground for some people here. You brought up the transition e-mails. You were the communications director for the transition team. Did you have any expectation of privacy in your e- mails? Because according to the GSA Deputy Counsel, you and your colleagues signed an agreement acknowledging that materials kept on these government servers were subject to monitoring and there was no expectation of privacy.

MILLER: I assume in the modern era that anything that goes into e- mail are going to become public at some point whether another or whether that's transition or if you're working in the official government or anything else. And so, I'll let the lawyers go and argue on that one.

But, again, going back to my initial point here, if this is supposed to be about the campaign and colluding with a foreign entity, I think, at certain point the American public is realizing that that's no longer what this is about.

BERMAN: We just don't know. We don't know because the investigation is still going on. We have yet to hear from Robert Mueller and his team what they found out.

Jen Psaki, you also worked on a transition. Jason Miller just told us he had no expectation of privacy despite what transition lawyers are now saying now. You know, I assume you didn't have any expectation of privacy in the transition you worked on. So why, then, make this argument if you're part of the Trump transition team if it's not a real legal argument here is this just politics the (INAUDIBLE) waters?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course it's politics. I think I remember distinctly our lawyers saying to us, all of your e- mails are going to go over to dock (ph) of server they're neither private nor privileged. And my bet is that is what every single transition team has been told since there was e-mail.

It's pretty clear on the motivation here. This is part of orchestrated attack, an orchestrated campaign to lay the ground work for firing Mueller. Yes, President Trump said he wasn't going to do that now, but one thing we've learned is not to believe what he says. What everybody should be worry about is if he takes a step to fire Mueller when Congress is out of session because members of Congress won't be here, the judiciary committee won't be here, and we'll be in real trouble at that point.

BERMAN: But Jen, there's one part of this argument I don't understand, because right now Democrats saying that the president is going to fire Robert Mueller, as Jackie Speier in the House, and Adam Schiff suggesting he see signs and other people saying they see signs a bit right now. The president says he's not going to. Is it possible that -- what the president and his allies are doing it again, Richard Blumenthal, we had the Democratic Senator Ron earlier in the show. He said he sees a coordinator Republican effort here. What if it's just to discredit the special counsel so that whenever he comes out with whatever ever he comes out with that it's clouded by this political doubt?

PSAKI: It may be and that a fair point. And maybe, I don't think we're out of the woods in him never firing Mueller. So I think we need to be wary of that. But it is certainly possible that he knows that in a year from now, six months from now, whenever they're done with the investigation, you mentioned "The Washington Post" reporting that he's going to be in a place where Democrats may control the House, he maybe at risk of impeachment and then he needs to give his partners and allies out there whoever is left an argument to be made on his behalf. This is the campaign that's been going on for months, though. It's not new to discredit Mueller.

BERMAN: You know, General Hertling, the president used an interesting phrase there about these transitions e-mails. He said he thinks it's sad somehow that the special counsel has now possession of these e- mails. You know, you were in the military for a long time. You were a government employee for a very, very long time. Do you think it's sad that these government e-mails are now in the hands of the special counsel?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't. I think it's sad that he and the team didn't understand the rules that they were under whenever using these kinds of accounts. First of all, I go back what Jason said, he's absolutely right. No matter what kind of account you're on, expect your e-mails to get out if you're a high level offocial. But if you're on a .gov or a .mil, like I was on, and I've been both .gov and .mil. Some I.T. guy comes in to you with a piece of paper and says, here's what you can expect, and you've got to ensure that these e-mails are clean and they're work related and don't do personal stuff. John, I'll be honest with you, I was afraid to e- mail my wife on my .gov and .mil machine at times. You know, picking up -- dealing, (INAUDIBLE) at work.

[21:20:07] But, you know, it's interesting because if you're used to that kind of stuff, you understand the ethical and the moral requirements for using business e-mail for business events. And when you're in government, like I was in the military, you know that you have to be transparent and professional when you're dealing with engagements on the network or engagements in person.

So the use of the term "sad", it's a favorite word of the president, doesn't apply here. His team knew this. These e-mails go into, not only the GSA account but this huge bureaucratic organization called the NARA, the National Archive and Regulation Administration. They keep them for months at a time to make sure history is recoded, and then they can go back specifically for these kinds of things.

BERMAN: So, from your lips, general, to the ears of anyone who might have or .mil e-mail address, --

HERTLING: Yes. BERMAN: -- in their lifetime, what would your message be?

HERTLING: Do business, be professional, and make sure you know that anybody is going to see those because they really are the business of government, and it should be transparent.

BERMAN: All right, General Hertling, Jen Psaki, Jason Miller, great to have you with us. Thank you all very much. Have a great holiday if I don't see you again.

MILLER: Thanks John.

BERMAN: All right, the latest on the deadly train derailment in the Washington state. What we know from the scene, next.


[21:25:01] COOPER: Breaking news tonight. Three confirmed fatalities in the horrific Amtrak train derailment in Washington State. About 100 others were taken to the hospital, with some still in critical condition. But the good news tonight, we now know that first responders believe they've been able to search every train car and that there is no one left on board. CNN's Kyung Lah has the latest for us from Washington. Kyung, what are you learning about the crash?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just did speak with the state patrol and they did tell us that yes, in deed, they have been searching through all those cars. There was a lot of question about those two remaining cars that they weren't able to get to, but that is certainly some good news. It has been a difficult day for firefighters here in Washington. They've had to go through each of these cars using Jaws of Life, using saws, and, at times, using cranes just to peek in these train cars. Passengers say the crash itself was chaotic. They were traveling at 70 to 80 miles per hour and then suddenly the cars were flying. They were flying. And as far as what it felt like for the conductors, you can hear the panic in their voices as they made the first emergency call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amtrak 501, emergency, emergency, emergency. We are on the ground. We were coming around the corner take the bridge over I-5 there right north in Nisqually and we went on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Are you -- is everybody OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still figuring that out. We have cars everywhere and down onto the highway.


LAH: And what you're looking here is the L.E.D. lights of what is now a sad message. The drivers who are going through this train tracks, this is a new train line, this was a $181 million retro fit try to let these Amtrak trains move more quickly. These signs warning passengers that this just changed as of today, 14 new lines, they're warning the drivers to be careful, but then this train crash happened somehow, John?

BERMAN: Kyung, you've been in touch with the hospital where many of the injured are being treated. What can you tell us about their condition tonight?

LAH: Well, the hospital that we've been speaking with, four to five miles away from the train crash itself and here's what's remarkable about this particular hospital, the Army Medical Center. And this particular hospital has a mix of civilian and combat physicians, so the emergency room basically went into a triage, 19 patients did arrive. And a lot of these doctors some of them who have seen combat, they were prepared and then working on these patients. Twelve of them were admitted. The great majority of them are in serious condition. The rest of them, John, just a few of them are in fair condition. They say as far as the injuries, generally fractures and broken bones.

BERMAN: All right, Kyung Lah for us in Washington. Kyung, thanks so much.

This afternoon President Trump started a scheduled speech on National Security with a few comments about the accident.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me begin by expressing our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt prayers for the victims of the train derailment in Washington State. We are closely monitoring the situation and coordinating with local authorities. It is all the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States.


BERMAN: Well, keeping them honest, this year President Trump's budget recommended cutting infrastructure investment by about $55 billion overall, according to some estimates, that included spending cost for Amtrak, arguing that it was wasteful spending. Now our very own Drew Griffin report on this very trail line back in 2013. And keeping them honest, a report we called, "High Speed Rail Boondoggle." He joins me now. And Drew, you got a lot of reporting on this very specific line, what can you tell us?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and our focus of that reporting was this was being sold, John, as high-speed rail, but it was just getting slow trains to move a little faster, and that's exactly what this train did. This brand-new line was basically rerouted around a congestion area in Tacoma, which got it off the tracks of freight trains and put it on a more straight route between Seattle and Portland. Speed does appear to be the factor here, but this, again, is a brand-new stretch of track. It's refurbished or reengineered track that would take about 10 minutes off the total time between Seattle and Portland. And it just started today.

BERMAN: So, just 10 minutes. These additional costs and improvements it was a 10-minute difference? GRIFFIN: Yes, and that was the focus of the reporting. This was a bigger project $800 million to just shave 10 minutes off this trip. This was the last portion of it. Kyung said it was a $180 million portion of it. In fact, the locomotive engine that is now on I-5 was part of the new purchase. That's a brand-new diesel electric locomotive that is now trashed on the highway that was part of this improvement project. But it was never about high-speed trains. This was not a high-speed track that we, you know, think about with high- speed trains. It wasn't a brand-new track, the type that they have in Europe or Japan. This was basically just what the U.S. has been doing with its trains, just trying to get these old trains to move a little quicker. And it appears like this train may have been moving too fast in the turn which it may -- it was supposedly only allowed to go about 30 miles per hour there. But this train appeared to be going a lot faster based on the witnesses that we had on the scene.

[21:30:46] BERMAN: And Drew, there are a lot of unanswered questions here, obviously, and the investigation is just beginning. But this was the inaugural journey of the train on this train line after all these improvements. You would think that there would be test after test after test before sending passengers down this rail for the first time.

GRIFFIN: And apparently there was test after test after test, but what kind of tests did take place? And also, what kind of training did take place? Was this a question of whether or not the engineer who was running the train was familiar with all the warning signs? Where to slow down? Where to speed up? Where you could push this train to about 80 miles an hour, which was its maximum speed, or where you had to slow down to 30. It's going to be a big investigation. And, again, we don't know if there was something else involved.

BERMAN: Right, Drew Griffin, thank you s much for your reporting. Appreciate it.

GRIFFIN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Coming up, we have breaking news about how long the Mueller investigation could last and it's not exactly what the president is expecting.


[21:35:24] BERMAN: New reporting tonight from "The Washington Post" says Robert Mueller's Russia investigation could go on at least through 2018. Now, that is not what the president is expecting as Sara Murray reported, he's actually under the impression that this will all end soon and that he's going to get some kind of exoneration letter. Now, there's no indication that that is the case. Of course, there has been a lot of conversation over the last few weeks about the credibility of the special counsel's team and of Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself. Many of those claims they fall apart when you actually look into his background, his politics, and his track record. CNN's Senior Legal Analyst, Former U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara joins me now to discuss. So Preet, the fact of the matter is that Robert Mueller is a life long Republican, so for Republicans to now paint him as some liberal renegade, that doesn't really hold any water, does it?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it would seem not to. Not only as he a lifelong Republican, he's had bipartisan support for the duration of his career. You know, back when his 10-year term as FBI director was expiring in a country of 330 million people, both Democrats and Republicans together decided that the person they wanted to be in that job for another two years was Robert Mueller. Rather than President Obama with Republican support of pointing some other person, a new person to that job, they actually changed the law to allow for two-year additional term by Robert Mueller. So, you know, I think a lot of this aspiration of people are casting against Robert Mueller, don't make a lot of sense.

BERMAN: I want to read you back something you wrote yourself. You said, "Robert Mueller's attackers are virtually all political operatives and ideologues. They have always been the swamp, he has always been the oasis. But I would caution liberal ideologies also -- he is not your savior, he's just the lawman. Respect his findings, whatever they are."

So the bottom line here is you were essentially arguing that Robert Mueller is more or less a political?

BHARARA: There's nothing in his past or in his background, notwithstanding what some critics are mining in a lengthy career to try to, you know, cast dispersions on him to suggest that he is in any way partisan. He was the FBI director, hailed by both sides for being above or (ph) -- above the fray. None partisan, a political for 12 years, he served his country in the military. He earned honors for risking his own personal safety. He got, I think, shot through leg ones. This is not to say that any person, whether it's an attorney general, an FBI director, should be put on a pedestal or should be lionized or some kind of God, it is just to say that if you think about what his history has been and why he had the reputation that he had and why he had so much bipartisan support, it's because he's always conducted himself, as far as I know, throughout his career in an above-board, you know, outstanding and upstanding way.

BERMAN: Over the weekend Congressman Jim Jordan said that top FBI officials should be subpoenaed, this is including Peter Strzok over the claims of bias against President Trump. There are a lot of Republicans who think this investigation has been tainted or at least say they think it has been tainted. But even if there was, in fact, no bias in terms of the way these people approached their jobs, how does the perception matter in an investigation like this?

BHARARA: You know, perceptions matter when there's a lot of attention being paid to an investigation. You know, there's a common phrase when people talk about the law, but it's not only the justice must just be done, it must be seen to be done. And so, I think that, you know, one thing that we should be happy about, and it's got lost in shuffle a little bit, is as soon as, as I understand it, Bob Mueller and his team found out about these texts, even though people are permitted to have private personal opinions about public officials and private political opinions, that you know, this FBI agent was removed from the investigation.

So, in fact, the evidence shows that Bob Mueller, I think, is paying attention to perception, and is staying below the radar, in other word, not making comments on his own about the case. But when he saw something that would be perceived badly, and that could be perceived as being, you know, a harbinger of bias, that person was removed.

BERMAN: As for Robert Mueller himself, do you think at this point as we sit here, near Christmas, that the president would actually go as far as to fire him because over the weekend the president said he was not going to do it. Does that mean the case is close here?

BHARARA: I think the president has a different thought about lots of different things, depending on what day of the week it is. And there are many people, as we've seen now, who on one day he expressed confidence in, and then at some point later said he wanted them gone. And so, I don't think anyone's job is safe. And, you know, you go by common sense and you go by an assessment of the personality of the leader. And you go by track record. And the track record shows that the president, if he gets upset or angry, will think about ways to get rid of somebody and he did that with James Comey. Reports are that he thought about doing that with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and I think he can do that at any time and people should be worried about that.

[21:40:16] BERMAN: Now, their question about Rod Rosenstein as well, what they (INAUDIBLE) fall into the same category. Preet Bharara, great to have you with us, thanks so much your time.

BHARARA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, why Sarah Palin called police on her own son.

Also coming up, the federal judiciary nominee who failed to answer legal questions on Capitol Hill writes a letter to President Trump. What the nominee is deciding to do now, and the reaction from the Republican senator who grilled the nominee when we continue.


BERMAN: Former Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin called police over the weekend, and her 28-year-old son ended up in jail. According to investigators, a family feud led to serious charges for Track Palin. Randi Kaye joins me now with more. So, Randy, what's the latest here?

[21:45:05] RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, here's what we know based on the police documents that we've able to obtained. Track Palin, the oldest son of Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, has been charged with first-degree burglary, that's a felony, and also assault and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. Now this all stems from a domestic situation at their home in Wasilla, Alaska over the weekend on Saturday. According to the officers' affidavit, it was Sarah Palin herself who told police that their son Track was, I'm quoting here the officer's affidavit, "freaking out, and was on some type of medication." So when police arrived, the officer says Todd Palin had a bloody face and injuries to his head. And when officers approached they said that Track Palin started yelling at them from the porch calling the officers peasants and insisting that they lay their guns down on the ground. Now he got pretty crazy apparently, at one point police documents show Track Palin crawled through a window onto the roof of the garage, John.

BERMAN: So, and Randi, how was it that eventually officers were able to arrest him?

KAYE: Well, after about 10 or 15 minutes, the officers convinced him to come outside and talk with them. They handcuffed him at that moment. They detained him without incident. We understand police say that Track told them that he had a few beers earlier, John.

BERMAN: And do we know what caused the fight with his father?

KAYE: It's a bit complicated. According to police, Track told them that he and his dad had a disagreement about a vehicle. Track stated that when he went to the window at the house and saw his dad, Todd, pointing a gun at him. Track told police that he told his father, actually, to shot him several times. Inside, once he got inside the house, track somehow got the gun away from his dad. He told police that he put his dad on the ground and started hitting him in the head.

Now Todd Palin has his own version of the story. He told police that his son wanted to get this truck that they had and Todd Palin told him not to come because his son had been drinking and was on pain medication. Now according to Todd Palin, his told him that was coming anyway and was going, "beat his ass." That's when police say Todd Palin got his pistol to protect his family.

BERMAN: And this is not the first time that Track Palin has been in trouble. In fact, the whole Palin Family have had issues before.

KAYE: Yes. We've seen this before, absolutely. Back in 2016, Track Palin was arrested on domestic violence related charges. At the time, he was actually suspected of punching his girlfriend. He did take a plea deal in that case, but also, John, back in 2014, the whole Palin Family was involved in a crazy drunken brawl. It happened at the party on Todd Palin's 50th birthday. Police say that they responded to report of a verbal and physical altercation. Track Palin was, according to police, heavily intoxicated and belligerent, and Bristol Palin, the couple's daughter, had apparently got into a fistfight with some guy and she was on the ground when police arrived. No charges were filed, John.

BERMAN: Obviously, some serious issues at play here. We hope they get whatever help they need.

KAYE: Yes.

BERMAN: Randi Kaye, thank you so much.

Now at "360", follow Matthew Petersen, a nominee for federal judgeship has withdrawn from consideration just days after he struggle to answer some pretty basic legal questions at a Senate hearing.

In a letter to President Trump, Peterson said he did not wish to be a continued distraction. He also said here, "I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service would carry more weight than my worst two minutes on television." Reminder, he was up for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench much. Here is some of his jaw- dropping exchange that he had last week with Republican Senator John Kennedy. This exchange, of course, went viral.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever taken a deposition?

PETERSEN: I was involved in taking depositions when I was associate at Wily Ryan (ph) when I first came out of law school. But that was --

KENNEDY: How many depositions?

PETERSEN: I would be struggling to remember.

KENNEDY: Less than 10?


KENNEDY: Less than five?

PETERSEN: Probably somewhere --

KENNEDY: Have you ever tried to taking a deposition by yourself?

PETERSEN: I believe, no. KENNEDY: OK. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?



BERMAN: All right, so here is how Senator Kennedy summed it up this morning.


KENNEDY: He's never been in a courtroom before. And, no disrespect, but just because you've seen my cousin Vinny, you're not qualified to be a federal judge.


BERMAN: Somehow appropriate, so episode ends with a my cousin Vinny reference.

Up next, serious stuff as CNN investigation prompt Puerto Rican officials to review the death toll from Hurricane Maria. We will take you the U.S. territory and show you how the recovery is going with the three-month anniversary of the storm just days away.


[21:53:45] BERMAN: More breaking news. Tonight, House Republicans plan to introduce an $81 billion disaster aid package for hurricanes and wildfires this year, that's almost double the amount requested by the Trump administration and was boosted by efforts from Republican members in Texas and Florida, two states hard hit by hurricanes this summer. It also includes money for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, who also got slammed by hurricanes in September.

Speaking of Puerto Rico, the governor there has ordered to review of deaths related to Hurricane Maria. Currently, the death toll stands at 64, but last month we told you about a CNN investigation that revealed the number could be much, much higher. After the storm, a lack of resources, including health care access and healthy drinking water, devastated the island. This Wednesday marks the three month anniversary of the storm striking Puerto Rico. CNN's Bill Weir spent weeks on the ground there and just went back to get an update on the recovery. Here's what he found.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voioce-over): When we first met Diane and Miguel, in hills of Aguas Buenas, they had just made it through the worst storm of their lives, but the fight for survival was just beginning. The Vietnam vet had just a few doses of insulin spoiling in a powerless fridge. When I went back a month later, the transmission tower that nearly crushed them inside their home was back up.

(on camera): Wow, that's a good sign. Look at that. They got it back up. How are you? Oh!

[21:55:06] (voice-over): Folks at the VA had seen our story and sent help. Miguel was resting and Diane's spirits were high.

"I'm going to keep fighting," she said, and then pointed up. They put a flag on top of the tower, but just before Thanksgiving, her hope turned to grief, and she wept over the flag atop Miguel's coffin. The aftermath was just too much for him, but will he be counted as a victim of Hurricane Maria?

After reporting by CNN and others sparked an official review, the fatality number could jump from 63 to over 1,000, but that is just one horrible puzzle to solve here.

(on camera): How the hell did you get this contract?

(voice-over): Whitefish, the tiny company promised $300 million to help fix the grid was fired just weeks into the job. The head of the island's power authority quit amid the scandal, and now as the army corps of engineers struggles through jungle terrain, a third of the island remains in the dark.

About 20,000 blue roof tarps have been installed but another 50,000 are waiting. But Puerto Rico is just one of dozens of disaster zones, from the Caribbean to California. Nearly 5 million Americans have filed for federal aid in just the last few months, and among those begging for help is the guy in charge of helping.

BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: I haven't even been here six months yet, and what I hope to do is inform, you know, Americans about how complex this mission is. It might be a time to sit back and say, are we in charge of too much?

WEIR: After a career as an emergency manager in Georgia and Alabama, Brock Long was tapped by President Trump right before one of the most destructive summers in American history, but he's been there long enough to say that FEMA is broke and the system is broken. Many of his 19,000 personnel have worked such long hours, they've hit a pay gap and will have to give back overtime.

(on camera): What does that do for morale? Are there people who are essentially working for free?

LONG: We've got to fix that problem, and I've been very vocal, you know, within Congress. I mean, you know, yes, it impacts morale. We cannot do this alone. Any time FEMA is the first, you know, the first responder and the primary responder, like we were in Puerto Rico, it's never an ideal situation, but I do believe, you know, for example, in Puerto Rico, that we kept that island complete until it collapsed.

WEIR: You think so? LONG: I do.

WEIR (voice-over): But things are so dire there now, 10 percent of the island has evacuated to Florida. Stephanie and Victoria are among the 250,000 Puerto Ricans who fled so far. They're grateful to Miami's St. Thomas University for taking them in, but they're worried about an entire future in flux.

(on camera): Do you feel like Americans on that island? Do you feel like second-class Americans?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like we felt -- we feel we aren't a priority, you know.

WEIR: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We aren't being taken the care we deserve to be taken on the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we need the help. We are really needing the help.

WEIR: So when President Trump goes to Puerto Rico, for example, and throws paper towels to storm survivors, what sort of message does that send and how are you graded based on that?

LONG: You know what, President Trump has been incredibly supportive of emergency management. At one point, we were having day-to-day conversations with the White House, and he is highly involved. He calls me directly. He's very engaged. His message to me is help people. And expedite the processes to do so. People are excited and asking, hey, what about me back here? And he picks it up, he throws it, and the media captured it and can spin that story any way they want, but I was in the room. He genuinely cares about the people in Puerto Rico, about the people in California, about the Americans in Texas, in Florida as well.


BURMAN: So, Bill, where do things stand in Puerto Rico in terms of restoring power to the island?

WEIR: It's still a tough slog. They've actually made some progress. The governor predicted 95 percent would be back up by this date. They missed that deadline. Now it's about two-thirds of the island has power now, but it's one of those reminders that this infrastructure before the storm was so creaky and antiquated and obsolete that the double punch of Irma and then Maria just laid waste to this whole thing, and the terrain there is so rough. It's those mountains, the jungles there. And so now the army corps of engineers has picked up the slack that was created when Whitefish was fired. They've doubled some of the contracts with the other more established firms trying to get it up. But you know, if you spent a day or two without power in the house, you know the discomfort in it is. Imagine three months.

BERMAN: So much work to do. Bill Weir, thank you so much. Thank you so much for watching "360". I'm John Berman. Time now to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now.