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Trump Considering Chris Christie for Chief of Staff; Lawmakers Skip Town for Weekend as Shutdown Looms over Border Wall; Cohen: Trump Knew It Was Wrong to Make Hush Payments; 7-Year-Old Girl Dies in Border Patrol Custody. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: BOLDUAN: The former New Jersey governor, turned Trump rival, turned Trump campaign surrogate, and even turned at one point into the head of the Trump transition, that same Chris Christie has met with the president more than once to talk about taking over for John Kelly to run the West Wing.

What does the president have to say? Here he was yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're interviewing people for chief of staff, yes.


TRUMP: Five people, really good ones. Terrific people. Mostly well known. But --


BOLDUAN: CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, is at the White House with much more.

Abby, what's going on here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOIUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the chief of staff stakes is up and running. And apparently, President Trump is interviewing multiple candidates for this role, although we have only heard of a couple of them. One of them being Chris Christie who came to the White House yesterday, apparently to meet with President Trump about this job. A couple of things to note. Chris Christie is often mentioned for jobs in this White House. But it is notable that he came all the way to Washington to meet with the president about it.

That being said, there are some serious hurdles perhaps you could put it that way, in his way. One of them being that there are not necessarily the best relations between Christie and the president's children. Principally, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose father was put in prison by Chris Christie when Chris Christie was prosecuting him. So there are some really hard feelings there on that issue.

But also, we should add, Christie himself has said he wants a bigger job, the attorney general. So it's not clear whether or not he would actually take this. We have also heard that no offers were put on the table yesterday. So we continue to speculate about where this is all going -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And it continues.

Great to see you, Abby.

Joining me right now to discuss, CNN political commentator and former adviser to president Bill Clinton, Paul Begala. Radio talk show host and CNN political commentator, Ben Ferguson.

Hello, friends.



BOLDUAN: Wednesday, he had 10, maybe 12 people who wanted the job really badly. Thursday, he's narrowed it down to five people. Do you believe him?

FERGUSON: Yes, I do. I have talked to several people around the White House that say that he's been going through this list and he's looking at the different qualifications that he feels he needs in this position. I think one of the reasons why Chris Christie is probably a very legitimate chance of getting this job is because of his background. And the president is going to need someone, I think, that can help him navigate some of these investigations. Chris Christie understands how they work in the state level in New York, how it works on the federal level as well. I think that's one of the reasons why they had this meeting. Look, Chris Christie would not have come down for the meeting if he wasn't seriously considering this. We know he wanted to be the attorney general. But this is a really good job. And some people, I think, have tried to undermine the quality of this job, how big this job is. You need a big personality in there, and I think Chris Christie right now would probably be a great fit because he understands some of the things are going to happen over the next two years and could be a great adviser to the president. He also understands how to run a government. As a former governor with a lot of moving pieces, this is something that would fit his expertise as well, so I think that's the reason why they had what I was told was a pretty long meeting.

BOLDUAN: So someone who at least at times has seemed to undermine the importance of the job has been the president himself, Paul, the president operates like no other president. He basically thought for a long time that he didn't or even still doesn't need a communications director. He's now moving on to his third chief of staff in two years. Does he need a chief of staff? Could you see him not filling the role?

BEGALA: I think he needs one desperately. President Carter tried for a while not having a chief of staff. He was a control freak as well, slightly different in other ways from Donald Trump. This president especially needs a chief of staff. Chris Christie is impressive. He comes to the job already amazingly having been the target of a federal investigation where he was cleared but still, there was corruption in New Jersey that singed him. And already having been fired by Donald Trump, so as transition director, so he's through the first two hoops that every Trump aide has.


BEGALA: But my serious advice, I have been there.


I worked for a president who was under federal investigation and lost the Congress. He doesn't need a war-time counselor, which is what Christie would be. He needs a legislature. He needs to draw the cameras and the Congress' attention away from investigation and on to legislation. This is a president who says he's for prescription drug reform, infrastructure.

BOLDUAN: Wait. Do you think --

BEGALA: He could be -- he needs to hire Pete King, Mike Rogers.


BOLDUAN: That's different than what I'm hearing. I'm hearing he needs to be more political than policy.


BEGALA: He's completely wrong. Bill Clinton survived, in part, because we never took our eyes off doing things for the American people. We didn't talk about his affairs every day. We talked about legislation every day and the things we were doing to help people. That's how he got to 71 percent even while they were impeaching him. The Trump people are getting this all wrong. They need to put points on the board ip2019, and they can be political in 2020.

[11:35:03] BOLDUAN: Let me put up a picture --


FERGUSON: Here's what I would say, Kate --


BOLDUAN: Hold on, Ben. I want to put up a picture and then you can talk over me. OK?

Here's a picture for you. The first chief of staff, the second chief of staff, grinning ear to ear. Reince Priebus posted this last night with the caption: "Having a great time at the White House Christmas party."

How would you caption it, my friend, Ben?

FERGUSON: I think these are two guys that get along well and a lot of the made-up so-and-so is not talking to so-and-so, this picture debunks a lot of that. A lot of people who have said something they don't know about at the White House. They're saying it's all dysfunction all the time. If you don't like people, you don't show up for their Christmas party.


BOLDUAN: But don't make the argument it's a well-oiled machine.

FERGUSON: I didn't say it was a, quote, "well-oiled machine." What I said is people act look it's been total dysfunction. The president likes to have big debates. He likes to fight with people around him and have blunt conversations. Sometimes feelings get hurt. It does not mean that people aren't speaking to one another, and I think this picture is just proof of that. People act like they know what's happening, but when you talk to people at the White House, they are having big conversations about legislative agendas and what Paul Begala mentioned. But the president understands something else, whoever the next chief of staff is, as much as you want to talk about the legislative issues, the economy, there's still going to be ever day a mantra that Donald Trump is a terrible person. You have to know someone who can fight back, and that's why Christie's name is there.

BOLDUAN: And someone who might be able to tell Donald Trump to stop tweeting.


BOLDUAN: -- they're all yelling at me.

Paul, give me a timeframe of when it starts getting awkward that he hasn't announced a chief of staff.

BEGALA: I don't think there's a rush. Better to get it right than right away. He's got to get things done for the American people if he wants to earn the support of the American people. He just has to stop tweeting and talking about Mueller.

FERGUSON: He has to.

BEGALA: But he's not pushing any legislation. He should have sat with Nancy and Chuck and cut a deal on infrastructure, prescription drugs, and child care.


BOLDUAN: They have seven days. You know that can happen by then. Just wait for the next meeting.


BOLDUAN: It's going to be kumbaya, Christmas, cookies. It'll be amazing.

FERGUSON: It's the economy, stupid. Remember, Paul? The economy, stupid. Look at the economy. You can't say Donald Trump is not getting things done. BOLDUAN: It's something Donald Trump is often not talking about.

I love you guys and I'm going to cut you off. Bye. Thank you.


FERGUSON: See you.

BOLDUAN: The number-two Republican in the House is calling a government shutdown stupid but says it may be unavoidable. What does it say about Congress and what are lawmakers going to do? I'm going to talk to a Republican Congressman next.


[11:42:20] BOLDUAN: Just one week to go until the government shuts down and the House and Senate have both gone home for the weekend with no resolution in sight.

With the president digging in his heels over funding for his proposed border wall, is there any hope for a deal? Or are we just headed for a brick wall?

Republican Congressman from California Jeff Denham is joining me now.

Great to see you, Congressman. Thanks for coming in.

REP. JEFF DENHAM, (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Kate. Good to be with you again.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

There's no movement as I can see it, we can see it, toward getting a deal to keep the government from shutting down. How do you see it?

DENHAM: I believe the Congress has to do its job. Regardless of the president's position, both Houses, both parties need to come together. This is a fundamental responsibility that we have. And it's disappointing that once again we're waiting until the end of the year, until after session is over to address it.

BOLDUAN: Let me read you what one of your Republican colleagues, Tom Cole, told "Politico" about it. "It's just all politics and theater", Cole said. And he said, "Leaders of both parties have the same thought going into next week's final round of negotiations. Somebody has to lose and it's going to not be them."

But something's got to give. What do you think it's going to be?

DENHAM: At this point, at this late in the game, I think a short-term resolution is in order. Something that would allow the next Congress to actually come in and negotiate a much larger, longer agreement.

BOLDUAN: Do you -- how short term, though? What would you support?

DENHAM: I think you have to give at least three it six months to give us time to allow the next Congress to come in and negotiate something that is much broader. Obviously, the president has put the border wall on the table. But you know, I'm somebody who believes we need to be negotiating an overall solution to our broken immigration system.

BOLDUAN: That's the thing that is -- you're in a unique position. You support funding for the border wall. You also support comprehensive immigration fixes. You have been on the record for this for years. The president has made clear this week that he thinks shutting down the government over funding for the border wall is a political win. Do you think it is?

DENHAM: I think border security is something that needs to get resolved, especially in light of the caravan at the border and continuous attempts to cross our southern border in Texas as well. So I do think that something has to get done, but in a short-term resolution. And $1.6 billion is about all you can spend on an annual basis. Going beyond that, I think you have to have a larger discussion. If you're going to talk about $5 billion or even the $40 billion that Democrats approved with a gang of eight a few years ago, if you're going to talk about a much larger solution, the larger solution should also include our DREAMers, should also include our visa system that's been broken. There are a lot of other aspects that need to be resolved as well.

[11:45:10] BOLDUAN: Congressman, on this, you do think on this the president is wrong?

DENHAM: I believe that if you're talking about a one-year extension or even a short-term extension, he's well within his right to request the immediate funding for this year --

BOLDUAN: Which isn't $5 billion.

DENHAM: -- which is $1.6 billion.

BOLDUAN: Right. But it's not $5 billion. That's what he's sticking on.

DENHAM: No, I do think that it is something we should discuss. It's something we should debate. But we're out of time. And flying us back in an emergency next week or even between Christmas and New Year's, you know, again, I'm more of the mind that at this late in the game, it needs to be a short-term resolution, and allow the next Congress to come in, get seated, committee chairs to get filled, and then actually have a full debate on a bipartisan solution.

BOLDUAN: And have a real debate. That is a novel idea, my goodness.

The president's former attorney -- I do want to ask you -- Michael Cohen, he spoke out this morning after his sentencing. He said the president knew about the hush money payments, knew they were wrong, and did it to help his campaign. The special counsel has said that Cohen's information that he gave to them is credible. Do you believe Michael Cohen?

DENHAM: I believe that we need to follow the full letter of the law on this. And certainly, there should be a much greater transparency than what we have seen.

BOLDUAN: Do you believe him when he says that Donald Trump lied about Russia?

DENHAM: I'm not sure what to believe with Michael Cohen. You know, I think that there's certainly a difference between a businessman that was conducting himself differently than he was as a presidential candidate and differentiating between the two is the real challenge.

BOLDUAN: The thing about it is, it's not just Michael Cohen now when it comes to the hush money payments. It's Michael Cohen and AMI.

Congressman, always appreciate your time. Thanks for coming in.

DENHAM: You've got it, Kate. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

A 7-year-old little girl, 7 years old, she dies in custody of U.S. Border Patrol. What happened? The administration speaking out. What are they saying about it now? We'll tell you next.


[11:52:03] BOLDUAN: A 7-year-old girl who died hours after being taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol has been identified. According to the "Washington Post," the little girl died of dehydration and septic shock after crossing the U.S./Mexico border illegally with her father last week.

CNN's Martin Savidge is looking into this and joining me now.

Martin, what are you learning? What does the administration say?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Everyone agrees this is a horrific tragedy and condolences have gone out from the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. December 6th, 10:00 p.m., New Mexico, remote area, that's when the customs and Border Patrol. They came across this father and daughter. She is 7 and he is 29. They're from Guatemala. They are with a group totaling more than 160 people. They are taken into custody to a neighbor station to begin processing. About eight hours later or more, the young girl exhibits extreme medical problems. She goes into convulsions and it looks like she is having an epileptic fit. They call in EMS. They quickly realize she is in very bad medical shape and they life-flight her to children's hospital in El Paso, Texas, where she died over 24 hours later.

Now the question is, was the way she was apprehended or did the detention process or was she denied medical help or food or water, did any of that lead to her death? That's the question that is only now starting to be investigated here. It raises a lot of controversy because we are dealing with families and dealing with the border.

BOLDUAN: What is the administration saying?

SAVIDGE: The administration is basically saying, look, this child came to us, and once it became clear that she was suffering medically, they rendered as much aid as could be done. They say, at this point, this is not as a result of her detainment, but she was unhealthy before she got there.

BOLDUAN: So tragic, no matter what happened.

Martin, thank you so much.

SAVIDGE: You're welcome.

[11:54:02] BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Still ahead for us, Michael Cohen said he is done being loyal to the president and he insists the president ordered him to break the law. What else he's saying and what it means for the president. That's ahead.


BOLDUAN: I want to show you how you can help the 2018 "CNN Heroes" continue their work. Here's Anderson Cooper.


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[12:00:10] BOLDUAN: And go to because the nominations are open now.