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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Quits In Protest Of Trump's Views. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired December 20, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, OUTFRONT HOST: And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, the breaking news, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quits. In a stunning letter to the President of the United States, the four star general calling out President Trump for not backing American allies, for supporting authoritarian regimes.
I want to read the entire letter, because this is a turning point for this administration, for President Trump, and for this country. Here is the letter from Defense Secretary Mattis to the President of the United States, which he handed him today, in which he quit. "Dear Mr. President, I have been privileged to serve as our country's 26th Secretary of Defense, which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the department in defense of our citizens and our ideals. I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years and some of the key goals articulated in our national defense strategy. Putting the department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the department's business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the United States remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the Armed Forces of the United States should not be the policemen of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9/11 attack on America. The defeat ISIS coalition of the 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries who strategic interests are increasingly intentioned with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model, gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America, and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances. Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.
The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the department's interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include congressional posture hearings and the NATO defense ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Defense Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million service members and 732,079 Department of Defense civilians receive undistracted attention of the department at all times so they can fulfill their critical round the clock mission to protect the American people. I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform."
[19:05:00] He signs the letter, James N. Mattis. That, of course, is General Jim Mattis, the highest ranking military officer to ever lead the Defense Department of the United States of America, a four star general with 40 years experience, including in Iraq. It is a stunning letter, and it is a moment of history in this country to see a Defense Secretary say something like this to a President.
Kaitlan Collins is out front at the White House. Kaitlan, it is a moment, such an important moment for this presidency, for this country. How did it go down today?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're told by sources that Defense Secretary Mattis came to the White House this afternoon around 3:30 and he met with President Trump in the Oval Office, just the two of them, one-on-one, and Mattis tried to get the President to change his mind to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria that abrupt decision that he made yesterday, but the President rebuffed him. He didn't agree and Mattis said he was going to have to resign and he offered the President that letter that you've just read there.
Now, the President said that Mattis retired in his twitter feed but of course Mattis is already retired from the military and he makes quite clear in that letter that he is resigning over decisions that the President has made, because he says they do not see eye to eye. Now, things have not been good between the President and James Mattis for some time now. They actually used to be quite strong to where Mattis would come over and have dinner with the President in the residence quite regularly, almost more than any other staffer, but things had changed. They had grown icy and President Trump was irritated by this narrative that Mattis was the adult in the room.
And in fact, in an interview just about two months ago with Reuters, the President said he believed Mattis was sort of a Democrat. That led Mattis to shoot back saying he had never registered for a political party in his life. So things between the two of them had clearly deteriorated and the White House is simply framing this as a differing opinion between the two of them, saying it's a good thing for the President to disagree with his national security team sometimes, but Erin, this is much more than that. This is the Defense Secretary resigning in protest of a decision that the President made to withdraw troops from Syria, and that's a big deal.
Now, the question is going to be who will replace James Mattis? The White House says that he's going to resign -- or he's going to officially leave his post in February. They say, though, that President Trump is going to pick someone to replace him by the end of the year, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
I want to go straight now to Colonel Cedric Leighton, Former Member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Juliette Kayyem, Former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and David Gergen, Former Adviser to Four Presidents. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is also standing by.
Let me start, you know, with this letter. Colonel, your reaction when you hear this letter and you see the Defense Secretary of the United States say that they are stepping -- he is stepping down because allies are not being treated with respect, authoritarian regimes are being empowered, and his beliefs are not in line -- aligned, in his words, with that of the President of the United States.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Well, to me, Erin, that is, you know, one of the most important lines in the resignation letter. What General Mattis, Secretary Mattis, is saying is that at this juncture, he can not support the President of the United States in the type of policy decisions that the President is making unilaterally without consultation with leaders like Secretary Mattis. And at a certain point, just about any leader of that type is going to leave a position like the secretary's position because they just don't get the traction that they need for their views.
And frankly, in order to keep their effectiveness, they have to do something that aligns not only with their personal views but also makes sure that they can make a statement that says at this juncture, we cannot support an administration's policy of this type. But I think it is absolutely the most salient line in the letter and basically says at this point, our views diverge so much that I cannot work with you at this juncture.
BURNETT: David, put this in historical context of how significant a moment this is for Donald Trump.
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. ADVISER TO FOUR PRESIDENTS: Well, it's a significant moment for the world, Erin. For over 70 years, stretching back to World War II, democracies across the west have looked to the United States for leadership and for stability, providing stability, working through our partners to secure the peace, to allow economies to grow, to give people hope. Jim Mattis comes out of that tradition. He stands for those values. That's why people look to him as the man that if all else fails, you could look to him and say, thank God he's in the White House. Thank God he's a stabilizing force there.
This resignation moves us further and further toward America becoming a source of destabilization in the world, nations increasingly look to us with utter amazement about our unpredictability, our sense of commitment to the world order, our sense of, you know, the commitment we've had for all these decades to NATO and to other alliances.
[19:10:12] BURNETT: You know, Juliette, I think the reaction out there has been, look, people are stunned and I think David is being very district. There were many Republicans, many Democrats who felt that Jim Mattis was the bulwark. Jim Mattis was the person that people could say, but he is there. And around the world, when all of us would talk to world leaders or people who advised them, it was, we know Jim Mattis can get it done. We know he is there. That is what matters, and that is what keeps our confidence in the United States.
That was said again and again and again. And now that man is not just leaving, he is writing a letter in which he references specifically my views on treating allies with respect and being clear-eyed about malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion. That is an incredible rebuke.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, FMR. ASST. SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY DEPT. UNDER OBAMA: Absolutely. And just a minor aside, I thought it was very telling that the last sentence is it was an -- he writes, it was an honor to serve the nation and not to -- and he did not mention serving this President. I take a different tack on what's going on, and you know, look, everything is bad. This is not a good thing, but if you view General Mattis as an important leader in American history, I think he made an important leadership move today. It was no longer sustainable for him to be Secretary of Defense. It did not begin with Syria.
For me, and the issues that I, you know, study, it began with the border when he -- General Mattis had to sort of contort himself to justify why 5,000 troops were being deployed to the border. It continued with LGBTQ rights in the military and trans rights in the military and now of course Syria, which is the most important thing. General Mattis has one more duty to this nation, and that is to continue to speak up.
I do not want him to go the way of others who have quietly slipped away. I think it's his responsibility as the leader we saw today in resigning and presenting to us and the Republican leadership what has happened to this country and this administration that he continues to speak up. He has one more duty, and I hope he continues to do that. But this had to happen. I am not shocked. I am not nervous. I think this is the beginning of something. I don't know how this ends, but this had to happen. It did. We've been waiting for someone to resign, and now we should applaud it.
BURNETT: On principle.
KAYYEM: I really think so.
BURNETT: It is, though, you know, Colonel, I'm curious, you know, retired General Stanley McChrystal tonight, the kind of leadership that causes a dedicated patriot like Jim Mattis to leave should give pause to every American. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, in part, "Just read General Mattis's resignation letter. It makes it abundantly clear we are headed toward a series of gravy policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries".
LEIGHTON: Well sometimes, Erin, what you do in a position like this to kind of dove tail with what Juliette was saying, it becomes really important to take a stand and as a leader who has such an influential position, the role that General Mattis had, that Secretary Mattis had, was very clear that he was not just a simple, if one could use the term, Secretary of Defense. What he was was an iconic symbol, and when that symbol leaves the service of a President, there is something wrong with the presidency. And that's what we're seeing tonight.
BURNETT: I mean, you know, David, one of the comments here, senior administration official earlier, telling Jake, the President's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which obviously, you know, is the final factor here, right, that is what the final conversation was about, that is the final factor is, quote, a mistake of colossal proportions, and the President fails to see how it will endanger our country. The President, of course, today, said he is going ahead with it. He does not care what everybody says.
GERGEN: Well, he's cared damn little about anything for a long time. And he's -- this is a selfish, egotistical view toward our policies and toward our responsibilities and the world. I agree with Juliette that this is -- we're not -- I'm not entirely surprised. We've all been waiting for this moment, asking how long he might last, just hoping he would go on forever.
But I'm very nervous. I just -- I can't tell you how important it is -- usually in our government, there are one or two or three people that the nations of the world look to and say, you know, as long as he or she is there, we're in pretty good shape. That's often the Federal Reserve Chairman, you know, like a Paul Volcker, people look and knew if there was a crisis, he could handle it better than almost anybody else. In this situation, if there is a crisis, who do we look to for stability for judgment, for deliberation, the way we looked to Jim Mattis?
[19:15:11] BURNETT: So, you know, here's the thing, Juliette. When you look at, you know, in the letter, right, the letter could not be more clear. It is polite. It is gracious. And it is a rebuke. And it is clear because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down.
But the President of the United States tweets out, General Jim Mattis will be retiring. OK? My question to you, Juliette, is, President Trump knew, right? He knew we were all going to find out the truth, but yet he tried to spin the narrative to retiring. Did he really think he could do that or is he that misreading the situation so colossally that he did not understand that nobody, not even Fox News, which at first, you know, kept retiring on the bottom of their screen and eventually changed it to resigning, nobody could go along with what he put out there, which is false.
KAYYEM: I mean, I think that's right. I think, you know, and I can't psychoanalyze the President but I think what I've come to believe is that the President's only value is allegiance to him. And so, he has to create constant narratives that he let Mattis go, that this person wanted to do this, and that allegiance becomes the way that the President thinks about -- allegiance to himself, not to the nation, not to a policy, not to a security, not to a world order that David Gergen was talking about.
KAYYEM: And so, yes, I think he thought that people would believe it, and they don't. And let's just remember, Mattis did not write this letter between the time he left the White House and the time he got to the Pentagon.
KAYYEM: He wrote it because he knew the President he served, which is this President's going to try to create another narrative, I'm going to get out there first. And as I said earlier, Mattis's job to the nation is not done. I am tired of, you know, the Dina Powells and the everyone, you know, and the McMasters leaving and being quiet. They know. They've seen it and they need to speak out because this is the moment, and it's scary, I'm nervous, you know, like what David Gergen said, but the alternative is what?
I mean, it's not like we're living in some nirvana of stability. I mean, we've been destabilized for two years. We've all aged 20 years since 2016, and so I just think, you know, in some ways, let it begin, and it began with the leadership of Mattis today finally saying, enough.
BURNETT: Well, it was incredible, and I think not just because of the importance of Mattis but as you all point out, we just didn't get letters like this from others who have departed. You know, we hear about it from their friends. We hear about it, but publicly, this nation and the world has not gotten that, and the entire world is watching this, because the entire world looked at Jim Mattis as a person they could trust.
Back in the day, we like Rex, we like Jim Mattis, but we know the President listens to Jim Mattis. We know he knows what he's doing as long as he's there, we feel confident. Now he is no longer there.
Please stay with me. I want to go to the Pentagon now with more on the breaking news because we're learning about -- more about how this happened. Mattis went to the White House this morning to discuss Syria and he was livid. That's the word used.
Barbara Starr is out front from the Pentagon. And Barbara, what more are you hearing about this, how he went to the meeting and obviously the letter was prepared, you know, to be used if he needed it. You're reporting he was livid. Why?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, what we know is that early this morning, about 7:30, the Secretary here at the Pentagon decided he need to go to the White House later in the day. He had seen some reporting from Turkey that the Turks were, in fact, planning to move against the U.S. Kurdish allies inside Syria. This becomes the critical question, the critical red line, perhaps, for Jim Mattis, because by the President's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, leaves those Kurdish fighters that the U.S. had pledged to support, it leaves them abandoned. It leaves them at risk.
Mattis is a military man of 40 years. You do not leave your friends on the battlefield, and that's the position President Trump put him in. So, he met with President Trump later in the day about 3:00 we're told at the White House, tried to convince the President one last time to change his mind about Syria. The President did not, and it is at that point that Mattis had no option in his mind but to resign.
This is not a surprise if you know Jim Mattis. It perhaps surprising that it didn't happen before this, but he also tonight knows that the President is seriously considering a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and that will leave Afghan forces behind that the U.S. had pledged to support. So, that is part of the reason you see the construct of Mattis's letter.
[19:20:01] You see him make a strong case for alliances, you see him make a strong case that you have to push back against countries like Russia and China, and Mattis knows that the terrorism fight is far from over, that Russia and Iran are bad actors in this, and that ISIS and the Taliban when the U.S. is not there, will be on the rise.
BURNETT: So, Barbara, obviously, the crucial thing here is, you know, you have someone standing -- saying they are resigning on principle, right, because they cannot stand with the President of the United States. But saying he's going to stay until February. Now, the President of the United States says he wants to get out of Syria until February, unless something changes, and I suppose it could, given how all this is going down. Jim Mattis is going to have to sign that order, right, he's going to have to sign the order to withdraw the troops from Syria. Is he going to sign it?
BARBAR: Well, that's a good question. What we're talking about is something called an execute order. This is a document to be signed by a Secretary of Defense that puts forces on the move. This is a very typical procedure. It happened when they sent U.S. troops to the southern border. So, yes, as Secretary of Defense, Mattis would most likely discharge his responsibilities, or he could say that I just can't do it in good conscience and that order could be signed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. That will be the order that details how it happens. The big question is, how do you get 2,600 U.S. troops, which is a relatively small number, out of a war zone with all of their equipment, with ISIS there, with the Syrian regime there, the Russians there, with Iranian militias there, how do you get U.S. troops out of there safely? That is the plan that is being worked on right now at the Pentagon and that is what the execute order will talk about. Mattis can sign it or he can have someone else sign it.
BURNETT: Barbara, thank you very much.
All right, I want to go now to Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, also of course Former Chief of the CIA. You've been here, though, in the Defense Department, running a defense department. When you saw the letter today, you read it, Secretary, what did you think?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: I felt that Jim Mattis did a great job expressing what he's about, the elements of leadership, that he represents, as Secretary of Defense, and throughout his military career. And that he reached the conclusion that those principles that he's lived with for 40 years are not in alignment with the views of this President, which says an awful lot about the differences here between Jim Mattis and the President. And it also raises concerns about where do we go from here.
BURNETT: So, obviously, you know him, right? Mattis was commander at U.S. Central Command when you became Defense Secretary. You've worked with him. You know him. You know his ethics, his morals. You know what kind of a person and a human being he is. When he writes in a letter that his views on treating allies with respect and being clear- eyed about malign actors, which he lays out specifically are authoritarian regimes, he names Russia and China, what does it say to you that he's actually saying this?
He's saying the President of the United States is not treating allies with respect. He's saying the President of United States has admiration or support or whatever it might be for authoritarian regimes. What does it take for Jim Mattis to come out and say these things?
PANETTA: Well, Jim Mattis is expressing, I think, the principles that this country has stood by since the end of World War II. We have provided world leadership. We have always supported our alliances. We have worked together to protect the security of this country.
And he's saying on those basic principles that have been the foundation for American foreign policy and for national security policy that they are not in alignment with this President, who basically decided on his own, without talking to any military advisers, that he would suddenly withdraw troops from a critical area in the middle east and leave our allies, the Kurds, exposed. That, I think, is the exact opposite of what a Jim Mattis believes in and what he believes is important for our national defense, and that's why he resigned.
BURNETT: So, you know, Mattis took this job as Defense Secretary knowing the person that he was serving, right? I mean, he knew a lot of things about Donald Trump, probably that he found personally, you know, malignant. However, he took the job. And he knew today that what he was doing would send shock waves around the world. He knows full well that he's perceived as a bulwark in this administration for many around the world.
[19:25:10] He took that very seriously. What do you think, Secretary, about how bad it must have been? What must have really happened in that conversation for him to quit right now?
PANETTA: Well, you know, look, this country right now is going through a steady diet of chaos and crisis. We're about to see the shutdown of the federal government coming at Christmas time. We've seen the President withdraw troops from a critical area in the Middle East. We've now seen the resignation of our Secretary of Defense, and oh, by the way, the stock market is crashing as well.
There's a steady diet of chaos that is going on that I think puts our nation at risk. And I think Jim Mattis to a large extent sensed that degree of chaos and recognized as a man of integrity that there comes a time when the Secretary of Defense has to stand up for what he believes. That's who Jim Mattis is, and I think that's what he did today.
BURNETT: You know, the slam at the President, the rebuke over the Syria decision, right, this last decision here that it has been overwhelming, it has been bipartisan, it has been from his own administration, right? Jim Mattis vehemently counseled him not to do it. John Bolton, Mike Pompeo said not to do it. Sources inside the administration said it was a mistake of colossal proportions.
Never mind all the Republicans on Capitol Hill, right, saying American lives are going to be in danger, even if the President didn't care about Kurds, American lives were going to be in danger. The President did not care. He did it anyway. Jim Mattis quits. Now the President says a successor is going to be named shortly. Secretary Pompeo, who's going to take this job?
PANETTA: You know, look, we're a strong nation even if we have this kind of erratic and unpredictable President, and I think that ultimately, you know, we'll be able to get through this because of our system of checks and balances. But there's no question that this is a President who doesn't like to sit down with advisers and those experienced in foreign policy and national defense policy and listen to them, listen to their advice. Every President in recent history takes the time to listen to his advisers, because they know, frankly, a hell of a lot more than the President does.
And so, the responsibility here is to listen to that advice and to understand the consequences and what it means to the interests of the United States. But this is a President who operates by somehow his gut instinct and also, I think, how he reads the politics of the moment. He enjoys chaos, because he thinks chaos produces attention for him, but the problem is chaos, a steady diet of chaos, creates hell for the American people.
We need stability right now. We need a sense that we have a President who's going to take the time to make the right decisions and provide stability for this country. If the President doesn't begin to do that, then I think there's a real question about whether he's implementing the powers and duties of the presidency the way they're supposed to be.
BURNETT: Are we talking about Article 25?
PANETTA: I'm talking about whether or not this President is going to provide the kind of stable leadership that this country desperately needs right now. The last damn thing we need is more chaos and crisis.
BURNETT: All right. Secretary Panetta, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
And now, a House Republican saying, quote, the wheels may be coming off. It's a House Republican who supports Trump speaking out tonight about this administration in light of the breaking news of Secretary Mattis' quitting. A government shutdown is looming. The Department of Justice in turmoil, right, looking for an attorney general.
Stocks have been plummeting. The Dow down almost 2,000 points in a week. Here's how the Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, just described it moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK SCHUMER (D), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: There is chaos now in this administration. This week was one of the most chaotic weeks we've ever seen in American government, and amazingly, they want to close the week, President Trump does, by shutting down the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I want to get to Manu Raju, who's OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, how are members of Congress reacting to General Mattis' resignation?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just asked Nancy Pelosi, the likely next speaker of the House, about this and she told me that she is shaken by this decision of James Mattis to step aside. She pointed to the letter showing that Mattis did not align himself with President Trump's views and she said, quote, this is a very serious for our country, this is something -- there's something very wrong with this picture.
I can tell you a number of Democrats who I've spoken with in this incoming House majority are very concerned, they're worried about what this means. They view Mattis as someone who's a voice of stability within this administration.
Republicans are split on this. You're hearing some Republicans side with that sentiment. Others believe it will be fine, that the president will find someone who is more in line with his views. I asked the House -- incoming House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, about this. He praised Jim Mattis for his service, not expressing concerns that Democrats are having.
But clearly, a lot is riding -- a lot of questions about the Syria policy, what comes next, and who else could potentially keep this president in line when he does things that raise concerns from people on both sides of the aisle.
BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you. And just as a quick follow here, you know, you have the government shutdown here that's happening, Trump saying today the spending plan has to include the wall after he'd said he at any time -- I mean, it's all over the map here, but now all of a sudden the wall is becoming the do or die thing to shut down the government. So, is that -- that's what's happening? We're now going to have a government shutdown on top of this? Or how close are we?
RAJU: It's very possible the government could shut down because the president has said he would not sign a spending bill that easily passed the Senate last night, but keep the government open until February 8 that did not include his $5 billion in money for that wall. Now, just in a matter of minutes here, the House will vote on something to appease the president, including the $5 billion in money, roughly $8 billion more for disaster relief money.
It could pass the Republican-controlled house in their final days in power here, but, Erin, this has no chance of passing the United States Senate where they're going to need 60 votes to ultimately pass it and a chamber with just 51 Republicans serving, plus most of Republicans and Democrat senators have left town expecting that the president was going to sign that funding bill that passed the Senate last night. It's uncertain how many will come back for a vote in the Senate that could happen tomorrow.
So, the ultimate resolution is uncertain. I just talked to Mark Meadows, one of the president's closest allies on Capitol Hill, a Republican, who told me he does not believe the president is not going to sign any bill who does not get his funding.
So, what does that mean? Does that mean the government will shut down? A partial government shutdown by tomorrow evening seems likely -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu.
I want to go now to Stephen Moore, informal adviser to the White House, Joan Walsh, national correspondent for "The Nation".
Joan, look, the context here of General Mattis, you know, you can take anything on any given day, but you have the markets, which have gone down nearly 2,000 points in one week. You have a government shutdown looming. You have the most respected member that this administration has ever had resigning, calling out the president for supporting authoritarian regimes. The wheels are coming off the bus was what one Republican said. Note,
I want to note, that this Republican is still saying this off the record, their name, right? Trump supporter.
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: So much courage.
BURNETT: Do you -- what do you think, though? This is starting to come out. The Republicans are starting to say these sorts of things.
WALSH: Right. I think today is a horrifying day, Erin, but I think it's a necessary and clarifying day as well. We learned today that the president of the United States cares more about the policy wisdom of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter than he does about a dedicate -- the opinion of a dedicated patriot like General Mattis. That is horrifying.
As you alluded to before, he's flip-flopped about whether he needs the $5 billion and whether he would sign the continuing resolution without it, and when he got walloped by Fox News and by Rush and by Ann, who are grifters, who have been grifters off the conservative movement for years, he gets walloped by them and he turns tail and caves.
General Mattis comes in and says, please, sir, reconsider or we're hearing reporting, please reconsider this Syria move that you have taken without consultation with me, your generals, or your allies, and the man walks out and resigns.
So that's what we have. Rush and Ann, they're riding high, and people like General Mattis are on their way out the door.
BURNETT: All right. Ann Coulter, of course, in a radio interview talking about the wall, saying that the president didn't go back and demand the wall, he'll have no legacy whatsoever and then he goes back and demands the wall is what you're referring to.
BURNETT: Stephen, I want to ask you, though. We now -- John Brennan, former head of the CIA, who's been one of the most vocal former officials, calling out what he believes is a moment of reckoning for this country. OK, he's done it again and again. Tonight, tweeting about Jim Mattis: OK, Republicans, how much longer are you going to let this farcical presidency, in quotes, continue? At a time of such political, economic, and geo-strategic turbulence, both nationally and globally, are you waiting for a catastrophe to happen before acting? Disaster looms.
He puts it that way, Stephen, but he's not alone. Marco Rubio is saying similar. John Kasich is saying similar. It is -- you just heard Leon Panetta.
It is -- this is now becoming something we are hearing again and again and again. Are you worried?
STEPHEN MOORE, INFORMAL WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, it's been a terrible week for Donald Trump, no question about it. I can't speak to Syria and the foreign policy issues because that's not my expertise. But look, I mean, when you talk about the wheels coming off, we've got the strongest economy we've had in 20 years, notwithstanding --
BURNETT: Why'd the market go down 1,700 points in the past five trading days?
MOORE: Because of this catastrophic decision by the fed which, by the way, Trump was right about this. He called out the Fed back in September. Remember, he said this was a mistake and he was right.
Now if anybody should be resigning -- if anyone should resign from office, it should be the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who made an -- even while he was talking and the stock market went down by 600 points, it was a real disaster.
Now, look, the real economy remains really strong. I mean, we still have 7 million more jobs than people --
WALSH: I can't believe you're falling back on this.
MOORE: He did the only thing he could have done.
MOORE: Who did?
BURNETT: He had to go out -- Stephen, hold on. The president of the United States said you can't do it, you can't do it. The Fed's supposed to be independent. He forced the guy to do it.
BURNETT: And so that is a problem.
MOORE: How did he force them to do it? Trump was the one who said it was a mistake in September and it was a mistake and now they've doubled down.
BURNETT: Trump -- naming the guy, he can't do it, he can't do it. Trump should stay the heck out of it.
WALSH: I'm not going to let Stephen hijack this conversation on a day like today and come back to the strong economy.
MOORE: What are you talking about?
WALSH: Like that's all that matters. It's not a strong economy. We watched the stock market crash --
BURNETT: Steve, Steve, Steve, guys, guys, guys, just by talking -- just by talking loudly, then nobody can hear you, okay? I get it, you're angry.
MOORE: I couldn't hear because she keeps talking over me.
BURNETT: Nobody can hear you because you're talking nonstop. Hold on a second. I simply ask you, this moment with General Mattis, is an important moment for this presidency and this country. Do you deny that?
MOORE: I'll accept that.
BURNETT: OK. All right.
MOORE: Look, I'm not a foreign policy person. I'm talking about the economy.
BURNETT: Right, but you know this president. You know the people around him. You know that he went out tonight on twitter and he said the guy was going to retire, which was a blatantly false --
WALSH: He lied again.
BURNETT: Why -- do you actually think the president thought that people would believe him and that maybe nobody would see Jim Mattis' letter?
MOORE: Look, I can't say. I just don't know about that. But what I'm saying is that when it comes to the two issues that I to know about, which is the bad decision --
BURNETT: I don't want to talk about the economy right now for just a moment because I want to give you a chance to talk about the president. You know him. You talk to him. I'm asking you what you think. Why he thought people would believe something that he put out there that was untrue about Jim Mattis.
MOORE: Look, I can't comment on that. But you brought up a minute ago the potential shutdown of the government. I'm with Trump on this. I mean, my goodness, why in the world in a $1 trillion spending bill can't the Democrats and Congress who, you know, have a sort of a veto in the Senate, why can't they find $4 billion out of a trillion dollar spending bill to build the wall when it was one of Trump's major promises in the American people.
WALSH: This is unbelievable.
BURNETT: Is that like saying it's on sale, even though it's a horrible item you should buy it anyway?
MOORE: What are you talking about? Trump ran for president, every speech he gave, he said I'm going to build this wall, he wins the election, and Democrats say, we're not for border security, we're not going to do this, we want catch ask and release, sanctuary states and sanctuary cities. I think Trump should take this to the American people, say, look, I want to build the wall and secure our border, the Democrats can't spend $4 billion.
BURNETT: Go, Joan.
WALSH: You know, history is going to judge folks who made this economy argument very poorly. And if I didn't care about -- don't interrupt me.
MOORE: Why? Why?
WALSH: If I didn't care about the people who will be furloughed over the holiday, I would say bring it on, because I really relish the idea of Democrats getting to run on a government shutdown right before Christmas.
[19:40:02] It's terrible. Your party just ran on fear of immigrants and you lost 40 seats in the House, Steve. I would say bring it on except people will suffer.
MOORE: Let's have a fight about border security. I'm with you on that. Let's have a fight.
WALSH: We won the fight, as a matter of fact. We won the fight because we had an election last month and your team got it butt kicked.
BURNETT: I want to know where the intersection of these two points are, General Mattis and the economy. It comes right at the heart of China and the tariffs. In the letter today, Jim Mattis, right, the current defense secretary, and whether he lasts until February or not is unclear, but that's when he says he's going to stay to. Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly intentioned with ours.
He goes on to continue and say, my views on this, you know, are not the same as yours, so that is why I need to go.
All right. That is clear that what the president says about China, he really means. I want to play one important thing when the president was talking about President Xi of China, OK? And a lot of people dismissed this, especially supporters, like oh, he's just joking, it doesn't matter. Let me play the president of the United States.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Steve, everybody laughed at the time but now Jim Mattis is making it clear that those --
MOORE: Erin, I couldn't hear what the president said there. What did he say?
BURNETT: He was talking about the president of China and he said he's now president for life. He's great. Look he was able to do that. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day. And everybody dismissed that. Not everybody, but people like you dismissed that and said he was joking.
But it sounds like General Mattis is saying that admiration for authoritarian regimes was not a joke, it was so serious and sincere that the defense secretary is resigning in part over it.
MOORE: What I don't get about this, and I don't know General Mattis, and I have a high respect for him, but look, Trump's staked almost his whole presidency on taking on China. It's the right time to do that. I think he has the American people behind him. If he wins this trade fight, which I believe he will, because he's tough and he's not going to back down, you're going to see the biggest boom in the stock market and the economy ever.
So this is a -- I don't understand why General Mattis says somehow he's like a China sympathizer when we finally have a president who's taking on China.
WALSH: We have never seen anything like this resignation letter and it is going to reverberate and it is going to cover over the things that Steve just said and the ways that he tried to defend the president. This is the beginning of people coming out with their critiques.
You made the point earlier. People have left. People have left quietly. There's been gossip, maybe they've talked to reporters or book writers, but no one has put their objections in a form like this for the American people to read.
And I think Steve notwithstanding, a lot of Republicans tonight have heartburn. They are worried. And we will see more bipartisan oversight and reaction to this and that's a good thing. I think this is the beginning of accountability.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.
And obviously, the breaking news here more details we're learning more about -- livid is the word, Barbara Starr is reporting, livid, Mattis was about Syria and a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well. Something administration officials have told CNN, that the president wants, and the "Wall Street Journal" is now reporting that more than 7,000 American troops are going to start coming home from Afghanistan in the coming weeks. The president is going to bring them home.
I want to talk now to Republican congressman from Ohio, Mike Turner, who sits on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committee.
Yesterday, Congressman, you were deeply frustrated. You were upset and you were angry, you hadn't been briefed on Syria, you didn't agree with what he's doing on Syria, and now all of a sudden, Jim Mattis is quitting in protest to that and saying a whole lot of other things he's not aligned with, with the president.
What is your reaction to this letter?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, first off, I think everyone here on Capitol Hill is deeply appreciative of General Mattis and his service. He came in at a time when there were questions about the Trump administration coming in, where President Trump did not have a record either internationally or domestically and that certainly gave our allies grave concern.
Mattis came in and of course had established relationships with our allies, a strong understanding of the relationship between the pentagon and our men and women in uniform and other diplomatic channels and levers that we have that were important to work together. So, I think we're all very, very appreciative. Certainly people are very concerned about what will come next.
Now, as we've looked to the Department of Defense, the president's done very well in his appointments to the secretaries of the service branches, certainly Undersecretary Shanahan, everybody has looked to the team he's put in place and have had a great deal of regard for who was there. Now, we're in a situation where, obviously, the president's going to have to step up and there's grave concern as to what direction that he might be going, so we look to who's going to be put in next.
[19:45:10] Erin, you said it. The letter that Mattis put together gives a road map of the areas where I think everyone's now going to be looking, to that next person for clarification, what are the differences between Mattis and the president with respect to China, Russia, as he said, malign actors. And also, treatment of our allies and how do we look to the person who's coming in next to ensure that we have very secure policy for national security.
BURNETT: And, look, I understand part of your job now is to come on now and calm people down and say, look, we're going to find someone else and, look, I think every American will hope that we will, right? It's important. There's nothing more important than this job but we're at this moment where someone with 40 years of experience, a four star general, one of the single most respected people in the American military is saying the president won't listen to anyone around him, has disrespect for those around him, disrespect for American allies -- I mean, Congressman, is it fair to say that this -- this is a big moment for our country.
TURNER: Well, I certainly think it's a big moment for this president. I think now, if you look to the leadership that we have at the Department of Defense, certainly, again, as I was saying, the undersecretaries, the secretaries for the service branches, Mattis himself who is not walking out the door tomorrow. And we have very confident -- great confidence in the leadership that's there.
But as you point out, Erin, what's important in Mattis' resignation is not just that he's leaving and that someone will be replacing him, but that he has laid out areas of divergence between General Mattis and the president that are going to have to be addressed, what are the divergent areas on China, on Russia, on malign actors, on how we treat allies and what allies we need to be working with and, of course, we all -- and you and I were talking just last night, there's no secretary of defense who should ever hear of troops being pulled out of a country by Twitter.
And I think certainly this is a moment for the president to understand that this is not acceptable, and as we look to ensure the continuity of the Department of Defense, we're going to need quality people who have quality commitment to our national security.
BURNETT: Right, which Jim Mattis did. I mean, that's the problem. He had all that and the president had no respect for it. I don't see any other way to see this, right?
When you say you shouldn't be running this on Twitter, OK, 24 hours later, after you first expressed that deep frustration here, which you just reiterated, the president ignores Jim Mattis on Syria and then announces that Mattis is retiring on Twitter. OK, then we get the letter and Mattis is very clear, I am stepping down. The president puts the Mattis thing out on twitter and isn't even honest about it.
Does that bother you? Like what he thought we were all going to believe that Mattis is retiring? By the way, he already retired from the military. He's not retiring.
TURNER: That is somewhat semantics in that he's returning back to his retirement after his resignation.
BURNETT: OK, that is not -- can we just be honest? That was not what the president was trying to convey.
TURNER: That's not the issue. The issue upon which we both agree is that this is a series of very inappropriate actions that have raised the level of concern, and the president, he's going to have to answer that with who's next and that's the part, I think, that we're all trying to focus on is we need someone who is going to be able to lead the Department of Defense, who's going to have consistent views to be able to satisfy our allies as General Mattis did.
But the discussion on who's next, and on their approval, I mean, I assume that these Senate confirmation hearings are going to focus on the contents of General Mattis' letter, what are those differences, how are they going to be expressed by the candidate that's put forward, and whether or not those differences, whether Donald Trump's view or the view of the Senate or the person who's put forward, are the ones that we need to be focusing on.
BURNETT: All right, Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thanks again for joining.
TURNER: Thank you. Thanks so much.
BURNETT: And next, breaking news, the House just finishing up a vote to keep the open -- the government open, so where's the wall? Is it in there?
[19:52:53] BURNETT: More now on the breaking news tonight. The Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quits, writing in his resignation letter to the president, in part, because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. And these and other subjects for having respect for American allies and not kowtowing to authoritarian regimes, including China and Russia.
OUTFRONT now, Democrat congressman from California, Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, your reaction to this news?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: We have a White House in crisis. Good evening, Erin.
General Mattis, great respect for his military service, haven't agreed with every decision of his. But he's always been a force to restrict the president's -- intervene against the president's worst instincts. Remember when Bob Woodward reported that the president wanted to assassinate Bashar al Assad, and he told me, sir, we can't do that. So, it's just a fear that the adults in the room, the experts who the president said he was going to hire and rely on the best, that they're leaving. That makes us less safe.
BURNETT: In your view, you know, John Kelly is gone, a general who is chief of staff. General Mattis is gone shortly. We'll see what the final day ends up being. Many people saw them as mature, thoughtful, adults in the room. Who are the adults left in this administration in your view?
SWALWELL: Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, and that should terrify everyone if there aren't more moderating forces. If you're a Republican legislature right now and you've been on the sidelines --
BURNETT: Steve Bannon, of course, is gone.
SWALWELL: No, I'm sorry, Steven Miller and Kellyanne Conway. Steven Miller, the senior adviser.
So, if you're a Republican and you've been quiet and just hoping and praying that this president is going to get it right, he's not. And now is a time to speak up for the sake of our country. And I hope this moves more leaders in Congress to realize that we do have an executive branch in crisis.
[19:55:02] BURNETT: Now, obviously in Des Moines, we hear some of the background of the event that you are in, people cheering. Other Democrats are considering 2020 bids? Obviously, your name is on that list. Right now, obviously we have the vote totals up a moment ago. They're scrambling over this government shutdown, a possible vote as we're waiting for that to finish. You know, this all could come down tonight.
Are you concerned you're not there?
SWALWELL: No. This is a stunt vote. We had a deal this morning when I had left to Iowa. I did a gun violence town hall with a Parkland survivor, and if there's a serious vote that will keep government open, of course, I'll get back.
But we made it clear to the president there's no path to fund this wall. It will not go anywhere in the Senate. And people are going to suffer if Donald Trump's shutdown happens.
Border patrol agents aren't going to get paid. Small business loans aren't going to get extended. Federal housing -- first-time homeowner loans are going to be put on hold. This is completely avoidable, and we had a deal this morning that should have sailed through.
BURNETT: All right. So, in your view, this is a stunt vote. What happens next for the Mattis situation? He says he's going to stay until someone else can be picked, selected and confirmed. Obviously, the president had pitched this as a retirement, not someone quitting.
So as this letter leaks out, we'll see if that date stays the same. I think it's a fair question as to whether it moves when the president sees how this is being interpreted, and what his defense secretary really said about him.
My question to you, though, is someone good going to take this job?
SWALWELL: Well, the president has a right to pick anyone he likes. I hope the person that takes this job understands who our allies are and does not alienate us from them, and understands who our adversaries are and stands firm against them as General Mattis warned in his letter that that must always be the case.
And also, presses upon the president about the rule of law and the human rights that we value and the U.N. convention that we follow to make sure that the president's worst instincts don't materialize and that we slowly erode and slip into an authoritative regime.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Congressman Swalwell.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And the government shutdown could be hours away. That House vote, you heard congressman say it's a stunt vote, but the point is this whole wall issue, this $5 billion border wall that the president is now insisting upon.
Manu Raju is back with me now.
And, Manu, explain, the vote that we can see the totals that popped back up on the screen, but what this actually means.
RAJU: Yes, most likely going to pass the House. This funding bill that the president demanded for $5 billion in wall money, in addition to the -- to keep the government open, as you can see right there, 217 votes at the moment. That essentially means they're going to have enough votes to get this out of the House.
Now, this does not mean that this bill is going to become law. Tomorrow, the Senate is going to try to take up this bill, and we expect it to fail tomorrow, probably in its first procedural vote. And at that point, then what?
That's the big question, because Friday evening is -- Friday night is the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown. The bill just -- they just called the vote in the House. It did pass, Erin, 217-185 votes.
So, it has passed the House, but the Senate, the chances of it passing the Senate, nonexistent. So at that point, when the Senate blocks it, what do they do? Does the president hold firm and demand his wall money or decide to back off, accept what the Senate has passed almost unanimously, and last night to keep the government afloat until February 8th, and punt that fight when Democrats regain control of the House. The president saying he will not cave. So we'll see what happens tomorrow after the Senate reject thing.
BURNETT: What's your take, though, here right now as we come into Christmas, shutdown or no, Manu?
RAJU: It feels likely that there will be a shutdown if the president does not back off. There's no virtually path for anything else at the moment. Erin, most members have left town. Senators are gone. I'm not expecting many senators tomorrow, many will be gone, won't be here. So they need to get something that can get everybody on board to pass very quickly.
That's hard to do. The only thing that could happen is if the president decides to change course and sign that Senate bill to keep the government open. And he's saying he's not. So, we'll see what happens after that.
But Trump and his allies believe that they can win the battle of public opinion about the border security issue if there is a shutdown. It will force Democrats to come to the table. The Democrats are holding firm saying they're not going to do that. So, we'll see what happens.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.
And, of course, this is now intrinsically linked to this letter, and this stunning rebuke from the defense secretary to the president of the United States.
Thanks for watching us.
Anderson "360" starts now.