'This Week' Transcript 1-7-18: Nikki Haley, Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. Bernie Sanders

PHOTO: Pictured (L-R) are U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Senator Bernie Sanders and Sen.Tom Cotton.PlayGetty Images, FILE
WATCH Haley on North Korea: 'We want to always remind them, we can destroy you, too'

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Fire and fury.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never interviewed with him in the White House at all. He was never in the Oval Office.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump and his team fire back at that explosive new book.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a damning portrait of a White House in chaos with Trump's inner circle questioning his capacity to serve.

But author Michael Wolff is also facing questions. All the fallout this morning.

And...

TRUMP: Everything that I have done is 100 percent proper. That's what I do is I do things proper.

STEPHANOPOULOS: New report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller focus now on obstruction of justice.

How strong is the case? Did the president defend himself under oath? And how will the GOP counterattack on the investigation color the case? Those questions ahead for the former federal prosecutor fired by Trump Preet Bharara.

Plus, after taunting Kim Jong-un about the size of his nuclear button.

TRUMP: Without my rhetoric and without my tough stance, they wouldn't be talking right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president opens the door to talks with North Korea. The latest from UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Martha Raddatz reporting from South Korea. We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin. The facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. To anyone who thought President Trump's second year might be a bit more relaxed than the first, two words: Fire and Fury. That title of the blistering new best seller about the Trump White House also describes President Trump's response to the book, which has intensified an extraordinary debate captured this morning in headlines across the country and around the world.

Does President Trump have the mental stability it takes to handle his office?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: This guy that doesn't know me. Doesn't know me at all. By the way, did not interview me for three -- he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. It didn't exist, okay. It's in his imagination.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump at Camp David Saturday calling Fire and Fury a work of fiction.

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE AND FURY: My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone else who has ever walked on earth at this point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Author Michael Wolff's seismic claims have shaken the White House and broken Trump's relationship with his former top strategist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President? Any words about Steve Bannon.

TRUMP: I don't know. He called me a great man last night. So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bannon's quotes jump off the pages of Fire and Fury with unvarnished attacks on Trump and his children. Don Jr. is treasonous. Ivanka, dumb as a brick. Comments that earn Bannon a new nickname from Trump.

TRUMP: Sloppy Steve is now looking for a job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The book reports that Trump and his campaign were shocked by a win they never expected. And in the White House portrayed by Wolff, President Trump is woefully unfit for the job.

One staffer said working with Trump was like trying to figure out what a child wants. Others inside the White House thought he was no more than semi-literate, calling him an idiot and a dope.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, ABC NEWS: According to your reporting, everyone around the president -- senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office.

WOLFF: Let me put a marker in the sand here, 100 percent of the people around him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The book has drawn a full-throated denial from the White House podium.

SANDERS: It's disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Saturday morning, Trump took matters into his own hands with an early morning tweet. "My two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart." Calling himself, "a very stable genius."

Then that press conference at Camp David.

TRUMP: Only because I went to the best colleges, or college, came out, made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people. Went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for president one time and won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable here to take this on. Joined by our chief political analyst Matthew Dowd, Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter who was a senior adviser to President Obama, chair of the American Conservative Union Matt Schlapp, Roland Martin from TV One, and Republican strategist Sara Fagen, political director for George W. Bush, now with CNBC.

And, Matt, let me begin with you. It seems like every White House in a generation has been hit with a book like this, usually by Bob Woodward. Not this time around.

But what's your big takeaway from here. And how much of this can we trust?

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, speaking as a genius...

(LAUGHTER)

DOWD: I have three that -- there's so many, but I have three. First, I'm not a huge fan of Michael Wolff and the style of journalism that that entails. I think that the problem with that style of journalism it's -- it's evidenced by celebrity. It talks about all these tawdry stories and all that. I don't think it adds to our discourse and I don't think it helps us move forward as a country.

That being said, he does paint a broad picture, take all the little stories out of it, with insiders who have not denied they have said all of the things that they have been quoted as saying of something that Republicans -- some Republicans on the record, and many Republicans -- most Republicans off the record have said, that there's a question about the president's temperament, that he has serious questions about his mental acuity. Can he handle the office? All of the stresses of the office? It's all confirmed, those things that have been talked about for a year.

Then the third thing is, I think, fundamentally, the president only made matters worse in what he has done. All the tweets and everything have basically confirmed everything Michael Wolff said, everything he has done has confirmed it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sara Fagen, when you hear him put out that tweet, "stable genius," it's kind of like Richard Nixon, "I'm not a crook."

SARA FAGEN, ABC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, he handled it in the worst possible way by adding to it. He should have just blown it off and, you know, discredited the author, who discredited himself by being sloppy, and let it go. But Donald Trump cannot do that.

To me, the takeaway from this book, though, is there's a great lesson for anybody wanting to run for president, which is, be careful who you surround yourself with. Donald Trump's -- one of his biggest mistakes was surrounding himself with people who didn't have his interests many mind. Steve Bannon clearly looks out for Steve Bannon. And that is the worst possible chief strategist to put in the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and, Matt Schlapp, let me take this to you. You had Steve Bannon come to the CPAC conference, I remember that, back early in 2017 when he was riding quite high. Is he done now?

MATT SCHLAPP, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: No, I don't think he's done. I think he has greatly marginalized his voice. I think most Trump supporters, most conservatives, most Republicans, quite frankly, want take a big, long break from him and his brand of politics. I think the issues behind him still animate the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

But I really want to agree with Sara on this. You know, they staffed up the White House, you could see it, in the most incomprehensible way with people that did not have the president's best interests at heart. Quite frankly, they also were not experienced. They talked way too much. They didn't have a strategy behind it. And I think the person who realized it the quickest was the president.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: He said, I don't think this is working. And I think you've got to give General Kelly a lot of credit. They have changed a lot of the behavior that has been chronicled in the book.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's no question the White House seems to have changed its operations under General Kelly. But let me take that point to Stephanie Cutter. On the one hand, yes, these are staffed by the people who didn't necessarily have the president's best interests at heart. But one of the things that you see in this book is that the president's daughter and the president's son-in-law had out-sized influence.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. And we knew that before the book came out. And we know what kind of problems that presents in a White House. We have -- in some way, shape, or form, we have all been inside the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we have all been influenced by those relatives.

(LAUGHTER)

CUTTER: By those relatives. But it is extremely disruptive to a well-functioning White House.

I think the other takeaway, yes, the -- that White House lacked a team ready to go that was loyal to the president. But, they had a very hard time finding people who would go in to the White House to work for this president. And I think that created an un-virtuous circle.

SCHLAPP: I don't think that is true.

FAGEN: And this book makes it worse though. It's going to make it harder.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, well, let me bring that to you. Because I think the central insight in the book really is that they didn't think they were going to win, the president on down, and all through the campaign, and heading into the early days in the White House, they acted like it.

ROLAND MARTIN, HOST, TV ONE: All true. And the bottom line is here. This book changes nothing. I read 250 of the 350 pages last night. Bottom line is simple. Everything that he laid out, we already knew, in terms of the kind of people who he chose, the fact that you don't have principles, you don't have morals, you don't have ethics. And what you have here though is a Republican Party where you have different pieces. They get exactly what they want from Donald Trump.

You have white conservative evangelicals. They don't care about how he has treated women because all they want are federal judges who will get rid of same-sex marriage and abortion. You have folks on the business side, you get the tax reform. You have the folks who are all about the social issues, they get what they -- everybody gets exactly what they want.

This comes down to power. The Republican Party, they want -- all those folks, they want power. Donald Trump provides that. And so as long as he's there, and they can get what they want, it doesn't matter. This book will not change a thing.

And I'll give the last point is this here. You look at the fact that Democrats forced out Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers. Have Republicans forced out Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold? No. This is about power.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It raises a question of power, but, Sara, it does also raise these questions of the president's fitness. I mean, a lot of the anecdotes in there, let's say that 50 percent of them are true...

FAGEN: Yes, I think that is probably the right number.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... it raises serious questions about...

MARTIN: Maybe 90.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... his mental capacity, his ability to process information, his impulse control.

FAGEN: It does. But it doesn't really matter. And it's not going to matter until and unless something very catastrophic happens as the result of a tweet or a provocation to another national - international leader.

And until that happens, I don't think most of America is paying much attention to the (inaudible).

SCHLAPP: Let me just respond to this question about his fitness for office, because maybe more than anyone on this panel, I deal with him, and dealt with him for years before he was president, while he's been president.

I actually enjoy it, Roland. And -

MARTIN: We'll pray for you.

SCHLAPP: As personal as you want to make this and say oh he's coo-coo for coco puffs, and all the rest is like - I think actually just embolden him, and my interactions with him, he doesn't repeat these stories, he totally gets the policy, unlike a lot of politicians which - what people don't get sometimes about Donald Trump, is he asks you 20 times more questions than most politicians.

Most politicians just talk at you and they yammer on and they give you their point of view. Donald Trump's exactly the opposite, he wants to bring you in, he wants to get the information you have, and I find that this covers - he did a whole chapter in this book, Michael Wolff, on Z-Pak, never called anyone and Z-Pak didn't call me.

His facts are wrong from top to bottom. He said Wilbur Ross was the Secretary of Labor, he said that John Kelly was the Director of Homeland Security, another man has that job. He was the Secretary of Homeland Security.

When he came to Z-Pak, he got fact after fact after fact wrong, and he didn't even bother to call. Look, there might be some truth in here, but it's riddled and surrounded by the fact that this is a journalist who doesn't believe in calling anyone to correct sources.

DOWD: OK, so the Trump - Donald Trump and the Trump supporters like Matt, where I give him credit for, even though if I gave Matt truth serum I know what Matt would say about Donald Trump (inaudible).

SCHLAPP: I'll tell you right now.

DOWD: Yes, a level of integrity that he holds his office to. The idea that Donald Trump and them would somehow castigate this offer for not being truthful, and having durability (ph) problem, is a bit like Al Capone saying that jay walker's a criminal.

I mean, their level of (inaudible) -

SCHLAPP: They're made for each other.

DOWD: Well, they're not only made for each other, but one of the huge - ones the king of it and the other one's a pauper in this. I would say that this book is not about palace entry fundamentally, though all the stories as they say - I don't - I don't agree with this type of journalism, I don't like this, but fundamentally the core kernel of this story is questioning Donald Trump's fitness to hold the office.

Which has not only been done by people on the left and people that don't like him and people in the media, but it's done almost universally off the record by nearly every republican official when you talk to them off the record, and some on the record.

MARTIN: So when you get what you want - when you get what you want, it doesn't matter. And that's part of this fundamental issue here, when you look at all the different people within the parties, as long as they get what they want, Donald Trump serves a very unique purpose.

And the fact that he has no ideology, he has no convictions, he has no morals, he has no principals, I mean if I can imagine (inaudible) -

CUTTER: I don't think - the other part of the story here - and we can debate Michael Wolff's book, there are lots of factual inaccuracies, which is part of the problem here, but as Matt said, that it paints a picture that we've been seeing for a long time.

And it's been painted by main stream media and republicans, so it's not hard to believe - the reason we're talking about it so much is because it's not hard to believe. But the bigger issue here is if we do have a president who has some fitness issues, even though he says he's like really smart, there are some problems that are happening.

And Roland, I understand what you're saying but the bigger issue is can we have a functioning government with somebody like that in the White House. And up until now, you could argue that yes, but you're starting to see some craters in that.

That's the point I'm making.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're going to talk about the impact on the 2018 agenda, I want you all to stand by, you're going to come back later in the show to get into that. But right now, we're going to turn to the latest on North Korea.

This week Kim Jong-un made a surprise announcement saying he would engage in talks to take part in the upcoming Olympic games in the neighboring South Korea, and just days after taunting North Korean leader over his nuclear button, President Trump was quick to claim credit for the talks and opened the talks yesterday to direct talks of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP):

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would love to see it go far beyond the Olympics, absolutely. And at the appropriate time, we'll get into all of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to follow up on that conversation between North Korea and South Korea, are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-un right now?

TRUMP: Sure, I always believe in talking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're going to take that to you and Ambassador Nikki Haley after this report from our Chief Global Affairs Anchor, Martha Raddatz from South Korea.

MARTHA RADDATZ, CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, ABC: This is South Korea today, not what you may imagine in a country under the threat of nuclear war.

An ice fishing festival, hundreds of families enjoying this clear, cold Sunday morning, just miles from the border with the North.

But in the middle of this icy, fishing paradise, the idea of fire and fury is never far away. The kind Donald Trump warned Kim Jong-un he could face. Overhead, attack helicopters make a quick pass over the ice, a reminder.

But South Koreans are well aware of everything Donald Trump has been saying and tweeting.

"It was immature of him to say his nuclear button was bigger than Kim's", this man told us. "I feel less safe with him as president".

Despite the criticism, there was great anticipation about Tuesday's meeting between representatives from North and South Korea, which will take place in this so-called truce village, where North and South Korean soldiers stand just feet apart. The armistice that suspended the Korean War was signed here in 1953.

The topic this Tuesday will be limited to the North's participation in the Olympic games. As we journeyed further north today, past the artillery pieces lining the road side, the barded wire, the barriers, everyone we talked to agrees with Trump on one issue. That Tuesday's talks were a positive sign. Leeb Young Oak (ph) is 75. She lives with other Korean War survivors.

She remembers as a child passing dead bodies as she was fleeing with her family. I know Trump goes overboard, she says. But sometimes you need that to be strong and aggressive. And unlike any president before him, Donald Trump faces the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea. And Kim Jong-un is every bit as aggressive and unpredictable as Trump.

And back in Seoul now, where there is also optimism about Tuesday's meetings tempered by the realization that they are very narrow in scope and the nuclear threat is far from over. George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you, Martha. We're joined now by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Thanks for coming in, Madame Ambassador. N

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to pick up on the president's press conference yesterday where he opened the door to those direct talks with North Korea. In the past, he said it would be a waste of time for Secretary Tillerson to talk with North Korea, so why the turnaround?

HALEY: There is no turnaround. What he has basically said is yes, there could be a time where we talk to North Korea but a lot of things have to happen before that actually takes place. They have to stop testing. They have to be willing to talk about banning their nuclear weapons. Those things have to happen. What we're trying to do is make sure we don't repeat what's happened the last 25 years.

Which is them start to act like they're coming to the table, them ask for a lot of money and then them cheat their way through. We're going to be smart this time. We're going to make sure that whatever happens makes the United States safer and make sure that we de-nuclear-ize the peninsula.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You lay down two quite different conditions right there. It's one thing to stop testing for now, it's another to say we're going to get rid of our nuclear arsenal, the North Koreans getting rid of their nuclear arsenal. Both conditions are necessary for the U.S. to talk?

HALEY: No. I think stop testing is very important and for a significant amount of time. And then you go and you work toward the next step. This is going to be phases. This isn't going to happen overnight as we've seen, but it's a dangerous situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you expect out of Tuesday's talks?

HALEY: You know, I think two countries can talk if they want. I think they're going to talk about the Olympics. It's not my understanding that they're going to talk about anything further, but, you know, those two countries have to get along. That's good for the United States that they can at least start getting back into talks. So I think that's a good thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Last week, we had Admiral Mike Mullen on the program talking to Martha Raddatz, echoed by Joe Biden this week, Vice President Joe Biden both saying they believe the U.S. is closer to nuclear war with North Korea. Do you agree?

HALEY: It's a dangerous situation. It's not something we want. We have said that multiple times. The president said it. Every member of this administration has said it. But the reality is this is a very dangerous situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But did the president make it worse with that tweet earlier this week with that tweet about the nuclear button? Here's what the vice president -- former Vice President Joe Biden said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: When we engage in activities like let's compare the button, they all, for different reasons and different motivations, lose confidence in us. They wonder, do we know what the hell we're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he right that it hurts our credibility with our allies?

HALEY: They don't wonder if we know what the hell we're doing. I think it's very clear we do. What they know is we're not letting up on the pressure. We're not going to let them go and dramatize the fact that they have a button right on their desk and they can destroy America. We want to always remind them we can destroy you too, so be very cautious and careful with your words and what you do. I know it's something that makes people nervous but if we didn't do it, we would be in a more dangerous...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think the tweet was a good idea?

HALEY: I think that he always has to keep Kim on his toes. It's very important that we don't ever let him get so arrogant that he doesn't realize the reality of what would happen if he started a nuclear war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you've (ph) had Republicans in Congress, Cory Gardner, John Cornyn saying this is reckless.

HALEY: You know, they can -- everybody's going to have their opinion. What I can tell you is I'm dealing with the diplomats on the ground, I'm dealing with all of the actors in this situation. It is a serious situation and he can't sit there and imply that he's going to destroy the United States without us reminding him of the facts and the reality that if you go there, it's not us that's going to be destroyed, it's you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you deal with the diplomats on the ground. You deal with diplomats every single day, world leaders from around -- all across the globe. How do they respond overall to the president's tweets? I read one analysis this week saying that they're just starting to tune them out.

HALEY: I don't thing they're tuning them out. If anything, I notice that they're are absolutely glued to them, but they see him as unpredictable. That's probably the overwhelming feeling that I see as...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Too unpredictable?

HALEY: I don't think ever too unpredictable. I think they don't know what the U.S. is going to do at any given time, and so for that reason they're getting much more cautious and they're paying attention to how they work with us. So, you know, we've got a ways to go, but it's not a bad thing, it's really not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, you know, a lot of these questions of tweets reinforced by this book that came out this week, the Michael Wolff book. When you've -- in your dealings with the president, he says 100 percent of the people around the president are concerned about his fitness. Have you seen any behavior that concerns you?

HALEY: You know, the one thing about this book, having been a governor and now an ambassador, I'm always amazed at the lengths people will go to to lie for money and for power. It's really -- this is like taking it to a whole new low.

I will tell you, I have not read the book, I won't read it, but the excerpts that I have seen and the things that I have seen in the press, I know those people in the White House. I'm there once a week. These people love their country and respect our president. I have never seen or heard the type of toxic language that they're talking about.

Now, I'm not there seven days a week, but I'm there once a week, and I'm there for a day with White House meetings and everything, no one questions the stability of the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Except that Michael Wolff says he had 200 interviews. He says he has interviews on tape. We know he spent a lot of time in the White House over the course of the first several months, and a lot of the most damning anecdotes have not been denied by those involved.

HALEY: You know, I can't vouch for anything like that. I don't know if it was 200 interviews with Steve Bannon, or if it was 200 interviews with himself, but I can tell you, I know these people. I work with these people. I work with the president and speak with him multiple times a week, this is a man, he didn't become the president by accident. And as much as everyone wants to talk about stability, was he unstable when he passed the tax reform? Was he unstable when we finally hit back at Syria and said no more chemical weapons? Was he unstable when we finally put North Korea on notice? Was he unstable when he said, wait, we need to look at Iran because this is getting to be a dangerous situation? Was he unstable with the jobs or the economy or the stock market?

We need to be realistic at the fact that every person, regardless of race, religion, or party, who loves the country, should support this president. It's that important.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you're not concerned that those close to the president don't have his interests at heart?

HALEY: I'm around them all the time. I see these people put everything they have got into their jobs and into respecting and trusting the president. If they didn't, they wouldn't be there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Haley, thanks for your time this morning.

HALEY: Thank you very much.

Up next, as the Mueller investigation focuses on obstruction of justice, President Trump says it's making the U.S. look foolish. Will he make his case directly to Mueller? What's next in the investigation? We'll take up those questions with Preet Bharara and Dan Abrams.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Everything that I've done is a 100 percent proper. That's what I do is I do things proper. And, you know, I guess the collusion now is dead, because everyone found that after a year of study, there has been absolutely no collusion. There has been no collusion between us and the Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, if Robert Mueller asks you to come and speak with his committee personally, are you committed still to doing that?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Just so you understand, just so you understand, there has been no collusion. There has been no crime. When you have done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with, because, honestly, it's very, very bad for our country. It's making our country look foolish. And this is a country that I don't want looking foolish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump yesterday on the Mueller investigation. Let's talk about that now with former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, now a distinguished scholar at NYU School of Law, and our chief legal analyst Dan Abrams.

And, Preet, let me begin with you. Well, you heard the president right there say again and again, there is no collusion, even though Mueller is still doing all his work. More evidence this week that the special counsel very focused on this idea of obstruction of justice, both this New York Times report about the dealings between Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and some of the revelations in Michael Wolff's book.

PREET BHARARA, NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Look, if you believe the reports, there's a continuing saga of information that would lead you to believe that Mueller and his team are looking at other things that paint a picture of potential obstruction. And, you know, the interesting thing about the report that you referred to in The New York Times, one aspect of it was that apparently, and reportedly, the president asked his White House counsel, Don McGahn, as you said, to encourage Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, why can't a president do that?

BHARARA: So that by itself, I don't think, is necessarily criminal. It's unhelpful. And it makes him look bad, because you have to consider the reason why he didn't want somebody who career officials in the department were insisting that he recuse himself from the Russia investigation. What's the reason for that? The reason for that, which doesn't get talked about as much, is presumably the president wanted to be protected by a loyal attorney general, not to protect the process of law, but to protect him from the due process of law.

And that's not right. And over time, if you have enough instances of things that show that the president wanted to end the Russia investigation, and this is just a piece of it, you start to find yourself building...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So it has to be pattern of behavior. One of the quotes in that article is the president railing with his staff, saying, where is my Roy Cohn?

DAN ABRAMS, ABC CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Which is -- you know, if that's true, is a terrible thing to say. Roy Cohn was disbarred and sort of looked back on as sort of the horrible example of what you want in terms of a lawyer. What he really means is, I want someone who is going to protect me, again, if he said that.

But remember, there are two avenues here, right? There is number one the question of, was there collusion with Russia? Is there a possible conspiracy charge? And number two is this possible obstruction of justice. The notion that this has somehow been resolved, right, we're hearing -- again, collusion, for the last year, it has been proven, it has been shown, we know it didn't happen. I don't know where that is coming from.

How do we know? We don't know what Mueller knows. We don't know what Mueller is going to conclude. And that's on the...

STEPHANOPOULOS: We only actually know he has gotten a plea agreement from George Papadopoulos, who was in the campaign, over his contacts with the Russians and lying about it.

ABRAMS: Exactly. So you have that piece. And then the second piece is this possible obstruction. Again, we don't know that Robert Mueller is going to conclude that there was obstruction. We don't know that at all. But of course he's going to be looking at it. Of course he's going to be investigating it. And you have to view it like a puzzle, exactly what Preet is saying, which is, you look at these different pieces, and you say, if you put these together, does that tell a story of corrupt intent to influence the investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let me bring that back to Preet, because if you look at the various pieces -- there's so many out there, but let me just point out a couple of them. That (ph) New York Times article this week being -- the discussions with Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions. All the discussions in the White House before James Comey was fired and the president talking about how he wanted to fire James Comey.

All those discussions in the White House where the president helped write a false statement about his son, Don Jr.'s dealings with the Russians back in the campaign. You're a former prosecutor. You add all that up, you see just what we know has been reported, would you need to talk to the president about that?

BHARARA: Generally speaking, when an investigation is overt, as opposed to covert, and in this case, you don't -- there's no more overt investigation in the history of the world, perhaps. Everyone knows it's happening, the lawyers have said that they want to meet. The president's lawyers have said they want to meet with Special Counsel Mueller.

And generally speaking, before you make a decision on something like this, if you're -- if you're buttoning everything up and crossing every T and dotting every I, usually -- and -- when you have a high profile target, potential target, yes, you talk to that person, usually close to the end. Now, the president doesn't have to talk. But I imagine the president will talk, because that's what he does.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president will talk, but that is a perilous decision for the president and his lawyers.

ABRAMS: I don't think he can do it. I don't think that the president can sit down with Mueller's team and answer these sorts of questions. Why? Because he's now opening himself up to other possible crimes, right? If he gets in there and they determine that he isn't telling them the truth about certain things -- again, it doesn't even have to be about the fundamental questions as to Russian collusion.

It can be about almost anything that they're discussing, he's now opening himself up to the possibility of additional federal charges. So I think that that -- I think he will say -- maybe I'm wrong, but I think he will say my lawyers have told me -- I want to be in there, I want to talk -- and I believe that, by the way.

I believe that Donald Trump wants to be in there and talk to them. But I've got to also believe that his lawyers are going to tell him not to do -- do you disagree with that?

BHARARA: What I believe is is that the president doesn't listen to his lawyers.

(LAUGHTER)

BHARARA: ...gentleman, who is a very stable genius, he tells us, was listening to his lawyers, there's lots and lots of stuff that he would not have done, said, tweeted. You know? So here's a person who wants to defend himself, he does it through the platform of Twitter on a daily basis. And he said he wants to talk to the Special Counsel's office. And if they make the request or say we're available for you to talk to us, it seems untenable not to do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me flip that around, then. What does the Special Counsel do if the president refuses to talk to him?

BHARARA: They go on their merry way and they decide to make a case or not make a case. I don't think it matters all that much to them, depending on what kinds of things they're looking at. I mean usually, there are two reasons you want to talk to a target close to the end. One is to afford them the opportunity -- them and their lawyers, to explain to you why you may have it wrong. We did that all the time.

People have been prosecuted (ph) just sort of, you know, have a blunderbuss approach when it's an open and -- and notorious thing that the prosecutors are doing in pursuing a particular case, you give them the opportunity. You know, why did you say this, why did you do that, why don't you give us your explanation.

Now, it may be the case, as Dan says absolutely correctly that you can fall into a trap if you decide to speak and lie about it because you think you're charming to harmonize all the disparate facts and circumstances. But that's a principle reason why you talk to them. Another reason is to -- is to further the investigation, but I think in a case like this, they're going to have all the facts that they have.

And they're going to be interested in wanting to hear from the president if he wants to talk to them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll see which one of you is right. Probably win (ph) a lot more before then as well. Thank you both for coming in. Up next, are we headed towards the government shutdown over Trump's border wall. That debate ahead with Senators Tom Cotton and Bernie Sanders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senators Bernie Sanders and Tom Cotton are standing by. And all week long, you can get the latest on politics and the White House with breaking news alerts on the ABC News app. Download it during the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We want the wall. The wall is going to happen or we're not going to have DACA. We all want DACA to happen, but we also want great security for our country. So important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was the president at Camp David yesterday talking about DACA. Of course, those are the children of undocumented immigrants brought into the United States. Will they be protected or not? You heard the president's conditions right there. He says there has to be funding for a border wall.

Let's talk about that now with Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Tom Cotton, both from -- both in the middle of this issue right now.

I want to start with Senator Sanders with you. You heard the president right there, no DACA without a border wall. You said that Trump kind of (ph) DACA protections have to be included in this bill to keep the government open in late January, so does that mean we're headed for a government shutdown?

BERNIE SANDERS, SENATOR, VT (D): Well, George, as you know the republicans control the White House, they control the Senate, they control the U.S. House. They will determine whether or not there's a government shutdown.

We're not - I certainly hope there is not a government shutdown. Government shutdown would be a disaster to this country, but when you have a president who says - who precipitated this crisis back in September by revoking the DACA provision, and now we are in a position where some 800,000 young people, young people who were raised in this country, young people who are in school, who are working in the U.S. military, now are living in extraordinary anxiety about whether or not they're going to lose their legal status and be subject to deportation.

This is what the president precipitated. We have got to deal with that decision. So what we have got to do, it seems to me, is to pass the Dreamer's legislation, which protects and provides legal status to these young people. Later on, we have to work for comprehensive immigration reform.

That's what the American people want. 77 percent of the American people, on a recent poll suggested that they wanted to see legal status for these young people. The American people, in fact, do not want to spend billions of dollars on a wall which Trump told us would be paid for by the Mexican government, which of course is not going to be paid for by the Mexican.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any compromise here at all on the wall, in the past you had a lot of democrats vote to double the size of the boarder fence for about - to about 700 miles.

Is there - is there some kind of a compromise that can be worked out? We have increased funding for a fence, the president can call it a wall, and the democrats get DACA protections?

SANDERS: I don't think there's anybody who disagrees that we need strong border security. And if the president wants to work with us to make sure that we have strong border security, let's do that.

But the idea of spending some $18 billion on a wall that most people think will not do what he says it will do, does not make any sense. And by the way, George, when we talk about a government shutdown, the other thing that concerns me is that Senator McConnell now wants to do away with the concept of parody, which is what we have had in four budget agreements since 2011.

And what that means is they want to spend $90 -- $100 billion in the next couple of years on the military, but they are ignoring the needs of the middle class, ignoring the needs of veterans, ignoring the needs of people who are about to lose their penchants.

These guys, the republican leadership, unbelievably has not even reauthorized the CHIP program for nine million children in this country, in terms of healthcare or the community health center program.

We've got to get our priorities right, and giving tax breaks to billionaires, throwing millions of people off of health insurance, is not what we should be doing. We've got to pay attention to the working families of this country, and that means that we have got to protect their healthcare, we've got to make sure that young people in this country are not leaving school deeply in dept.

We ought to fund adequately the Social Security Administration, ten thousand people died last year for - with disabilities because they didn't get the kind of attention they need in processing their claims from the Social Security Administration.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like - it sounds like -

SANDERS: That concerns me as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, it sounds like there is a wide gap, then, between republicans and democrats as we're just a couple of weeks away from a possible shut down. I also want to ask you about these concerns raised by the Michael Wolff book.

This weekend, the president's response this week saying that he's a stable genius, do you have any concerns about - I just saw you raise your eyebrows right there - about the president's mental stability?

And are you going to sign onto this legislation supported by many democrats in the House who want an oversight commission on the president's capacity to handle the job?

SANDERS: Well, look, I'm not going to - you know, what bothers me about this president is not so much what he says, although he is so offensive. I mean, just a few weeks ago he attacked a United States Senator with sexual innuendo.

He talks about prison for his former opponent in the presidential election, this is not what presidents of the United States do. But I am more worried about what this president's policies are in terms of telling the working people of this country during his campaign that he was going to stand with them, and yet he governs now as a representative of the billionaire class.

Tax breaks for the wealthy, cutting people off of health insurance, ignoring the needs of children, not dealing with the prescription drug crisis in the country that he said he would deal with. I worry about him being a pathological liar. Those are some of the concerns I have.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Sanders, thanks for your time this morning.

I want to bring that to Senator Tom Cotton right now, Republican of Arkansas.

You just heard Senator Sanders on the president, called him a pathological liar. Now -- and you have seen the quotes in the Michael Wolff book, as well. But it's not just those questions that have been raised this week. In the past, your colleagues, like Senator Corker, have questioned the president's stability. Lindsey Graham has called him a kook. And they -- some have suggested behind closed doors, those sentiments are shared by a lot of senate Republicans. Is that true?

SEN. TOM COTTON, (R) ARKANSAS: George, first off, thanks for having me on. You know, it's a very common occurrence in Washington to have these tell-all books, yet with big effect -- in fact, you wrote one about the Clinton administration.

The difference is, your book was accurate. This is a book by a New York gossip columnist who has been known to fabricate stories, who says in his own preface that looseness with the truth is an elemental thread of the book.

I can tel you this, the media made similar claims about Ronald Reagan and George Bush. What they all have in common is they are Republican presidents. And when I have worked with the president and the people around him and Republican senators, he's been active, engaged and effective leader on issues like repealing the individual mandate of Obamacare, cutting taxes for working people, getting immigration under control, leading the fight against ISIS, and turning this economy around.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you worked with the president this week on immigration. You just heard Senator Sanders talk about the Democrats' demands on DACA and the border wall. They are not going to go along with this border wall. The president says that's a bottom line demand of his. Is there a way to solve this problem?

COTTON: I hope so, George. The president has said all along that while President Obama acted unlawfully by giving them legal status without an act of congress, that he wants to solve this problem with a compromise piece of legislation. We've been working on it now for four months. In addition to having some funding for the border wall and border security, we are also going to have to take steps to stop unskilled and low skilled immigration coming into this country, like ending chain migration and ending the diversity lottery.

One of the unheralded accomplishments of the first year of the Trump administration that gets overlooked, you know, with the growing stock market, for instance, is that wages for people who work with their hands and work on their feet, the kind of jobs where you have to take a shower after you get off work, not before you go to work have increased at their fastest pace yet. There's a reason for that, it's not just the growing economy, but it's also that this administration is getting unskilled and low skilled immigration under control.

We need to continue on those efforts while also finding a reasonable compromise for those people who were brought here as young children and young adults through no fault of their own. IU hope the Democrats will come off their unreasonable negotiating position and be willing to compromise.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you saw their response this week, it wasn't just Senator Sanders on the program just now, Senator Dick Durbin, number two Democrat in the Senate, his reaction to the request for $18 billion for the border wall, for the other priority you expressed right there is he's saying it's a nonstarter, not close to a compromise at this point, are we?

COTTON: Well, George, as you rightly said, those are Democratic demands, not as they're often portrayed that Republicans only make demands whereas Democrats negotiate. And Senator Durbin's DREAM Act would cost $26 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So, Senator Durbin should reconsider who is making unreasonable, costly demands if he's criticizing the president for requesting $18 billion to secure our southern border that creates such a huge magnet for illegal immigration and crime and drugs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we going to have a government shutdown at the end of January?

COTTON: I don't expect to have one. I certainly don't want to have one, but in the Democrats want to shut down the government because they can't get amnesty for illegal immigrants, then they're going to have to defend those actions to the American people. They didn't do that last month, and I suspect they didn't do it because they know that amnesty for illegal immigrants without any real reform is not popular, and that it would be unhelpful to their cause.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about North Korea. You saw that president's tweet this week on the nuclear button. Senator -- Ambassador Haley said that shouldn't be a concern. It shows the president is forthright and strong and the North Koreans are getting that message. Are you hopeful about these talks between the North Koreans and the South Koreans this week?

COTTON: George, my understanding is those talks on Tuesday are primarily about the upcoming South Korean Olympics. I don't know if they'll go beyond that. We'll see what the South Koreans have to say when those talks are over.

But President Trump's statement didn't come out of the blue. Kim Jong-un is the one that raised the issue of a nuclear button in his New Year's Day speech. And for 25 years, we have sat around and allowed the Kim regime the make any kind of threats they want against the United States. Donald Trump's statement just reiterated a fundamental point of strategic deterrence going back to the earliest days of the Cold War, which is that we will not allow other countries to hold us at risk with a threat of nuclear attack when our arsenal is the largest and the strongest in the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There has been some talk that the president might be asking you soon to join his administration as CIA director. Are you open to that?

COTTON: Well, George, last time I checked, the CIA has a director and he's doing a pretty good job. And I'm honored to be serving in the Senate for the people of Arkansas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Tom Cotton, thanks for your time this morning.

COTTON: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll be back in just a minute with more "Roundtable."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back with the "Roundtable." I want to pick up on that conversation we just had with the senators. And, Sara Fagen, let me begin with you, because it seems like so much is going to happen right here in this month of January that could determine the whole course of 2018. And from listening to those two senators right there, it sure seems to me that we're heading for a government shutdown in a couple of weeks.

FAGEN: Well, I hope not, because I think that will be very problematic for Republicans, since we control all the House and the Senate and the presidency. But having said that, you know, there is a need to get DACA done. There's broad bipartisan consensus that something needs to get done there, which, to me, is a recipe for putting together a spending package and a broader immigration package.

And the president may have to back down and not get as big of a wall or get some structures, as opposed to an entire wall. But there is a formula for this to get done, and for it to be, frankly, for all the criticism of Trump and his fitness of office, to have gotten through January of the second year of his term, and gotten tax reform, a huge piece of Obamacare repealed, and significant immigration reform, that's a pretty good record.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and I guess that's going to be the question, Matt. Is either side looking for a win-win here or not? I mean, is the president willing to take a wall that's not a wall? Are the Democrats willing to let him call something a wall that they don't think is a wall?

DOWD: Well, as we have discovered over the course of the last few weeks, and said by the majority leader, the president will basically sign anything that comes to his desk. So, I don't think the president fundamentally, as long as he gets a bill on his desk where he can stand up -- he said he repealed Obamacare when he didn't repeal Obamacare. He repealed an element of it but didn't repeal it.

SCHLAPP: Big element.

FAGEN: A big element.

DOWD: Whatever -- I'm just saying the president's ability to say whatever he wants, he'll sign a bill.

I think the -- I mean, to me, the fundamental question is, is why are the Republicans drawing a line between, one, compassion for young people here who have done nothing of their own to come here who serve and going to serve in a great capacity, in order to put a wall that the president himself, by his own fact statement, says that immigration into our country has slowed to a trickle on the southern border. This is what I don't understand.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the answer?

SCHLAPP: I'm going to answer this. First of all, he's not asking for a wall for this, as Sara...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Said it just yesterday.

SCHLAPP: Well, let me just -- let me go beyond that. As Sara said, even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have voted for fences. We can use all kinds of synonyms. The idea we want to secure the southern border, he wants to do that with funding for as much of a wall as he possibly can get. But he also wants to end family chain migration. And he also wants to end the the diversity lottery, which, by the way, is popular with a lot of people in this country who are struggling to make ends meet, want to find good jobs for their families.

And so this is actually an issue, this broader question of how we have our immigration system, that we need to have as country. So I would like to see us do that. Now if the Democrats are dumb enough to say, well, they're going to be #resistance all year, and even these Democrats who are up in these red states, if they decide to never work with Donald Trump on any issue, I think that is a political risk that is not wise to take.

(LAUGHTER)

CUTTER: The president has basically admitted that he's willing to shut down the government if he doesn't get the $18 billion for his wall.

SCHLAPP: And they're willing to say they'll shut it down if they don't get DACA.

CUTTER: Well, the president has also said he's basically holding DACA hostage so that he can get what he wants on immigration. Why can't we just agree, since there is broad bipartisan consensus, across the country and in Washington, to just have a DACA fix? Why do you have to hold it hostage?

SCHLAPP: Because that created the tea party movement. When Republicans just go along with Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: No, that is not what created the tea party...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: First of all, I'm going to put applause here. I thought it very creative for you to say the president doesn't want a wall, and then...

SCHLAPP: He wants a wall.

MARTIN: And then we just claimed it...

SCHLAPP: He wants more than a wall.

MARTIN: But again, that was cute. It was a nice try.

SCHLAPP: No, he wants a wall plus.

MARTIN: At the end of the day, here's what you're facing, this president pushed the appropriate racial buttons in terms of immigration. And so what you have here is, he has no choice but to hold it hostage, because he understands who he's appealing to by pushing those particular buttons when it comes to immigration. What you have on the other side, though, is you have individuals, like for instance, this care taker for a paraplegic, the only person who is going to be sent out of the country.

And, look, that's a sad story.

You have people out there who are taxpaying citizens, who have contributed to this country when it comes to DACA. You can actually do both things, but they don't want to do that because it serves a very calculated political interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the president have to abandon his base on this issue?

FAGEN: No, not at all. Look, this isn't actually that complicated. You have Republicans who want stronger border security and some Democrats who have agreed in the past that we need it. You have almost everyone who agrees that DACA needs to be fixed, and you have to avoid a government shutdown. So if these leaders can get in a room and figure this out.

SCHLAPP: It's called legislating. It actually isn't that complicated.

And why is it a hostage for Republicans to take, but not a hostage for Democrats to take?

FAGEN: Exactly.

CUTTER: The bipartisan congressional process of the people who care about these issues was actually working until a set of poison pills were sent up to the Hill by the White House, authored by Steven Miller, of their demands on immigration before there was a DACA deal.

So, if the White House could just stay out of this, I actually think a deal can be done, as most things are happening in Washington, if they stay out of it, the system will work.

DOWD: The reality, and is I know Matt likes to create a world that is sort of fictional...

MATT: Quit saying I'm a liar, Matt, that's way beyond. I don't need truth...

DOWD: I have never called you a liar.

SCHLAPP: You did. You did in the first segment.

DOWD: No, I did not. I said if you drank truth serum, you would actually admit...

SCHLAPP: Clever way of calling me a liar.

DOWD: So, fundamentally, the Republicans have passed nothing that is popular with the majority of America in 2017. And I expect them to pass nothing that is popular with the majority of America in 2018.

The president is inherently the most unpopular president at this point of any president we have had. The Democrats have a generic ballot lead that is larger than any time in the last 20 years. So, we're seeing a situation that this huge wave is coming, and I don't see a president who has only governed to a base to change that in the course of the next few months.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This conversation is going to have to continue off the air. We're about to hit the computer, because we're out of time. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And now, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. In the month of December, two service members died overseas supporting operation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out World News tonight. And I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

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