Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Interior Secretary Resigns Amid Growing Ethics Investigations; Trump Picks Mick Mulvaney as Acting Chief of Staff; Texas Federal Judge Strikes Down Obamacare; Special Counsel Dismisses Claims Flynn Was Set Up; Mueller Wants Sit-Down Trump as Cohen Says President Can't Tell Truth; Protests in El Paso after 7-Year-Old Girl Dies in Border Patrol Custody; Special Counsel Court Filing Show Mystery Players in Russia Probe; U.S. Senate Votes to End Military Aide for Saudi War in Yemen, Condemns Saudi Crown Prince; Continuing Protests in France, Italy Talks Leaving Euro, U.K. Leaving E.U. as U.S. Resigns as World Policemen; Max Boot: Republicans "Becoming Authoritarian Party" with Power Grabs; World Leaders Work to Establish Climate Accord Rule Book. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 15, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:08] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thanks for being with us.

White House watchers trying to keep track of who is running each agency in Washington this week, stop. Because the names on the Trump administration cabinet doors are changing yet again. Shakeup again. I'm not talking about the new White House chief of staff. That was yesterday. Today, it is Ryan Zinke. He's out as U.S. Interior secretary at the end of the month. President Trump making it official just this morning, on Twitter, of course.

Just a few minutes ago, this statement from Zinke: "It is a great honor to serve the American people, as their Interior secretary. I love working for the president and am incredibly proud of all of the good work we have accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations. It is better for the president and the Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations."

New York's senior Senator, Democrat Chuck Schumer, is leaving nothing to interpret in his reaction to today's cabinet shakeup. He writes this, quote, "Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the government like it was his personal honey pot. The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him."

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.

Boris, in his statement that I read just a moment ago, Zinke referred to false allegations and defending himself. Remind us what he is talking about. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Ana. Yes,

the Department of Justice has been investigating Ryan Zinke for allegedly misusing his post as the head of the Department of the Interior for his own personal gain. The inspector general at the Department of the Interior has looked into a number of issues and dealings that Zinke has been tied to, including alleged misuse of agency resources, lavish travel, as well as his connections to a casino deal in Connecticut, and his connections to the head of Halliburton. All of that under scrutiny.

As you noted, Zinke has denied these allegations. In that tweet, he mentions that he doesn't want to spend thousands of dollars defending himself, part of his justification apparently for now leaving the administration. He and the president do enjoy a good relationship. The president likes Ryan Zinke.

The issue for the White House here is the potential exposure. As you know, there have been a number of key departures from this administration under scrutiny for alleged unethical behavior and the White House simply doesn't want another Tom Price or Rob Porter, someone leaving the White House under very serious allegations and tremendous press scrutiny and negative press coverage, which, as you know, Ana, the president doesn't like.

CABRERA: We are putting up a reminder to our viewers of how many people have left the administration so far. It is obviously a lot. And Zinke is one of a few high-level staffers who either have quit or are under extreme scrutiny for how they handled their departments.

Is the timing right now a factor? Because of the midterms? Or is it because of the end of the year, and a natural transition time?

SANCHEZ: Well, Ana, first, we should point out that we were expecting a number of departures from the White House, in addition to the ones that you put up there, so we may need to make some more graphics so they can fit on the screen from how many people have left this administration. It really depends on the individual departure to figure out whether the timing is coincidence or not. In the case of Ryan Zinke, I think it is not coincidental at all. Not only is he facing a lot of scrutiny with these investigations, but with the Democratic-led House, he could be facing a lot more investigations down the road, and the potential to have to testify publicly, which could lead to more negative press coverage.

Of course, with some of the departures, some of these positions, there's usually turn-around. In other administrations, where time simply runs its course and it is time for someone else to take the job, or in some case, the president simply doesn't like who is in that post. As one Republican strategist told me recently after the midterms, the president would, quote, "Take out the trash" -- Ana?

CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you.

Let me get Josh Dawsey in here with us now, a CNN political analyst. And also covers the White House for the "Washington Post."

Josh, did Ryan Zinke quit or was he fired?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Ryan Zinke was asked to quit, Ana. Basically, the White House has been concerned about his behavior for months ever since the Department of Justice began investigating him. When Democrats take over the House, here next month, the cabinet officials, other senior White House officials, who manage cabinet affair, and manage the counsel's office, see him as the most problematic cabinet secretary for potential scrutiny, so he was told he need to leave by the end of the year. Ryan Zinke, technically, resigned but it was a resignation by the reporting of others that was requested by the president and his team.

CABRERA: Josh, the other White House shakeup of the day is the chief of staff position. Mick Mulvaney now in, taking retiring Marine Corps General John Kelly's place. What can you tell us about their relationship and what Mulvaney is expected to do that a Marine Corps general could not?

[15:05:08] DAWSEY: Mick Mulvaney was the president's choice after an extraordinary public spectacle this week of meeting with various candidates and calling on friends. Mulvaney is a 2010 member of Congress, came in during the Tea Party wave, and an ideologue. He ran both the Office of Management and Budget and CFPB. He defanged the CFPB. And at OMB, he called for a smaller budget, pushing cabinet secretaries to cut their spending. And he was not angling for the job, but he was angling for the job. He met with the president earlier this year and he told him he would not try to restrict him, like John Kelly did. He would let the president dictate his own schedule and, in turn, he would respect the family and that he was ethically clean and that he would not leak to the news media. Those are all things the president wanted to hear.

So after you saw the search where the president thought Nick Ayers would be chief of staff, his said no and others said no, the president said pretty abruptly yesterday afternoon on Mick Mulvaney, who will have a difficult task running the White House.

CABRERA: Somewhat ironic that Nick Ayers had proposed a temporary basis for him to be more of a transition White House chief of staff, an acting chief of staff essentially, and that's ultimately what we ended up with in Mick Mulvaney.

Let me read from your "Washington Post" article about Mulvaney's appointment. You write, "At a private dinner this year, Mulvaney told Trump that he wanted to be chief of staff and vowed loyalty to the president's family, including daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, both of them senior White House advisers."

You go on, "Mulvaney he told the president that if he were chief, he would not leak to reports and would manage the staff but not the president, and an answer Trump liked, this official said."

You referenced it a little bit, too, in our last back and forth, but this president makes no secret he values loyalty. And here you say Mulvaney swore it to him in no uncertain terms. Is this what the president defines as getting along? DAWSEY: One of the problems that John Kelly had as chief of staff was

he had an acrimonious relationship with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they frequently told the president that they did not like John Kelly, they were not proponents of him. For Kelly's part, he didn't like their roles in the government and didn't think they should be in the White House actually, and often deriding them for playing government. And what we have seen time and time again, Ana, is that the family is crucial to President Trump, and they win most of these battles. At the end of the day, they are the ones in the residence with him, at Mar-a-Lago, and their advice is something he counts on more than anything at all.

I think what Mick Mulvaney was saying was, listen, sir, I understand you pride family and you want the family involved in the White House, even though others don't like that, and realize that's how it's going to be, I want to respect that. And that is something that John Kelly could not abide.

CABRERA: Josh Dawsey, always appreciate your reporting. Thanks for joining us.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: Confusion today after a federal judge in Texas struck down Obamacare. The Friday night ruling comes just one day before open enrollment for 2019 closes tonight at midnight. Legal experts say, yes, you can still sign up for Obamacare.

Moments ago, President Trump called Obamacare disastrous during a visit to Arlington Cemetery. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good ruling. A great ruling for our country. We will be able to get great health care. We will sit down with the Democrat -- if the Supreme Court upholds, we will be sitting down with the Democrats and we will get great health care for our people. Repeal and replace was handled a little bit differently but it was a big, big victory by a highly respected judge, highly, highly respected in Texas. And on the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people. We will have to sit down with the Democrats to do it but I'm sure they want to do it also.

Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Just to be clear, nothing changes at this moment. But what does this mean for what happens next?

Here is CNN Supreme Court reporter, Ariane De Vogue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Ana, this judge issued a broad ruling and delivered a major victory to opponents of Obamacare. Now not only did he say the individual mandate is unconstitutional, he struck down the whole law. It is important to note, however, that he allowed the law to remain in effect for now, pending appeal. Nothing will change regarding coverage.

The case is likely to go next to a federal appeals court. And then it could land once again before the Supreme Court. The court's upheld the law two times. But now things might be different with new conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Meanwhile, this all comes on the last day of open enrollment for Obama care coverage for most of the country. Supporters of the law worry the court's decision could discourage people from coming forward to sign up -- Ana?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:09:54] CABRERA: Ariane, thank you.

Again, you can still sign up.

And now I want to talk a little bit about all of the fast-moving developments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We have seen 12 days of shocking revelations just since Thanksgiving.

The very latest, an unusual rupture emerging now between Mueller and his star witness, Michael Flynn, the president's first national security adviser, who lied about discussing sanctions with a high- profile Russian ambassador close to Putin. And the special counsel's office ripping a suggestion that Flynn lied to the FBI because he was caught off guard when two agents approached him. Mueller makes it very clear Flynn was committed to his false story, because he had already lied repeatedly to high-ranking Trump administration members, including Vice President Mike Pence.

It also counters President Trump's recent assertions that the FBI said he didn't lie, and that the agency was embarrassed by the way he, Flynn, was treated.

Also, this week, Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, speaking out after being sentenced to three years in prison, saying Trump absolutely directed him to make hush money payments to a porn star and a former playmate. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: First of all, nothing in the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my allocution, and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Plus, a brand-new investigation to add to the list. The Trump inauguration is under investigation. Federal prosecutors are investigating Trump's 2017 Inaugural Committee for possible financial abuses. Prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether the committee accepted donations from people in foreign countries looking to gain influence or access to the incoming Trump administration.

Investigations linked to Trump world are piling up fast. Take a look at this. This the president's administration, his business, his transition team, his foundation, his campaign, and now Trump's inauguration spending, all under investigation, and all this, even before Democrats have taken the gavel in the House and the looming investigations they could pursue.

With us to discuss further now, so much to dig into, I want to bring in Steven Levin, a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked with Rod Rosenstein, the man now overseeing Mueller's Russia investigation.

Steven, of all we just went through, of all I just listed, what do you see as the most threatening to the president?

STEVEN LEVIN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think General Flynn's cooperation is probably the most threaten offing to President Trump. General Flynn's lawyers did an excellent job negotiating a plea and encouraging the special counsel to recommend no jail time. And as we know from the filings, General Flynn spoke with special counsel prosecutors 19 times. Now, we don't know how lengthy these meetings were. But we can assume that there was a lot to talk about during each and every one of those meetings. That's not even including possible grand jury testimony. So I think General Flynn has a lot of information that he has to offer, and I would be concerned if I were President Trump.

CABRERA: We've seen a lot of redactions in the memos, the filings that we've seen on Mueller's behalf of the Flynn case.

Mueller not done wanting to get answers, and an interview from the president himself, including questions we're learning about his state of mind, A/K/A, intent. Is this all leading up to a big showdown, do you think?

LEVIN: Quite possibly. Certain reports have suggested that President Trump believes he would be a very good witness. He would be a very good witness for the prosecution. I cannot imagine any personal lawyer advising President Trump, that he should testify. And so what it may very welcome down to is Bob Mueller going to court after issuing a subpoena and forcing President Trump's hand. But President Trump cannot put a string of words together when he's not under oath, and not tell a falsehood, when he is under oath, according to the depositions that he's had in the past, Bob Woodward reported in his book, "Fear," that under oath in those depositions, President Trump lied 30 times. So when he is under oath, it doesn't seem to make a difference to him. He just can't tell a truthful statement. And that's a problem when you have a client who wants to testify, you have to advise him not to do.

CABRERA: The president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, seems to agree that this president can't tell the truth. He says he is still lying about Russia. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Special counsel did say that you were doing your best to tell the truth about everything related to their investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump is telling the truth about that?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:14:59] CABRERA: Steven, as we've seen over and over again, as new evidence is made public, the president has been forced to change his story when it comes to Russia contacts with his campaign, when it comes to Russia business deals, when it comes to the hush money payments involving Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. What do you think of the strategy to talk publicly even though he is refusing to talk privately with Mueller?

LEVIN: President Trump's strategy is not a legal strategy. Nothing that he says or tweets can help him in a court proceeding but it is designed to help him apparently politically, and it may just do that. But in terms of going to court -- and he's not going -- he can't tweet that he didn't have good advice from his lawyer, and hope that the prosecutor will look at that and say, oh, well in that case, we won't pursue a criminal matter against him. It doesn't work like that. But politically, I'm sure President Trump hopes, and it may very well help him with members of Congress and his political base.

CABRERA: We had Cohen sentenced this week. Michael Flynn scheduled to be sentenced next week. From your legal perspective, how close is Mueller to wrapping this all up?

LEVIN: There's really no reason to think that he is close to wrapping it up. Putting aside the fact he has been the special counsel since, I believe, may of last year, so it has gone on quite some time, but he's had a lot of results and he continues to get results. And the fact that General Flynn offers so much information apparently, there's still Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, there's a lot to be pursued still.

CABRERA: Yes, and I was just going to double check, when you talk about the results, four people now sentenced to prison, one convicted at trial, seven guilty pleas, 36 entities and people charged, and 192 overall criminal counts. That's where we're at right now.

Steven. H. Levin, thank you for spending time with us this weekend. We appreciate it.

LEVIN: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: A 7-year-old girl is dead just hours after she was taken into Border Patrol custody. How exactly did this happen? And how are officials now responding?

Plus, this has been one of the most tumultuous weeks of the Trump administration. Bomb shell after bombshell, revealing new details about previously unknown mystery players. Details ahead, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:21:22] CABRERA: Growing heartache and outrage over the death of a 7-year-old migrant girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody. Protesters are now marching in El Paso, Texas, right now, denouncing President Trump's border policy, saying the death of a little girl is a direct result of the policy's failure.

Jacqueline Aquinn (ph) was detained with her father in a remote part of New Mexico on December 6. This photo was taken of her the day before they left Guatemala on a 2,000-mile journey and made it to the United States.

Officials say she was medically cleared to be taken to a detention facility with the rest of her group. They say her father signed a form before boarding a bus, declaring both of them healthy. But hours later, his daughter stopped breathing during a 90-minute bus ride. She died with her father by her side at a hospital.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in this area near the protests in El Paso, Texas.

Ed, what can you tell us? What is the latest on the investigation?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. This is that small protest here, at the border entry point, from El Paso, into Juarez, Mexico. They have been gathering here, protesting what they believe is the cause of the death of this young girl, the president administration immigration policy.

But the Trump administration has been pushing back strongly on that saying this is the direct result of the actions of her father. That blame game is intensified.

In her hometown of Guatemala, our CNN Espanol colleagues were able to speak with the young girl's family, who described themselves as devastated by all of this. And they also say that the young girl was excited for the opportunity to come to the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINGO CAHL (ph), GRANDFATHER OF GIRL WHO DIED IN U.S. CUSTODAY (through translation): I'm not going to speak that much because I can barely take it. It is difficult for us. This happened because we are very much in need. The girl will jump in happiness that she would get to go to the United States. Very happy and content. But she didn't know. For us, it is very difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: So, Ana, these protesters here as well as many Democratic lawmakers across the country calling on an investigation into those hours that this young girl was in Border Patrol custody. And officials here, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general says they have already launched an internal investigation, that they will make that report public as soon as it is done -- Ana?

CABRERA: Just a heartbreaking situation all around.

Ed Lavandera, thank you for staying on top of it for us.

Mueller's mystery. The special counsel's investigation typically cloaked in secrecy. But bomb shells from recent court filings have also revealed something else -- mystery players. We will explain.

[15:24:04] You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: This White House has seen some wild weeks but this one will stand out for a while. At least until the next one. After the president announced his chief of staff, John Kelly, is stepping down last weekend, the president's first choice to replace Kelly, Nick Ayers, said on Sunday he would not be taking the job.

On Tuesday, we saw one of the most dramatic moments of the Trump presidency in the Oval Office, a face-off with soon-to-be House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. A blunt and angry meeting in full view of the cameras.

On Wednesday, the president's long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison.

That same day, news came that the parent company of the "National Enquirer," AMI, flipped on Trump and is offering substantial and important assistance to prosecutors about the hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

And on Thursday, up on Capitol Hill, the Senate gave a hefty rejection of the Trump administration's policy on Saudi Arabia, voting to end U.S. assistance to the Saudis in the war in Yemen in the wake of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

And as all of this is swirling, we get yet another Russia nugget of news.

Let me turn to CNN's senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, all of the court filings from Mueller's special counsel team revealed some major details but it also uncovered some mystery players in the Russia investigation. Right?

[15:30:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, lots of little nuggets. And as always, lots of mystery as well when it comes to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Let's starts with what happened on Friday here in D.C. at the U.S. court of appeals. There was a mystery grand jury session. An entire floor of the courthouse was closed to the public and the press for over an hour while there was an argument over a challenge to Mueller's grand jury investigation. The arguments are under seal. The plaintiff is unknown. And the special counsel's office has refused, as always, to say anything. So that remains a mystery.

Now another question that came up this week is, who is executive number two in the Michael Cohen charging documents that were filed in New York. They allege that this mystery executive signed off on payments to Cohen, that included the hush money that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels. Now, that executive could be Donald Trump Jr. It could be his brother, Eric. And if that's the case, that could eventually make the president an unindicted co-conspirator.

Now, moving on to former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, whose team we have seen in court in the past week. The Mueller team, his prosecutors have accused him of lying after that plea deal that he struck three months ago, specifically, about contacts that he had with Trump administration officials, earlier this year, after he was indicted. Now that contact included text messages but the Mueller filing last week did not include the names of those senior administration officials that Manafort is said to have been in touch with.

And then, finally, these other investigations involving Michael Flynn and again Paul Manafort. They were tied to another, quote, "investigation beyond the Russia probe." For Flynn, he was helpful to, quote, "another criminal investigation." We're not sure if that is federal or state. And then for Paul Manafort he was linked to, quote, "another DOJ investigation." Again, little is known about what that probe involves.

Ana, as with much in the Russia probe, as more information is revealed, more questions arise.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: No doubt about it. Where is it headed? That's the biggest question of all.

Alex Marquardt, thank you.

An act of defiance from Senators who voted to end military aide for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen and condemned the Saudi crown prince. But will that change anything for the relationship the president touts so much? We will discuss, live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:36:56] CABRERA: An act of defiance from Capitol Hill. The Senate rebuking President Trump and passing a resolution this week to condemn the Saudi crown prince for the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Senators also voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The question now is, how far could this go? And could it force the president to make a choice between Congress and the Saudis?

Joining us now to discuss, Max Boot, CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Max, you could argue that this really was the strongest showing yet of bipartisan defiance against President Trump. Do you think that it is going to change anything? Is it going to put enough pressure on him to, I guess, change the relationship between him and the crown prince and the country?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Not yet, Ana, because we are still waiting for a vote in the House, which House Republican leaders are not going to allow as long as they're in charge, but they won't be in charge much longer. So once the Democrats take over in January, they can move some of these same resolutions, for example, holding the crown prince responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and also cutting off U.S. support for the war in Yemen. Again, this is not going to fundamentally alter the U.S./Saudi relationship but it does increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia. And it also sends a strong signal to investors in Saudi Arabia, who are already fleeing the kingdom, that this is not a good time to go back in there.

CABRERA: You look at the latest polling, and two-thirds of Americans, apparently, believe that the Trump administration should be taking a tougher stance when it comes to dealing with Saudi Arabia. And yet, why do you think the House won't act on this resolution and legislation just passed by the Senate?

BOOT: Well, essentially, because House Republican leaders are acting at the instigation of the White House. And as we know, President Trump reverses to hold Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for this horrendous act. And you can speculate about why that is. I mean he offers his explanations about arms sales, which we know are exaggerated and falsified. He sees Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iran, which Saudi Arabia is doing for their own interest and not a favor to the United States. And we could speculate whether President Trump and Jared Kushner may have business interests in Saudi Arabia that could lead them to have a soft line. Whatever the case, House Republicans are basically running cover for the White House, but they are not going to in charge much longer.

CABRERA: Let's take a look what else is happening around the world. You have protests in France entering the fifth week. Italy talking about leaving Euro over budget woes. You have the U.K. chasing its tale essentially on Brexit, completely unsure where it will be in six months. And the U.S. has largely resigned itself from its role as the world's policeman. Max, how did we get here?

BOOT: Well I'm so glad you're talking about this, because I think this is the number-one news story in the world. This is actually the number-one threat that the United States faces. It is the battle between autocratic populism and democracy. And this is going on not just in this country, it is going on around the world, as you mentioned with that map. It is going on in Britain, it is going on in France. And in places like Hungary and Poland, the autocrats have already won, or in Turkey or in Russia and Egypt. This is really the battle for our time, which will determine whether democracy will survive in its current form and the collusion is by no means a foregone one.

[15:40:13] CABRERA: And you write the U.S. has been in the worst position it has ever been to defend itself, facing harder fights and greater losses. Why do you see it that way?

BOOT: We had bigger challenges in the past, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but the problem today is that we are divided among ourselves and we have the same threat to our democracy here as you see in other countries around the world. For a long time, we said it can never happen here. And yet, you have somebody in office here in the United States who refers to the press as the enemy of the people, borrowing a term from Joseph Stalin, or who engages in this crazy conspiracy theorizing about George Soros in the same way Hungary and Victor Orban does there. And we can't claim we are immune from these contagions that have taken hold in other countries.

CABRERA: You personally learned a lesson this week just how hard it would be for a leader to try to lead a more moderate path forward in this age of extremes. Explain.

BOOT: Well, I had written an article last year praising Macron in France, the newly-elected president, for being a centrist, somebody who resisted the extremes of left and right. And of course, in the last four or five weeks, he has faced unrelenting protests from the Yellow Vests who have a very amorphous agenda, some borrowing from the far left, some from the far-right. They've engaged in acts of violence. And this is a demonstration of how hard it is for somebody like Macron to make centrist reforms. And I gotten some blowback from that online myself, because all of these far-left and far-right Twitter trolls are attacking me for supporting Macron. Now, I am used to being attacked but this is an indication to me how there's a vested interest from what I call the liberal international, both the far left and the far right, supported by Vladimir Putin, supported by Donald Trump. They all make it difficult to have centrist sensible solutions, whether it is Macron in France or Theresa May in the United Kingdom struggling with Brexit. This is the challenge that moderate leaders face in the new age of social media.

CABRERA: Social media strengthens the extremists it sounds like.

BOOT: Absolutely. You never hear about being trolled by centrists, right? It is only the extremists out there trolling and trying to pour gasoline on these fires. And that's a huge problem for somebody who tries to rule in a moderate and sensible fashion. How do you do that when you're being attacked on social media all the time?

CABRERA: Finally, your words, "All too many Republicans are going from opposing the Democratic Party to opposing democracy itself. They are becoming an authoritarian party."

Those are provocative words.

BOOT: Well, I think it is amply justified now when Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin signed a bill taking away powers from the incoming Democratic governor. And you see similar power grabs in places like North Carolina and Michigan. And you have the complete indifference of the Republican Party to the fact that Donald Trump has essentially been charged with being involved in two felonies, by his own Justice Department. And you had Orrin Hatch saying I don't care. Now to his credit, Senator Hatch, I think yesterday, that he spoke maybe too hastily. But I think that line about, I don't care, that reflects what the Republican Party is. And if the Republican Party does not care about reported law breaking on behalf of the president, then they're a lawless party. They are not a democratic, small "D," party.

CABRERA: He did come back and said he regretted his word choice.

BOOT: He did. But I think his indifference is indicative of the larger viewpoint of the larger Republican Party. CNN had a hilarious reel asking various Republicans legislators how they reacted to the fact that President Trump was implicated in two felonies, and they were all trying to dodge the question. And nobody would condemned him, which they certainly would have done in a minute if it was Bill Clinton.

CABRERA: Max Boot, thanks for your thoughts.

BOOT: Thank you.

CABRERA: Good to have you with us.

[15:44:00] Scientists around the world and inside the White House are sounding the alarm on climate change. They say it is now or never for the world to act. This hour, leaders from around the world are trying to finalizing the Paris agreement but are relying on an 11th-hour miracle? What are the sticking points? What happens if they can't agree? We will take you there live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: The clock is ticking at the U.N. climate conference in Poland. It is really make-or-break time at the COP 24 summit where top officials from all around the world are gathered to finalize details of the Paris Accord rule book and are working to establish the guidelines that countries will eventually use when the agreement takes effect in 2020.

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is joining us in Poland.

Nick, what issues still have to be resolved here? Because I understand part of the problem is the Trump administration has caused a little bit of a delay by rejecting some of the science?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You joined me at a very key time here. We are in the middle of hearing essentially the closing update from the presidents of these vital talks.

I have to point out is what is at stake here. The Paris agreement said nations wanted to reduce greenhouse gases, well, this is the place to decide how to do that, the technicalities and the rules, where it verifiably happens.

There have been stumbling blocks. You mentioned the Trump administration. They joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last weekend to essentially reject one of the key scientific reports about climate change, actually saying they didn't want to welcome it into the summit here. That is being fought over all week. It cast a bad tone. But used clever language where it seems they agree, they welcome its timely completion, which isn't the same as endorsing it at all.

[15:50:08] A final hurdle also emerged in which Brazil, the home of the Amazon Rainforest, the lungs of the earth, if you like, were the Trump-esque leader coming into power next year, who rejects a lot of climate science, he, in fact -- well, his colleagues are here from Brazil, and they want a slight change of some of the accounting mechanisms about how people measure emission reductions. That seems to have been kicked down the road and left for a later summit.

But we're hearing from climate activists saying they think, quote, "just enough" has been done here to continue the spirit of the Paris Accords.

It's about an a very tough number of weeks when the president took to the stage here and said that they have got to where they have. There were cheers and pictures of people yawning in the audience.

But there were two takeaways here. One is this process continues, and there are going to be real rules, it seems, around the world for reducing climate commissions, climate emissions that people really do have to pay attention to. A bit of worrying one is there has been bickering about the science. The U.S. did not endorse, which is simply a scientific fact that the world will get drastically warmer in just under 12 years now. So a bit of sadness for those expecting to see greater global unity here, a great consensus, because it's that kind of message you and I need at home to make drastic changes to our daily lives that will stop catastrophe in just over a decade.

The California wildfires, things we've seen in Europe, Puerto Rico's massive storms, all of them can be linked to changes in our climate, linked to man's actions, linked to climate change. That is how important it is here.

Some sense of progress here, but I can't really explain to you how many people come away feeling disappointed. That's been overshadow the about basic denial of science, and by Brazil, at the last minute, it seems, looking to very clearly change the rules to give themselves a better advantage, and that wasn't resolved. Some are saying that is a good thing because it didn't put bad rules into the agreement. Others say it leaves us a serious get-out clause down the line that has to be resolved.

But this was always going to be very difficult and very technical. And 100-plus nations have to feel like they buy into this very complicated document that essentially changes how everybody's economy is going to work. How are you going to get fuel or have economic growth? How are you going to invest in cleaner forms of energy? Some positivity here though, but limited with that caveat, with the general message that we all agree this is as a planet really wasn't there -- Ana?

CABRERA: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

Interview showdown. Sources tell CNN that Robert Mueller is still interested in sitting down with President Trump. Will the president agree? What does the special counsel hope to learn? Details ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:57:10] CABRERA: 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 are for dollar. Here's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top-10 "CNN Heroes" really proves that one person can make a difference. This year, we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Go to CNNheroes.com 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, make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life-changing work. Right now, through January 2nd, your donations will be matched dollar for 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, celebrate all these everyday people with changing the world. You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Go to CNNheroes.com. Your donation in any amount every amount will help them help others. Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Those are great people who can use our help. If you know someone who deserves to be a CNN hero, tell them about this. We want to hear about them. Nominations for 2019 are open and we're waiting to hear from you. Go to CNNheroes.com to nominate someone right now.

Meantime, an NBA power forward helps to save the day off the court. Frank Kaminsky, from the Charlotte Hornets, helped carry a baby down 46 stories of his apartment building during an evacuation. The fire alarm went off in his high-rise after a bomb threat, and when Kaminsky saw one of his neighbors struggling to get her child and dog out safely, he stepped up to lend a hand. Thankfully, the bomb threat never materialized.

You don't have to be a geologist to wish you found this rock in Canada. A lucky find. The largest diamond ever found in North America. Dominion Diamond Mines says it has unearthed a diamond the size of a chicken egg weighing 552 karats. The yellow diamond was found in Canada's Northwest Territories. The mining company says it is completely unexpected. They did not expect to find this diamond, especially one this size in this part of the world. It's too early to determine the stone's value, but it's not going to be sold in its rough form that you are seeing here. A partner will then cut and polish this stone.

[15:59:51] Thanks for staying with me. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York.

Names and titles getting jumbled once again at the White House. The chief of staff, there's a new person in that position after a lot of names bounced around. And today, the secretary of the Interior announces he is out. His replacement? Nobody knows yet.