Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Longtime Assistant Interviewed In Russia Probe; Ivanka Trump Flubs Tax Bill Pitch During TV Interview; What You Can Do To Lower Your Tax Bill Next Year; Top Defining Moments Of Trump's Presidency; Thieves Target Christmas Deliveries. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 11:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For having to deal with me, it could have been moonshine...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: could have been something a little harder than a little Cabernet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't buy it, not for Fred though.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I also, just so you know, jumping in your conversation. I don't buy it. I bet you were a sweet little guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was chatty. I was a talkative kid.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hence why you're in the business. I think we were all pretty chatty weren't we?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It worked out - it works out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got notes home, every single week. So, yes I was chatty.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I used to get those notes from my teachers that went home with the report card. It said she's a nice little girl, but she talks too much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes - yes that was good.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I guess we've all been driving our parents to be a little crazy, but hopefully not too draining.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, well happy Christmas...


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: and all that good stuff, good to see you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you, we're handing it over.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you so much. It the 11 o'clock eastern hour I'm Fredricka Whitfield, Newsroom starts right now. All right, with the crush of holiday travel and America's crowding stores and malls for this down to the wire Christmas shopping.

President Trump's Christmas vacation in Florida already under way. Today is the 36th day that he has spent as President at this Mar a Lago resort and the 107th day at one of his properties. All while Trump celebrates his signing of what he calls and early Christmas gift to Americans that sweeping new tax law. Trump cheers what he calls the largest tax cut in history.

The President wanted to celebrate with a traditional year end news conference, but his aids urged him not too. Fearing questions about the Russia probe that - that might overshadow his first major legislative win. And while the President and his fellow Republicans put on a proud face as they head into the holidays. Behind the scenes top GOP members share a gloomy outlook for 2018.

Concerns of a increasingly unpopular President and a series of missteps could cost the Republicans their grip over the House and Senate in the years - next years midterm elections. Let's start with CNN's Boris Sanchez who is near the President's resort in Florida, Boris hello to you.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDANT: Hey there Fred, I hope you're having a happy holiday season. The President certainly is, he headed over to the Trump International Golf Course earlier today. Though CNN has not been able to confirm with the Whitehouse that he is actually playing golf, he told reporters before departing for Mar a Lago at the Whitehouse yesterday that this would be a working vacation.

That there were several areas of concern, that he wanted to drill in with his top staff over specifically he mentioned tensions with North Korea and tensions in the Mid East as well. While the President is here he is expected to begin work on his state of the union address that is said to be delivered in late January. As you know Fred beyond that the President is going to be weighing two major options for the next steps in his legislative agenda. Specifically, what the choice boils down to whether or not to pursue welfare reform, entitlement reform.

Something that house speaker Paul Ryan has hinted should be next following tax reform. Or if he pursues an infrastructure bill and infrastructure plan which he admitted yesterday would've been an easier way to kick of his administration because he believes there is fertile ground on an infrastructure plan for bipartisanship he believes that Democrats would be very enthusiastic in working with him on that. Beyond that the President also has to weigh the political landscape

there have been several rumors for weeks that there will be some key departures within his own cabinet, including rumors about secretary of state Rex Tillerson departing. Which Tillerson has denied, but the President will also have to weigh in on something that you mentioned Fred, this interparty fighting. The risk between Steve Bannon and establishment Republicans which seems to continue to grow through every passing day.

Just earlier this week you had senate majority leader Mich McConnell joking with reporters calling Steve Bannon a political genious for having lost a senate seat in that special election in Alabama which he called the (redest) state in America.

So, plenty for the President to molt over while he is here in Mar a Lago meantime we're still working on finding out whether or not he's actually playing golf, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll soon find out, maybe we'll get a shot or two if that is indeed the case. Boris thank you so much, not a bad place to spend the holiday season. All this talk about the President's big win and where he and his fellow Republicans go from here with my panel, joining me right now is David Sworlik a CNN political commentator and assistant editor for the "Washington Post".

Also with me, Mike Allen former majority staff director for the house intel committee and he also served on the national security council under George W. Bush. Good to see both of you and merry Christmas. All right let me begin with you David. The President is celebrating his first major legislative win, but the tax reform plan remains deeply unpopular. So, is this a win for him and Congress?

DAVID SWORLIK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it's clearly at least a political win for President Trump and for Republicans in Congress. After almost an entire year where they were really not able to get a major comprehensive piece of legislation done and receiving a lot of criticism for it, they got this across the finish line before Christmas.

And even though it is polling (unpopularly) nation wide, if you look into the polls there was a CNN poll this week and Wall Street Journal poll this week. It's totally unpopular with Democratic voters, it's actually pretty popular among Republican voters and that I think is what Republicans on the hill and what President Trump are looking at. That's who they're trying to please first as they head into 2018.

WHITFIELD: So, then I wonder Mike is that partially behind why the President feels like he doesn't necessarily need to (tear up) the tax plan, he's arguing that he doesn't need to really sell it, but that's not exactly what some in his party particularly Senate Majority Leader Mich McConnell believes and he said this earlier in the week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to have to sell it. I think it's selling itself, but I think it will really - you'll see something on Febuary 1st when they open up the paycheck.

MICH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: My view is this, if we can't sell this to the American people we ought to go into another line of work.

WHITFIELD: Oh boy, so Mike very conflicting views there. The plan has been very unpopular with Americans, except that David explained among Republican Americans. It seems to be taking hold. So, there is however a lot of pressure on Congress and the President for them to get Americans overall happy about it. Is it just a matter of wait and see?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR FOR THE HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Well, no I think they're going to have to go out and sell it. There's an element of wait and see like if as we see AT and T and other companies joining a bandwagon that tries to give some immediate benefits to their employees. That's terrific, but I mean back to what we started with, let's begin with first this breaks the narrative that the President has no legislative achievements.

And so, they're able to say that's untrue, second tax cuts bring Republicans together. The Republicans were able to come together on this and so there's this value to our benefit of let's get the basic cited and those are the first two things you have to do in order to grow and initiative to a larger slot of the American people. Independents and lean Democrats and so we have a long time to go before the election, but that work has got to start.

Trump can't do it by himself, but the economy helps him, but yes they've got some political work to do.

WHITFIELD: All right, and this now in the rear view mirror, but you know David there is a report in Politico that RNC Charlemagne Ronna McDaniel warned the Whitehouse that if President Trump backed Roy Moore, the Republican for U.S. Senate in Alabama it would only make Trump and the parties numbers with women worse.

Here is McDaniel's memo and this what it says in part details the Presidents poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states. So, David there are Republicans facing a real challenge potentially next year. How much of an impact might that Alabama race have?

SWORLIK: Yes, so even as we're saying that the President had a win on taxes yet his personal popularity is down and his support for Roy Moore among the many things - unpopular things that he did this year is one of those reasons. He's at 35 percent, I believe in the latest Gallop Daily tracking.

That's not enough to bring the country together, if this were a presidential year he would not be looking good. I'm someone who's sort of skeptical that Republicans are going to lose the House this year. Democrats would have to gain back more than 40 seats for that to happen so I don't think Republicans should panic, but I agree with Mike over that they're going to have to sell their tax plan. They're going to have to figure out how to finesse the President who proved in the Virginia Governors race and in the Alabama Senate race that President Trump doesn't have long (cotails), but remember earlier in the year Republicans won the Kansas special House race, the Georgia special house race, the Wyoming special House race.

So, I think both parties are going to have to look at this year and fight for it. This isn't just going to be oh Trump's unpopular so Democrats win. Or Republicans haven't done enough so their going to lose. It's a to be seen situation.

WHITFIELD: Do you predict David that especially after the Roy Moore defeat that perhaps the President is not going to get out there and campaign on behalf or even endorse any specific candidates for the 2018?

SWORLIK: That I think it's a case by case. Some districts that are red some districts that are still where President Trump is still personally popular, he probably will show up. Or in some states, in other districts Republicans are going to want to keep an arms length distance. In California, New York, New Jersey where the tax bill resulted in a loss of the state and local income tax deduction for wealthy or upper middle class folks who used that to lower their overall federal tax burden. You're going to have some Republicans saying don't come here, we can do this without you, we'll get elected without you. Other states I do think you're going to be President Trump show up.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And Mike you know President Trump you know predicted in a tweet that in 2018 he will start working with Democrats for the good of the country and then passing an infrastructure bill next year will be easy. So, what are the chances of that kind of bipartisanship? Especially after just moments - a few days ago he was talking about the Democrats standing in the way of you know, progress in terms of tax reform or even a budget.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR FOR THE HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: I don't think the chances are very good that the Democrats will work with the President on this. I mean, the President is toxic among the Democratic base, especially among progressives and liberals. You see this in the weirdest ways here in Washington that Senators have to vote against nominees that you otherwise wouldn't have heard of because they want a statistic that shows I voted against President Trump.

A high percentage of the time, and so I don't think it's in their political interest. Republicans certainly aren't going to be excited about boundless spending on infrastructure. So, it's possible, but I would not rank it very high in terms of a legislative achievement on the horizon.

WHITFIELD: All right, Michael Allen, David Sworlik good to see you.

SWORLIK: Thanks Fred.

ALLEN: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. All right still ahead The United Nations tightens it stranglehold on North Korea, flapping the country with harsh new sanctions. Ambassador Nikki Haley declaring quote today we cut deeper. Plus President Trump's long time personal assistant is interviewed by the committee investigating Russia's election interference.

What we know about the women who has been by Trump's side for 30 years, working and for attacks on fellow Republicans to the mystery over covfefe. We take a look back at some of the memorable moments of President Trump's first year in office.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi welcome back. The US is going to provide anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, a State Department official tells CNN. The US State Department describes the weapons as entirely defensive in nature. Meant to help the country build it's long term defensive and deter what it calls further aggression. Since the Russian's (ph) region back in 2014, the Ukrainian government has been asking for these kind of weapons.

The move also comes during an uptake in clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian back separatist in the region. CNN Global Affairs correspondent, Elise Lavit, is following the story for us. And joining us now more on this, so Elise, how was this move likely to play out in Moscow?

ELISE LAVIT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred already the Russians are responding very negatively, as you might expect. The foreign - Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said that this would cause additional blood shed in his statement this morning. It said that the US actions cross the line, now even though the State Department is calling these weapons defensive in nature because the Ukrainians are defending themselves against what they call Russian aggression, this is the first time that the State Department has authorized lethal weapons to Ukraine.

And these are the kind of - these anti-tank missiles can puncture the armored vehicles that that the Russian bank separatist, back separatist are using. And so that's why they're considered kind of lethal weapons but, you know, a lot of people are condemned that this will - the Russians will serve as a pretext to go further into Ukraine, to continue their actions and their incursions into Ukraine.

But, you know, as you said the Ukrainians been asking for this for a long time. Both parties in Congress have been asking the Obama administration, and now the Trump administration, to supply these lethal weapons. President Trump, early in the week followed an action by President Obama to give Ukrainians small arm. But this does signify a kind of ramping up of the US pressure against Russia and Ukraine, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, why has it taking so long? Is it believed for the US to provide these weapons? LAVIT: Well, I think a couple of things. First of all, you know the US never wants to really add more weapons to a conflict and, you know, increase the sector of violence. They've been working on this pressure campaign against Russia with sanctions and that doesn't seem to be working.

But I also think that, you know, the administration has been trying to get the Ukraine government to implement certain reforms, both in the government sector and then the Ukrainian military themselves have been accused of human rights violations and other actions, you know, not as harshly as the Russian back separatist and the Russian government, but they've also had problems with the Ukrainian military.

But, you know, as the US continues to look at the policy, you've seen that there have been these up - up take in clashes. And officials say that President Trump has been really affected by this, very moved by this and finally make the decision to provide those lethal weapons.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Lavit, thanks so much from D.C. All right, in a harsh review to North Korea, the United Nations' Security Council has voted unanimously to adopt tough new sanctions against the rouge state. They're designed to stop the use of North Korean workers overseas and chokes off the supply of industrial equipment and fuel.

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, says the new restrictions are a direct response to North Koreas most recent ballistic missile test back in November. And this has been quite the busy week for the United Nations, on Thursday the general assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the decision by the Trump administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israeli.

That vote came after US Ambassador, Nikki Haley, issued a direct threat saying the US could reconsider it's decision to fund the United Nations if it voted to condemn Trump's decision. CNN's Oren Liebermann spoke exclusively with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and asked him about him about Trump's decision.



BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI'S PRIME MINISTER: It's about time that the United States said, and I'm glad that it said it, you know, this is the Capital, we recognize it. And I think that's going to be followed by other countries. We're now talking to several countries who are seriously considering now, saying exactly the same thing that the United States and Northern (ph) to Jerusalem.

OREN LIEBERMANN: Which counties? Or, from what continents?

NETANYAHU: I can tell you that but I won't because I want it to succeed. And I think there's a good chance it will.

LIEBERMANN: President Trump didn't use the word united, neither did you use the work united right there, you said, Israeli sovereignties Jerusalem is open for negotiations as are the borders. Are you ready to negotiate Jerusalem?

NETANYAHU: Oppositions of Jerusalem are remaining united, safe, and secure city. Freedom of worship of all faiths which we guarantee and (ph) in the middle east. We are just about the only ones that guarantee this this freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. So, that's my vision of Jerusalem. Palestinians might have a different vision, they should come and negotiate.

LIEBERMANN: Are you willing to negotiate Jerusalem?

NETANYAHU: I'm willing to put my position forth, they'll put their position forth, that's what negotiations are for.

LIEBERMANN: President Trump didn't rule out a Palestinian capital or Palestinian city, in some part of Jerusalem. That's OK with you, in negotiations?

NETANYAHU: He didn't preclude out position either. He just said, I'm not addressing that. There's not going to be any peace where Jerusalem is not Israeli's capital. So, he was saying something that is a historical fact but I think it was important to say it. And for the furtherance of peace, I think you have to finally recognize that reality and I think that - it's just happening, it's happening outside the halls of the UN a lot faster than it's happening in the theater of absurd of the UN. But it's happening and-

LIEBERMANN: --You're not phased ever so slightly by the general assembly resolution, are you?

NETANYAHU: It may take about ten years until the absurd automatic majority is against Israeli will change. But that process has begun. The overwhelming response of Asian countries, and all African counties, Latin American counties, European countries, to Israeli, to it's technology, water, agriculture, health, security. There there just - I'd say there in (ph) is Israeli, in a great way. And what will happen eventually is that there's some grace in Israeli, the version of our relations with the world with eventually get even to the theory of the absurd of the UN. It will take time.

LIEBERMANN: Are you ready to openly come here to a two state solution?

NETANYAHU: Well, I'm openly committing to a situation where the Palestinians can govern themselves, have all the powers to govern themselves, except the powers to threaten us. And that's always been my position. I said, you know, this is-

LIEBERMANN: --With a state of Palestine next to a state of Israeli?

NETANYAHU: Depends what that state is, you know? If it's North Korea-

LIEBERMANN: --With whatever qualifications you want -

NETANYAHU: --Well I'm a -

LIEBERMANN: --Even though it's rise of Palestinian states-

NETANYAHU: --Well so then they start saying, well, that's not a state, you know, they start saying that so I'm a - rather than dealing in rams(ph), in naming. I'm just saying, here are the conditions we need. The most important condition that we need for an effective sustainable peace, for both Palestinians and Israelis and for the region is a situation where Israeli has overriding security control.

LIEBERMANN: What happens next? From the big picture whether it's the US or Russia or other countries, what happens next?

NETANYAHU: I think, first of all, you are going to see the continual trend of Israelis increasing ties with the main countries of the world. That's happening. I thing that if we can get the hearts of the people, we already have their minds I think of many of the governments, and if we can get the hearts of the people, that's cause for hope. And I think that's that's the highway to peace.


WHITFIELD: All right, Oren Liebermann thanks so much for bringing us that interview. All right, still ahead, women at Trump's side for some thirty years is interviewed by the House Intel Committee in the Russia probe. What we know about Trump's personal assistant and why investigators wanted to speak with here, next.




WHITFIELD: Hi, welcome back. President Trump heads into 2018 with his first major legislative victory with the GOP Tax Cut Bill. But the investigation into Russia's meddling of the 2016 election is still moving. Many democrats are concerned the President might fire Special Council, Robert Mueller. And the top democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee issued this warning:


MALE: Congress must make clear, to the President that firing the Special Counsel or interfering with his investigation, by issuing pardons of essential witnesses is unacceptable and would have immediate and significant consequences.


WHITFIELD: All right, meanwhile, a new pole out this week shows 47 percent of Americans approve of how Mueller is handling the investigation. Congressional investigators also questioning a women who has been at Donald Trump's side for decades. Rhona Graff, the President's long time personal assistant gained the reputation as Trump's gate keeper during her nearly thirty years working for the real estate mogul. So, what could she know? Alison Kosik has the full story. START VIDEO CLIP


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For three decades, Rhona Graff has been one of Donald Trump's key gatekeepers. If you want to get to him, you have to go through her.

TRUMP: Thank you. Good job.

KOSIK: Even on TV she summoned the apprentices to meet with Trump.

RHONA GRAFF, PERSONAL ASSISTANT TO DONAL TRUMP: Hi, this is Rhona in Trump's office. He asked me to call you and tell you to meet him tomorrow morning at the New York Stock Exchange.

KOSIK: In "The Art of the Comeback," Trump called her "my very loyal secretary."

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": She would have heard possibly heard some of the phone calls, might have been present in his offices for some of the conversations that took place, even sensitive conversations.

KOSIK: Discreet, efficient, loyal, a Trump confidante. As senior vice president of the Trump organization, Graff is so much more than a secretary, according to Trump biographer, Michael D'Antonio.

D'ANTONIO: She's been keeping track of his schedule for 30 years. She's the go-to person if you want to connect with the president through his business enterprises, and even today people will still go to Rhona if they want to reach the president in a back-channel way.

KOSIK: Originally from Queens, the same borough as Trump, Graff holds a master's in education after working in sports marketing, an employment agency got her a job with Trump, according to what she told "Real Estate Weekly."

In 1993, she married Lucius Riccio who was then the commissioner of Transportation for New York City. The mayor presided over the ceremony at the Plaza Hotel, which Trump then owned. Today, both in their 60s, they live on the upper eastside of Manhattan with a daughter in high school.

She's the reason Graff chose to stay at her job in Trump Tower even when her boss moved to the White House. But as Trump's right-hand woman, she's now caught in the cross hairs of a Congressional investigation.

Her name mentioned in this e-mail from music publicist, Rob Goldstone, to Donald Trump Jr. in 2016 promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, "I can send this info to your father via Rhona," Goldstone wrote, "but it's ultra-sensitive, so wanted to send to you first." Now House Intelligence Committee staff want to know what she knows. D'ANTONIO: I would say if there are bodies buried somewhere in the Trump Organization and somewhere in Donald Trump's campaign or his more distant past, Rhona Graff would be able to point where they lie.


WHITFIELD: All right. Alison Kosik, thanks so much for that report.

All right. Still ahead, the GOP tax plan was billed as a Christmas gift to voters, so when could some Americans begin to see the promised tax cuts in their paychecks? We'll break it down for you next.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump spending the holidays at his Mar-A-Lago resort, fresh off his first major legislative win. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, taking a victory lap on the sweeping tax reform bill this week, but then fumbled on some of the details in the plan. Just take a listen.


IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I'm really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April, when people realize the effect that this has, both on the process of filling out their taxes, the vast majority will be doing so on a single postcard.


WHITFIELD: Here's the problem, though, the new tax bill's provisions don't affect the 2017 taxes that are due in April. CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans is here to break down the comments.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, let's clear up those dates a little bit here. The new tax bill won't affect the taxes you file on April 17th. That tax return is for 2017, so it still falls under the current tax code. So, when do the new rules kick in? Well, January 1st.

That will affect your 2018 tax returns, which you will file in April 2019, not April this year, April 2019. But Ivanka Trump also mentioned relief in February. That's true. That's when the IRS will start to adjust taxes on your paycheck withholding less money.

Now, Trump did later clarify her comments on Twitter when someone pointed out her mistake, writing in April Americans will be thinking about how cumbersome the old tax code is and energized about upcoming simplification.

But filing your taxes on a postcard, that's unlikely, certainly not this year, and even next year, as well. The tax bill is not the simplification the GOP leaders promised. There are still lots of credits and deductions to sort through. However, there are a few things you can do right now to lower your tax bill for next year. If you have the cash and you live in one of those high tax states, you may try to prepay your property taxes.

Again, this is for high states like New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, the tax bill caps the state and local tax deduction at $10,000 per year. Some of those states people pay far more than that.

So, if you prepay this year, you can deduct under the old rules of 2017, but you really have to check with your local office to see if they allow it, if they have estimated tax balances that you can try to pay.

Also defer any income you can to next year for lower tax rates. Pay any expense that will no longer be tax free. Work-related expenses will no longer be tax free, neither will tax preparation fees. Try to pay those ahead for the next year if you can.

And make some charitable donations, if your tax rate falls in 2018, your 2017 deductions will be more valuable. Here's an example, for a married couple earning $160,000 and making $1,000 donation, they currently have a 28 percent tax rate, saving $280 in taxes on that $1,000 donation.

But next year their rate falls, so the tax benefit of that $1,000 is only $220. So, it might make a case for making bigger charitable donations this year -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Good advice. Christine Romans, thank you for that.

[11:40:11] All right. Straight ahead, as President Trump wraps up his first year in office, we look back at the highs, the lows, and the biggest headlines from his presidency.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The 2017 almost in the books, and what a year it's been. There has been a slew of major stories to cover, and one of the biggest played out at the White House, of course, with a new president and whole lot of drama.

[11:45:05] CNN's Dana Bash looks back at the highs and the lows of the Trump White House.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's be honest, the first year of the Trump presidency feels more like a decade because of the relentless stream of news. Here's a look at some of the key moments of President Trump's first year in office. (voice-over): For candidate Trump, large campaign crowds were the norm, but at his inauguration, this was a sore subject. The new president grew angry watching reports his inaugural crowd size was smaller than President Obama's. One of his first presidential acts was to order his press secretary to do this.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

BASH (on camera): That's something the president himself amplified while standing in front of a CIA memorial to fallen heroes.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We had a massive field of people. You saw that. Packed. I looked out, the field was -- it looked like a million, million and a half people.

BASH: But the numbers didn't lie, and the episode set an early Trump administration tone, government regulation. It sure doesn't sound exciting, so it's no surprise the Trump administration effort on this was not splashy 2017 news.

(voice-over): But the president withdrew hundreds of regulations. A dull term with a real-world impact, from the safety of the products you use, to the air you breathe.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have reduced unnecessary regulations to a point that this country hasn't seen in years.

BASH: It was a promise kept to Republicans, who argue excess regulation hurts business and economic growth.

The most lasting Trump 2017 accomplishment is arguably the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT: I will do all my powers to permit to be a faithful servant of the constitution and laws of this great nation.

BASH: The seat was open for a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and Senate Republicans' refusal to consider President Obama's pick, Judge Merrick Garland.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You will go down as one of the truly great justices in the history of the United States Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judges can disagree without being disagreeable.

BASH: Getting Gorsuch was noteworthy, not just for the Trump legacy, but for the process.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: It is an extraordinary resume.

BASH: From announcement, to confirmation, this success was the most conventional Trump undertaking of the year. After months of back and forth between Donald Trump and North Korea's dictator, words like "Rocket Man" and fire and fury, the president took his insults to the world stage. His first speech at the United Nations.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

BASH: The rhetorical cross fire continued on Twitter and through regime statements.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: "Rocket Man" is on a suicide mission for himself.

BASH: By year's end, the escalation reached new heights. North Korea tested its most powerful missile yet with the capacity to reach the U.S. mainland.

(on camera): No discussion about Donald Trump's first year in the White House would be complete without talking about his favorite little birdie. He sent more than 2,000 tweets in 2017 alone, from the mystery of covfefe, to a series of really consequential posts, like unprecedented attacks on his own party leadership.

And some head-scratching tweets, this anti-Muslim video sent by a Brit convicted of hate crimes caused a diplomatic rift with the British prime minister. Plus, his claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

Yet the one that may come back to haunt him the most, taunting fired FBI Director James Comey, "Better hope there are no tapes of our conversations." The hands-down biggest 2017 Trump defeat, failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

John McCain's dramatic no vote killed its fate, but Republicans were split how to fulfill their Obamacare repeal promise, one that help them win their control of government. That loss made President Trump and Hill Republican's quest for tax reform a political life or death mission, must pass legislation.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tax cuts and jobs act as amended is passed.

BASH: And it worked.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: The people are going to be very, very happy. They're going to get tremendous, tremendous tax cuts.

BASH: For most Americans, especially working-class Trump voters, will see that as a win, to be determined.

[11:50:05] (on camera): And finally, the most important Trump moment of 2017, firing FBI Director James Comey.

(voice-over): Sacking Comey while he was investigating potential 2016 Trump/Russia collusion caused a political earthquake with aftershocks still rattling the president. Not the least of which, Comey's revelation that he kept detailed memos documenting meetings with the president, which Comey asked a friend to leak to the press.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.

DASH: That's exactly what happened and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russia investigation was a cloud over the first year of the Trump presidency, which so far produced indictments of two former Trump campaign officials and the guilty plea of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. (on camera): What a year? What will 2018 bring? Buckle up.


WHITFIELD: We're all buckled up. Dana, thanks so much.

All right. Still ahead, police are calling it an epidemic, packages being swiped right from people's doorsteps. What authorities are doing to catch these so-called porch pirates next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. This weekend, delivery trucks will be out in force scrambling to get those packages to their destinations just in time for Christmas. That's a fact not lost on the thieves who are also hoping to get their hands on your presents before you do.

CNN's Dan Lieberman is here with more information on the problem of holiday thefts, the porch pirates.

DAN LIEBERMAN, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's good to see you. It's happening all over the country. Package thieves are snatching away people's holiday gifts. In the days leading up to Christmas, I spent time with one police department that's using a clever tactic to try and stop the Grinch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's thinking about it. He walks right up to the front there and then goes ahead --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Takes the package.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): It's something that's happening all across the country. Some of it caught on camera.

(on camera): Are you seeing more packages being stolen this year?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I think it's becoming quite the epidemic.

LIEBERMAN (voice-over): One survey found 23 million Americans have had a package stolen. In this holiday season, maybe the biggest heist yet, with more than a billion packages being delivered as more people do their shopping online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one as well. We're going to be running two teams, make sure everybody is vested up.

LIEBERMAN: This police unit is trying to catch package thieves in the act. (on camera): You have a flat screen tv?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's made to look like a blue ray player over here.

LIEBERMAN: Someone trying to steal this, they'll be pretty disappointed when they open it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely and -- there's nothing in here.

LIEBERMAN: As you see someone trying to steal this, you'll jump out and arrest them?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have two surveillance teams on packages that are placed at people's doorsteps. The chances of one of them being stolen is possible.

LIEBERMAN: Lieutenant Reiner says it's all too easy for thieves to snatch up these packages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a prime example of how easy it is to commit one of these thefts. The package is clearly visible from the road on a high traveled street.

LIEBERMAN: So far, his department's recovered more than 100 items this season that they hope to return to the rightful owners. What do we have here? We have a blender?

SEAN HEBBON, SERGEANT, FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP POLICE: We have a blender, makeup, sneakers, some higher end items.

LIEBERMAN: Packages have already been returned, but a lot of people are still missing their gifts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all have families and we want to put smiles on our children's faces and Christmas morning and just to find out that, you know, an individual stole a package is really, you know, it's heartbreaking.


LIEBERMAN: Now, Fred, victims of package theft are handing over their home surveillance video camera footage to police and it's helping in some cases to actually some these crimes.

WHITFIELD: I'm sure it is. All right, Merry Christmas, Dan Lieberman.

we've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right now.

All right. Hello, again, everyone, and thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. As Americans crowd the stores and malls for down to the wire holiday shopping, President Trump's Christmas vacation is already under way in Florida. Today is the 36th day he has spent as president at his Mar- a-Lago resort and the 107th day at one of his properties.

Trump is celebrating what he calls an early Christmas gift to Americans after signing a sweeping tax bill into law and cheering what he calls the largest tax cuts in history. The president wanted to celebrate with a traditional year-end news conference, but aides urged him not to.

Fearing questions about the Russia probe might overshadow his first major legislative victory. Those concerns come as investigators now interview the president's longtime personal assistant as part of the Russia investigation into meddling into the 2016 election. More on that in just a moment.

First, let's start in Florida where we find CNN's Boris Sanchez near the president's resort in Florida and Merry Christmas to you.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Merry Christmas, Fred. Yes, we actually were able to see the president on the golf course a short while ago. He was near some golf carts.