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U.S. Defense Secretary Resigns over Policy Dispute with President Trump; House Spending Bill with Border Wall Funding Goes to Senate; Drone Sightings Force London's Gatwick Airport to Close; U.S. Charges Chinese Nationals with Hacking Trade Secrets; Mattis Quits Over Trump's Decision on Syria; Exclusive Video Shows Ongoing Fight Against ISIS. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 00:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): One day after Donald Trump announces he's pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, Defense Secretary James Mattis says he's leaving. Surprising things his resignation letter did and didn't say.

And the U.S. military now getting the order to prepare to leave Afghanistan. Why critics say the president's latest moves could cost people's lives.

Plus, no relief in sight for the holiday travel chaos at London's Gatwick Airport, with even more drones spotted above the runways, no planes are flying. We'll have a live interview about that situation.

These stories are all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen.


ALLEN: Our top story: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has quit. While he and the U.S. president disagreed on many issues, the catalyst appears to be Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

President Trump announced Mattis' departure on Twitter, saying the former Marine Corps general would leave at the end of February. According to a senior U.S. official, Mattis vehemently opposed Mr. Trump's Syria decision and what we now know is an order to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Here's CNN's Barbara Starr with more.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis decided early Thursday morning he needed to go to the White House and meet with President Trump to talk to him about trying to change his mind about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. He met -- went to the White House about 3 o'clock in the afternoon,

met with the president and did not change his mind. At that point, Mattis produced the resignation letter that said to the president, you deserve a Secretary of Defense much more aligned with your views.

That is very much on point, trying to say that he believed it was essential to defend alliances and to defend U.S. interests around the world, something that the president has taken quite a different tack on, believing that there is no longer a role for U.S. troops in a front line defense against ISIS.

Mattis had been very concerned that leaving Syria would also leave thousands of Kurdish forces that the U.S. had promised to support to the mercies of the Turks, ISIS to a potential blood bath and as a former military man, to him, it would be a terrible thing to leave your friends behind on the battlefield that you had promised to support -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


ALLEN: And we have this about Mattis' resignation. His letter had not a single word of praise for Mr. Trump. He wrote this.

"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 U.S. 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."

Congressional leaders were taken aback by the announcement.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CALIF.), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: 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 with respect for the president but also a statement of his values.


ALLEN: And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said this, "I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on key aspects of America's global leadership.?

Now the news comes as we learn the U.S. military has an order to plan withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan. A Defense official tells CNN approximately 7,000 troops could leave the country. That's about half of all U.S. troops stationed there.

The decision was reportedly made on Tuesday, the same day President Trump decided to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. CNN's Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong. He's following this story for us.

Ivan, what could this mean for Afghanistan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, this is the U.S.' longest running international war, some 17 years since the September 11th attacks and the U.S. began a bombing campaign to oust the Taliban.


WATSON: And that war is not going well. Recently, the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said that some 29,000 Afghan soldiers and police have killed since 2015 and, of course, Afghan civilians taking the brunt of the casualties in this long-simmering conflict.

Top U.S. military commanders have taken to referring to it as a stalemate. Those are the words of the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, as well as the man who's going to replace him.

That said, both of these commanders have also gone on record recently, in recent weeks, saying that they did not believe that the U.S. should draw down its forces within Afghanistan. So take a listen to an excerpt from what General Dunford said on December 6th about this issue.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I have not recommended that we leave Afghanistan, because again, in my judgment, 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, the homeland and our allies. And that really is the problem we're trying to solve.


WATSON: There's some big questions here. A major withdrawal like this, what would it do to the stability of the Afghan government, which has been able to hold onto cities but has ceded control of much of the countryside in Afghanistan.

And there are other implications as well because the U.S. is part of a NATO-led, multinational military operation in Afghanistan to support the Afghan security forces.

There are partners as well there and a dramatic withdrawal of U.S. forces would have major implications on the other contributing countries that are part of this military operation -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Ivan, about Secretary Mattis, he is highly respected by his peers in the U.S. military leadership and on Capitol Hill.

How is he viewed by allies in Asia? WATSON: There's one memory that sticks out for me here. In June of 2017, so President Trump had only been inaugurated about five, six months beforehand. There was something called the Shangri-la dialogue. It's an annual defense summit that takes place in Singapore, where you have the top brass and defense officials from countries all over Asia that gather there.

And there was profound anxiety there with the new Trump administration, with a new president, who had talked about imposing tariffs on allies and withdrawing U.S. troops from countries like Japan and South Korea.

Basically talking about possibly unraveling a defense architecture that the U.S. has created here far from perfect in Asia, that's existed since really the end of World War II.

In a question and answer series, a journalist asked Mattis, the U.S. Defense Secretary, he basically said, in Mattis we trust, suggesting that he was one of the few adults, reassuring presences in the room. We're hearing a lot of that chatter.

And Mattis responded, reassuring Asian allies, saying the U.S. will be there. And he quoted, paraphrased Winston Churchill, saying basically, bear with us, the Americans. Once we've exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will still do the right thing. We will still be there.

And I saw that as an unsubtle dig at President Trump himself. The State Department is talking about a rules-based order in Asia, protecting large and small allies of the U.S. But it was General Mattis who was seen by many as a figure who would ensure that kind of system and the protection of these alliances. And he is now on his way out -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right. Very good. We appreciate that. Another example of his leadership and the respect people have for him. It is a tremendous loss for not just the United States but the world with his leadership. Ivan Watson, thank you, Ivan.


ALLEN: Let's bring in now CNN military affairs -- excuse me, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton in Washington.

Colonel Leighton, thank you for talking with us on this issue that has really captivated the United States and around the world where we have so many interests.

The sudden resignation by the Secretary of Defense certainly caught many by surprise. And we're learning the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria probably sparked the decision. And now we learned the president is pulling back troops from Afghanistan.

How critical are these issues and Mattis departure? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think both, Natalie, are fundamental to the security not only of the United States but also for the entire world.

You know, when you look at Syria, for example, and you look at are --


LEIGHTON: -- all the players that are there, you look at the Assad regime, the Kurds, the Turks, Iraqis, the ISIS forces, the remnants of those, the various elements in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, all of these different players, not to mention Israel and Jordan, are really going to be affected by everything that happens with the Mattis resignation.

When you look at Afghanistan, of course, as Ivan Watson correctly pointed out, this is America's longest war. And the very idea of reducing our troop presence there is something that not only should be done in concert with the Afghans but it also should be done, if it is done at all, in concert with our NATO allies.

And when you look at the way in which General Mattis, Secretary Mattis, wrote his letter of resignation, it's very clear that he favors an alliance system. And he holds a great deal of talking alliances. That is something very different from the way the administration handles this.

ALLEN: Right, because this president has all been about America first. We go it alone, you know. And now to hear from this, a very seasoned and skilled leader, that those alliances contribute to our safety in the world, makes you wonder why the president made this decision and went, it seems, against his Secretary of Defense.

The president said the reason he was pulling troops out of Syria is ISIS has been defeated there.

What do you think about that reasoning?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think that reasoning is faulty because, first of all, ISIS has not been completely defeated.

I mean, where is al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS?

We don't know that yet. And anytime you look at a group like ISIS, you have to be very clear-headed about it because you have to understand that these groups, yes, they can control territory.

But sometimes it's the areas that they don't appear to control that are actually the important ones because that's where the sleeper cells are. That's where their hidden presence is.

And we have not destroyed the hidden presence of ISIS either in Syria or in Iraq. And that's really critical here because a failure to do that, a failure to destroy that hidden presence and to destroy the ideology, is something that takes a lot of time.

And that's something that cannot be done in a few years and, you know, it may even take decades in order to do that.

ALLEN: And let's look at another related issue. Russia and Iran certainly they have their own interests in the region and it's been said that they like this decision by the U.S. president and maybe that's not a good sign. The U.S. president called the fact that that might be true fake news. He just kind of disregarded the story about Russia and Iran.

What do you make of that?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think disregarding this story -- this aspect of the story is really a critical mistake because when your adversary likes something that you do, you should check in the rearview mirror and see exactly what is happening and why they are liking this particular thing that you're doing.

Sometimes there's a legitimate reason for them to be in favor of something that you like. But in many cases, it's because they've detected a weakness in you.

And in this particular case, the Russians and the Iranians both are salivating as the prospect of being able to control Syria in very -- in a very high degree because now they are giving -- they're being given free rein. And that free rein is going to change the complexion not only of Syria itself but potentially the political complexion of the Northern Middle East.

And that will have profound implications not only for allies like the Kurds but also NATO allies of ours, the Turks, the Syrians themselves, the Israelis, the Lebanese, all of the countries in that area, not to mention, of course, Iraq, which we spent so much time fighting over.

And that's really going to be, I think, the serious challenge here. And what we're dealing with here is great power politics. And I don't think the president of the United States appreciates that fact.

He is not looking at this from the standpoint of a Henry Kissinger or somebody like that. He's looking at this from a very narrow political lens. And that's a very dangerous thing for us to get into at this point.

ALLEN: We'll wait and see if he backs down. He's not indicated he will do that, even though he's been widely criticized for this. We really appreciate your insights, your expertise, retired Air Force colonel Cedric Leighton. Thank you so much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Natalie, anytime.


ALLEN: We turn now to another major story we're following in Washington. Capitol Hill, where the House of Representatives has passed a spending measure to try to avoid a government shutdown less than 24 hours from now. It includes legislation to fund President Trump's $5 billion --


ALLEN: -- request for a border wall.

The vote, largely along party lines, came after Mr. Trump refused to sign a bill without money for the wall. Democrats who oppose the measures say the president is to blame for any potential shutdown.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: 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.


ALLEN: Now despite the House approval, the measure could be dead on arrival when it reaches the Senate, where funding for the wall may not have enough support. Without a deal between the two branches of Congress, by midnight Friday, there would be a partial government shutdown, just days before the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Other news we're following, officials at Gatwick Airport near London say they're trying to introduce some flights in the coming hours. The airfield was closed for more than 24 hours because drones were spotted flying dangerously nearby.

The shutdown at the U.K.'s second largest airport has been a nightmare, as you can imagine, for tens of thousands of passengers and they're flying at the holiday. As CNN's Anna Stewart reports, this was no innocent prank. It could have been catastrophic.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's nearly Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year, particularly here at Gatwick Airport, the second largest airport in the U.K. The flights here are grounded and, for once, it's not the weather or a computer glitch but an apparent act of sabotage.

STEWART (voice-over): Runways were closed at 9:00 pm Wednesday after two drones were initially sighted. They were briefly reopened at 3:00 am but only for 45 minutes. The drones were spotted again.

Police say the devices are buzzing over the runways to intentionally cause disruption, impacting 120,000 passengers who were struggling to fathom why anyone would do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you're doing, you're making everyone's life a misery. I'm sure that was what their intention was in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was like, why, why do they do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like this is a prank. I feel like people just want it to be cool and be on the news.

STEWART (voice-over): Some people have been stranded here since last night.

CHRIS WOODROOFE, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GATWICK AIRPORT: This is a deliberate act. This is someone who is seeking to disrupt those passengers and it's so disappointing that you've got a perpetrator of a drone around there, punishable by five years' imprisonment, who has now disrupted 120,000 passengers' journeys this close to Christmas.

STEWART (voice-over): Drones present a major risk to aircraft. Flying into an engine or a windscreen could have catastrophic consequences, which is why, in the U.K. it's illegal to fly a drone above 120 meters and within 1 kilometer of an airfield or airport.

But tracking the perpetrators is proving difficult.

JULIET PARKER, POLICE OPERATIONS COMMANDER: So obviously this is an ongoing investigation and incident. There have been a number of sightings of a drone or drones today, which we are investigating. We're working very closely with Gatwick.

We've got a number of resources deployed in order to try and find out who is responsible and bring this to a resolution effectively.

STEWART (voice-over): Police believe the drones used today are of an industrial specification, which means they could have a long range and may not even require an operator.

LEWIS WHYLD, DRONE EXPERT: This is a huge problem for the civil aviation authority. We have companies using the blockchain Factom to create a live map of all drone flights in the U.K.

But in the event of a rogue operator, then some kind of physical interaction will have to take place. The drone would have to be destroyed or captured because you can use signal jammers but they can have it flying by wave points or have artificial intelligence. And so they just wouldn't work.

So the only way to be sure would be to knock it out of the sky, really.

STEWART (voice-over): The U.K.'s aviation regulator, like many around the world, have been looking to increase drone regulation. And for the passengers trying to travel to and from Gatwick today, that can't happen soon enough -- Anna Stewart, CNN, Gatwick Airport.


ALLEN: Mary Schiavo joins us now. She's a CNN transportation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mary, thanks so much for talking with us about this incredible story. This incident is considered a deliberate drone disruption and it's ongoing.

How is this continuing, whoever is doing this, and why can't officials find them?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think it's because the drone technology is moving so quickly, moving much faster than aviation or the authorities and the police --


SCHIAVO: -- ability to detect and define the operators for several reasons. We're used to drones, where you can buy one at the local hobby store and you can see it and you can direct it where you can see it.

But no one needs to do that anymore, because you have remote sensing drones. In other words, you can see from very far away what the drone is seeing and can operate it from a distance.

Or you have drones literally that can operate by a computer. They're called beyond the line of sight computers and you simply don't even have to be in the area, much like the military drones that we have, to operate them. That's one problem.

The second problem is what we now call swarm technology and that is that one operator, one person or one computer, can operate more than one drone, many drones, and that's called a swarm. Many governments are working on that. And, of course, that technology is trickling down to nongovernmental entities.

ALLEN: Right. You can certainly understand how it's hard to stay ahead of this with that technology development that you explained. We hear that the Army has been deployed and there's discussion to try and shoot this drone down.

Has that been tried before?

Does that sound like a reasonable action to you?

SCHIAVO: Well, actually, it has been tried before in the United States. People have tried it unofficially. The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States has said no, no, no, you're not allowed to do that.

But in fact, the problem is drone detection and drone capture systems are behind the drone development technology. There are systems for detection. There are systems to disrupt the signals that control the drones. And some folks have even kind of come up with drone capture systems.

In other words, predator drones that can go out with a net or rope system, a firing system, and actually bring down another drone. The problem is those systems aren't developed enough to deploy in a very congested area or at the airport.

So shooting down literally seems like a reasonable option. There are other systems, for example, that the Navy has, laser systems. But they're not usable at an airport.

ALLEN: This certainly illustrates the complexity of drones, doesn't it, and the danger they represent.

What damage could they cause to an airplane?

SCHIAVO: Well, unfortunately, this is a convergence of a perfect storm, because, just within the last couple of weeks, there have been drone strikes, not confirmed but drone strikes on commercial aircraft in Mexico and Canada.

And the University of Dayton in October released footage, video of a drone striking the wing of a plane. And the drone literally cut into the wing of the plane. So we've had drone strikes now on commercial aircraft, two in the last couple of weeks.

And this video, so it's clear that they can cause very catastrophic damage. For example, even ingesting drones, if you had several drones or a swarm. If you ingested them into the engines on takeoff, that's literally the most dangerous part of the flight as you're taking off. And you have your critical decision speed; it could take down the plane.

ALLEN: So is there another avenue to try to keep this from happening, say should drones have to be registered?

SCHIAVO: Well, yes, but, unfortunately, you're going to need protective measures to protect yourself against drones around airports, against swarms, against military applications. But as already to fly them, you're supposed to be licensed. And already the law prohibits operation at or near an airport.

So regulation has already proved to be ineffective for people who are intent on doing harm at the airport. So we're going to have to develop the drone detection and geofencing systems; in other words, systems that airports then can electronically fence out drones by disrupting their control capabilities or, like I said, the ability to detect them and bring them down with some sort of a system similar to the Navy and other military systems already used.

ALLEN: We've got a feel for what the officials are going through there at Gatwick with all these people stranded. It's really remarkable. We'll speak with you again about it. Mary Schiavo, always appreciate your insights. Thank you.

SCHIAVO: Thank you. My pleasure.

ALLEN: We will talk with another expert and get his perspective on this story in our next hour. Next here, China fighting back as the U.S. accuses it of working with a group of hackers to steal global business secrets. We'll have a live report next.


ALLEN: Also why some of President Trump's critics say he's abandoning a key ally by pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.




ALLEN: The U.S. Justice Department has charged two Chinese nationals for their role in a global hacking scheme. They are accused of being a part of a group that stole trade secrets from dozens of U.S. companies and that Beijing knew all about it.

The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have joined the U.S. to condemn Chinese cyber theft but the Beijing insists the charges are based on lies. CNN's senior producer Steven Jiang is joining us now from the Chinese capital. He's following this story for us.

Steven, a strong reaction there from Beijing.

Has the government explained why they think this isn't true?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: That's the problem, Natalie. They have reacted very quickly and strongly but without offering much counterarguments to the specifics mentioned, not only in these latest indictments but also in many previous reports by cyber security firms around the world, that is these alleged hackers' digital footprints and their usually practices and techniques.

What the Beijing authorities did was their usual over-the-top rejection of such allegations, calling them pure fabrication out of thin air and vile in nature. What a foreign ministry spokeswoman demanding the U.S. to drop charges against these Chinese nationals immediately or suffer potential consequences in bilateral relations.

Now this is not the first time we have seen this back and forth between Washington and Beijing. What's different this time, this is no longer the U.S. accusing China alone. It's the U.S. government and 11 other nations banding together, presenting this united front, sending a very clear message to Beijing that there is increasingly an international consensus on this issue of Beijing using state sponsored hackers to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information.

Remember, there's no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China so it's very unlikely we'll ever see these two Chinese men appear at a U.S. courtroom.

But as U.S. officials have stressed and pointed out repeatedly, this is the clearest message yet to Beijing that we have caught you red- handed again and you have to stop these practices, especially now that the whole world is paying attention -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right. And we're not talking about one or two countries. The U.S. says they trade secrets from dozens of U.S. companies and we know what the U.S. thinks about that.


Steven Jiang for us, we'll talk with you again about it as we learn more. Thanks so much.

Next here, can Kurdish-led fighters maintain their edge now that President Trump is pulling troops from Syria? We'll have the report.


ALLEN: Welcome back. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories this hour. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will leave the Trump administration at the end of February. A senior U.S. official says Mattis resigns over President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, a move, Mattis, "vehemently opposed."

Officials at Gatwick Airport, near London, say they're trying to introduce some flights in the coming hours. The airfield was closed for more than 24 hours, because drones were spotted flying dangerously nearby. Police are searching for the drones' operators to shutdown stranded thousands of passengers heading into the busy Christmas travel season.

Japanese officials are moving to keep Nissan's former chief, in jail, over Christmas. Prosecutors said Friday they rearrested Carlos Ghosn over new allegations. They can now extend his detention by 10 days. Ghosn was arrested last month on financial misconduct charges.

We continue to follow reaction to the sudden resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. Former Republican, Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney tweeted this. The foreign policy described by General Mattis today has, for nearly three quarters of a century, kept us from global war, empowered our economy, helped billions escape from poverty and opened freedom's door around the world.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, just read General Mattis' resignation letter. It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries.

Another Republican, Senator Ben Sasse wrote this. This is a sad day. General Mattis was giving advice POTUS needs to hear. Mattis rightly believes that Russia and China are adversaries, and that we are at war with jihadists across the globe who plot to kill Americans. Despite Donald Trump's claims that ISIS has been defeated, Kurdish fighters in Syria are actually still at war with the Islamic state.

[00:35:04] Dramatic video obtained exclusively by CNN shows the deadly fighting here, and some of President Trump's critics say his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria is a betrayal of the Kurds. For more, here's Nima Elbagir.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Heavy fire, incoming. The camera man whose voice you can hear takes shelter in the car. But someone's been left behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go up, and go to the house here. Being in the car is danger.

ELBAGIR: The car itself, a target. Nowhere is safe. Gabriel Chaim, a freelance photojournalist embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, sent this footage to CNN. These are the scenes at the front lines of the war against ISIS. As they push forward through town, the ISIS flag waves in the distance.

Again, they're forced to shelter, this time, in a nearby building. A wave of suicide bombers can be heard detonating outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow these steps, OK?

ELBAGIR: These are the Kurdish fighters waging war against ISIS, supported by U.S. aerial bombardment. Today, they found an ISIS bomb factory, and on the floor, the diary of an ISIS fighter. These are trip wires for improvised explosive devices, as soon as someone steps on them, they detonate.

They don't have to go far to find more evidence of ISIS' skill with explosives. It's a car bomb. The suicide bomber in this attack, just a child. Hajin in Eastern Syria is among the last ISIS strongholds. It's where U.S. commanders told us they always expected the fighting would be fiercest. What's clear from this rare glimpse of the front lines of that fight is that it's far from over.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


ALLEN: Compelling video there. We'll take a break, more news right after this.


ALLEN: How about this one? A user of Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa, got more than he expected when he asked the device to play back his own recordings. Amazon says the customer from Germany accidentally got access to more than 1,000 recordings from another Alexa user. The company says the case was the result of a human error and appears to be an isolated incident.

[00:40:07] Amazon says it has since resolved the issue, one would hope, bad girl, Alexa.

Some comedians and political commentators say this current White House is so out of the ordinary, it defies traditional satire. But one political cartoonist is having no trouble mining material, from President Trump. Robyn Curnow has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MIKE LUCKOVICH, EDITORIAL CARTOONIST, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: He's got the pursed lips. Trump has tiny eyes. I really love drawing the hair because it's so abnormal. I'll just give him little tiny hands.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Drawing Donald Trump, political cartoonist Mike Luckovich says this is his job, every weekday, in a messy office full of years of Pulitzer Price-winning cartoons, piles of discarded commentary and old sketches.

LUCKOVICH: Trump is exhausting. I really like being up on the news and commenting on everything that's going on, but it's a little exhausting.

CURNOW: Sharp and biting political cartoons, a sign of a free press, but political cartoonists and staff are becoming more rare these days, with newsroom cutbacks and sometimes, political pressure. Luckovich began at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1989.

LUCKOVICH: My very first cartoon, I drew for my grandmother, I think, I was like 14, I drew a drawing of Richard Nixon. There's never been, and I hope there never will be another president like Trump. I try and mock him with his look and with his long tie. I used to draw Obama with really huge ears.

I often draw him with, instead of the American flag, on his lapel, I draw the Russian flag. I've never done that with another president.

CURNOW: Of course, not everyone thinks it's funny, judging by the hate mail he gets. Kevin Riley of the AJC, edits the newspaper.

KEVIN RILEY, EDITOR, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Mike will show u -- show me a rough draft, a sketch of what he's planning to do.

LUCKOVICH: Kevin, may I show you some sketches?

CURNOW: Riley says it's important to balance Luckovich's cartoons with one showing an opposite viewpoint.

RILEY: Every now and then, I have to say, Mike, are you sure we want to do this one?

LUCKOVICH: How do you like this one?

RILEY: Mike won't take it easy on anyone. When someone does something that it appears to be hypocritical, that person can probably expect that Mike will have something to say about it.

CURNOW: So, when you look back over the year, what are your favorite cartoons?

LUCKOVICH: I just did this one. This was after the meeting with Nancy Pelosi (INAUDIBLE) on Trump's wall, which she, you know -- which is Nancy Pelosi.

CURNOW: Some cartoons make an emotional impact too. LUCKOVICH: I did this one, a few weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, as Trump is saying, I finally got my wall, which is a -- which is a Mausoleum wall.

CURNOW: This might be a local newspaper. But global leaders are just as much a target.

LUCKOVICH: I love drawing Putin. I often draw him shirtless. This was after, I think, Helsinki Summit. And so, he's saying here, I grabbed him by the presidency. When you're a dictator, he lets you do it.

CURNOW: Luckovich says there are so much material in the Trump presidency, he turned it into a book.

LUCKOVICH: I think that when this era of Trump is over, I think people will like having something that they can look back and say, oh remember when he did that, remember when he tweeted this.

CURNOW: So, do you think your book is like a historical document?

LUCKOVICH: Only funner.

CURNOW: A bold record of the politics of the day. Robyn Curnow, CNN, Atlanta.


ALLEN: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. I'll be back in 15 minutes with more news, but "WORLD SPORT" is next. Please stay with us.


[00:45:00] (WORLD SPORT)