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Trump Blinks on Border Wall Funding?; Trump Foundation Dissolving. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 18, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In our money lead today, another investigation is coming to a head for President Trump and his family.

The president and the Trump Foundation today cut a deal with the New York state attorney general to shut down the charitable foundation after allegations that the president and his family were essentially using it as a personal piggy bank during the 2016 campaign, taking charity donations to pay off debts and more.

Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell.

And, Kara, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, a Democrat, came down hard on the Trump Foundation today.


So, Underwood took a bit of a victory lap today, issuing a statement announcing the dissolution of the Trump Foundation. And in that statement, she said this amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's business and political interests.

She went on to say, this is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone.

And, of course, Underwood had sued the Trump Foundation earlier this year, alleging that they were basically using the foundation for Donald Trump's personal business expenses, including, you know, raising money before an Iowa caucus and then having those donations go to -- from the foundation go to payments there.

They also allege that he had used money raised in the foundation to settle legal issues, lawsuits involving Mar-a-Lago and also a Trump golf course.

And the one that we all remember, I think, is that they also used the foundation here to pay for a painting of Donald Trump that he had that was hanging at Mar-a-Lago.

So Underwood's lawsuit is alleging that this was all illegal campaign, finance violations and misuse of funds from this charity, Jake.

TAPPER: Now, despite this deal, the lawsuit is ongoing. Prosecutors are still after $2.8 million in restitution. And they also want to ban President Trump and his family from serving on any other charity boards in New York. The Trump attorney called the New York attorney general's statement today misleading.

On what basis are they saying that the New York attorney general is being misleading?

SCANNELL: Well, the Trump Foundation is really taking issue with this because, ever since Trump won the nomination, the foundation essentially said it was shutting down.

So, since December of 2016, they signaled to the New York attorney general's office that they wanted to shut this down, and it's effectively been doing nothing since January of 2017.

But as this legal issue has gone through, the lawsuit involving the foundation, the Trump Foundation has asked the judge repeatedly, can we please dissolve this? And the A.G.'s office didn't want them to do that because they were still investigating the foundation.

And so even at one point at a hearing, the judge said, well, shouldn't we get to the point where we dissolve this? So that leads us to where we are today, Jake. It's finally dissolved now, even though it has been essentially a shell for the past 18 months.

TAPPER: All right, Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Anne Milgram. She's a former attorney general for the state of New Jersey.

Thanks so much for being here, Anne.

When this lawsuit first came up this past summer, the president denied his foundation had done anything wrong. If this agreement goes through, if it's approved by a judge, does that mean that the president is essentially admitting they had done wrong?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't think it's an acknowledgment that they have done -- at least from the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization, it's not an acknowledgment, per se.

But to you and I and to normal people who sort of read what is happening, the short answer, I think, is yes. So, in the legal sense, it's not going to be a formal apology or acknowledgment, but the fact that they're dissolving, it's very clear that they could not beat this lawsuit, that there was ample evidence that they had -- when you have a (c)(3) charity, you can't use it for political actions.

You can't use it to pay legal settlements. So they have taken a number of actions that violated campaign finance laws and other laws. And so here I think the bottom line was that it would have been shut down had they continued to fight it. And so they have agreed to dissolve it.

[16:35:01] TAPPER: So, as you note, this is an acknowledgment by the attorney general at least, if not by the Trump team, that the president and others violated campaign finance laws.

But, unlike the president's former attorney Michael Cohen, who committed campaign finance fraud and felonies, in addition to other crimes, no one is going to prison or facing any sort of criminal penalty that I can see.

Might that change, or is that pretty much where it is?

MILGRAM: Well, for what we know right now.

This was brought as a civil suit by the New York attorney general. They largely only have civil authority in New York. They have a few criminal laws and statutes, but they don't have full criminal jurisdiction. So this kind of an investigation into campaign finance, it wouldn't be done by them. It would be done by one of the federal prosecutor's offices or, if there were other allegations of wrongdoing, it could be done by a local prosecutor.

So I think it's too early for us to say whether or not there are other charges that potentially could stem from this. But it's certainly -- you know, the questions that you would ask for campaign finance, is it over the amount of a donation to a candidate here would likely be, we're talking about millions of dollars, depending on the payments.

And then it could also potentially be a question of, did the president -- was it knowing and willfully done by him? And so that's the kind of thing they would ask.

TAPPER: But the New York attorney general is still pressing forward with other parts, other punishments that she is seeking, including a restitution, so returning money that I guess people had given to the foundation, and also banning President Trump or any of his children, anybody who had served on the Trump Foundation board, from serving on any other charitable board in New York.

Is that normal? Or...

MILGRAM: I think it's extraordinary. And let's start there, because I do think it's extraordinary.

Basically, what the A.G. is saying is they have failed in their fiduciary duties to the nonprofit organization in such an enormous way, that they are not qualified to sit on the board of any nonprofit charity in the state of New York.

And New York is all that the New York A.G. can control. So, she couldn't say beyond New York. But she's basically said these people have no business overseeing any of the funds or activities of any nonprofit in the state.

That's a pretty extraordinary thing to say and to go after, and that's Donald Trump and all three of his kids. And as to the money, you're right. Basically, the A.G. has alleged extensive amount of harm and has basically said there's $2.8 million that needs to be paid back, because that money was inappropriately spent by the foundation.


To be continued, I guess, because that case goes forward.

Anne Milgram, the former attorney general for the great Garden State, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

The president said he would take the blame for a shutdown, but now he says it's up to the Senate.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead now, more confusing messages from the White House today over the government shutdown that the president said he would gladly force if not given $5 billion in funding for his border wall.

This morning, the White House press secretary conveyed that the president had blinked, saying that they didn't need Congress to give them the money for the wall after all.

Then, this afternoon, Sanders asserted that the White House is frustrated that there hasn't been a vote yet in Congress to avoid the government shutdown, as if the holdup has not been almost entirely the president's doing this whole time.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now live from the Hill.

Phil, we're four days away from this partial government shutdown. The White House is basically saying to Congress, send us a bill, maybe we will sign it, maybe we won't. What's Congress going to do?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little bit up in the air.

When I relayed what Sarah Sanders had said about sending the White House bill to a Republican senator earlier today, he said, that's amusing.

And the reason why it's amusing for both Republicans and Democrats is they have essentially been frozen over the course of the last week waiting to find out what the president wants, what the president is willing to sign.

Jake, here's where things stand right now. For all intents and purposes, bigger-picture negotiations have broken down, and Republicans and Democrats acknowledged that, at this point, the only way to avoid a shutdown on Friday is likely a short-term continuation of funding at its current levels into January or perhaps early February.

Both Democrats and Republicans are amenable to that, according to sources that I'm talking to. The real question right now, as it has always been, remains, is the president willing to sign that? He obviously wouldn't be getting any wall funding for that. Is he willing to say yes to that?

That's what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was going to try and find out this afternoon. And once they get an answer to that, people up here on Capitol Hill should know the pathway forward.

TAPPER: And, Phil, Republicans did pitch an idea to Democrats about an idea for how to fund Trump's border wall. But it sounds like Democrats think that they don't have to go along with anything when it comes to the border wall.

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, for a brief moment this morning, after days of nothing really happening, it seemed like a bigger-picture deal, a seven-bill kind of appropriations process, to translate that, a large funding bill, was actually a possibility.

So, the White House and Senate Republicans putting on the table that they would come down from the $5 billion wall funding request the president had, settle for about $1.6 billion. But they added on another-billion dollar fund that they could use to pursue their immigration policies.

Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer both rejected that. And that's why where we are where we are right now, which is the only solution both sides say is really on the table, if they want to get out of town by Friday night, is a short-term solution.

And that means, Jake, if the president agrees to that, we will likely be back in the same place in just a matter of weeks.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with my experts here.

Sanders also commented on other alternatives that the White House is looking into to fund the wall. Take a listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has asked every one of his Cabinet secretaries to look for funding that can be used to protect our borders and give the president the ability to fulfill his constitutional obligation to protect the American people by having a secure border.


TAPPER: As I understand it, the only way the president could do that is to go to Congress and get the Appropriations Committees to go along with whatever Cabinet secretaries say in terms of, here's a billion for you here, a billion for you there.

Is that realistic? [16:45:00]

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, he could also he can ask them to fund an older bill from 2006 where many of them did actually vote for physical borders. And then, of course, it was sort of gutted later but --

TAPPER: They never fired the drill.

HAM: There were some -- yes. So there are some options here. And look, I think he was elected in large part on this promise. It's not an unpopular promise. A lot of Democrats have backed this kind of thing in the -- in the past. It would be not a terrible deal to make if they had a strategy for putting this line in the sand and making that deal, but they have no strategy for doing that so he just sort of dances around.

He'll get a deal that he doesn't like and then he'll complain about it on Twitter. And by the way, we'll be done by Friday because they want to go home.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say we can make this very simple for President Trump. He needs to show the base he's making progress on the border. You don't need to threaten a shutdown fight to do that. You have had money in the bank of a billion or so dollars. You need to put that money to use today. Go down to the border. Show some fencing show us what it's going to look like rather than threatening a shutdown. Especially when you have Sarah Huckabee Sanders up at the podium saying, oh well, we can find the money. Well, if that's true, go find everybody and start building the fence. Don't shut down the government.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to be clear it's not true. So very quickly, appropriate -- we have in our government appropriations for a reason. And so if the United States Congress says this is what you have to use the money for Department of Homeland Security, that is what Department of Homeland Security has to use the money for. They don't just see it to arbitrarily decide where the money goes which way in that. So that's why I'm saying it's active you saying Sarah Huckabee Sanders isn't qualified because it's really not --

CARPENTER: Well, there's previously been money to operate is my point.

SANDERS: But I will say this, the President during his campaign said Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Now all of a sudden, we have to find taxpayer dollars to pay for the wall. There are two good-faith offers on the table from Democrats. One that the government can fund -- can pass the six bipartisan appropriation bills and then pass a continuing resolution for one year for the Department of Homeland Security, or two we can just pass one continuing resolution for all of the appropriation bills for a year and then we'll still be back here. But those are the options on the table. He isn't about to get that wall. TAPPER: And Paul, you heard Phil said -- Phil Mattingly said that a Republican senator said he found it amusing that Sarah Sanders said that they were impatient. Take a listen to Sarah Sanders suggesting that they're tired of waiting for Congress to act on the government funding.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: At this point, the Senate is throwing out a lot of ideas. We're disappointed in the fact that they've yet to actually vote on something and pass something. So when they do that, we'll make a determination on whether or not we're going to sign that.


TAPPER: Just to be clear, the Republican Senators and Republican members of the House have been waiting for President Trump to say what he's willing to sign because he's been demanding $5 billion for a border law.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. The Republicans still control the Senate and the House and the White House and yet they're sniping at each other. It is -- Symone makes really good point though. The President -- to your point Mary Katharine, the President campaigned on a wall that Mexico would pay for. It was so well known that the people at his rallies would chant it with him so we don't have to worry. We the American people don't have to pay for it.

And the notion that he can somehow impound funds from other agencies is unconstitutional. Article 1 Section 8 makes it really clear only Congress can spend money. Congress appropriates money. He can't say, well, we don't need quite so much for veterans or law enforcement or disabled children. I'm going to take that and build my wall. You can't do that. Congress can spend the money, presidents cannot. And he didn't even understand that. I think he has to go back to schoolhouse rock.

HAM: But there -- but there are things that have been authorized in the past. And this is why --

BEGALA: But they're appropriated.

HAM: -- this is why -- I know -- I know. And you can ask for them to be appropriated. But this is part of the problem with the trust breakdown for anyone who is to the right of center on this issue is because these things have been in law before --

TAPPER: Authorized but not funded.

HAM: -- and they never materialized.

CARPENTER: Chuck Schumer brought this up in the Oval Office meeting they had last week. We gave you $1.2 billion last year, where is it. I as a fiscal conservative and someone bothered by the fact that no one really knows what the wall should cost. They asked for five billion. Well, I would like to see the $1.2 billion be put to work now. I don't know why you're waiting.

SANDERS: Can we also debunk the notion that somehow America's borders are not secure. I don't know if you've ever left the country but I leave the country quite often. And every time I come back at the country, I have a problem.

CARPENTER: We really have a crisis at the border. I mean, there's detention centers because we do have a crisis.

SANDERS: This crisis at the border -- this crisis at the border has -- never forget, part of this is a manufactured crisis. We can talk about our immigration policy, yes. We have -- we have a crisis in terms of our immigration policy and it's broken in American. It needs to be fixed. But the idea that we just have open borders and folks are running up and through the United States of America is not true.

CARPENTER: Well, they are. That's how families end up in detention centers and get separated and they have that real other crisis.

SANDERS: No, no, no. People don't actually just run into the United States of America though Amanda. That is not true.

TAPPER: What do you mean? There's not -- I mean there are people -- they're undocumented immigrants --

SANDERS: There are undocumented immigrants but the idea that just there's nothing happening at the border and there's just an influx of people just running --

CARPENTER: It's a mess.

SANDERS: Are you --

BEGALA: The vast majority of who are here illegally are here illegal because they overstay their visa.

SANDERS: They overstayed their visa. They come on an airplane. They're just not running through --

TAPPER: Our people -- I've been to the border and you see people crossing illegally. I mean, it does happen.

SANDERS: I'm not saying there -- I want to be clear, I'm not saying there are no illegal crossings, period.

CARPENTER: There's Democratic senators going to the border in saying that there's child prison camps because people are at the border in crisis being housed in these government facilities.

[16:50:03] TAPPER: You're saying it's not the crisis that President Trump is portraying.

SANDERS: Yes. That is exactly what I'm saying. And every time a Republican operative or member of Congress gets on television and says the Democrats are calling for open borders and they just want our borders to be open and our borders is not secure, I'm telling you that's not true.

TAPPER: We're not going to be able to resolve this problem right now on this -- on this show because I have to take a break. So thank you so much one and all. President Trump promised he probably --

HAM: We almost had a deal.

TAPPER: We were right there. We were right there. But President Trump promised to help America's veterans at any cost. A new government report out today shows that the President is not making good on that promise. How? Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In today's "WORLD LEAD," a mother will arrive in California tomorrow in order to be able to say goodbye to her dying son. This after the Trump administration in an act of humanitarian goodwill made an exemption to the administration's travel ban and granted her a waiver to come to the United States. Her two-year-old boy is on life support in a California hospital with a rare brain disorder. His father as a U.S. citizen as is the boy and the father has been by the boys side but the mother is from Yemen which is, of course, one of the seven countries from which travel to the U.S. is banned.

Those close to the mom say she's excited for this win but of course devastated that she's coming to say goodbye to her two-year-old son.

In our "NATIONAL LEAD" today, ever since the President announced he was running for office, he promised to protect veterans and fix the V.A. with an emphasis on preventing veteran suicides. But a brand new federal investigation reveals that when it comes to one major multi- million dollar effort to reach out to struggling veterans, the Trump administration has been derelict in its duty.


TAPPER: 24-year old Army veteran Jared Johns used a handgun to take his own life on September 11th this year. His hometown newspaper reports he left a message saying I'm sorry. I messed up. This isn't what I wanted. Like too many others, whatever V.A. support he sought was not enough to save him. That support for veterans in pain, the Commander-in-Chief has long promised first on the campaign trail --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are our greatest people committing suicide a day. It's not going to be that any more. Folks, we're going to take care of our veterans.

TAPPER: And then from the Oval Office.

TRUMP: We will not rest until all of America's great veterans receive the care they have earned through their incredible service and sacrifice to our country.

TAPPER: But 1today a new government report shows a lack of leadership from the Trump administration is directly impacting the VA's ability to reach suicidal veterans. An average of 20 veterans take their own lives every day according to the VA's own findings. Yet the Government Accountability Office found that as of September, the Veterans Health Administration has spent less than one percent of it $6.2 million annual budget for suicide prevention outreach.

NICOLE CLOWERS, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF HEALTH CARE, GAO: My biggest takeaway was the overall decline in effort across multiple lines of effort and their suicide prevention and media campaign.

TAPPER: The reason, nobody was around to lead the effort. In a statement to CNN, the V.A. says quote the suicide prevention office had no permanent leader for nearly nine months until Secretary Wilkie arrived as acting secretary in April adding, "Suicide prevention is VA's highest clinical priority and every death by suicide is a tragedy."

CLOWERS: Their efforts to make people aware of their suicide prevention efforts does not match that priority.

TAPPER: Not spending more than 99 percent of its budget has meant there were fewer crucial ads from the V.A. such as these.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes, even the smallest act has the power to change a life.

TAPPER: Ads that provide outreach, ads that alert struggling veterans and their families about the existence of programs that could save their lives. In 2015, the V.A. budget yield at 58 online adds, 30 billboards, 19,000 radio ads, and much more. This year, dramatic decreases with radio alone plummeting to just eight advertisements.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just that one text. Be there. Your call, your presence.

TAPPER: Not only are there fewer commercials to reach veterans, the VA has no clear measure of its campaign's effectiveness according to this study.

CLOWERS: That rests with the leadership to make sure they have the right people in the positions to make those decisions and carry out the mission.

TAPPER: The V.A. says its new suicide prevention director Dr. Keita Franklin is "reviewing the spending for this important program as part of her duties."


TAPPER: Dereliction of duty. Before we go, remembering a comedic genius who with a cursive L on her sweater won the hearts of millions of Americans. Today, we bid farewell to actress and director Penny Marshall who passed away Monday evening due to complications from diabetes according to her family.

Marshall first came to fame in the 1970s with the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we didn't take no from that one guy who says these dogs are on us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were just a little tiny poodles. Poodles are mean Shirl. How would you like to go through life with a little tough the hair here one there and then pretty much around her ankles?


TAPPER: Penny Marshall as a director was a trailblazer becoming the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million with the film big in 1988 starring Tom Hanks of course with that famous giant FAO Schwarz piano. Then again hitting a home run with A League Of Their Own in 1992. The New York native with her characteristic heavy accent overcame a battle with lung cancer.

when asked recently about her legacy, Marshall said, "I hope I gave you some enjoyment." Penny Marshall, you did and today there is crying in baseball. Penny Marshall gone at the age of 75. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.