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Sanders: Trump Not Prepared to Back Short-Term Funding Bill; Trump Faces Criticism for Decision to Withdraw U.S. Troops from Syria; Graham: Syria Withdrawal Would be "Stain on the Honor of U.S."; Giuliani: I Was Wrong to Say Trump Didn't Sign Moscow Trump Tower Letter. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 20, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a really stunning development. Earlier in the week, it appeared more likely the president was going to sign this measure. Even John Cornyn, the number-two Republican, told me yesterday the president was going to sign the measure that passed the Senate to keep the government open until February 8th. Now that the president said he will not, House Republicans are looking for Plan B. One of the things being discussed is to put a bill on the floor to give more money to border security and for the wall that the president has demanded, send it to the floor, let that be rejected potentially in the House or the Senate, and then decide to potentially move forward with a bill to keep the government open by February 8th. We'll see if that placates the president and whether what the president is asking for, Brianna, simply doesn't have the votes to pass both chambers.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Very good point, Manu.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

President Trump is defending a different decision, to pull out of Syria, to bring U.S. troops out of Syria, even as the backlash erupts from inside his own party. Tweeting, "Russia Iran, Syria and others are the local enemies of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home and rebuild. Time for others to finally fight."

The president hasn't taken any questions on this subject. He hasn't publicly defended his decision. All he has done besides this tweet is to release this White House-produced video.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have won against ISIS. We have beaten them and we have beaten them badly. We've taken back the land. And know it's time for our troops to come back home.


KEILAR: Factually doubtable there.

Meanwhile, we have heard a lot of push back from Republicans, including this.


REP. TOM GARRETT, (R), VIRGINIA: This fight is long from their position. And frankly, if I'm an ISIS recruiter, the idea to suggest that, look, the Americans are leaving, will only strengthen their position. So let me make this metaphor, Mr. Speaker. We have a patient. That patient is Syria. It is stricken with four cancer. There's the regime in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and there's ISIS. We have just eradicated the bulk of one cancer, dropped the scalpel, left the surgery room, and declare the patient as healed.


KEILAR: Here with me now is Samantha Vinograd, a former advisor to the national security advisor under President Obama, and she's a CNN national security analyst. And Elise Labott with us as well, CNN's global affairs correspondent.

This is a decision, it caught everybody off guard, right? It caught his own party. It caught people in his own administration off guard. It certainly caught allies off guard.

Elise, what are you hearing from your sources?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I haven't heard anyone, and I don't think Sam has either, that things this is a good idea. We are talking about the president's cabinet, whether it's Secretary Mattis, Secretary Pompeo, John Bolton, the national security advisor, the military. And then you're talking about members of Congress. But also allies around the world. The president just tweeted this. He did not consult allies. This was a very haphazard announcement by him. Even despite the fact that no one thinks that ISIS has been defeated. So the president just went out --


LABOTT: Well, he said we will need to fight ISIS --


LABOTT: -- but also that ISIS is defeated, right? And there's nobody thinks this is a good idea, let alone, U.S. allies in the region. You hear Britain and France and others say this is a terrible idea. ISIS is not through. This will leave us very vulnerable.

KEILAR: What's the practical application, the practical problem of those folks being completely left out of it?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Just to be clear, this is not normal standard operating procedure. I was part of a lot of outreach campaigns for major policy decisions. One the president makes a decision, even if his entire cabinet disagrees with it, or a majority does, as it did, for example, when President Obama and Syria, you typically don't make a policy announcement in response to a leaked media story. Yay you don't have a comment and take your time to get your talking points in order, to alert allies and to alert key members of Congress. The fact that the president undercut his own reason for leaving Syria earlier today when he tweeted and acknowledges that ISIS is still present is another clear indicator that this was a really shortsighted decision that, by the way, will have direct impact on the security of the American people.

KEILAR: What do think about, the critics say this is emboldening Iraq and Russia. The president says, look, you have Russia, Iran, others, they aren't happy. They're now going to be fighting this fight.

LABOTT: The Russians are saying -- actually the Russians are and the Iranians are really the only ones that actually wanted the U.S. to leave. This strengthens Bashar al-Assad. They said this will be a good thing for peace. But the Russians have never been interested in fighting ISIS in the first place, and neither has Iran. So if there's something that comes out it, it could be ISIS or something a lot worse. But, again, there is nobody, including the president's own cabinet and own advisers that think this is a good idea right now. So not only is he giving ISIS a recruiting took, but he's leaving allies -- it's going to be harder next time when they need the allies together to help the U.S.

[13:35:12] VINOGRAD: It's hard right now. The truth is we were part of a 79-member coalition to fight ISIS. We were one of the very few set of countries that had troops on the ground in Syria. But France came out earlier today and said we're not abandoning the fight against ISIS. They have troops on the ground in Syria. The U.K., I believe, has troops on the ground. We are leaving the other members of the coalition to scramble and probably to try to figure out how to pick up our mission slake because, guess what, they don't want ISIS to reconstitute because a country like France, like the United Stated, have been directly attacked by ISIS, which, again, brings it back to this direct impact on American security.

LABOTT: Look at countries like Jordan that are going to be left vulnerable now to ISIS. Surprisingly, Benjamin Netanyahu did not think it was a good idea. You haven't heard anything from him. The Jordanians being very careful. But he is leaving a lot of the allies in that region very vulnerable. This was clearly a discussion between him and Turkish President Erdogan. President Trump wanted to leave and Erdogan was happy to see him go it. Likely said I'll take care of it. Thanks so much, I'll take care of it. But right now, there are a lot of allies in the region that are upset they weren't consulted and also worried about the future.

KEILAR: Can they really take of it, that's the question.

Elise Labott, Sam Vinograd, thank you so much.

Now more on our breaking new. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the president is not going to sign the current spending bill as a government shutdown looms over Washington.


[13:41:18] KEILAR: Returning to our top story, House Speaker Paul Ryan says the president will not sign a Senate-approved government- funding bill, which would put us into February for the government being funded.

I'm now joined with by Republican Congressman Tom Reed, of New York.

This, Congressman, has been all over the map. It seems the president knew what was going on in the Senate and indicated that would be OK, the short-term bill that would have taken government funding into February when Democrats take over the House. He heard it loud and clear from Republicans on the House floor last night. Why do you think that there's this change? And how is this going to shape up?

REP. TOM REED, (R), NEW YORK: Obviously, I think everyone has to take a deep breath. What we are trying to focus on is how we get 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. You are seeing a lot of politics take its course. At the end of the day, I think the dust will settle, we'll get it resolved, keep the government open, and we'll go back home. And this fight on immigration will continue into the next year.

KEILAR: It's hard to see a scenario where a proposal that would pass the Senate, that would pass the House, that's really the issue, even though they are both Republican-controlled. You are seeing Democrats exert some influence in the Senate. So someone has to blink, right?

REED: It's about cobbling together those votes. And 60 votes in the Senate means you'll have Democratic support for whatever we do, because you need Democratic votes in the Senate to get it done. In the House, how do reflect that? That's where I think you will as we go through the next few hours, a lot of anxiety, a lot of heightened politics. But at the end of the day, cool minds will prevail. We will get out of here with the government funded. We'll continue this fight into the upcoming year.

KEILAR: So no shutdown? You're saying no shutdown?

REED: I really don't see that. Even, as the rhetoric gets hot, gets heated, but at the end of the day, I think most people realize, OK, what can we get done, what can we do in order to advance this cause into the next year.

KEILAR: We're know you are afflicted with some optimism. We will see if you have an accurate assessment of this.

I want to talk to you about Syria. You have said you don't think there's a compelling case to be in Syria. The president caught everyone off guard, Republicans, members of his own administration, American allies, when he said -- when he decided that he's pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. What's your reaction?

REED: Yes. I support this cause. When asked before, do I support boots on the ground in Syria, I do not. Putting our men and women into this harm's way. But taking on ISIS, let's be clear, we're going to continue to battle ISIS in Syria and elsewhere. That's where I think the American future role is going to be based on potential air support, potential covert operations, potential partnerships with our NATO allies and others --


KEILAR: Air support for who? Air support for who if you don't have Americans with some influence on the ground?

REED: Obviously, that's where the intelligence fathering comes in. To know where the ISIS threats are. We're going to continue to battle ISIS for the foreseeable future. But having 2,000 men and women in harm's way in Syria right now is a significant risk to me. I don't see the strategy of putting those men and women in harm's way that benefits us long term. So I believe --


KEILAR: So you trust Turkey to just call in the orders for where air support would come from?

REED: No. That's where our intelligence relationships are deeper than that. I'm confident that we can take on the ISIS threat. We knocked it back. We will continue to knock it back. But having men and women of our armed services in harm's way, to me, this is right to bring these men and women home, especially during the holiday season as we're moving into a family friendly type of environment.

[13:45:09] KEILAR: How does that make sense when talk about there's intel support beyond that? I mean, some of that, a lot of that intel is coming from the military

REED: Of course. You're always going to --


KEILAR: They are not going to be there. But they're not going to be there.


KEILAR: So then where do you get the intel from?

REED: You get it from other sources. Our intelligence operations are significant and deeply imbedded around the world. The bottom line is I'm comfortable and confident we can take it on that threat based on that. And then we will continue this engagement without putting our men and women in harm's way in a long-term position.

KEILAR: Let's listen to what Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said about this last hour.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This decision, I believe, has been by the president, not with sound military advice against it. I think his entire security team has expressed concerns about withdrawing now.

Because you are a Republican, I'm not going to ignore what I believe. I'm going to give you an honest evaluation. I was willing to support a Democrat if he followed sound military advice. I'm willing to fight a Republican if you don't.


KEILAR: You don't think there's a compelling case to be in Syria. You just say you think it's a good idea to bring troops home, especially during this family season. That's pretty quick. We are talking about Christmas days away. It seems difficult to see a scenario where they're brought home that quickly. But we are talking about something pretty immediately. Are you worried about -- even if you want those troops pulled back, are you worried about doing it too quickly?

REED: Well, of course. Let's be clear, obviously, I don't envision them being pulled home within the next week or so.

KEILAR: Be Christmas news is what you're saying.

REED: What I'm saying -- yes, when you focus -- looking at the risk to our mean and women that this represents with them being in a long- term engagement on Syrian soil, I'm willing to accept the fact that we need to bring these men and women home. But we need to continue the right against ISIS with our partners across the world. That's where I think we will have a reasonable disagreement with my good friend, Lindsey Graham, and others. But at the end of the day, I think it's time for them to come home.

KEILAR: Are you worried --I hear what you are saying, this should be good news for troops would be able to come home from Syria, but I wonder, at the same, if -- we're talking about a lot of very specialized individualized special operators who are over there. Do you see a concern where this -- the troops are pulled back and then there's potentially a vacuum and, at the end, they just needed to come back in a less-controlled environment that puts them at risk?


KEILAR: Do worry about that?

REED: Of course. That's why we can't completely disengage against the ISIS threat. We need to make sure we are keeping an eye on it, taking on ISIS, not only in Syria, but elsewhere, wherever it pops its head up. That's is where -- that is something I think we can all agree that that is something to keep an eye on and engage in.

KEILAR: Will talk about that. We'll have you on again, Sir.

Congressman Tom Reed, we will talk again soon.

REED: Great to be with you. Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: The art of the walk back. Rudy Giuliani admits he was wrong about a deal over Trump Moscow in a letter of intent signed by the president. We'll have details, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:52:50] KEILAR: Rudy Giuliani walking back a major blunder, admitting he was wrong about the Trump Moscow Project and the letter of intent that Donald Trump signed.

CNN politics reporter, Chris Cillizza, is here to explain this.

Chris, take us through the shifting stories of the president's legal team.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Let's do this fast. There's lot of them. Sunday, there was a real estate project, a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it. Let's go to Tuesday, Chris Cuomo reported this, here's a letter of intent, signed by, you'll know that one because he flips around every time he signs a bill, you know his signature, Donald Trump. Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani comes back to it, "I was wrong. I haven't seen the quote but I probably meant to say there was never deal, much less a signed one." Remember, Rudy Giuliani, Brianna, says the words, "There was no signature on the letter on intent." Not sure how we got there. That's the week that Rudy Giuliani has had, not a good one.

KEILAR: That was a really good explainer. I followed that completely.

CILLIZZA: I tried to talk as fast as humanly possible.

KEILAR: It was good though.

It's not the first time we've seen Rudy Giuliani do something like that.

CILLIZZA: No, let's go through it again. There's a bunch of these. I'll give you three examples. Here's the first. He talked about Trump Tower, that Trump and his people may have been talking about Tower Moscow with the Russians all the way up to the November 2016 election. Let's play that sound.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: According to the answer he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of 2016. Said he had conversations with him about it.


CILLIZZA: Now remember, Brianna, Michael Cohen himself said under oath he had conversations through June 26. He lied and said only through January. Giuliani said maybe November 2016.

Number two, this was right after Giuliani got named to Trump's legal team. He acknowledged that Michael Cohen was reimbursed Michael Cohen for paying off Stormy Daniels, which Donald Trump totally denied. Let's pay that sound.


[13:55:04] CILLIZZA: That was money paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds, or whatever funds, doesn't matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months.


CILLIZZA: Oops. There's more. But this is live television, Brianna, and I can't give you any more - have to leave on one. Just a little more.

KEILAR: Leave us wanting more.

Chris Cillizza, thank you.

[14:00:28] We have much more news ahead. Pamela Brown will pick it up after this.