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Trump Loses Another Cabinet Member; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Leave at the End of the Year; Trump Names Budget Director Mulvaney As Acting Chief of Staff; Major Legal Battle Looms after Judge Strikes Down Obamacare; Judge's Ruling Threatens to End Protection for Those with Pre-Existing Medical Conditions; Mueller Still Wants to Interview President Trump; Mueller Slams Flynn in New Court Filing; Clock Ticking Toward Government Shutdown; North Carolina Bracing For Another Congressional Campaign. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired December 15, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:06] ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining me. I'm Alex Marquardt in Washington, in for Fredricka Whitfield this afternoon.

We begin this hour with the latest shakeup at the White House. The president announcing this morning that Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has resigned and will leave the administration at the end of the year. Zinke departs, makes growing scrutiny over a number of ethics investigations during his time, heading up the Interior Department.

The president also announcing that Mick Mulvaney will be the Acting Chief of Staff. He will replace outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly, who leaves at the end of the year. Mulvaney's appointment puts an end to several days of really confusion after the president's top pick turned down the job and several other people took their names out of the running.

So for more on all of that let's bring in our CNN White House Reporter, Sarah Westwood. Sarah, with all the troubles that Zinke has faced, was this departure just a matter of time?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well Alex, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke is someone whose fate inside the Trump administration has long been considered unclear given the negative headlines he's generated during his tenure and his potential to create new ones as the target of likely Democratic congressional probes.

Now Zinke had faced scrutiny for months now amid allegations that he used his post for personal gain and abused agency resources. Earlier this year the Department of Interior's Inspector General started probing several areas of Zinke's work including his relationship with the chairman of Halliburton and his dealings related to a Connecticut casino project.

But Zinke's departure could help him avoid getting hauled to Capitol Hill where he would've likely faced questions about his various scandals, as House Democrats had already signaled their plan to investigate Zinke's tenure. But of course, Alex, this does set the president up for yet another Senate confirmation battle heading into the new year; he'll also need to confirm nominees for attorney general and for U.N. ambassador.

MARQUARDT: Sarah, and Mick Mulvaney, he was named the Acting Chief of Staff. How much should be read into that how likely do you think it is that he'll actually become eventually the permanent chief of staff?

WESTWOOD: Well it's very significant Alex because just a couple weeks ago the president's first choice to replace Chief of Staff John Kelly, Nick Ayers, that's the Chief of Staff for Mike Pence, negotiations with Ayers fell apart because it was wanted to do the job on a temporary basis, to be an Acting Chief of Staff, and Trump wanted a two-year commitment from Ayers so he had to go back to the drawing board because of an impasse over the length of time that the -- that his choice would hold the chief of staff positions, and just a couple weeks later he settled on someone to be just that, and acting chief of staff.

Now Mulvaney is one of several contenders for the job who initially signaled they weren't interested in taking the position. Another was Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin but Mulvaney now will be pulling double duties, still technically Head of the Office of Management and Budget as he holds this temporary position. The president clearly still doesn't have any front runners for a permanent chief of staff, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, because the chief of staff job is so easy that you can hold down two jobs.

All right, Sarah Westwood, on the north lawn of the White House. Thanks very much.

Joining me now with more on this is Jim Kessler. He is the former Legislative Director for Chuck Schumer when he was a democratic congressman from New York; also, with me is Alice Stewart, a Republican Strategist, and CNN Political Commentator.

Alice, let's start with you on what Sarah just hit on. Was it a smart move for the president to get rid of Zinke now at this moment before the Democrats take over the House?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look this is something that the president right after the election said he was looking into a lot of these allegations against Zinke and he would -- he would act on it at the appropriate time.

And I don't think we need to read too much into this, while there is a lot of investigations going on circling him, at the end of the year we knew there was going to be some staff change-over, we knew some people were going to be leaving, we knew there were going to be some new people moving in but with the probe going on, this is a -- this is the good time to make any changes like this; people who are under scrutiny, now is a good time because we know that the Democrats are full-speed ahead looking at anything and everything they can uncover and unblock (ph) and investigate.

And so yes, in terms of that aspect, this is a good time.

MARQUARDT: Good strategy.

Jim, to Alice's point, Democrats are gearing up for January, getting very excited about the number of things that they're going to able to investigate, they're going to have oversight over so much. Do you think it's worth their time to haul as Sarah said, Zinke back up in front of committees on the Hill to talk to him?

JIM KESSLER, FORMER LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR FOR CHUCK SCHUMER & SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY AND A CO-FOUNDER OF THIRD WAY: Yes. I do. Look, he's -- he's being replaced because for the past two years we've had a Republican Congress, particularly in the House that has completely abdicated and responsibility of oversight of the administration. It's like Inspector Clouseau was running every single committee; that's going to change now with Democrats running the House.

And Zinke is somebody who you know, a lot of scandals, a lot of reasons to be brought up before Congress and the Trump administration can handle bad headlines, they don't like bad television, and being hauled up before Congress with a lot of scandals on television is bad television, he needed to go.

MARQUARDT: Alice, you've advised a number of Republicans [12:05:07], when you look at what the president has done with Mick Mulvaney and agreeing to allow him to be Acting Chief of Staff, do you think that that's because he was tired or angry, this perception that he couldn't get anybody to be his chief of staff so he's willing to accept an acting chief of staff when we know that he had rejected that notion from his first choice, Nick Ayers?

STEWART: What I see this boiling down to is this has been an unconventional candidate, an unconventional presidency, and an unconventional administration so filling these different slots according to how they've been done in the past is something that I'm surprised there haven't been more changes to date.

Moving forward, this role is different than when the president came in. We have the -- looking forward to 2020, we also have actions we need to take with Congress under new democratic leadership in the House, and we also have the Mueller probe circling in so the chief of staff really needs to encompass being able to prioritize all the these as well as looking after the overall communications of this administration and overseeing the -- office (ph) staff part and working with the staff.

So I would not be surprised if this president takes this role in a different direction. A lot of this he can and is doing himself so it's not -- it's not a big deal. I don't truly understand the breathless reporting on the time he is taking to fill this very important role because this is -- this office of the president, how he wants to do things and has been different than any other presidents' have so I think the staff assignments and titles will certainly be different.

MARQUARDT: And there have been presidents in the past who haven't had chiefs of staff. I think the last one was Jimmy Carter in his early years and then...


MARQUARDT: ... things kind of got a little busy for him so in any way.

Jim, when you look at Mulvaney and his profile. He's -- he's a -- he's a -- he's a hard conservative. He is a partisan. He's a fiercely loyal supporter of the president. That's in stark contrast to John Kelly. So how do you think that the White House is going to be redirected and certainly with regards to Capitol Hill?

KESSLER: Yes. So I think Mulvaney gives you something and I think there's something that he doesn't give you so one of the things he gives you is, he's capable, he's a capable person to give President Trump credit for hiring somebody who is capable.

He's a partisan at the time when you're going to need cut bi-partisan deals so he is not right for that. He's not really a campaign person, you're trying to get reelected in 2020 so he's not really right for that. And he doesn't seem like someone who knows how to maneuver around scandals so he's not right for that.

So I think there's a reason why there's acting in front of his name right now, is that he could be the right chief of staff for a president at a certain period of time; he doesn't seem like the right chief of staff for this president at this time.

STEWART: But he is the right person for the job in that he's been a very loyal soldier to this president and loyalty trumps everything else for -- in many aspects of this administration so from that standpoint knowing that he is -- he is truly loyal and has this president's -- his interests at heart as well as the policies are top priority, that's a -- that's a -- that's a big factor.

MARQUARDT: There's also a remarkable piece of video that has surfaced overnight, showing that Mulvaney was not always the biggest Trump loyalist so let's take a quick listen to that.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF & DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET (2016 Video): Yes, I'm supporting Donald Trump, I'm doing so enthusiastically as I can, due to the fact I think that he's a terrible human being but the choice on the other side is just as bad.


MARQUARDT: He calls the president, "a terrible human being."

KESSLER: This is something Mick Mulvaney and I have in common (inaudible). He is a metaphor, what's happened to the Republican Party in this country where there was a lot that stood up to Donald Trump at a certain point in time and really all of them have kind of kowtowed (ph) and come his way. I think it's one of the big problems for the Republican Party.

I'll tell you something else about him. He was a deficit hawk. The deficit went from 660 billion when he started to 1 trillion right now so I think he's got flexible views.

STEWART: Look, I think that is emblematic of where a lot of Republicans are. Look all that has gone on with regard to the personal scandals and the accessed (ph) Hollywood tape, this president many will agree, is little on the shallow end of the integrity pool but that being said, we voted for him for his policies...


STEWART: ... we knew what...


STEWART: ... we were getting when we voted for him. We voted for him to be strong on Immigration, to be strong and Fiscal responsibility, to be strong and reigning in the size of government, be strong and National Security and Supreme Court justices; that was my number one issue and so far we're two for two with this president and Republicans, social evangelicals, and Christian conservative, those are the reasons they voted for this president and he is delivering on these promises that he made.

All of that other stuff, we knew what we were getting when we voted for him but he's delivering on his policies and that's -- that's exactly what his base wants.

MARQUARDT: All right, well we've got to stop there.

Alice Stewart, Jim Kessler, thank you so much for joining.

KESSLER: Thank you.

STEWART: Thanks.

MARQUARDT: All right, well still ahead, Obamacare, is it back on life support? A federal judge strikes down the individual mandate leaving the rest of the law in limbo with the potential impact for millions of Americans [12:10:03].

And President Trump's former lawyer breaks his silence after being sentenced to three years in prison, what he had to say about the president's involvement in those hush-money payments [12:10:17].


[12:14:30] MARQUARDT: The future of healthcare for millions of Americans is yet again up in the air. A federal judge in Texas striking down Obamacare, setting the scene for a major legal battle ahead.

This could once again leave the fate of President Obama's landmark Healthcare Law in the hands of the Supreme Court. The judge in Texas says the individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional so in his opinion the entire law is invalid. Many states are vowing to fight back and appeal, calling the ruling an assault.

While President Trump who campaigned vigorously against Obamacare, takes a victory lap on Twitter, touting the new ruling.

We're joined again by CNN Supreme Court Reporter, Ariane de Vogue. Ariane [12:15:01] very simply why did the judge make this ruling now?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, this is a really broad ruling right, and it's a huge win for the critics of Obamacare and basically, he said not only is the individual mandate unconstitutional but then he strikes the whole thing.


DE VOGUE: He's just one District Court judge of course...


DE VOGUE: ... and he can be appealed and he did say that he would allow it to remain in effect, pending appeal, that's important.

But this was really -- it throws into doubt these -- healthcare for a lot of people and as far as the timing, today is the last day for enrollment so maybe he felt like "OK, I'm going (ph) to sit on it now, this is the last day for enrollment."

But let me tell you just a little bit about the history, how we got to his...


DE VOGUE: ... ruling because remember back in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. It was Chief Justice John Roberts, he cast that vote; he said it was OK under the taxing power and remember that was really controversial...


DE VOGUE: ... conservatives were livid about that.

Well flash forward to 2017, and what Congress said is, we're getting rid of that tax penalty so this judge last night, he said, you have gotten rid of the tax penalty, you've gotten rid of the underlying -- underlying legal justification for the law so I'm going to strike it -- the individual mandate and then he goes further and says, I'm going to strike the whole thing so that is likely going to be appealed.

MARQUARDT: Right. So you made an important point, until it's appealed, and until it's ruled on obviously this stays as the law of the land and...

DE VOGUE: Right.

MARQUARDT: ... the White House actually said as much even though... DE VOGUE: Yes.

MARQUARDT: ... the president was tweeting...


MARQUARDT: ... about it but if we -- if we play this out, we expect some sort of appeals process but this could end up before the Supreme Court?

DE VOGUE: Right. It could. Because keep in mind, the Trump administration declined to defend the law so California and other states stepped in and last night they said, we're going to take this to a federal appeals court in Texas.


DE VOGUE: Now depending on what that court does, if it upholds the breadth of this lower-court opinion, it will go right to the Supreme Court because it so broad. They could trim it back a little bit, maybe rule on standing or say look, "the individual mandate goes but other provisions can remain," you know, pre-existing conditions et cetera. In that case may be the court won't take it but the Supreme Court with major legislation like this is at stake they usually like to step in. And so it's a good chance that they would take it up.

MARQUARDT: And given the makeup of the Supreme Court now, with the additions of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, supporters of Obamacare have every reason to be nervous, don't they?

DE VOGUE: Right. Well you make a good point because the court has upheld it twice actually and also in another case and you have Roberts who had that taxing -- taxing opinion but the thing is, is this is a little bit more though, now than about just the individual mandate. We're talking about one District Court judge who strikes down the whole...


DE VOGUE: ... law just because of one provision. They're going to take a look at that, the Supreme Court, if it gets to them. And also, the intent of Congress, you know, Congress in 2017 did not strike down the whole law...


DE VOGUE: ... so the justices might say, "wait, you know, the Congress' intent is important here and they didn't do it," but then again you do have Justice Neil Gorsuch, you have Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who've -- who've joined this bench...


DE VOGUE: ... so they'll take a look at it, if it gets to them, for sure.

MARQUARDT: Right. Fascinated. Thank you so much Ariane de Vogue.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right, well joining me now to talk about this a little bit more is the Founder of and Attorney, Kathie McClure.

Kathie, you've been outspoken as an Advocate on the need for healthcare coverage for all Americans and part of that is also because you have a personal connection to the story so first off can you please tell us about that?

KATHIE MCCLURE, FOUNDER HEALTHCARE.ORG, ATTORNEY & HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE: Yes. I have two children. I have a son who is now 36, he has Type 1 diabetes, and I have a daughter named Caitlin, who is 34 and she has epilepsy; both of my kids have had these conditions since they were teenagers. There's my daughter there.


(A young baby)


MCCLURE: So I took of this battle for healthcare because I could see that both of my children were going to be uninsurable in the private insurance market.

And so when the Affordable Healthcare passed in 2010 and then when the Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality in 2012, it was a huge relief for our family because it meant that my daughter and my son would always be able to buy a health insurance policy through the Affordable Care Act -- exchanges.

So now here we are, I wake up this morning and my husband tells me, they've declared it unconstitutional, again and it's like a nightmare for our family.

My daughter is a self-employed graphic designer who depends on an Affordable Care Act policy and she cannot buy one anywhere else because she doesn't work for some -- for a company that provides her health insurance.

MARQUARDT: So let's drill down that a little bit more. Families like yours, family members who have pre-existing conditions would suddenly be forced to buy health insurance on the private [12:20:08] obviously unaffordable for so many people. How would it impact your family members and the people you've spoken to because you've traveled all across the country?

MCCLURE: Yes. So it -- this really impacts a number of different -- categories of people. For my daughter -- anyone who is self- employed, who has any kind of health condition is in the bull's-eye on this one because if you have -- if you've had cancer, if you have had some kind of even benign condition, an insurance company can refuse to sell you a policy, except for the protections provided through the Affordable Care Act so my daughter is a great example of someone who is a successful, self-employed graphic designer, she has her own business and because she's ill, the only policy she can buy is through the Affordable Care Act because it protects people with pre-existing conditions.

So she and many others, there are people -- plenty of people for example people who are older like me who are say over 50, nearing retirement and they've lost their jobs with you know, a big company like AT&T or something like that and they need insurance coverage; well everybody who is in a certain age category probably has a pre- existing condition so those people are very horribly effective also because premiums are also regulated through the Affordable Care Act.

My son is less affected right now because he has the privilege of having health insurance through his employer but and the -- you know, the -- another aspect of this is that if you lose your job now then you are -- you're -- you're screwed so to speak because you cannot go out and-- if you're ill and this ruling stands, if you have any kind of pre-existing condition and you lose your job which provides coverage for you, then you're -- you're out at sea again, you're essentially uninsured...


MCCLURE: ... and it -- it is -- this is a devastating problem; the Republicans have never ever offered an equivalent program...


MCCLURE: ... that would provide the protections that the Affordable Care Act provides.

MARQUARDT: Kathie, in speaking to all the people that you do around the country, educating them about healthcare, and you touched on it there briefly, the politics of this all, are you finding more and more that the issue of healthcare and the favorability, the support for the ACA or Obamacare is now starting to transcend politics, that a lot of Republicans have realized that it really affects them and helps them as well?

MCCLURE: Well I would have hoped that would be the case because it only -- it's only makes good sense that every American should have access to affordable healthcare but the Republicans started down a track in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama and with the passage of this law, and with their conviction that they were going to defeat Obama at any turn, they called the Affordable Care Act, the "bogeyman;" they made it into some horrible things, it's going to take away your freedom and set up debt (ph) panels and they scared a lot of people.

But what happened in the meantime, in the last what is it, 10 years now that this law has been in effect is that Americans have had the opportunity to see that this is really a good thing for people.

It's good for everyone to have access to healthcare and these -- even in states like Kentucky where Mitch McConnell is from, they have passed the expansion of Medicaid and millions of people have been benefited by the expansion of...


MCCLURE: ... Medicaid and this ruling affects that as well as your last speaker just said.

This will be a -- this will be a death knell not only to people with pre-existing conditions but people on Medicare also young people who have insurance through their parents up to age 26. It's a -- it's a wide-reaching law and this ruling would have devastating effects not only to individuals but also to the healthcare system as a whole.

MARQUARDT: Right. Well a lot more needs to happen before this ruling would go into effect but it certainly is making a lot -- a lot, millions of Americans nervous this morning.

Kathie McClure, thanks very much.

MCCLURE: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Up next, Robert Mueller is still interested in a sit-down interview with President Trump as dominoes fall in the Russia probe. What does the special counsel hope to learn? More, straight ahead [12:24:24].


[12:28:54] MARQUARDT: Revelations about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's focus in the Russian investigation have been coming fast and furious this week and now sources are telling CNN that Mueller says he still interested in interviewing President Trump face to face. This comes as Michael Cohen, Trump's former Fixer and Attorney says that the president is lying about key aspects of the special counsel's investigation.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: The man doesn't tell the truth and it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You lied for him for a long time.

COHEN: More than 10 years.


COHEN: Out of loyalty.


MARQUARDT: And now, Mueller is slamming one of his other cooperating witnesses, Michael Flynn, for claiming that he lied to FBI agents because they set him up.

So far more on all of this, CNN's Erica Orden is with us from New York.

Erica, this pushback from Mueller against Michael Flynn, do we think that it's going to have an impact on his sentencing on Tuesday?

ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER COVERING SPECIAL COUNSEL PROBE & LAW ENFORCEMENT IN NEW YORK: Well, the impact it may have is that the judge will likely seek to elicit more information from both sides, from Michael Flynn's attorneys, and from the special counsel prosecutors on some of the back and forth that has occurred in the -- or that has taken place in the court filings over the last couple of weeks.


It doesn't seem likely that the -- what's happened so far may -- will have an impact on the actual sentence given that the special prosecutors -- special counsel prosecutors have taken care to outline and emphasize the extent of Michael Flynn's cooperation and efforts to be useful to their investigation.

MARQUARDT: So as we reported off the top there, Mueller as we've heard still wants to talk to President Trump in a sit-down one-on-one setting. His -- the president himself and his lawyers have said that that's not going to happen. How are they reacting to this development?

ORDEN: They seem to be somewhat displeased about it. The -- Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney said yesterday that he was disgusted with the special counsel's approach to this. They've pushed back the entire time about -- to the idea that the president would sit for an interview, and there was this sort of interim step in which the president answered written questions. But it appears that the special counsel has continued to be and has more recently emphasized his interest in indeed sitting down with the president.

MARQUARDT: For which he would have to subpoena the president to actually get that to happen.

ORDEN: Potentially.

MARQUARDT: We also know that Trump -- or we're hearing that Trump was in attendance for a 2015 meeting between Cohen, his lawyer, and David Pecker who's the chairman of American Media Inc. which is the owner of National Enquirer. And together they discussed the plan to shield Trump from damaging stories during the campaign. So what does that tell us about the president's personal liability in all of this?

ORDEN: Well, the fact that the president was at this meeting, it complicates his ability to say that this scheme was executed in service of the -- or to deny that the scheme was executed in service of the campaign, which is one of the major factors in this being a -- in -- that being a criminal matter. So it eliminates -- it somewhat eliminates or challenges his ability to say that these payments were made let's say. Or that these stories were killed in service of protecting his personal image or his company brand which is -- are some of the arguments that have been tossed about in terms of, you know, arguing that this is not a criminal situation.

MARQUARDT: All right, Erica Orden, thanks so much.

ORDEN: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Now, as we've just heard from Erica, there is a lot to break down. So for more let's bring in Michael Zeldin, the former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Cohen, Michael as we know has lied before. But when asked why we should believe him now, Cohen said that the special prosecutor has substantial information that shows he is telling the truth. So what was your reaction when you heard that last line in that interview with George Stephanopoulos?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER'S, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT DOJ: My reaction was if it is in fact true that Cohen's statements can be corroborated by information that we don't know yet because they haven't been revealed publicly. And can further be corroborated by David Pecker and AMI in their non-cross agreement, then the president has a stronger problem on his hands than it was just Cohen versus Trump.

MARQUARDT: All right, Michael, let's listen quickly to that piece of tape where Cohen says that the president knew that the hush money payments were wrong. Listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters, including the one with McDougal which was really between him and David Pecker and then David Pecker's counsel. I just reviewed the documents in order to protect him. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?

COHEN: Correct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.


MARQUARDT: So Michael, given that Michael Cohen is saying that he's willing to continue to cooperate with the special counsel's office, what does that mean, what he just said mean for his legal strategy?

ZELDIN: Well, that is part of the effort that the Mueller team, if they're going to pursue this or the Southern District of New York, if they're going to pursue this, has to be able to establish. Now, it may be that they cannot indict a sitting president if this is a criminal offense worthy of indictment, but the outlining of the story I think is important for people to understand. I think it's really important from a, you know, sort of historical perspective to understand at the end of this investigation by Mueller, the Southern District, the District of Columbia, what exactly happened so that we can understand it and that we can take precaution against it happening again.

[12:35:06] For Cohen personally, of course, he has a year within which to continue to cooperate to try to further reduce his three-year sentence. So he's got plenty of incentive to continue to cooperate to help himself.

MARQUARDT: All right. And there's also this investigation of possible financial abuses relating to contribution to the inaugural committee when Trump came into office. How big a deal is that compared to everything else that's also being investigated?

ZELDIN: Well, you know, these are mosaic pieces that the Trump world has to address. That inauguration concerns are two-fold. One is that domestic donators, many wealthy American citizens made contributions to the inauguration into a super PAC for Trump in order to influence, you know, some of the decision-making, sort of quid pro quo I'll donate to the inauguration and you'll help me in another way. That's illegal if provable.

The second is funneling foreign donations through store purchasers to do the same thing that is effect policy or build relationships. We know that one person, Sam Patten has already pleaded guilty and admitted to having done this on behalf of a foreign company that he was lobbying on behalf of. And so it's serious stuff both domestically and internationally, and the investigations were told in the early stages. And so we have to wait and see, but I think that this is not something to be taken lightly if you're the Trump Organization.

MARQUARDT: Another piece of this ever growing mosaic as you put it is Michael Flynn. He, of course, was -- he pled guilty to lying to FBI agents. He struck a plea deal. What do you make of Mueller's response to Flynn's lawyers on Friday that he lied because he was caught off guard by FBI agents when they were questioning him last year?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that the filing by Flynn's lawyers challenging in the sense that propriety of the FBI's behavior toward him that gave rise to those lies was, to me, pretty startling because in a sense it's as if he's contesting that which he already pleaded guilty to. They are at the same time trying to argue that he's contrite, and he's accepted responsibility. These things to me seem self-contradictory. You can't be contrite and accept responsibility and then say at the same time that the FBI, you know, sort of tricked you into these lies.

Mueller properly responded to say --


ZELLDEN: -- you weren't tricked, You knew what you were doing. You pleaded guilty to it. We're not going to hold this pleading against you in respect to contrition and acceptance of responsibility. But we're not going to let it stand on the public record that the FBI in our estimation behaved inappropriately towards you.

So it was a very mysterious filing by Flynn's lawyers as far as I'm concerned.

MARQUARDT: Yes, it's actually saying you have no excuse to be naive. You have a long history in the military, in the government, someone in your position should not -- should know that lying to FBI agents is illegal.

All right, Michael Zeldin, thank you so much for joining us.

MARQUARDT: Still ahead, we are now just days away from a potential partial government shutdown, but what would that mean for the men and women who keep Americans safe every day? We will ask a former Secret Service agent.

That's next.


[12:42:53] MARQUARDT: By this time next week, the U.S. Government may be in the midst of a partial shutdown. And that would mean that hundreds of thousands of federal employees would have to go to work without getting paid if lawmakers can't reach a deal on the spending bill by this coming Friday.

So, joining us now is Jonathan Wackrow, he once served as a Secret Service agent for President Obama. The Secret Service being one of the agencies that would be impacted.

Jonathan, when you look ahead to this potential partial shutdown, how does that immediately impact law enforcement?

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, listen, there's a great impact here. When you're looking at, you know, some of the government reporting that's coming out that says 420,000 federal employees will be affected by this partial shutdown, I think you have to look at the impact to that. Now, currently the government has almost two million employees, so, that's why they're calling this a partial shutdown.

But it's really important to understand that the greatest impact is that over 41,000 federal law enforcement officers are going to be working during this, you know, potential shutdown, many of which are not getting paid.

So, if you were to actually look at, you know, some of this -- you know, how does an agency determine who works and who doesn't work, it really comes down to essential personnel, mission critical employees. The Department of Homeland Security refers to them as exempt employees. And these are, you know, employees that are critical to, you know, protecting human life and protecting property.

So this can be, you know, if you look at the Secret Service, these are the uniformed division officers that are standing post 24 hours a day around the White House. These are special agents that are, you know, working to protect the president, the vice president, their families and foreign dignitaries that come to the United States.

But it's also important to understand Alex, what's not happening. What's not happening is, you know, law enforcement is not working a long-term investigations anymore because it's not mission critical to life and property.


WACKROW: They're not engaging in, you know, court proceedings.


WACKROW: They're not, you know, engaging in regulatory ill functions. So, there is a measured impact to the law enforcement activity by federal law enforcement, you know, throughout the United States.

[12:45:00] MARQUARDT: Yes, and this would be infuriating, I imagine, for these agents and officers at any time of the year, let alone right before the holidays when they would have to be working anyway. So -- and now they're not getting paid to do it. So, what kind of toll does that take on them, on their families? What do you hear from your fellow agents and law enforcement officers?

[12:45:21] WACKROW: Well, listen, this is a level of frustration that's just compounded by the season. Yesterday, December 14th, federal law enforcement officers in the other 420,000, you know, potential employees that are impacted received their last paycheck in advance of this potential shutdown. So that means that, you know, individuals who are potentially working without pay and who are just not going to receive pay, you know, had their last paycheck tomorrow. So they have to make critical, you know, decisions, you know, for their family and their household what bills to pay.

Do I pay my mortgage come January 2nd? You know, it's really family budgeting, so this has a real measured effect on every single employee that's personal at this time of year.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, hopefully that won't come to pass.

Jonathan Wackrow, thanks so much.

WACKROW: Thank you very much.

MARQUARDT: And we'll be back right after this.


[12:50:38] MARQUARDT: There are new signs that North Carolina officials will order an election redo in the state's 9th congressional district. Republican Mark Harris admitted in a local T.V. interview that he personally hired an operative who allegedly committed voter fraud by illegally collecting mail-in ballots.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is following those developments.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alex, that's right, Mark Harris sitting down for this interview likely responding to pressure he's facing from his own party. Just before speaking out, a memo was circulating among Republican leaders in the state calling on him to respond to these allegations. He said that he did personally hire McCrae Dowless, that operative who's at the center of all of this. But he also said that he had absolutely no idea of any illegal activity.

Take a listen.


NICK OCHSNER, WBTV: At any time did you have any indication that McCrae Dowless was doing something that might be illegal?

REP. MARK HARRIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA. No, absolutely not.

OCHSNER: And had you have that, would you still have continued to employ him?

HARRIS: No, I would not have. Again, we kept emphasizing again and again that when he was describing the ballot to us. And in fact, when you get down to a heinous description of the program, he was being vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.


HOLMES: And he was also asked about the lack of Republican support which he acknowledged. Now, Republicans in addition to calling on him to respond to these accusations have also publicly said there's likely going to need to be a new election. And the state legislature which is controlled by the GOP passing a mandate that's now at the governor's desk that any kind of new election activity would have to be linked to a new primary. Essentially saying we want a second chance to get our candidate right this time. And so not a lot of confidence there in Harris.

Now, this is completely different than what you're seeing on the Democratic side, his opponent Dan McCready is getting a lot of national attention, national support, even getting a fundraising e- mail from Elizabeth Warren sent out on his behalf.


MARQUARDT: All right, our thanks to Kristen Holmes.

Now, coming up at the top of the hour, more questions than answers after a judge strikes down a key provision of ObamaCare. This as the White House sees another shake-up in the cabinet. Interior secretary Ryan Zinke is now the one stepping down.

More on all of that coming up.

But first in this season of giving, we want to show you how you can help our 2018 top 10 CNN heroes continue their important work and have your donations matched dollar for dollar. Here's Anderson Cooper on that.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top 10 CNN heroes really proves that one person can make a difference. And again, this year, we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to and click donate beneath any 2018 top 10 CNN hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fundraiser on crowd rise.

You'll receive an e-mail confirming your donation, which is tax deductible in the United States. No matter the amount, you can make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life changing work.

And right now through January 2nd, your donations will be matched dollar per dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's honorees. CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all these everyday people who are changing the world.

You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Just go to Your donation in any amount will help them help others.



MARQUARDT: Such great people who can use our help. And so if you know someone who deserves to be a CNN hero, nominations for the next year, 2019 are open. You can tell us about them at


[12:59:08] MARQUARDT: Join CNN as we celebrate the incredible story of comedy great and legend Gilda Radner in her own words. "Love, Gilda", a CNN film premieres New Year's Day at 9 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

We have much more ahead in the NEWSROOM, and it all starts right now.

Good afternoon, thanks for joining me. I'm Alex Marquardt in for Fredricka Whitfield this Saturday afternoon. And we start with another day, another staff shake-up in the Trump administration.

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke is out amid growing scrutiny over a number of ethics investigations. He now joins the long list of administration departures. And, this comes at the same time as Trump names a budget -- names Budget Director Mick Mulvaney also as his acting chief of staff. He's a man who once called Trump a, quote, terrible human being.

Now, despite all of this turnover, the president is praising a federal judge in Texas for striking down Obamacare.