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Government Shutdown Looms as Trump Demands Wall Funding; Secretary of Defense James Mattis Resigns; Trump Points Finger at Democrats as Shutdown Looms; Mattis Resigns, Stocks Sink and Troop Decisions Draw Bipartisan Ire; Matthew Whitaker Rejects Ethics Official's Advice, Doesn't Recuse Himself from Russia Probe. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] BERMAN: My reaction to her, are you serious?

CAMEROTA: I know. That is remarkable. $150,000.

BERMAN: Can change your life. There's nothing to (INAUDIBLE) you over like student debt.

All right. Government shutdown is looming. The reaction to the resignation of James Mattis pouring in. "NEWSROOM" picks up our coverage now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow, and there is no shortage of news this morning. Shutdown today. The president warns if the Democrats do not vote for border security. And by border security he means a wall, so a partial government shutdown is almost certainly coming less than 15 hours from now. And it won't be short. The president vows in a blizzard of early morning threats and claims that totally ignore his face to face promises to Democrats a week and a half ago.

Back then you will remember this. Let me quote the president. "I will be the one to shut it down. I won't blame you for it." He said that to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Very different tune this morning and that feels like a lifetime ago. In just the past 48 hours, the president has ordered a total troop pull-out from Syria, a partial pull-out from Afghanistan and accepted the resignation of his highly respected Defense Secretary James Mattis, a resignation on principle, I should note.

He watched the stock market plunged and continue to do that. Down more than 1200 points since Monday alone while the Federal Reserve completely ignores his complaints about interest rates. And he's watched Democrats deny him even a down payment on his signature campaign pledge even before they take control of the House in a matter of days.

So that, everyone, is where we begin this hour, this crucial Friday morning. Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill for us.

Good morning and let's begin with the stability of the government in keeping it up and running past midnight tonight. You need 60 votes, right, to do that, to pass the spending bill in the Senate. McConnell needs 50 just to advance this measure, but I'm hearing that some Republican sources are skeptical that he could even get those 50 votes.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're not the only one, Poppy. I think there is a lot of anxiety here on Capitol Hill this morning about exactly what the Republicans could pull off here before the midnight deadline that would shut down the government. And we will see this first crucial test some time after the noon hour here on the East Coast where the Senate will gather and they'll have that first test vote to advance the continuing resolution to the full vote. And there is some question whether or not Republicans will even be able to muster the 50 votes necessary to move it to the next stage, not necessarily because they don't support the measure but because there may not be enough of them in town.

Many of these Republicans thought that their work was done when they initially passed the continuing resolution and they took off. Many of them are retiring and it pretty much ended their Senate career. But if that measure passes, it really doesn't matter all that much because the big test is whether or not they can get the 60 votes necessary to break a Democratic filibuster to move this CR forward. That include this additional $5 billion in funding for the president's border wall.

Poppy, there is simply no evidence that those votes exist here in the halls of the capital. So it seems very unlikely that it will happen. So then does it go back to the House and are we at square one? I think that's the question here this morning.

HARLOW: Yes, and when you talk about being a deal-making president, right, and the art of the deal, deal means compromise. Right? Deal doesn't just mean $5 billion or bust.

Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

Now to the abrupt and critical resignation of the Defense secretary Jim Mattis sending shockwaves to say the least through Washington and really around the world. Let's go to the Pentagon, our colleague Barbara Starr is there.

Mattis came to work this morning. He reported for duty serving this country as he has done for four plus decades. Now what?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: 6:15 this morning at his desk as usual, Poppy. Right now what we expect is to see Secretary Mattis stay on the job through February, ensure that the work continues to get done. He will do some of the first congressional hearings of the winter season.

He resigned yesterday really making a stand basically saying to the commander in chief of the strongest, most powerful military the world has ever known, I can no longer serve you. We are told by officials that Mattis' last straw, his red line, was the decision to withdraw troops from Syria and then from Afghanistan, but it was Syria that concerned him so much. The U.S. has been supporting Kurdish forces in Syria, and now that promise is broken. Those forces essentially abandoned by the U.S. and potentially facing

a blood bath from a Turkish potential invasion. Mattis could not live with the prospect of abandoning his friends on the battlefield. This is a man who has served for 40 years in the Marine Corps. He doesn't do that. And this essentially became the final straw.

[09:05:02] Officials telling us his unhappiness with the job had been building for some time. A lot of decisions had gone against him, but it was this matter that really led him to go yesterday to the White House, meet with the president for 45 minutes, hand in his pre-written resignation. And we are told that the president was surprised by it all -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Do we know, Barbara, because just hours after he resigned in person to the president, right, on principle, I should note, not just a retirement, as the president had phrased it, we found out about the partial withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which is imminent. Did he know about that, Barbara, when he resigned?

STARR: Yes. Absolutely. Both of these things. Full withdrawal of more than 2,000 ground troops from Syria and a withdrawal of about half the troops, perhaps about 7,000 from Afghanistan had been on the table and discussed internally in the Pentagon and with the White House. The president ordering the military to begin planning for both of those.

So Afghanistan, the same issue. The U.S. has been there, albeit for many years, to try and help Afghan forces find their legs and be able to defend their own country. A lot of progress has been made, but U.S. commanders will tell you in both places there has been a long way to go. Mattis did not want to leave them behind -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. No question about it, Barbara. We saw how he sort of contorted himself to make the president's will, you know, when it came to sending troops to the border, et cetera, even after the president called him somewhat a Democrat. He stood by his side. But it was this, right, it was this and he just said enough.

Thank you for the great, important reporting.

STARR: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Let's talk more about this. With me now is our military analyst, Major General Spider Marks and our global affairs analyst David Rohde.

Good morning, gentlemen. And an important Friday morning it certainly is.

General Marks, let me begin --


HARLOW: Let me begin with you. Senate majority leader, Republican, Mitch McConnell says he is, in his words, distressed to see Mattis resign in this way. Republican senator, conservative Ben Sasse calls it a sad day for America.

General, are they right? And what does this mean for the more than 1.3 million active duty American troops?

MARKS: Let me start with the second part of your question, Poppy, if I can. The military will continue, in military terms, to drive on. That's what they do. It is a change of mission, the leadership has been changed. We realize as hard as it is to embrace the notion that Jim Mattis is replaceable, he is. He's an incredible warrior. He's an intellectually gifted. He understands the nature of conflict and combat, he realizes the risks and the costs that must be borne by those young men and women. They're going to be OK.

There will be a replacement. And we should all hope -- we should all be optimistic, especially this time of year, that there will be a replacement. And that individual will step up and will do an incredible job for our nation.

HARLOW: But who --

MARKS: It's said to see Jim go.

HARLOW: General, just respectfully, to interrupt you.

MARKS: Sure. Sure.

HARLOW: Who? Right? Because you've talked a lot about this and you talked about ISIS 2.0 and that it will be worse in your words than ISIS 1.0 in the region, right? And using sort of this -- the U.S. pulling out as it becoming more of a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. Who would take the job that would be on the same page as the president when it comes to completely supporting this withdrawal, not only in Syria, but also Afghanistan?

MARKS: That's really the former part of your question.


MARKS: You know, Poppy, the difficulty is having someone who is, quote, "aligned" with the president is somewhat troubling, ironically, in that you need to have pushback and you need to have other voices in the room so that the worst instincts don't get magnified and don't get swirled around and suddenly you're on a bus on Avalon. You know, you're suddenly moving off.

HARLOW: Right.

MARKS: And you go, what the heck are we doing here? That's what Secretary Jim Mattis, General Mattis brought to the room, with some mature and credible guidance and contrarian views to the president. And the best angels were then coming out as a result of that.

As I indicated, whether that person -- there are talented individuals who will come forward. The real essence of your question is are they going to want to raise their hand and say, yes, I'll take this job. HARLOW: Yes. it is. David Rohde, to you, there are a lot of oh, my

gosh moments, right, to keep the expletives out of it at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Right? Oh, my gosh moments from this administration. Rank this in terms of importance to national security among them.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I would put this in the top five. I would say the Helsinki press conference with President Putin was more alarming. But I want to actually mention some numbers. What's happened in both Syria and Afghanistan is that local forces are leading the fight. The U.S. is advising in both places, most of the burden lies with the Kurds.

[09:10:05] Hundreds of Kurds have died fighting ISIS. In the four years since U.S. troops have been in Syria, four Americans have died. That's a hundred -- hundreds of local forces versus four Americans in four years.

HARLOW: But this puts the Kurds more at risk.

ROHDE: Absolutely.

HARLOW: I mean, Mattis is in our reporting was livid over reports that they're being targeted by Turkey and others.

ROHDE: And this is the issue, is we have a new model where local forces lead the fight. They are fighting and dying. We are advising. In Afghanistan, the Afghan government announced in the last four years 28,000 -- 28,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen have died. In the same four-year period about 40 Americans have died. That's 7,000 Afghans dying per year fighting the Taliban compared to roughly 10. One American death is too many.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

ROHDE: You know, we have been in Afghanistan too long. I think that strategy needs to be re-thought. But I just wanted to mention those numbers because the local people, most of them Muslims, Arabs, you know, and Afghans are fighting extremists.


ROHDE: As our allies, and I just -- it's very important that people understand that's the reality. Overwhelmingly it's local forces that are fighting and dying.

HARLOW: I'm glad you said that. And we have Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a big supporter of the president on a number of things. He went as far, gentlemen, as to say that this is a high risk strategy regarding Afghanistan that would, quote, pave the way toward a second 9/11. He chooses his words carefully. You cannot think of a more ominous warning, General Marks, from him.

And then listen to this. This is from America's top general Joseph Dunford two weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leaving Afghanistan not only would create instability in South Asia, but in my judgment would give terrorist groups the space within which to plan and conduct operations against the American people, homeland and our allies.


HARLOW: So, General Marks, did the president with this move in Afghanistan that is imminent just make America less safe?

MARKS: I would say the short answer is yes. We want to have our combat operations and our efforts against violent extremism needs to be an away home, got a home game. And I think that's the essence of what everybody is saying. And the facts are violent extremism has not gone away. You are correct. ISIS 2.0 is probably going to be worse. That is not necessarily inevitable if we can stay put, realizing that in Syria the real narrative is all about Russia and Iran.

HARLOW: Right.

MARKS: And what is happening, our ally Israel and what their engagement looks like. So there is an opportunity here for an escalation that can get out of control if the U.S. is not present to provide some type of moderating influence over all of that. It's not only access, but it is in fact a commitment on the ground. And you certainly have the Turks, our NATO ally that might in fact be going against one of our closest partners, the Kurds.


MARKS: Who have been doing all the heavy lifting against ISIS. So all of this gets unraveled. But obviously Jim Mattis knows that and I think he finally just, you know, popped the flair and said, OK, guys, I got to go. I can't do this anymore. Very politely, very professionally, I've got to go.

HARLOW: But also the way that he resigned with the word choice in that letter is so important. The world --

MARKS: Very classy. Very professional.

HARLOW: Thank you both very much. General Marks, David Rohde, have a nice holiday. Appreciate it.

Didn't the president say that he would be proud to own the shutdown over border security? Yes. In fact, he did. Well, this morning he's unleashing on Democrats hours before the deadline for a deal, blaming them for a shutdown. And those shutdown fears rattling U.S. markets about to open this morning. And we will take you live to the New York Stock Exchange.

And this is a very important story that should not be over shadowed in its significance. The acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker did not take the advice of the ethics office at the Department of Justice who said he should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. He didn't. Now he's in charge of whatever happens to it. And he has been a critic of the probe. We'll dig in.


[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: President Trump this morning has made his position on a partial government shutdown really clear. He is ready to push this over the edge. Let me read you part of what the president has written this morning.

"If Democrats don't give the $5 billion that the president wants for border wall protection", he says the shutdown of the government at midnight will go forward and last a quote, "very long time". This is what a shutdown really means for you, OK? For Americans.

Three hundred and eighty thousand government workers furloughed just before the holidays. Four hundred and twenty thousand additional workers that are deemed essential, they're going to have to go to work, but they're not going to get paid.

That is a total of 800,000 American workers affected negatively by this -- as I said, just before the holidays. So let's discuss with two members of Congress who wanted a solution. Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York; co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California on the Arms Services Committee. Thank you both very much.


HARLOW: So, you know, it's really too bad that we are here. But we are here, 15 hours away from a shutdown, the two of you came on our show last week and said, you know, there's going to be a deal. We think we can get this done.

Congressman Reed, yesterday on Cnn, just yesterday, you said you don't believe a shutdown will happen. Now this morning, do you still think that's true?

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: Well, obviously, we're running out of more and more runway. But I still do believe as we go through this height of political rhetoric here in Washington D.C. that cooler heads will prevail, that we will be able to find a solution to this, and then we will move on --

HARLOW: Who is?

REED: To the issue into January and February.

HARLOW: Congressman, you talk to the White House a lot, I know that. Whose cooler head will prevail here? The president is going to sign it or he's not.

[09:20:00] REED: Well, I think ultimately, it depends on what the Senate moves. I mean, I guess the good point of this is, it's in the lap of the institution that really fundamentally has to move on this issue, and that's the U.S. Senate.

The Senate has been a roadblock many at times, and now it's the hot potato on their lap and they've got to act.

HARLOW: Congressman Garamendi, what do you think?

GARAMENDI: Well, actually, the Senate --

HARLOW: Are there cooler heads that will prevail or is the government going to still be opened fully --


HARLOW: At 12:01 a.m. tonight?

GARAMENDI: Well, let's consider what the Senate did two days ago. The Senate unanimously voted out a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded until February the 8th. Hundred percent of the senators actually voiced voted it no dissension at all.

Came over to the House of Representatives and the president said my way or the highway, and the Republicans, Tom and his colleagues decided that they would go ahead and add $5.7 billion for a border wall that has not even been described as to where, when and how it would be built.

Just -- and so, OK, now, it's back to the Senate. What is the Senate going to do? And Tom is quite correct, the Senate, the ball is in their court. I don't know, we'll see what happens on the Senate side, but Schumer and others were quite clear they did a deal, they came to a compromise and now we'll see.

HARLOW: Quickly before we move on, there's some really important other topics. Just to both of you, you're over-under on this, yes or no, does the government stay open past midnight tonight? To you, Congressman Reed, yes or no?

REED: I believe we'll get there --


REED: I believe we'll get there, yes --

HARLOW: Congressman Garamendi?

GARAMENDI: We have to get there. It's just not good to shut down the government. It's a bad thing --

HARLOW: Do we?

GARAMENDI: To do, we'll find a way.

HARLOW: Do we? Yes? So you're both yes?

GARAMENDI: No, we will not shut down --

REED: I'm not -- and I think we're there.

HARLOW: OK -- REED: We can get there --

HARLOW: All right, all right, there you go, we'll see. All right, let's move on to really important international affairs, and it is the U.S. president's -- in Syria and Afghanistan, the resignation on principal of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Congressman Reed, to you first, in his resignation letter, which I'm sure you read, he repeatedly emphasized the importance of treating U.S. allies with respect and treating our U.S. adversaries in a clear- eyed manner. Is Mattis correct? Has the president been too solicitous of U.S. adversaries and too disrespectful of our allies?

REED: Yes, I appreciate what General Mattis said, and I wish him well. He's done a great job serving the American people as well as Syria and Washington D.C. The bottom line is, you know, I've never been a fan of boots on the ground in Syria.

My position on it is very clear. And I think what we're doing here is disengaging and not being the world's policeman all over the world in --


REED: We need to stay engaged --

HARLOW: So that's a separate issue, that's a separate issue, but I'm asking you about Mattis, he chose --

REED: Yes --

HARLOW: Every word of that letter so carefully, you know that. Is he right in the point that he makes? Politics aside, Congressman --

REED: Yes --

HARLOW: You know, allegiance to the White House aside, are you comfortable with the solicitude with which the president has treated our adversaries and the disrespect with which he's treated our allies. That was --

REED: Well --

HARLOW: Just too much from Mattis --

REED: Let me just -- let me just be clear. How I see the White House position in the United States. We're still going to take on our adversaries, we are still going to engage, but we are at a point where pointing our men and women at risk in long-term entanglements with no end game in sight is something that's concerning.

So bringing our men and women home is good, but staying engaged with covert operations, intelligence gathering, potential air support and other resources that we could do to target this threat is something I think --

HARLOW: But --

REED: Will continue in the future.


HARLOW: All right, but as you know, those air strikes --


HARLOW: Are made nearly impossible in Syria when you don't have boots on the ground to gather the intelligence. Congressman Garamendi to you --


HARLOW: Marco Rubio says these moves here in Afghanistan will endanger our nation. McConnell -- Mitch McConnell says he's particularly distressed at Mattis' resignation in this way. General Stanley McChrystal told Jim Sciutto; my co-anchor to give every American pause. How do you see it this morning?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think I was very clear yesterday about my view of this. This is a very serious problem. The loss of this man heading up the Department of Defense is a very serious crisis for this country and really for the world. He was the adult, and he was there to very clearly state what has to be the American military policy going forward.

Unfortunately, he's gone. He was correct in his resignation letter when this president has disrespected our allies. I spent two weeks, ten days, in Europe with our NATO partners last Summer in August, and they are deeply concerned about what this president has said and his position with regard to NATO.

Opening an opportunity for Russia to strut its stuff on the eastern front. It is a very serious problem. And going beyond that, the General Mattis or Secretary Mattis was very clear, to be clear-eyed about Russia. I -- Helsinki rings strong in my mind as to where the president is vis-a-vis Putin.

[09:25:00] We've got a very serious problem with this president, and with regard to our national security. No doubt about it. And Tom is quite correct about what we ought to be doing in Syria and, in fact, that's precisely --

HARLOW: Yes --

GARAMENDI: What those 2,000 troops are doing there. They were the boots on the ground --

HARLOW: I have -- I hear you, I have one final question --


HARLOW: I'm getting the wrap for time here. But to you, Congressman Reed, because of your relationship, close relationship with the White House. I'd like you to weigh in on something that's not really getting as much attention this morning as perhaps it should, and that is the fact that the acting Attorney General right now Matthew Whitaker has refused the advice of the Justice Department's own office of ethic.

Who said, look, because of the public comment you made that have been critical over months of Mueller's Russia probe, you should recuse yourself. They didn't say you have to, but they said you should. That was their advice after multiple meetings with Whitaker and he has not. Are you comfortable with that?

REED: Well, that's why we need to move to an appointed Attorney General, and make sure that we go through the appointment process through the Senate. And that's where I think this will end up. And in the meantime, having the acting --

HARLOW: But are you comfortable -- are you comfortable with just that, the acting AG disregarding the advice of the ethics office?

REED: We need the acting AG to stay in place to make sure that the operations continue, but we need to move forward with the appointment as soon as possible. And it's up to the senators --

HARLOW: Right --

REED: Again to get this done --

HARLOW: That's just not what I'm asking. I'm asking, are you comfortable with Matthew Whitaker ignoring the advice of the ethics office at the Department of Justice? Yes or no?

REED: I'm comfortable with Matthew Whitaker in the role he is serving as acting Attorney General. We need to appoint -- confirmed Attorney General going forward.

HARLOW: Congressman Tom Reed, thank you for the time, Congressman Garamendi --

REED: Good to be here, Poppy --

HARLOW: I appreciate it, and Merry Christmas, have a good holiday. Thank you. Up next, we're going to take you to Wall Street. What a week it has been live at the Stock Exchange for the opening bell, next.