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Trump's Border Wall Standoff Plunges Government into Partial Shutdown; Mattis' Resignation Shocks Washington, Stuns Allies; Stock Market Had Its Worst Week in a Decade; Trump Lashed Out at his Acting Attorney General; Ginsburg has Cancerous Nodules Removed from Lungs. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:16] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Eleven hours and counting. Part of the U.S. government is shut down for the third time this year after a tense standoff over the President's demand for border wall funding. Lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill in the next hour and as the blame game continues over who is responsible for the shutdown and how long it will last.

President Trump is still in Washington this morning with a lot on his plate. Markets taking a December plunge and the Dow suffering its worst week in a decade.

Trump is on the hunt for a new Defense Secretary after James Mattis turned in his resignation letter with a stinging rebuke of the President, leaving massive concerns about the future of Trump's foreign policy.

The Russia probe is also hanging over Trump's head. The President lashing out at his new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker after he was implicated in two federal crimes -- the President, that is. The President asking why didn't Whitaker do more to control the New York prosecutors who brought charges against his former attorney Michael Cohen.

All right. Let's start with the shutdown. 800,000 federal workers are in limbo just days now before Christmas. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins us live now from Capitol Hill. So what are we expecting today -- Suzanne?


Well we are actually waiting within the hour so the Senate will reconvene here on the Hill. It is likely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will speak and what he will say will be critical. Will negotiators come up with a deal that is favorable for both the Democrats, the Republicans, and perhaps most importantly the President.

It is far from clear whether or not that is true. We saw some negotiating, fast and furious yesterday on the Hill. Vice President Mike Pence as well as Jared Kushner and the OMB director Mick Mulvaney -- all of them meeting with the Democratic leadership as well as the Republican leadership to see if there was something they thought all three sides could come together on the President still insisting $5 billion for a border wall, Democrats looking at something around $1.3 billion.

I spoke with one senator this morning, a Republican who said that it is probably somewhere in between, but equally important is really whether or not this is something that is going to go for what is called a border wall or if it's more broadly-based, something dealing with IT, with technology, with staffing for border security. So those words and that language also very important as well as the dollars.

And Fred, what you mentioned and what is so critical here is the human impact. How many people, lives will be impacted by this.

Let's take a look at these numbers. We're talking about 420,000 federal employees would work without pay -- very difficult in this holiday season; 380,000 put on leave without pay.

Essential services would, however, continue. You're looking at U.S. Customs Border Patrol, TSA agents -- those who would still have to be at work, considered a critical job. Also, those jobs and those departments impacted at Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State and HUD.

I had a chance to talk with Congressman Steny Hoyer this morning who said that he is actually hopeful that there will be a deal perhaps sooner as opposed to later, but he's also quite worried because if they don't have something by today and give lawmakers 24-hour notice to come back for a vote, we could be looking at something as late as Thursday, which would be devastating for many people.

Take a listen.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: I think if in fact we resolve this this week, this coming week, then I think the impact on them will be small. But the constant turmoil that we subject our federal employees too and the fear of not getting a paycheck for two or three or four pay periods would put stress on any family and that's just not the way we ought to treat our federal employees.


MALVEAUX: So Fred, many unanswered questions here. How quickly can a deal be made? What is inside that negotiating, inside that agreement, in that deal? And whether or not the President in fact will stick with it -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. All key issues.

Suzanne Malveaux on the Hill -- thank you so much. So the President is staying in Washington to deal with the shutdown while his wife Melania and son Barron are already at Trump's Mar-a- Lago club in south Florida for the holidays.

Let's check in with CNN's White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

So what is the President's mindset as best as you or anybody else can tell right now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred -- this is the shutdown we have been anticipating and President Trump really precipitated this earlier in the week when he rejected what the Senate had originally passed which included funding the government but no border security.

[11:05:04] And now we are in a position where the White House is desperately trying to help facilitate negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate, and of course, the President himself.

There is still as of yet no indication of what exactly President Trump would accept, if not the $5 billion that he originally called for. If that figure is going to be less than that, what is the threshold that he would accept in order to move forward? And I think that's is one of the things that's holding up these negotiations.

But President Trump is also fixated on the issue of the blame game. He spent a lot of time in the last couple of days trying to change the narrative after saying that he would own the shutdown last week. Now this week, he is saying that the Democrats would. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Call it a Democrat shutdown, call it whatever you want but we need their help to get this approved. So Democrats, we have a wonderful list of things that we need to keep our country safe. Let's get out. Let's work together. Let's be bipartisan. And let's get it done. The shutdown hopefully will not last long.


PHILLIP: And I should also say, Fred -- this is the third shutdown that we've had in just this one year. That's the first time that's happened in 40 years of this country. We've had three shutdowns in one year -- an extraordinary amount of stalemate here in Washington. So much of this linked to the President's demand that he get border wall funding, something that he promised on the campaign trail would be paid for by Mexico.

And the President and this White House had in the past turned down several compromise bills and offers that would have given him border wall funding, bringing us to this point here where he may end up with just a small fraction of what he might have wanted originally for that wall. So I think this is all together a really pessimistic environment here in Washington where not everybody is going to be happy, but the government is still shutdown, and there is as of now, no end in sight.

WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House -- thank you so much.

Let's talk more about all of this. Joining me right now, assistant editor for the "Washington Post" and CNN political commentator, David Swerdlick; and senior political correspondent for "The Hill", Amie Parnes. Good to see you both. And happy holidays.



WHITFIELD: Not so happy for you if you are a federal worker, however, you know, just being in limbo like this.

So lawmakers are back on the Hill in about an hour, talking over what they can, you know, present to the President, what they can vote on. So you know, Amie -- do you think they can reach some sort of agreement that will -- because the bottom line is to appease the President here?

PARNES: And That's true. And no one knows exactly what he wants. And that's the sticking point here. Everyone I have spoken to in the last few hours, the last day, is still unclear about what it would take to actually seal the deal and what would happen.

So I think they're all kind of looking to him for guidance. And I think he knows that he has to kind of hold firm because of this kind of core group of Republicans in the House who are demanding that he do that.

And I think he personally wants to hold onto this because this is a legacy item for him. He promised on the campaign trail that, you know, they would build this wall and he knows how important this is for him.

WHITFIELD: A legacy item but this legacy also means being blamed for or adding a party to three shutdowns in one year.

David -- I mean that's a very difficult selling point, isn't it, for your legacy?

SWERDLICK: Yes, it is. And I want to key off something that Amie just said. It's true the President -- or that Republicans and Democrats don't know what the President wants unless you understand that what the President wants is to look tough and benevolent at the same time.

Unfortunately, we're at logger heads here on Capitol Hill with him saying he wants $5 billion and Democrats, I heard Senator Lankford say to Suzanne earlier this morning want $1.3 billion. And he thinks the number will wind up somewhere in the middle. There's always --

WHITFIELD: Yes. He said somewhere between zero and $5 billion. SWERDLICK: Yes.

WHITFIELD: And that would be somewhere in the middle.

SWERDLICK: Exactly. There's always a deal to be had. President Obama at this point in his presidency cut a deal with Republicans on the Hill to extend the Bush tax credits in exchange for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That was weeks after he took the famous shellacking in his first midterm election.

So there's a deal to be done. The question is can President Trump figure out a way where he can get something that he wants while realizing that the Democrats now are coming by January 3rd to have the upper hand by having control of the House of Representatives.

WHITFIELD: So two big issues here. You know, when is government going to be back open? And then of course in all of this who is to blame? I mean this is how Trump saw a government shutdown. These are his thoughts back in 2013.


TRUMP: They talk about the government shutdown. They're going to be taking about the President of the United States -- who was the President at that time?

[11:10:00] They're not going to be talking who the head of the House was, the head of the Senate, who is running things in Washington. They're going to be discussing one person. So I really think the pressure is on the President.


WHITFIELD: All right. So things are very different now because really earlier in the week, he said yes, I'll take the mantle, you know, put this shutdown on me. But then now he is talking about Democrats being to blame -- Amie. You can't have it both ways.

PARNES: No. And I think he realizes that. I mean deep down, he knows that this is his problem. This is happening under his watch. He is on tape saying as much, that he will take responsibility for it. And now he is kind of turning that on its head.

And the Democrats are -- they know that they have leverage going into this. They're going to take back the House on January 3rd. That's a very short time away. They're already labeling it in statements overnight, calling it the Trump shutdown.

So they know that they kind of are -- they have the leverage here and they're, you know, saying the ball is in your court, Mr. President.

WHITFIELD: You know, calling it a Trump shutdown, that's really what kind of got his attention, David, you know, when it was you know, Nancy Pelosi --

SWERDLICK: Yes. WHITFIELD: -- and Schumer at the White House with him and Nancy Pelosi saying Trump shutdown. It was all of a sudden he was like wait a minute, what did you say, oh, yes, and I'll take it -- so.

But here we are, you know, at this juncture. And then just hours before the shutdown, you know, the President was tweeting out a rendering of what he calls a beautiful barrier. And again, this is the center piece, you know, of this, you know, spending agreement. And he's showing this steel fence with spikes at the top saying, you know, we're nearing the two year mark of Trump's presidency, this has been main promise.

So David --


WHITFIELD: -- you know, he sees this. It is a win for him simply if he is able to get what he wants based on his campaign promise. But he is not looking at the 800,000 federal workers, you know, who are really worried about, you know, their paychecks, whether they're going to get them and for how long.

Are we anticipating that the President is willing to have the government shutdown well into the start of the next Congress which is a Democratically-controlled House?

SWERDLICK: Yes, it is hard to tell. Couple of things, Fred.

First, yes Pelosi and Schumer, basically good cop, bad cop to the President into making that statement and taking ownership of the shutdown. Then when we got a little closer to the shutdown deadline, it sort of dawned on the President and Republicans that there was serious business and they were really going to have to buckle down and negotiate.

The President is better at promoting to his base his promises and the way he wants to keep them and not as good at actually negotiating these deals down. And also not as good, to your point, at remembering in these moments that all of these 800,000 federal employees, he is their boss and he is essentially taking them into one or two or hopefully not more days than that of a shutdown over Christmas because he and Democrats are far apart on this deal.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And Amy -- so much for the boasting of being such a deal maker. And you have so many lawmakers, whether they've been on our air or others in the past 24 hours, who have said we don't really know what he wants. I mean, if you're going to be a deal maker, don't you lay it all out, this is what I want? It can't just be one thing $5 billion for a wall but you know, a consequence of items so as these lawmakers can kind of craft something that is appealing to him.

PARNES: Yes, I think they want to know if he can actually kind of meet them in the middle a little bit. And he hasn't really indicated. He's drawn a very strong red line to say no, the wall or nothing. And I think that's why he thinks that this is his last chance I think to get this done and that's why he is holding on. (CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: You might be right on that, right?

You might be right on that with a Democratically-controlled House.

All right. Amie Parnes, David Swerdlick -- good to see you. Thank you so much.

SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred.

PARNES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, the news that sent shock waves in Washington and around the world -- Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns. And now new details about President Trump's angry reaction.

Plus, the President claims ISIS is on the run to justify pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. But can his decision strengthen the terror group? We'll discuss that next.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

We're learning more about President Trump's reaction to Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation this week. A source close to the White House says Trump quote, "hates the letter submitted by Mattis", but quoting now, "hates the coverage more", end quote.

The President also is apparently upset with the often repeated line that Mattis was quote, "one of the adults in the room" serving as a check on the President's impulse. Mattis' abrupt resignation came on the heels of the President's announcement to pull out U.S. troops from Syria.

CNN's Jim Sciutto has details on how the shocking resignation played out.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Defense Secretary James Mattis surprised President Trump when he handed him his resignation letter, according to sources.

CNN has learned that Mattis showed up at the White House to make one last attempt to change the President's mind on withdrawing U.ST Troops from Syria. When the President would not relent over the course of a 45-minute meeting, Mattis resigned. It's a departure that has sent shock waves across Washington and the world.

His resignation came just one day after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. And the same day, sources told CNN that Trump is also planning to withdraw thousands of service members from Afghanistan. Secretary Mattis losing on two major military decisions. In his stunning letter, Mattis wrote, quote, "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."

[11:20:01] Specifically, Mattis was livid about the abandonment of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria who are still battling ISIS and who could face a bloodbath from a Turkish invasion, according to sources.

TRUMP: General James "Mad Dog" Mattis. He doesn't lose.

The rift between the President and Defense Secretary Mattis had been building for some time. According to a senior Defense official, some at the Pentagon say the President had stopped listening to Mattis a long time ago.

In his letter, Mattis brings up, quote, "China and Russia", writing quote, "I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours."

The President seeming to rebut that line this morning via Twitter, writing quote, "There has never been a president who has been tougher but fair on China or Russia, never. Just look at the facts."

TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.

SCIUTTO: American troop withdrawals with Mattis' resignation have left America's allies in Europe and across the world stunned.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This is a day America's allies have been dreading and fearing and hoping wouldn't come.

SCIUTTO: And even some of the President's staunchest allies at home not pulling punches.

REP. JIM BANKS (R), INDIANA: Secretary Mattis' departure, obviously that is devastating news to our national security and to the Pentagon.

SCIUTTO: As for Mattis' potential replacement, finding someone for the job on the same page as the President could be difficult.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS: There are talented individuals that will come forward. The real essence of the question is are they going to they want to raise a hand and say yes, I'll take this job.

SCIUTTO: Jim Sciutto, CNN -- Washington.


WHITFIELD: -- more on the global reaction now to the surprise of Mattis' resignation. With me now is Arwa Damon, CNN senior international correspondent. Good to see you -- Arwa. So you heard Jim's reporting there who says allies are stunned. How stunned? What are you finding?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they just didn't see this coming. It goes against any sort of logic when it even comes to trying to withdraw from the military battlefield. These things are usually done in consultation with other coalition partners, especially since in Syria it was a U.S.-led coalition.

America's adversaries are welcoming this move. The Iranians have said that it's about time that the Americans got out of Syria, blaming them for sowing chaos in the region. The Russians have welcome this as well, as have the Turks because they now can capitalize on a lack of American presence that acted as a buffer to prevent them to going in to go after Syria's Kurds.

Yes, you have this alliance that is forming between Russia, Iran, and the Turks that is effectively to a certain degree going to be what controls Syria's military battlefield.

WHITFIELD: So the President says that the U.S. has won the war against ISIS but how does that match up with what you have seen while covering the atrocities in Syria?

DAMON: To say that a battle against an entity like ISIS has been won is incredibly naive and short sighted. And military commanders on the ground will tell you that, analysts -- anyone who's really looked into the organization and others will tell you the exact same thing because ISIS is an ideology and even militarily speaking, has not been defeated inside Syria.

There's still some very fierce fighting that is taking place. ISIS has sleeper cells that's carried out targeted assassinations and so forth. And then on the ideological level, ISIS still does inspires attacks.

Look at the Strasbourg attack that took place in France just earlier this month where the perpetrator, according to a French judicial source, had pledged allegiance to ISIS. Now, this is not necessarily an attack that was specifically ordered by ISIS but it was ISIS- inspired.

And so to say that that organization has been defeated as if the world and America no longer needs to put plans into place to try to actually eradicate its core support and its ideology, it doesn't make sense.

WHITFIELD: Arwa Damon in Washington for us. Thank you so much.

All right. Now, let's get the military reaction to the Mattis departure and the President's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

With me now is Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a former U.S. military attache to Syria and a CNN military analyst. Colonel -- good to see you.

Well, if you were to get into the President's head, why does he see this as advantageous to pull U.S. troops out of Syria?


He's doing exactly what the previous administration did in Iraq. We're leaving the battlefield too early. As Jim and Arwa have pointed out very succinctly, ISIS is still there.

[11:24:55] Now, the Kurds are doing a great job. The Syrian Democratic Forces, this coalition of mostly Kurds and some Arabs that are fighting -- they're really taking the fight to ISIS. They're having battlefield successes.

And they've just come off of a very long campaign to take the city Hajim (ph) which was the last remaining stronghold there in the Middle Euphrates Valley. Now is not the time to pull the plug on our support.

WHITFIELD: And that's what I wonder. Would they feel that much more vulnerable now having made that kind of, you know, ground only now to lose U.S. support?

FRANCON: Yes, and here is what's going to happen because they're very concerned about the Turks. So if there's no U.S. presence there on that Syrian-Turkish border to prevent the Turks from encroaching further than they already have into northern Syria, Erdogan has said he wants to go from east of the Euphrates all the way over to the Iraqi border and clean out basically the YPG -- our allies in the region. And it is the presence of U.S. forces there that prevents him from doing that.

Now, I don't know what deal the President may have made with Erdogan, but removing those troops simply opens up the area for this Turkish action.

And you know what's going to happen -- it happened before. The Kurds are going to stop fighting ISIS. They're going to stop where they are. They're going to redeploy their assets to defend their families and their territory.

So the fight against ISIS is at risk now. All the gains that we've made over the past months, and this has been some serious bloody fighting down there in the Euphrates Valley, is all going to be for naught because the Kurds have to look for their future, not this battle that they're basically waging on our behalf.

WHITFIELD: You heard our Arwa Damon reporting earlier saying, you know, allies were stunned. I mean they were caught off guard with this decision. And this is what one military veteran had to say about how this decision would impact our allies already on the battlefield in Syria.


PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: What Mattis is saying, you can't just rip out of there and leave people hanging, that we've got allies that were expecting us to be there and tomorrow we're gone.

You're in the middle of a fist fight with your buddy standing next to you and you say bye, I'm gone. You've left him in that fist fight alone and sometimes outnumbered. That's what we're doing to our allies when you yank out of there without giving them any advance notice, without doing any diplomacy, giving our military leaders time to socialize that decision. You're leaving your allies hanging.

You're also endangering the opportunity for future allies to stand up. If America leaves our allies on the battlefield, other allies (ph)aren't going to step up. And that's going to reverberate for generations. That's the cost here.


WHITFIELD: Do you worry about those costs going forward with allies who can count on us and who we can count on?

FRANCONA: Yes. How are we going to build a coalition in the future? You know, we're looking at other areas as well.

And you know, the Iranians present a challenge to the United States. Are we going to be able to convince our gulf allies to stand with us when they say yes, we'll commit to be with you and then when the going gets tough or when you say you've had enough, you just leave but we're still here.

It sets a very, very bad precedent for this administration. I don't know what they're going to be able to do for the next two years. And I think down the road this is going to impact not only our allies overseas, but it is going to affect I think the Republican base because most people will say he gave up on something that we believe we should be doing.

WHITFIELD: Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona -- good to see you. Happy holidays.

FRANCONA: Thanks. You too.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, uncertainty on Wall Street as the stock market finishes its worst week in a decade. President Trump blames the Feds' latest interest rate hike, and floats the idea of firing the man in charge.


WHITFIELD: All right. A pretty bad end to an awful week on Wall Street. The Dow closed down 414 points on Friday. And for the week, it fell 6.9 percent. That's the deepest weekly plunge since the recession in 2008.

And sources are telling CNN that President Trump is blaming the Federal Reserve and higher interest rates for the market slide. He's even thinking of firing Fed chairman Jerome Powell.

CNN's politics and business correspondent Cristina Alesci has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka -- a brutal week in the market. The Dow and the S&P now on track for their worst December since the Great Depression, and their worst yearly performance in a decade.

This week, the selling began in earnest on Wednesday when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Investors got really nervous that the Central Bank was weaning this economy off of easy money.

We had historically low rates now for over ten years. And that helped boost the economy. When interest rates are low, consumers are more incentivized to buy houses and cars, and of course, stocks.

Rising interest rates might have the opposite impact and that is what spooked Wall Street. Add to that Fed chairman Jerome Powell disappointed investors by making it sound like interest hikes are baked in for 2019, and that sent markets even lower.

Adding to the negativity, President Trump who tweeted on Thursday that he was willing to partially shut down the government over a border wall funding. even after one of his economic advisers tried to assure the market that a short and partial shutdown would not have lasting economic impact. The President took to Twitter to emphasize the shutdown could be long.

On Friday, the Federal Reserve tried to repair some of the damage. New York Fed president clarifying the Fed will monitor what's going on in the financial markets, and future hikes really depend on economic data going forward.

[11:34:58] But overall, a very volatile week for Wall Street and it ended with investors still deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing trade war with China, a global economic slowdown, and the stimulus from tax cuts wearing off -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much -- Cristina.

I want to bring in now Michael Wursthorn. He is a markets reporter for the "Wall Street Journal". Michael -- good to see you.


WHITFIELD: All right. So how much of this, you know, market decline can be pinned on the higher interest rates and the Federal Reserve?

WURSTHORN: I mean you've seen since October, since Jerome Powell has been talking about higher interest rates and every time he's gone out and talked to the market about his rate plans, you see the market react negatively to that.

Interest rates have played a big part in that. And as Cristina was just saying, there is this resetting of valuations going on. But that said, it adds to this uncertainty. And the markets don't like uncertainty. They don't like the fact that Jerome Powell is looking toward the future and unsure as to where rates need to go to say that we're now at this neutral rate, we don't need to raise rates much further.

You know, that said, the shutdown now just adds to all of the unpredictable or uncertain elements that investors really need to concern themselves about. And for a lot of investors, they just want to see some surety, some sureness in terms of where the economic growth is going, where interest rates ultimately need to go, and what that's going to then mean for some of the other problems that are going on as well in terms of trade tensions and whether economic growth truly is slowing.

WHITFIELD: Right. So it's a conglomeration of things, not necessarily pinned on, you know, one thing. I'm hearing from you meaning like the interest rates, that kind of volatility, uncertainty even in, you know, U.S. government, working trade deals, et cetera.

So right now, we're hearing, you know, from the President. He is sending smoke signals, you know, that he is considering firing, you know, the Fed chairman, Jerome Powell. What potential effect would that have, and is it that easy?

WURSTHORN: So several investors have already said that any sort of movement like that would really spook the markets just because, you know, they've already taken, you know, several months to get used to Jerome Powell and sort of his delivery and how he talks about the markets.

And you're still seeing the markets get used to that, get more used to how he speaks about things, how he describes and how he forecasts things. Removing Jerome Powell would inject a ton of uncertainty as well as send a message to investors that now you have a White House that's looking to interfere in fiscal policy. And that could be troubling to a lot of investors.

From what I understand it is not that easy to remove Jerome Powell, and there could be a backlash. But it might ultimately come down to whether or not legislators would want to back up that move or not and say that, you know, the Federal Reserve is supposed to be not sort of subjected to the whims of the White House.

WHITFIELD: Michael Wursthorn -- good to see you. Thank you so much.

WURSTHORN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, is the honeymoon over for the President's acting U.S. attorney general? CNN has learned that Matt Whitaker is already in the Trump dog house after just a few weeks on the job.


WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. We're getting our first reaction from the President today on the government shutdown and his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Just moments ago, the President sending out this tweet saying -- and this is a long one. "I am in the White House, working hard. News reports concerning the shutdown and Syria are mostly fake. We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed border security -- gangs, drugs, human trafficking and more. But it could be a long stay.

On Syria, we were originally going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago. We never left. But I became president, ISIS was going wild, now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries including Turkey should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We're coming home."

That from the President just moments ago via tweet. And we'll discuss more of this in the coming hour.

Meantime, the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee is demanding an appearance from acting U.S. attorney general Matt Whitaker who oversees the Russia investigation.

New York Democrat Jerry Nadler made the demand in a letter to the DOJ. In a tweet, Nadler said he will not take no for an answer.

This as CNN learned President Trump ripped into Whitaker at least twice in the last few weeks. According to multiple sources, Trump was angry that federal prosecutors Whitaker oversees referenced the President's actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael pleaded guilty to.

None of the sources suggest that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, however.

Joining me right now former general counsel for the FEC, Larry Noble. Larry -- good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Your thoughts on, you know, how he is putting his, you know, interim AG on the hot seat, being critical of him. The inference is you're not protecting me enough.

NOBLE: Right. And what this shows is that President Trump hasn't really learned anything. He still believes that the attorney general is there to serve him as his private lawyer. He may not have said to Whitaker, you have to close this investigation down. But when you criticize the acting attorney general, when you say how can this go on, when you say that this investigation is out of control, you're really putting pressure on them.

[11:45:02] He may not have crossed the legal line in terms of obstruction of justice, but it shows that he is really going to pressure people in the Department of Justice and let them know that he's going to be a very unhappy person if this continues.

And that is -- that in my view is unethical. That in my view is something that we should really not allow. And he has to understand that the attorney general works for the people of the United States and not for the President of the United States as a person.

WHITFIELD: And what are your concerns about the potential response from Whitaker on this?

NOBLE: Well, I mean the potential response is Whitaker previously said that he thought that the investigation was out of control and this was earlier, before he became acting attorney general. And he said that he thought that real controls had to be put on Mueller and made sure that Mueller actually kept to the limits.

And so the concern here now is that he is going to start restricting what Rosenstein does, what Mueller does, and what the southern district of New York does, and that he's going to start reigning in.

To be fair, he hasn't done that yet. From what we can see, he has not yet reined them in. but if Trump keeps pressuring him, will he do it? And that's a real concern here.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And on top of all this, we learned that Whitaker disregarded advice from the Department of Justice ethics official to recuse himself from the Russia probe. So what's the potential impact of that?

NOBLE: Well, that's a real problem. First, he actually never even asked for the advice. He could have asked for the advice. He decided not to.

He got informal advice, the ethics official at DOJ wrote a letter saying that while you're not legally required to recuse yourself, that for appearance purposes you should. Because one of the basic tenets of ethics is that you should not do things that appear that -- make you look like you're being -- you're not being impartial. That makes it look like that you are partial and you've made up your mind already.

WHITFIELD: He had expressed well before he was interim on the air and otherwise that he didn't believe that the Robert Mueller investigation, you know, really had merit.

NOBLE: Right.

WHITFIELD: And that it was overstepping its bounds by investigating the President.

NOBLE: Right. And so when you have the ethics officials saying you should recuse yourself after not having been asked, he then went to his own advisers, we are not sure who they are, who said you shouldn't recuse yourself. You don't have to recuse yourself.

And again -- what this does is it puts real pressure on the acting attorney general, and real pressure on the whole system. So he is now on notice that people believe legitimately that the decisions he makes are going to be tainted by his previous statements about the investigation, are going to be tainted by the way the President has talked to him about the investigation.

And you know, it is a real concern when you're dealing with ethics that the public have confidence in what you do, have confidence that you're impartial. And I think that's really been called into question here.

And I want to add one other thing, one of his excuses was he did not want to set a precedent for future government employees that they would have to recuse themselves if there was an appearance of a conflict of interest. That actually is a good precedent to set.

As a former government employee, you were concerned if there was an appearance of a conflict of interest. And I think that that just shows their mindset, that they really are trying to limit the ethics rules as much as they can.

WHITFIELD: All right. Larry Noble -- we'll leave it there. Happy holidays.

NOBLE: Happy holidays to you. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Still ahead, new details are emerging about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health scare. More on that next.


WHITFIELD: New health concerns for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. CNN's Jessica Schneider has all the details.



First to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was revealed Friday that the 85-year-old underwent surgery to remove two cancerous nodules from her left lung. Now, the Friday morning surgery was preplanned since doctors discovered the nodules after Justice Ginsburg fell in early November and fractured her ribs.

So Justice Ginsburg's surgeons said that there was no evidence of cancer post-surgery and no further treatment is planned. Justice Ginsburg is now resting. And Justice Ginsburg has been very vigilant about cancer screening in the past since her mother died young from cancer and Justice Ginsburg herself had colon cancer surgery in 1999 and then was diagnosed and treated for pancreatic cancer in the early stages back in 2009.

Well, really this latest surgery, it didn't stop Justice Ginsburg from casting a vote in an order with big repercussions for the Trump administration. So the Supreme Court has decided not to step in when it comes to President Trump's asylum ban.

Now, the President issued that ban last month, and it would have blocked migrants from claiming asylum if they didn't go through a proper port of entry, if they crossed illegally. But almost immediately that ban was blocked by lower courts, so the government wanted the Supreme Court to step in and allow the ban to go into effect lifting the injunction from a court in California.

But in somewhat of a surprise on Friday, the Chief Justice John Roberts, he joined the liberal justices to refuse to unblock the asylum order. So the chief justice with this vote really seeming to take the spot of the retired justice Anthony Kennedy who, of course, was a moderating force for the court.

So for now, President Trump's asylum ban, it remains blocked. It is not in effect, and it will wind its way through the lower courts to determine whether it's even legal before possibly making its way back to the Supreme Court.

Jessica Schneider, CNN -- Washington.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next, part of the Federal government shut down affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans. Lawmakers are searching for a new deal, so how long could this drag on? We'll discuss.