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THE SITUATION ROOM
Defense Secretary Quits in Protest Over Trump Middle East Policy As Government Shutdown Looms and Financial Markets Tank; Interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Interview With Senior Presidential Adviser Stephen Miller; Bipartisan Criticism Grows of Trump's Decision to Pull Out of Syria. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 20, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Mattis writing a two-page letter to the president of the United States.
And the headline here is, the secretary of defense says: "Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours."
And he goes on to say, "I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."
Mattis talks throughout the letter about the need to respect allies, about the need for alliances and to support alliances, something that the president has turned away from into an isolationist national security policy.
The move to take troops out of Syria and leave the Kurdish fighters that the U.S. had promised to support to a possible bloodbath by ISIS and the Turks and the Syrian regime, the potentially imminent decision, we are told, to possibly draw down troops in Afghanistan, leaving Afghan forces that the U.S. had promised to support to the hands of the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan, had to be two issues that would trouble Jim Mattis significantly.
His code of personal military honor and ethics is that you do not walk away from your friends on the battlefield.
Mattis tonight simply may have run out of runway room ahead of him that he felt he could use in dealing with the president. He had been sidelined. He had been -- his advice on these matters had been rejected, clearly. And Mattis had had a strategy that simply wasn't working.
He was trying to keep a low public profile and never say anything that would be contradictory to the president of the United States. He knew that this would infuriate Trump. He knows that President Trump doesn't like to see other people out there in public speaking, that it is all reserved for the president. So Mattis, over the last two years, had a strategy. You don't see him
on camera holding press conferences. He would come talk off camera to reporters. You don't see him out there that much. He's very measured. He tried very hard never to get crosswise with the president because of President Trump's sensitivities.
At the same time, he made it very clear he didn't see his job as saving President Trump, that he saw his job as supporting the U.S. troops out in the field, risking their lives. And he will be concerned tonight that those troops see his move to resign as not being disloyal.
That is something I think it is very fair to say is going to trouble him, how this is portrayed to the troops in the field. So he's taking great pains in this letter to say, President Trump, I can't really support what you're doing, so I need to go.
That is essentially the decision that Jim Mattis has made tonight. And now the big question, will there be anybody else in the administration that makes a similar decision, Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's an important question, indeed.
But what are you hearing? Who's possibly going to be taking his job over at the Department of Defense?
STARR: Well, this now becomes one of the most fascinating questions, because, in the last day-and-a-half, it is Republicans in Congress who have been so vocal in their opposition to President Trump's decision to take troops out of Syria.
There has been almost no support for that decision by the president. So, how does a new secretary of defense come in, go through confirmation hearings, and everybody not just scratch their head and wonder what is going on?
How does a new secretary of defense do that? That very much remains to be seen. And as we move into the winter months very rapidly here, there is something else. And it sounds like inside baseball, but it's actually very critical. Mattis leaves in February.
You're going to see a change of command in several key positions that was already scheduled. The head of Central Command, who oversees the wars in the Middle East in Afghanistan, is leaving this winter. The head of Special Operations Command leaving this winter. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff already scheduled to retire in October.
His replacement will be General Mark Milley, the head of the Army. General Milley a supporter of President Trump, fair to say, but also a man of the battlefield, with lots of combat experience in Afghanistan, he will be somebody who will have to answer a lot of tough questions about, how can you take troops out of Afghanistan? How can you not support alliances? How can you not support NATO? How can you not support the Afghan forces? Are you not risking American security?
[18:05:01] Because the fundamental question underlying all of this tonight, all of these decisions made by President Trump, is, is this battlefield of terrorism being basically surrendered to ISIS, the Taliban, the Assad regime in Syria, and to Russian- and Iranian-backed militia forces who are so active in these areas?
If U.S. troops are not there, if U.S. military influence is not there, U.S. diplomatic influence is absent, what will happen? Will these safe havens for terrorists rise once again, Wolf?
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, doing excellent reporting, as she always does, over at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
Let's go to the White House right now. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working the story for us.
Jim, Secretary Mattis is leaving, a government shutdown is looming, a lot going on where you are right now. What's the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And we should point out, the president tweeted that Secretary Mattis is retiring. That's obviously not the case. If you look at that letter, this is almost a forced resignation or a resignation in protest.
If you just listen to what Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, has been saying over the last day or so, that Secretary Mattis was opposed to this move to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, that much of the president's national security team was opposed to pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, it sounds as though it was essentially enough is enough for Secretary Mattis.
And now he's going to leave the scene. But not only is the president potentially leaving Washington tomorrow with this -- much of this city in chaos, on the brink of a government shutdown, he has an administration that is dealing with some chaos, because now he has an outgoing defense secretary. He has an attorney general who needs to be confirmed. He has an interior secretary who just stepped down the other day under an ethical cloud.
And so it's almost Whac-A-Mole over here at the White House. Can they keep up with all these problems that just seem to be cropping up on a daily basis, problems of their own making, Wolf? Keep in mind, the president could have signed this continuing resolution that came out of the Senate, had been passed in the House today, and a government shutdown would have been averted.
Now we are staring at the possibility of a government shutdown in the next day or so. And the president indicated earlier this afternoon that he's willing to do it for what he calls a wall or steel slats, as he described it earlier this afternoon.
The administration has not given us a whole lot of guidance as to what a steel wall would look like, but perhaps you will have some officials coming up shortly who will be able to explain all of that. One other thing we should point out, Wolf, getting back to this
departure of Secretary Mattis, I will tell you, Wolf, the impact is already being filled up on Capitol Hill. Senator Lindsey Graham just put out a tweet a short while ago saying he was saddened by the news.
But, Wolf, I just got word from a top House Republican, didn't want to be named, conservative House Republican who supports the president, is in a national security roll up on Capitol Hill, who responded to the departure of Secretary Mattis this way -- quote -- "The wheels may be coming off."
So, Wolf, even among the president's own supporters, they may not want to say it publicly, but even among the president's own supporters, there is some concern there is just too much chaos happening all at once over here at this White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of chaos, indeed. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Let's go up to Capitol Hill right. CNN's Ryan Nobles is standing by there.
Ryan, where do efforts to avoid a government shutdown stand right now?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was already a crazy day by any measure, when you talk about House Republicans attempting to tack on funding for a border security on this continuing resolution that would keep the government open, and then you throw the Jim Mattis news into all of that.
I have to tell you, there are a lot of members Congress that are stunned by this news. Many did not see it coming. And they don't have a whole lot to say, other than that they appreciate Jim Mattis service, and they're hoping that the president installs someone into that role who can do the job effectively.
But to your point about this government spending bill, the House Republicans just did a pass a rule that would allow this new language to come into the final bill. This was a key legislative hurdle that they had to cross. It passed easily, essentially on a party-line vote.
That sets the stage now for the House to pass this legislation that includes $5 billion for border security, and then another $7.5 billion dollars for disaster relief. Now, this was something that Senate Democrats and House Democrats were not in favor of. They do not want any sort of funding that is connected to a potential border wall included in this package.
They made that very clear to President Trump in the lead-up to this debate over the continuing resolution. Earlier today, Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House speaker who will soon have control of the House of Representatives, made it very clear to reporters that, if the House Republicans attempted at the last minute to insert language like this, that Democrats would not support the bill.
[18:10:10] But even if it gets through the House, Wolf, it will face a very difficult climb in the Senate. There are many Senate Republicans who have said that they're concerned about language like this. And also, in the Senate, it would require 60 votes, and that would mean Democrats coming over and supporting legislation like this.
At this point, this just does not seem possible. So we will have to see how this all plays out over the next 24 hours. House Republicans very confident that they can pass the continuing resolution that includes the funding of for the wall. They will then send that over to the Senate and see what happens.
This could be a very dicey couple of days here in Washington, with the potential for the government to be shut down by midnight tomorrow night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of stake right now. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Let's talk about all the breaking news right now.
Joining us from the White House, the president's senior adviser, Stephen Miller.
Stephen, thanks very much for joining us.
I see you smiling.
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Hey, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: But, right now, it doesn't look like there's a lot of smile about, very serious issues. And I want to talk about a potential government shutdown in a moment.
But I got to get your reaction to the sudden announcement from the defense secretary that he's quitting. The president, as you know, said he's retiring.
But, clearly, General Mattis, the defense secretary, in his letter, he made it clear he's resigning over disagreements with the president.
Tell us what you know about this. You're a senior adviser to the president.
Well, first of all, there is a lot to be happy about right now. As you know, the House passed a criminal justice reform bill. The president signed the farm bill into law today. The economy continues to do great, with record low unemployment.
As to your question about Secretary Mattis, he and the president had a great relationship. Secretary Mattis served our country with honor and distinction. At the same time. as you know, President Trump believes that many
immensely wealthy countries are taking advantage of the United States. They are taking advantage of our dollars and our money, and have been for a long time. But we protect these very wealthy countries.
And the president's been very emphatic about the need to get a fair deal for the American taxpayer and to make sure that we're only engaged in activities that in our national interests.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you, Stephen.
The president said that Mattis is retiring. Why didn't -- and Mattis Mattis is quitting. He's not retiring. He's quitting in protest over the president's policies.
So why is the president saying in that statement he made on Twitter that Mattis is retiring?
MILLER: Well, James Mattis is retiring.
At the same time, as Mattis said, the president's entitled to a secretary of defense that has strong alignment with his views. And I think that is something that all Americans could agree with.
BLITZER: Hold on a second.
MILLER: It's also very normal at this point in the administration to have turnover.
Secretary Mattis had always made it clear to the president from the beginning he didn't plan on staying through the entire administration. But this is an opportunity for the whole country to get a new secretary of defense who will be aligned with the president on these critical issues, whether you're talking about in Syria, whether you're talking about across the Middle East in general, whether you're talking about other countries paying their fair share, and the whole America-first agenda of this president.
BLITZER: But, in his letter, Mattis lays out his views.
And let me just briefly summarize some of those views. It's a very long letter that he writes. He stands by he says treating allies with respect and being clear-eyed about malign actors and competitors.
And then he says, because the president has a right to a defense secretary whose views are better aligned with his, he's stepping down.
That sounds to me, Stephen, like a very strong rebuke of the president's policies. Isn't it?
MILLER: Well, it sounds to me like Secretary Mattis believes the president's entitled to a secretary of defense who is better aligned with his views.
At the same time, this president had a great relationship with Secretary Mattis and thanks him for his service.
But let's -- let's talk about the big picture here, Wolf. The media that's having this hysterical reaction to James Mattis retiring is the same media in many cases, the same politicians in many cases who cheered our nation into a war in Iraq that turned out to be an absolute catastrophe.
This president got elected to get our foreign policy back on the right track, after years of being adrift, one foreign policy blunder after another in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya that hasn't worked out for the national interest.
BLITZER: Stephen, does the president want to withdraw the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan and the 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, in addition to the 2,000 troops in Syria?
MILLER: I have absolutely no policy announcements of any kind to make tonight whatsoever.
What I'm talking about, Wolf, is the big picture of a country that, through several administrations, had an absolutely catastrophic foreign policy that cost trillions and trillions of dollars and thousands of thousands of lives and made the Middle East more unstable and more dangerous.
And let's talk about Syria. Let's talk about the fact ISIS is the enemy of Russia. ISIS is the enemy of Assad. ISIS is the enemy of Turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria for generation after generation, spilling American blood, to fight the enemies of all those countries?
BLITZER: The president says on one day that ISIS is defeated. The next day, he says ISIS is there, and let Russia take care of it.
MILLER: ISIS has been defeated. But if ISIS wants to retrench and regrow and reorganize, it's going to be up to those countries to defeat their enemy.
Wolf, when did the American people sign up to be in every war in every place on every side of every conflict all over planet Earth?
BLITZER: Why are some of your best friends, national security experts, like Lindsey Graham, for example, Marco Rubio, for example, so many other conservative Republicans and so many -- so many of the president's own national security team, including the defense secretary, his national security adviser, the secretary of state, opposed to the president's decision?
MILLER: OK, well, first of all, the secretary of state isn't opposed to the president's decision. So I'm not sure where that's coming from.
The president, more fundamentally, welcomes robust views, welcomes debate, had a fabulous relationship with the secretary of defense. But, again, some of the voices you're talking about, like our dear friend Lindsey Graham, who we like a great deal, have been wrong about Middle East policy, been wrong about Iraq.
BLITZER: By the way, Lindsey Graham -- Stephen, Lindsey Graham said publicly on TV that he spoke with Secretary Pompeo. And he said Pompeo opposed the president's decision.
MILLER: Look, the -- I just find it amusing that the media continues to cite Lindsey Graham as the greatest authority on foreign policy in American history.
Since when has the United States media become the supporters of every entanglement in the Middle East that has bogged down this country? I just don't know where that's coming from.
The American people voted for a president, Donald Trump, who's very tough, very strong, very aggressive on terrorism, but, at the same time smart, at the same time sophisticated, at the same time heeding the wisdom of our founders, who warned about entangling foreign engagements.
Let's defend our national security. Let's put America first. But let's not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries, as is the case in Syria.
BLITZER: I just want to point out, this isn't about the media. This is about top senators, Republican senators, top national security advisers to the president, Stephen, expressing their opposition to this sudden decision.
And then, all of a sudden, the secretary of defense announces he's resigning, he's quitting because he doesn't agree with the president's policies. This has nothing to do with the media.
MILLER: Well, my point, though -- and I don't mean any disrespect with this at all, Wolf. I'm not even referring to your program.
I'm just making a general observation that, as you have seen hour and hour of coverage breathlessly trying to drag America deeper into a Syrian conflict, breathlessly engaging in propping up quotes from people who have dragged us into conflicts like Iraq, I just find it curious because, at least as far as I'm aware, the media is supposed to be filled with a lot of progressives who don't want America to be in endless, never-ending foreign conflicts.
This president's been very clear about the fact he will defend America like no one else, he will have a military power second to none, he will kill terrorists wherever and whenever he has to. But he's also going to be sophisticated and intelligent and smart about it.
And he's not going to have us in foreign conflicts like Syria generation after generation after generation, instead of protecting this country.
And you want to talk about protecting this country. You want to talk about defending America. Border security.
BLITZER: Stephen, hold on. Let's talk about that. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about this looming government shutdown.
I suspect -- I want to move on to those issues. I suspect we're not only going to see U.S. troops out of Syria, but also eventually out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, you're making that case as well.
But let's talk about a potential shutdown.
MILLER: No, Wolf, I'm not that making that case.
BLITZER: Well, you're expressing your views...
MILLER: I have absolutely no information about that.
BLITZER: You're expressing the view that it was a blunder to get involved in Afghanistan, it was a blunder to get involved in Iran.
MILLER: What the president has said is that we've been in Afghanistan for 19 years and spent trillions of dollars.
We went into Iraq. We overthrew Saddam Hussein. There weren't weapons of mass destruction. We ended up giving Iran the chance to have a proxy in Iraq. We ended up creating a situation, we created a power vacuum that led to terrorism.
No decisions of any kind have been made about the future. I'm talking about the past and how we got here.
BLITZER: All right.
MILLER: I'm talking like the voices that we either listen to or we don't listen to when making foreign policy decisions, and why this president got elected, to chart a better path for American foreign policy.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about a potential government shutdown at midnight tomorrow night, on the eve of Christmas. This is what the president told Democratic leaders at the White House last week, Stephen. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to shut down the government for border security.
I will take the mantle. I will be the to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn't work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.
And I'm going to shut it down for border security.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: But we believe you shouldn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, we're apparently in the same position as we were a week ago.
The president had, as you know, two years a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate to get this done, to build that border wall.
Why did he fail?
MILLER: The House is voting as we speak on border security. The fight is only just beginning.
As you know, first of all, when we're talking about success on border security, this president has been unprecedented achievements in that area.
But, right now, as we speak, we are rallying Republican lawmakers to try and get a bill out of the House. And the fundamental issue here is whether or not Democrats will supply votes to pass border security or whether they're going to push for open borders, which equals massive crime and massive fraud.
Three hundred Americans die every week from heroin that crosses through our southern border.
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying about. I understand completely what you're saying about the importance of border security. And I understand what you're saying about the border wall. The president spoke about it in virtually every campaign speech, as we know.
BLITZER: Here's the question. Why didn't he get the border wall done during his first two years in office with a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate?
MILLER: Well, we actually have completed or have under way 100 miles.
But the president's made clear that he's not interested in continuing to build the while -- mile -- one mile one stretch at a time. He wants to build the wall by getting the money now, just like the president was very clear about for the last year leading up to this funding fight.
MILLER: Right now, as we speak, right now, as we speak, there is a surge of illegal immigration heading towards our country that presents a national crisis now, not a month from now, not a year from now, right now.
And this president took an oath, like every lawmaker in Congress, to defend the citizens of this country. How many more innocent people have to die in pursuit of an open borders agenda?
BLITZER: All right, Stephen, hold on a minute. Calm down a minute. We don't have to yell. These are important policy issues that we're discussing. The American people have a right to know where you and the president, the White House stands.
As you know, why did the vice president, for example, Mike Pence -- he was reported to have given a clear signal to Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, Senator Cornyn of Texas.
Why did he say yesterday that the president was willing to sign what was called that clean continuing resolution that the Senate passed unanimously last night, at least keep the government going until early February?
MILLER: The White House never made a commitment to sign any legislation that doesn't include border security.
BLITZER: Well, let me tell you what Senator Cornyn unequivocally said yesterday.
He said the president would sign what the Senate passed.
MILLER: The president never made any -- any commitment to sign a government funding bill absent border security.
But I appreciate what you said, Wolf, about how important this conversation is. And you're 100 percent right about that. This is about the safety and security of every family, every mother, every man, every child. It's about whether or not we have drug-free communities. It's about whether or not poor working-class and middle- class Americans have a fair chance to get a job and a rising wage and a good quality of life.
It's about our schools. It's about our living conditions. It's about our communities. It's about protecting the public treasury. It's about all of those things and so much more.
Republicans and Democrats alike have a fundamental duty to the working people of this country to secure our border. This is straightforward common sense.
BLITZER: All right.
MILLER: Let's have both parties come together and do what's right for the people of this country, and most especially for the needy Americans at this time of year who deserve to have a secure country, a secure economy and a secure social safety net.
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying. But let me repeat the question.
If it's so important to have that border wall, why didn't the president get it done during his first two years in office?
MILLER: In the first two years in office, in addition to deporting from this country 200,000-plus criminal..
BLITZER: The question is about the border wall. Why didn't the president get the border wall funded in his first two years in office?
MILLER: In addition to deporting over 200,000 criminal aliens who preyed upon our people, the president also got funded several billion miles (sic) of the border wall.
And he's made it clear -- this should be no surprise to you, Wolf, or anyone else -- he's made it clear for over a year now that he expects to get full border security in this year-end funding bill. This is not a dramatic request.
This is mainstream common sense. How can you fund the government and not fund border security?
BLITZER: Let me ask you. You're a close observer of what's going on, Stephen. He hasn't gotten the $5 billion for the border wall. The Democrats are about to become the majority in the House of Representatives.
Are you willing to come up with some sort of compromise right now to prevent 900,000 federal workers, including 400,000 or 500,000 law enforcement types, from -- they will no longer get their paychecks as of midnight tomorrow night if there's a government shutdown.
MILLER: Well, I'm not going to negotiate here on air. But I would answer that question very simply. If Democrats don't want the government to shut down, support border security. It's that simple.
You know, I heard earlier you were discussing the steel slat barrier. What that's referring to is the Border Patrol's preferred method of building a physical impediment to illegal entry, which are bollard steel...
BLITZER: Are you talking to Democrats right now to come up with a compromise before midnight tomorrow night?
MILLER: The Democrats, all they need to do is support border security, and the government will be funded.
BLITZER: Stephen, the Democrats support border security. They don't support $5 billion for a wall.
MILLER: Could you -- could you identify, Wolf, for me some of the kinds of border security you're saying that Democrats are here to support?
BLITZER: The Democrats all say they support border security.
MILLER: But like what?
BLITZER: Where they disagree with you is building a wall.
MILLER: With all due respect, Wolf, they voted against case law. They voted against ending sanctuary cities. They voted against deporting MS-13 gang members. They have voted against deporting violent criminals.
They have voted time and time again against a physical border wall to stop illegal entry. I mean, where's the evidence that you keep asserting they are for border security? They haven't been. They oppose closing loopholes for asylum that flood our system with meritless claims. They oppose ending catch and release.
BLITZER: Stephen, I want to move on to another sensitive issue.
MILLER: I'm just saying, I'm just saying, I believe government will be funded as long as Democrats make good on the rhetoric you cite and agree to vote for border security.
BLITZER: But what if there's no $5 billion in the legislation between now and tomorrow night?
MILLER: We will see what happens, Wolf, but I believe that, hopefully, some Democrats will come to their senses and support mainstream, commonsense border security.
BLITZER: But are you open to a compromise with the Democrats -- are you open to a compromise that doesn't include the $5 billion?
MILLER: We want a bill that keeps America safe.
The president's been clear about that in his remarks today at the signing ceremony for the farm bill. And I'm not going to negotiate with you here on air. The House is going to pass the bill and send it to the Senate, and we will see what happens next.
BLITZER: But when you say, we will see what happens, is that a good enough answer for the nearly one million federal workers, many of them law enforcement types, who are not going to get a paycheck after midnight tomorrow night?
MILLER: That's a question for the Senate Democrats, and especially for Chuck Schumer, who apparently, at Nancy Pelosi's bidding, rescinded their support for a bill that funds border security only a few weeks ago.
BLITZER: Well, why not have a temporary measure, at least keep these people working, especially as we're getting closer and closer to Christmas?
MILLER: Because, if the bill doesn't fund border security, then it can't keep America safe.
In other words, this isn't just an issue...
BLITZER: Is another month or two going to make much of a difference?
MILLER: You know what, Wolf?
It makes a difference to the people that get killed by illegal immigrants who are drinking and driving or who get assaulted by gang members that come across the border or who lose their jobs to illegal competition.
It makes a difference to all of them, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm just saying, you have got a couple of months. At least keep the government going. Begin to negotiate. Try to work out a compromise with Democrats and Republicans. There are a bunch of Republicans who don't agree with you as well.
BLITZER: Keep the discussion going. But, in the meantime, Stephen, at least don't shut down the government. MILLER: After decades of the American people being betrayed on the issue of border security and illegal immigration, this president is proud to take a stand on behalf of the safety and security of every American family.
As you know, he's met with the victims of illegal immigrant violence. He's met with those whose family members were killed by MS-13 gang members who came here because of Democrats' support of loopholes in our federal law.
He's met with the victims of drug violence. He's met with the people who've been negatively impacted in so many heartbreaking ways by this.
Now's the time, right now, to stand up and do what's right for the American people. And that's what this president is doing.
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying, Stephen.
MILLER: And it's a question. I hope you will have Democrats on your program and ask them if they can set aside, in some of these cases, their -- their dislike of the president that's driving them to hurt the country.
BLITZER: I understand what you're saying.
MILLER: Do what is right for the country.
BLITZER: We will get a Democrat, a Democratic senator, to respond to what you're saying.
My only point is, don't shut down the government. Continue the negotiations. Try to come up with a reasonable compromise. It looked a few months ago the president was willing to come up with some sort of compromise involving the so-called dreamers, but let's not go through that, let's not go through that right now.
MILLER: That's fair.
But it was Democrats who pulled their support for funding border security only a matter of days ago.
BLITZER: All right.
MILLER: And it's Democrats who can fund the government by doing what's right for the hardworking citizens of this country and putting America first.
BLITZER: I know we don't have a lot of time left. But let me ask you this.
Why should American taxpayers have to pay for the wall along the border with Mexico? Why should almost a million federal workers have to work -- half-a-million law enforcement types -- over the Christmas holidays without their paychecks over something the president of the United States, as a candidate and as president, repeatedly promised to the American people that Mexico would pay for the wall?
MILLER: OK. So, a few...
BLITZER: Why isn't Mexico -- the president said -- he guaranteed it, Mexico would pay. Mexico clearly, the former government, the new government, said they're not paying.
MILLER: Thank you for asking the question.
So, first of all, as the president said, as we have all said, the wall will be paid for through the savings on trade alone. But I want to explain to you and the audience...
BLITZER: If that will happen, why do you need $5 billion right now, if Mexico is going to come up with it with some other way?
MILLER: I'm glad you're giving me the chance to answer the question, because, as you know, Wolf, in Washington budgeting, an offset is different than an allocation.
So, even though this trade savings offset the cost, Congress still has to allocate the funding. So, even though it's fully paid for by trade savings, Congress has to allocate the money.
[18:30:07] But it's also fully paid for in another very important way, which is the cost of illegal immigration. Everyone talks of the cost of the wall. The cost of the wall is pennies compared to the cost of illegal immigration. You obviously can't measure the cost of the lives that are lost to illegal immigration, on both sides of the border, and all the horrible things done by vicious and sinister cartels and coyotes.
But at the same time the cost of drugs alone, according to our Council on Economic Advisers. Heroin, over $230 billion a year. Over 90 percent of it comes through the border. Public benefits for illegal benefits, over $100 billion --
BLITZER: Those are all fair points, Stephen. But clearly, and I think you'll agree, when the Mexican government, the former government, the current government say they're not paying for the wall, you accept what they're saying?
MILLER: No, I'm saying that the wall's being paid for through savings on trade, along with many other things. But that alone pays for the wall. My point is, as you know, Congress, even though the money's offset, still has to allocate it.
BLITZER: Because what if -- look, under -- under the separation of powers, Congress can use whatever money is saved through the new U.S./Mexico/Canada trade agreement. They can just use that money, if extra money comes into the U.S. treasury, to cut down the nation's debt. The deficit is exploding right now.
They don't have to -- Congress does not have to earmark that money for a wall if Congress, the House and the Senate, don't want to do that.
MILLER: Right. I think we're saying the same thing, though, which is if Chuck Schumer and others want to pass a rule saying all the money this president's saving on trade can fund the wall directly, that would be great. But the point is --
BLITZER: They clearly won't -- they clearly won't -- they don't want to do that. They don't want to do that..
MILLER: Right. But the point is that it's all offset; it's all paid for. The wall is fully --
BLITZER: The point is, Stephen, that Mexico -- that Mexico --
MILLER: The wall is fully paid for.
BLITZER: The president promised the Mexican government would write a check and pay for the wall.
MILLER: And the money -- and the money -- and the money's paying for it. We're getting lost in the minutia of complicated budgeting.
BLITZER: It's not minutia. It's very significant.
MILLER: No, it is. No, it is. No, because here's what's really significant. Here's what's very significant. Is the literally hundreds of billions of dollars that will be saved for the American people by reducing illegal immigration.
Wolf, as you know, illegal immigration -- illegal immigrants on average are lower-skilled workers who consume more in public benefits than they pay in taxes. And as a result of that, it costs our country hundreds of billions of dollars.
BLITZER: Stephen --
MILLER: This is a matter of social and economic justice for the American people to have a secure border, to have a wall, a physical impediment to illegal entry, and to have a system that's humane and just. What we are right now is fundamentally unjust and inhumane.
BLITZER: All right. Stephen --
MILLER: And we have to change that.
BLITZER: You've been generous with your time. We appreciate your joining us. We hope you'll come back.
MILLER: Thank you.
BLITZER: But here's a final question before I let you go. MILLER: Yes.
BLITZER: Will the president still travel to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida to start his vacation tomorrow -- tomorrow -- if the government shuts down?
MILLER: My understanding -- I haven't talked with him about it. My understanding is that, if there's a shutdown tomorrow, that he'll still be here. But I haven't talked to him about it recently, but that's my understanding.
BLITZER: All right. Let's -- let's hope there isn't a government shutdown. Because the consequences will be significant.
MILLER: Let's hope the -- let's hope the Democrats fund border security.
BLITZER: Let's -- let's see if you guys can work together with Democrats and get this resolved just before Christmas. It would be a nice gift to the American people. Stephen Miller, thank you so much. Please come back.
MILLER: Thank you. Thank you, I will. Thanks.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, right now.
Barbara, you're learning more about this sudden resignation that unfolded today, the secretary of defense.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've spoken to a U.S. official who's directly associated to the matter. And this official tells us that it was approximately 7:30 this morning when Secretary Mattis decided he needed to go see the president and needed to try to talk to him once again about taking U.S. troops out of Syria.
And we had a hint of that earlier in the day when Senator Lindsey Graham said that he'd spoken to Mattis, and Mattis was very concerned about the fate of the Kurdish fighters that the U.S. would be leaving behind and what might happen in Syria if the U.S. left.
So we know now that Mattis had been very concerned about all this. This morning early, he decided he needs to speak to the president. He goes to the White House, meets with him at 3 p.m. this afternoon, tries to get the president, apparently, to change his mind about pulling U.S. troops out. The president did not. And that's when Mattis decided he needed to resign, that he could no longer serve this president of the United States.
But there is something else looming out there tonight, and this is a potentially imminent decision to also draw down as much as, potentially, half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This could be between 5,000 and 7,000 or so, depending on how you count. Mr. Trump is making it clear inside the administration, we are told he wants to see a draw down in Afghanistan. He may have wanted to announce this at the January State of the Union address as another sign of what he views as his progress in national security.
[18:35:12] This would be an issue that would trouble Mattis greatly. He is a veteran of the combat theaters. He knows and feels very strong about the need to support allies and local forces that the U.S. has pledged not to abandon and not to leave behind.
And so -- and so underlying all of this once again is the question of isolationist military and security policy versus a more global supporting of your alliances, because these are areas where it is not just the foreign nation soil. These are areas where Russia and Iran are very influential in causing trouble, where ISIS and the Taliban are constantly recruiting and plotting and communicating. These are not overseas wars. Experience since 9/11 has shown that these terror groups are quite capable of organizing and carrying out attacks that can cross borders, that can move into Europe and can move into the United States.
BLITZER: Barbara, hold on for a moment. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are speaking right now. Let's go there.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: And I don't know what the answer to the question is. The president of the United States prefers to shut government down and will resist any opportunity to keep government open.
Again, we are completely ready, as we have been for a while, with bipartisan, bicameral legislation to pass the sixth appropriations bill and have a continued resolution for the seventh bill if we cannot come to terms on that.
We've offered that to the president. We've also offered him seven continue -- one continuing resolution with seven bills in it. Yesterday the United States Senate passed legislation overwhelming. And I'll yield to the distinguished leader in the Senate to talk about that.
The president is doing everything that he can to shut the government down. You have to ask the question, why? Does he not believe in governments? Does he not care about the American people? Doesn't he know that the economy is uncertain? Hasn't he followed the stock market that he likes to brag about sometimes? There's something wrong with this picture, especially in the holiday season.
And so if they make the bill bad enough, they're able to get maybe enough votes on the House side. For a shameful bill that is unworthy of this House of Representatives and, certainly, of the American people. I yield to the distinguished leader from the Senate.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, thank you, Leader Pelosi. Today's events have made one thing clear. President Trump is plunging the country into chaos.
The stock market's down another 500 points. General Mattis is stepping down and we know he has real disagreements with the president on Syria and on the wall. And now President Trump is throwing a temper tantrum and creating the Trump shutdown of the government. Last night the Senate passed by voice, unanimously, a bill proposed by
leader McConnell. All Speaker Ryan has to do is put it on the floor of the House. It'll get a majority of votes. And the president can sign it and avoid a shutdown.
But unfortunately, President Trump was attacked this morning and last night by the hard right. And fearful, he backed off his commitment o to sign this bill. Republican leaders told yesterday that he was ready to sign the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate unanimously -- every Democrat and every Republican -- to avoid a government shutdown.
The bill contained neither Democratic demands or Republican demands. It said to the American people, "We have a way to keep the government open."
And Leader Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and myself have done everything we can to avoid a shutdown. But President Trump wants one. He's asked for one 25 times. And he said in front of us he'd be proud to shut down the government. It is nothing to be proud of.
The bottom line is simple. The Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but it will not get him his wall. The bill that's on the floor of the House everyone knows will not pass the Senate. Speaker Ryan, Leader McCarthy have cynically put it on the floor of the House, knowing it can't pass the Senate. Everyone knows it can't pass the Senate.
[18:40:13] It's a cynical attempt, a cynical attempt to just hurt innocent people and do just what attempt to do just what President Trump wants, even though they probably know it's bad for the country.
So bottom line is very simple. There's still hope. Leader Pelosi and I have put two proposals on the table -- we have not taken them off -- that would avoid a government shutdown and get a majority of votes in the House and Senate. Leader McConnell had put on the floor last night a proposal that would avoid shutting down the government.
It is a shame that this president, who is plunging the nation into chaos, is throwing another temper tantrum and going to hurt lots of incident people. The Trump temper tantrum may produce a government shutdown. It will not get him his wall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Leader, what happens next in the Senate if this bill does pass the House tonight?
SCHUMER: Well, Leader McConnell has said he would schedule a vote. It clearly will not come close to getting the 60 votes that it needs. And then leader Pelosi and I and probably Senator McConnell would hope that the House would then consider passing the bipartisan, unanimously passed bill that the Senate would pass. But whether they'll do that or not, your guess is as good as mine.
Donald Trump wants a shutdown. And they seem to be so afraid that they're going go along. We'll see. MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A couple minutes
ago, you told some of us you were shaken by the news about James Mattis's resignation. Why are you shaken by this news?
PELOSI: Well, I'm shaken by the news because of the patriot that General -- Secretary Mattis is.
I think that everybody in the country should read his letter of resignation. It's a letter of great patriotism but respect for the president, but also a statement of his values, where he talks about the strength of our nation is intrinsically linked to the unique and comprehensive system of alliances that we have. That he talks about that we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly intentioned with -- intentions with ours. The list -- it's a beautiful letter about, again, our values as a nation in terms of our national security, written by a patriotic American, who was a comfort to many of us as a voice of stability in the Trump administration.
So just look at this week. The president taking troops out of Syria without full consultation with his -- with the national security leaders of his own administration. The president taking actions that encouraged his secretary of defense to issue a letter of resignation. His reversing his position about signing a bill.
Maybe he thinks if government shut down, he can golf more comfortably. That's not how it works. Government must work, even if you're golfing for two weeks.
So there's something very wrong with this picture. And this resignation is one who just briefed a week ago by Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo, and -- and that was last Thursday. So it was one week ago. Our troops look to Secretary Mattis as a leader. And now he is going to be leaving them.
SCHUMER: Secretary --
PELOSI: This is very serious for our country.
SCHUMER: Yes. Secretary Mattis was one of the few symbols, the few items of strength and stability in this administration. Everything that indicates stability, everything that indicates strength, everything that indicates knowledge is leaving this administration. General Kelly. General Mattis. So many others.
SCHUMER: McMaster, exactly. 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. Shutting down the government. Now, we all know that Secretary Mattis had real disagreements with the
president on Syria and on the wall. Some have speculated that the president was going to demand that he start building a wall, which had he knows he can't do by law, and maybe that's one of the reasons he stepped down.
[18:45:07] REPORTER: Leaders, do you think there's any reasonable prospect that if there is a shutdown, you can override President Trump's veto of a C.R. in the next week or so?
SCHUMER: You'd have to ask our Republican friends.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's strange about how our Republican friends, the worse he gets the more they rally around him. And this -- just to refer back to what leader Schumer was saying about the voice of stability in this administration and the people who have left. You have leaders, great leaders who have left the administration in dismay and the rest of them have left in disgrace. And that's what this administration has been about.
We don't want to be fearmongers in terms of our country. This great country can withstand just about anything. But it shouldn't have to. It shouldn't have to.
So, yes. I'm shaken by the resignation of General Mattis. For what it means to our country, for the message it sends to our troops, and for the indication of what his view is.
SCHUMER: Look, our military soldiers, the 2.15 million of them, our civilian employees in defense looked up to General Mattis. I'm sure they feel it's a great loss. I'm sure most Americans feel it's a great loss. And everything like this that happens, a resignation of a strong leader gives the American people less and less faith in President Trump and the way he governs.
PELOSI: It's just all the more reason for us to pray for our country. Our country has been blessed in so many ways by leaders throughout the centuries, the decades. And some of them, one of them General Mattis.
This is a very sad day for our country. Read his letter. Have you read his letter? Read his letter. And examine the activities that have led up to it and what it means.
Because of his leadership we are safe. Yes. And we have to pray that we're safe and we have to continue to make sure the American people are sure we're safe. That's the oath of office we take to protect and defend and we will. We shouldn't have to do so because of the temper tantrums of the commander in chief.
SCHUMER: Last question.
REPORTER: Now, the Senate is going to have a number of key cabinet posts they're going to be forced to confirm here in a very short period of time. Is your caucus able to work with the administration with this new round of appointments and get it done in a speedy fashion?
SCHUMER: Well, unlike previous presidents, Democratic and Republican, there's no consultation. They don't call us and say what do you think of this person, what do you think of that person? And most of the nominations have been so below par in their ethical standards, in their ability to govern, in their ideology which is so far over, and I hoped there'd be a change.
But given the past group of nominees, I don't. So they're going to get very, very thorough examinations. They're going to get serious, serious questions. And in the past, almost all of them have not passed muster. Thank you.
REPORTER: Thank you, all. Read the letter.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So strong words from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer saying what the Republicans want to pass in the House clearly not going to pass in the Senate.
Let's speak to a senator, Richard Blumenthal, is joining us. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee.
Senator, first of all, thanks for your patience. Thanks for waiting.
We want to get your reaction, first of all, to the decision by the Secretary of Defense James Mattis to quit.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: His decision to resign is virtually our worst nightmare when we said to ourselves on the Armed Services Committee or on the Senate that we were deeply disturbed and worried about a petulant and unpredictable administration. We could reassure ourselves and the nation that there was a strong and stable expert, a patriot in the position of standing between the president and the use of military force.
And now, this resignation leaves a chasm of leadership that will be destabilizing and could be really sending waves of alarm throughout the world because it is the culmination of the president rejecting advice from military, civil, and intelligence experts, and in fact going it alone. It culminates a lot of dissatisfaction for General Mattis.
[18:50:02] BLITZER: You serve on the Armed Forces Committee. Your colleague, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he's been very outspoken in his support of Secretary Mattis and his opposition to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Do you see an opportunity now, Senator, to work together in reaction to these developments?
BLUMETHAL: There is a real opportunity but also an obligation because literally the national security of our nation is at stake. And I am deeply alarmed by the departure of General Mattis who was a source of strength and stability and embodied principles that should be bipartisan. Unfortunately, the president has alienated our allies and embraced our adversaries. He has demeaned and degraded the brave and dedicated professionals of our intelligence community. And I think there's an opportunity in the name of national defense for us to come together. I have worked closely with Senator Graham on many issues of national security around the globe on the Armed Services Committee and elsewhere and I think there's an opportunity for us to come together.
BLITZER: We'll see who the president nominates to become the next secretary of defense. That secretary of defense nominee is going to have to be confirmed by your Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks as usual for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our panel right now.
David Chalian, what a day. What does it mean?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wolf, I know it's sometimes hard for our viewers because there's so much noise and there are so many news developments. We have to stop and pause here to understand that when the history of the Trump administration is written, this moment is going to be a hugely consequential moment in that history. This was a unique moment in having somebody, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, one of the sort of guardrails inside this administration, not just leave the administration or be fired the way we saw with McMaster or Tillerson or the falling out of the relationship with John Kelly, some of the other potential guardrails.
This is, we haven't seen yet. This is somebody inside the administration standing up to the president and not burying his head in the sand anymore in any way and saying, you are going on the wrong direction here and I can't serve you and I have to go. And when you read this letter, Wolf, you see -- on three or four occasions, he cites the importance of working with alliances for the common defense of the United States. He cites the need to see clear-eyed the threat that Russia or China is providing right now to the United States.
And what you see here is a fundamental different philosophy of the world view in Jim Mattis than Donald Trump, and Jim Mattis is clearly of the mind, as was Stephen Miller in your interview, that he is in a totally different place in understanding the way the United States is moving forward in the world than Donald Trump is, and he has to leave because of that. When you hear Nancy Pelosi say that she is shocked by what she's hearing, when you hear Lindsey Graham express sadness, this isn't just rhetoric. This is a moment in time that will go down in history as hugely consequential.
BLITZER: It's a very significant moment.
Phil Mudd, our reporters at the Pentagon and at the White House, they're saying that Secretary Mattis, he tried to change the president's mind about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, went over to the White House to discuss his concerns, was unable to do so. And as a result, he decided to resign. PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERORRISM ANALYST: The story's bigger than
that. This is not a story strictly about the presidency or about Syria or about Secretary Mattis. This is the story, I think, a profound story about whether the president has a temperament and judgment to be commander in chief of what is supposed to be the most mature country on the planet. Deployment of troops to the southwest border, humiliating NATO publicly, embarrassing G7 hosts in Canada, announcing the suspension of exercises in Korea without apparently coordinating.
Temperament and judgment, it's a question about commander in chief, not just president.
BLITZER: John Kirby, you served as the Pentagon spokesman, the State Department spokesman, how do you see this dramatic development, the resignation of Secretary Mattis?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Very significant and I think David did a nice job summing it up.
It's also very much in keeping with the military tradition. If you're given an order that you believe you can't follow, if you can't continue to support your boss, you're obligated to submit your resignation. So, what he did was very characteristic of what you would expect from senior leaders in the military.
I would say this isn't just about Syria. I know Syria was on his mind when he went to the White House today and certainly he was in opposition to the president's decision but I think the last couple of months in particular have been very tough on Jim Mattis, the border mission which he was not enthused about, the transgender ban, which he opposed, the president's approach to Saudi Arabia after the Khashoggi murder and all the issues surrounding that, also he opposed and then, of course, I think his -- the decision by the president to announce General Milley as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff which I don't think Secretary Mattis was very much in favor of, and I think that was a very significant blow to him.
[18:55:08] So, that plus all those going along with Syria, there was a lot. This was a long two months for Jim Mattis. I think finally he just had enough.
BLITZER: Elise Labott is with us too.
Elise, I take it this is another significant blow to the president's national security team.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's Right, Wolf. We've been talking about General Mattis and saying that he didn't agree with President Trump's policies, that they didn't reflect the kind of American values that he as a commander and a general in the military espoused and I think a lot of the president's former cabinet officials felt that way.
But now, if you look at this national security team, you've had General McMaster leave, you've had Secretary Tillerson, there was a lot of questions about his leadership, but I think on the world stage, he was a calming presence. You have had Nikki Haley, who was very popular at the United Nations, General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he's retiring but there's more turnover.
You have Gina Haspel taking over for Secretary Pompeo at the CIA when he came over to the state department. By all accounts, she's doing well.
But there's so much turmoil, so much unpredictability in this administration, Wolf, and I think it's just jittering allies around the world. They're very not only concerned about the president's policies, but the inconsistencies and the fact that they don't know who they can talk to.
BLITZER: Sam Vinograd is with us as well.
Samantha, tell us how you see this unfolding.
SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I saw General Mattis disagree with President Trump on serious issues related to Iran policy, but guess what? He didn't quit, because he didn't think that the president's lack of agreement with him enabled him not to do his job. This is different, and it comes at a time when we're at a greater security risk because we have largely a lame duck cabinet. We may have 380,000 less staff if the government shuts down, and we're entering the holiday season which is already a high threat environment when it comes to terrorist attacks. This is a very dangerous move.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon is with us. Arwa, you've spent a lot of time in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, you've risked your life covering these stories. How do you see these dramatic developments unfolding?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it really is going to shake confidence in the United States as being a leader. While the U.S. may not necessarily want to police the world, it is still a very viable, vital military force, and people and nations do tend to turn to the U.S. for certain leadership, guidance and/or support. And the fact that that has really been shaken at its very core lends itself to the question, who do those who used to turn to the U.S. in the past turn to at this junction and does that make the world a safer or a more dangerous place?
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, what does this say about the Trump administration right now, the way this is all unfolding, coming on the same day that it looks like there could be a government shutdown at midnight tomorrow night?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Two points, Wolf. One, the president has an HR problem. After he had that trouble filling the chief of staff job, now he has one of the people who could really be called the best and brightest in his cabinet resigning and saying in that letter, in that six paragraphs, as everyone has said, as Admiral Kirby said, both as a flag officer and a cabinet member, he's not down with the program. So therefore, Mr. President, I have to resign. The other problem is that this is what results, and I'm talking about
Syria here, when you have a president and administration driven by trying to chalk up wins on the board rather than a coherent ideology or a coherent set of steps to solve problems.
BLITZER: Amidst all of this, if that were not enough, Laura, there seems to be some turmoil over at the Justice Department. You cover the Justice Department. There would be huge news coming out of there if it weren't for these other dramatic developments.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, in the midst of the secretary of defense resigning and the stock markets plummeting and perhaps being thrust into a government shutdown, we learned today for the first time that the acting attorney general of the United States was actually cautioned by a senior ethics official that he should step aside from overseeing the Russia probe. He has disregarded that advice. He has now decided that he will move ahead in overseeing the probe.
It's something the Democrats on Capitol Hill are really worried about, and some people at home might wonder, why does this matter if he's only the acting? And we now have the president's formal pick for the attorney general, Bill Barr, we learned today, just last night, that he has also weighed in on the Mueller probe and doesn't think that the president obstructed justice. So, he's now going to have to confirm not only a secretary of defense but an attorney general all under all this scrutiny.
BLITZER: You can only imagine, David, if the acting attorney general would have recused himself from the Russia probe how the president would have reacted.
CHALIAN: Could you imagine? Listen, this day, as I said, it will go down in history but we are at a moment in time. The grown-ups are gone now from the Trump administration, the stock market's in turmoil, the generals are out, the government is about to shut down and be in a bit of a crisis mode. This is a presidency in crisis right now.
BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of all of the breaking news. Thanks so much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.