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Partial U.S. Federal Government Shutdown Continues; Republican Senators Meet at White House Regarding Government Funding Bill; President Trump Announces Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Syria; James Mattis Resigns as U.S. Secretary of Defense; Brett McGurk Resigns as U.S. Global Envoy to Combat ISIS; President Trump Reportedly Expresses Desire to Fire Federal Reserve Chairman; House Judiciary Committee Calls on Acting Attorney General Whitaker to Testify; Fiance of Missing Woman in Colorado Arrested; High School Wrestler Forced by Referee to Cut Hair or Forfeit Match. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 22, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:18] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We're about to enter now hour 14 of the partial U.S. government shutdown. And neither side is ready to blink on the border wall issue. The president, he is having lunch with a group of all Republican lawmakers to discuss border security. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it is the Democrats who actually need to make a move in order to get the government back open again. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We pushed the pause button until the president, from whom we will need his signature, and Senate Democrats, from whom we will need votes, reach an agreement. No procedural votes, no test votes, just a meaningful vote on a bipartisan agreement whenever that is reached. And it's my hope that it is reached sooner rather than later.
CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple. The wall is President Trump's bone to the hard right people. It's no way to spend $5 billion, for a political bone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Let's get right to CNN's congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill. You're hearing that this could get worse before it gets better?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, that's exactly right. At least this current state, there are no clear pathways out of the negotiations that have occurred behind the scenes. What I'm told is that there have been proposals traded back and forth from the White House to Democrats and back, and at this point they are still, what I've been told, billions of dollars apart. And obviously one crucial issue, you heard it from the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor, Democrats are not willing to budge in the idea that they will not provide a dime in border wall funding. The president has made clear his threshold right now is $5 billion, willing to come down a little bit, we're told in negotiations that have been ongoing, but there does need to be money for the wall.
And if you're reading tea leaves, and pretty much given that most lawmakers aren't here today, that's what a lot of us have been left to go. If you look at the meeting in the White House, the lunch that you mentioned that is going on in the White House right now, and who is attending that lunch. You have essentially hardline conservative and allies of the president, members of the House Freedom Caucus, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Mike Lee, Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, who is considered somebody who can be part of a potential deal.
But if you look at that list, and I've been talking to both Republicans and Democrats about those attending, nobody views that list as the type of people that are going to help the president move any closer to making a deal. The House Freedom Caucus allies are a very conservative caucus in the House, were the group that was pushing the president to have this fight, to stick to the issue that he campaign on and promise his supporters he would eventually win on, the funding for the wall.
And given that that is occurring, given that negotiations really haven't moved that far over the course of the last 12 to 15 hours, you mentioned that it is 14 hours into the shutdown, we shouldn't probably be talking about the hours that this will take. We should be talking about the days, maybe even longer according to aides I'm talking to now.
I will note Vice President Mike Pence making his way back to Capitol Hill, he was in here last night with Mick Mulvaney, the incoming chief of staff, and Jared Kushner the president's son-in-law and senior adviser. He has been trying to take an active role in discussions and talks and negotiations, but at this point, even as he arrives on Capitol Hill, nobody believes that anything is happening any time soon. In fact, it might be a long wait at this point, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.
So President Trump delayed his holiday trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida, and says that he is working hard at the White House trying to resolve this shutdown. We just mentioned there was going to be a lunch there. Let's check in with CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood. So Sarah, what are you hearing about what productive material could come from this lunch?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, President Trump has really been all over the map when it comes to this funding fight. First, he said about a week ago that he would be proud to be responsible for a shutdown if it meant getting money for his border wall. Then his aides signaled that he would be willing to sign that temporary spending deal that passed the Senate. It would have kept the government open to February 8th. But by Thursday, he had changed his mind, put his foot down again, taking a hardline stance in favor of his $5 billion. And that's how we got to today.
There's still not a lot of clarity coming from the White House about just what kind of legislation the president would be willing to sign. That's causing a lot of headaches for negotiators. The president had become increasingly sensitive to criticism from his conservative allies that he was essentially surrendering by taking that temporary spending deal that would have kept the government open, and forfeited his last, best chance to get the wall before Democrats come into power in the House in January.
[14:05:10] Now, this White House meeting that you and Phil mentioned, it is really just with people who already agree with the president on funding for the border wall. And as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mentioning, what the president needs to do right now to break the logjam is huddle with people who don't agree with me, with Senate Democrat whose votes he will need to get something passed in the Senate. Remember, he has to have 10 Senate Democrats come across the aisle, at least 10 if he doesn't lose any members, any Democrats, to come across the aisle and vote for what he is willing to sign in terms of border wall funding. The White House not signaling just how far down from that $5 billion he would be willing to come. And so there is a lot of wait and see until the president clarifies his position right now, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Sara Westwood at the White House, keep us posted.
Let's talk more about all this. Joining me right now, CNN political analyst Brian Karem, and Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun Times," Lynn Sweet. Good to see both of you. Happy holidays.
So, Brian, you first. What's the point of this lunch if it really is preaching to the choir?
BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because you like to hear the choir sing back at you on occasion, I suppose. What this situation really boils down to, Fred, is three things. First of all, he was willing to compromise, on Wednesday gave the signal he was going to compromise, then heard from Ann Coulter who is the intellectual equivalent of an empty wasp's nest in the middle of winter. And when she went after him, he capitulated, and Rush Limbaugh hopped. And so the president hardened -- Pharaoh hardened his heart. So that's where we got to where we are.
Then the issue itself, as far as the border wall, it's a very disingenuous issue. So they tell us it will stop illegal immigration. A lot of the illegal immigration is from people who overstay their visas. Then they tell it is going to stop terrorism. I covered that border for five years. There has been very few cases of terrorism. Most terrorists come in the usual route, the terrorists from the Middle East, and where he says. And then finally, he talks about it curbing drug problems. Well, it's not. There is a demand for drugs in this country. And so all three of these issues are just disingenuous. And the real reason why this is an issue for Ann Coulter and for other
Republicans is that they believe that the people coming in from south of the border are brought here to vote Democratic. And so they're brown people, it's a racist argument, and it's a political argument. So today, when he sits there in that lunch, he is preaching to the choir, talking to the choir, and they're bolstering each other, and there's nothing being done.
WHITFIELD: So then, Lynn, you heard from the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who was trying to be both instructive and also admonished the Senate there. And he says, you know what, this administration has barely spent money from last year. So he says this is, and I'm quoting now, ineffective law the majority of people don't even support, meaning this $5 billion for the wall or any amount of money for the wall, because Schumer was saying, look, we have three proposals on the table, two of them are Democratic, one is from Mitch McConnell, and they all are promising $1.3 billion for border security, but no funding for the wall. So is this both sides just simply digging in their heels? And this promises that this is going to be a very long government shutdown, because neither side is going to budge?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, I've been through these shutdowns before. And these deals materialize somewhere. What is giving them an escape valve is that because this is the Christmas holiday, people all over the place are on holiday, so you won't feel the impact of it in the way you might otherwise have said. But I want to --
WHITFIELD: Unless you're a federal worker, one of the 800,000.
SWEET: That's true. But you might -- it just is not the same, this is the most unusual week of the year, where people, a lot of people are off, and might not have trials scheduled, trips to national parks scheduled.
But my point being, I don't want to negate in any way the toughness that this is on federal workers, who may be in a tough position. I want to go back to Schumer's speech today, because he had two parts in it. One that was a strong argument, one that was a weaker one. Saying what people rely on, or citing the poll, most people think this or that, is something that is easily debatable.
And what is not as debatable is Schumer understands how federal government works, and this is such an important point, let me just plow through this. Most federal projects do not get full federal funding all at one time. The White House has not put out, it's not saying that we need $5 billion year one, you spend 1.2, year three we do whatever.
[14:10:04] So if you can't even spend the money in the pipeline, it is hard to justify in routine federal projects getting all of the money at once. That's why there is this term called shovel-ready projects and all that, all this to say that Schumer really struck on something, that you can't spend all this money in one year, so why do you need it in one year? And then that goes back to --
WHITFIELD: He is getting to the heart of governing. He is being very critical and saying Mr. President, you don't know how to govern.
WHITFIELD: And you're not leading --
SWEET: That's why I think, Fred, you need to pay attention to this. And then the other thing that Democrats are a little slower coming back to is they don't even have to necessarily debate about the wall, because if Mexico is going to really pay for it, it would have been a nonstarter. And that's where I think you're going to see some of this discussion going, bringing it back to a point sometimes people forget.
WHITFIELD: So then Brian, the flipside to that is you have the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who is placing the blame on Democrats and saying, wait a minute, the pressure is on you, on you two come around and to compromise and to get government running again.
KAREM: Well, and then Mitch is ignoring the point that Lynn just made, and he knows it all too well. That's Mitch playing to the base, to the president's base, because Mitch knows all too well, Senator McConnell has been there for a long time. He knows how this game is played, and he knows that if you don't spend the money, everything that Lynn just said, I won't repeat, but he knows this. So when he is saying what he is saying, he's being disingenuous in order to sell it. The president came out and owned this, said he would be happy to shut it down, said it was his shutdown.
WHITFIELD: And it's difficult to walk that back.
KAREM: Well, no, how do you walk that back?
WHITFIELD: He is saying it, and so are other Republicans who are supporting him, who are saying, yes, it is on the Democrats, you own this. But the president said he owns it.
KAREM: But Fred, he has walked everything back at one point or another, since he's been there. Since day one when they showed his picture and said that the inaugural crowd was the largest ever. They create the facts, and then they want us to report them. It is a long cry from where it was when Reagan, Larry Speakes said, look, don't tell us how to stage the news and we won't tell you how to report the news. This administration stages it and then wants to tell how to report it and then changes it. It's not news. This is the way Trump operates. Merry Christmas.
WHITFIELD: We will leave it there for now. I know, merry Christmas. Brian Karem, Lynn Sweet, good to see you both. Appreciate it.
KAREM: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, a new resignation over President Trump's surprise withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Syria. The top U.S. envoy in the ISIS fight quitting a day after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis turned in his resignation. So what do these departures mean?
[14:17:08] WHITFIELD: Another member of the Trump administration is resigning over the president's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Brett McGurk, the man the president put in charge of destroying ISIS, has resigned. McGurk is the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. McGurk's resignation follows Defense Secretary James Mattis's stunning resignation on Thursday, that resignation shocking Washington and stunning U.S. allies.
With me now is Arwa Damon, CNN's senior international correspondent. Arwa, good to see you. So what are U.S. allies saying?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're reeling, as you can imagine, because up until that moment where President Trump tweeted that he was withdrawing all U.S. forces from Syria, everyone thought that America's strategy, a strategy that they had just recently also had emphasized to them by Brett McGurk himself, was to stay the course in Syria until ISIS was completely eradicated, to train up adequately the local forces there, and continue to act as something of a buffer to Iran's influence.
And now, none of that is anything remotely close to what America's strategy, or should I say Trump's strategy, seems to be in Syria. And then you also, Fred, have to look at America's adversaries in the region. Who is welcoming this? The Syrian regime, the Iranians, and the Russians. Turkey's position? Well, Turkey is yes, a NATO ally, Ankara and Washington, Erdogan and Trump right now much closer than they have ever been following that phone call that took place that, according to Erdogan, was part of the framework that resulted in this troop withdrawal. But Turkey's position also quite interesting in that Turkey has its own agenda, wants to go after the Syrian Kurds that America has been supporting. So it has really thrown everything into a fair amount of chaos, to say the least.
WHITFIELD: So Arwa, you spend a lot of time in Syria, in the Middle East region as a whole. When the president says the U.S. has won this war with ISIS, how do you see it?
DAMON: It's so naive. ISIS is not just an army. ISIS is, as we have been hearing repeatedly, an ideology. First of all, it has not necessarily been entirely militarily defeated, either. It still exists. And there is still fighting in parts of Syria along the border with Iraq. There are still pockets of ISIS in Iraq as well.
And then of course, you have the ISIS ideology that continues to inspire across the globe. And to come out and say, and make a statement that is so definitive, that ISIS has been defeated, is just incredibly misleading and potentially could have some fairly serious repercussions, because in trying to navigate sort of this broader war on terror and figure out how you do defeat an ideology, that in and of itself is quite challenging.
And then if we just briefly take a look at history, and let's just go back to some of ISIS's previous incarnations, such as back when it was the Islamic State of Iraq, or back when it was Al Qaeda in Iraq, in various junctures of history, those entities were declared defeated, only to regroup, reemerge as something even more powerful than before.
[14:20:16] WHITFIELD: All right, Arwa Damon, thank you so much.
Let's discuss now how pulling U.S. troops from Syria could impact national security. With me right now is Samantha Vinograd, a former adviser to national security adviser under President Obama. And Sam I have a cough drop in my mouth, so hopefully it doesn't come flying out of my mouth as we talk, so bear with me. So the president says the war against ISIS is successful, it's over, or is this really an issue of I'm just tired of this war and the U.S. troop involvement?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think we just need to take a step back and think about what bringing these troops home, to quote the president, he said this earlier today, would actually mean. It would mean removing 2,000 or so U.S. troops from the battlefield in Syria, where they have been training local Kurdish forces. That means, Fred, that these Kurdish forces are going to be left high and dry in terms of continuing to advance the skills that are needed to combat ISIS.
At the same time, it is unclear whether the troops that are leaving Syria would be, let's say, prepositioned at other locations throughout the region to continue supporting the mission to counter ISIS in some way, shape, or form.
But I have to say, per your conversation with Arwa Damon a moment ago, I've known Brett McGurk, who was leading U.S. efforts and was the president's special envoy to combat ISIS, since I met him in Baghdad in 2007, and he has served his country off and on since then. And I think his decision to leave was incredibly difficult, but part of it must have been motivated by the fact that it was going to be very difficult for him to implement his roles and responsibilities as part of this global coalition because of this U.S. troop withdrawal.
If the United States is leaving the Kurds high and dry, if the United States is leaving the other 78 members of this coalition high and dry, how can someone like Brett McGurk say that he is actually able to fulfill his responsibilities? So leaving Syria is a direct threat to the Syrian people. It is a direct threat to the United States if ISIS is able to regroup and attacks us or our allies. And it is also a direct threat to our credibility as part of any kind of coalition going forward.
WHITFIELD: And so Sam, talk to me about how conflicted Brett McGurk must be feeling or felt at the moment of announcing his resignation. Our Elise Labott reported earlier that he was in Iraq. Here he is meeting with allies, and learned in a public method just like everybody else who read the president's tweet, the U.S. troops were being pulled out, and how difficult that it is for someone in his position who is trying to give assurances to allies that we're in this together, only to find out that the U.S. is pulling out and leaving a lot of allies scratching their heads about what just happened, and this is the way we're informed?
VINOGRAD: Well, on a personal level, as I mentioned, Fred, Brett has served his country off and on for over a decade, whether in Iraq, in Syria, or various roles and responsibilities. So from what I know, he is really a dedicated public servant.
But this impacts his ability to do something else, which is very important. Part of the coalition exercise, part of his roles and responsibilities as a presidential envoy, is to convince other countries and other organizations to continue to keep assets in the fight. This has been an ongoing conflict. ISIS is nothing new. It was born several years ago now. How could Brett McGurk, or anybody in that position, continue to speak with other members of the coalition, ask them to continue working to combat ISIS on the ground and to stay engaged in the fight when the United States is leaving? It is just a nonsensical and illogical position for him to be put in.
And finding out about a presidential policy by tweet, unfortunately, this isn't the first time. I really feel for anybody who is trying to actually implement national security policy right now. They think they know the way ahead, and then they just go on Twitter and see something else.
WHITFIELD: And Sam, now on the issue of U.S. troops, you know, withdrawing from Afghanistan, this is what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say about that notion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would happen if President Trump decides to pull everybody out tomorrow?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: You need to ask that question to our military leadership. I've asked that question. And they give me a very blunt answer. This place would fall apart. We could, if we make the same decision we did in Iraq, leave too soon, set in motion chaos that would make Iraq look like a walk in the park. And I think one of the most likely outcomes would be the second 9/11 coming our way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Your thoughts on his comments?
VINOGRAD: My thoughts are that he is completely right. Our own Pentagon issued a report this summer saying that the only -- one of the only reasons that we've made progress in increasing the capabilities of the Afghan National Defense Forces, the only reason that we have been able to lay the groundwork to really landmark negotiations with the Taliban, is because we have the troops that are there supporting the national Afghan forces, and providing the enabling conditions, such that these other tracks can continue.
[14:25:18] And I have to say, Fred, the Taliban is rejoicing in this reported announcement for a reason. They've gotten what they want, a U.S. withdrawal, without having to give anything up. The whole point of negotiations was to get something from the Taliban before we gave them this gift of a U.S. withdrawal. So I think it is very likely that negotiations and the political track will fall apart based on this announcement.
WHITFIELD: Sam Vinograd, thank you so much, and happy holidays.
Up next, is the White House fed up with the Fed chair? President Trump discusses firing Jerome Powell after the latest interest rate hike. How will this play out after the worst week on Wall Street in a decade? More on that coming up.
[14:30:33] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. A 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 of 2008. And sources are telling CNN that President Trump is blaming the Federal Reserve and higher interest rates for the market slide. He is even thinking of firing the Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
I want to bring in economist Joseph Guzman. Good to see you, Joseph. So who is to blame here?
JOSEPH GUZMAN, ECONOMIST: Hello, Fredricka, thank you. It's good to see you, too.
WHITFIELD: Yes, and happy holidays. I was about to say happy New Year. I am getting ahead of myself.
GUZMAN: Happy holidays.
WHITFIELD: So who is to blame? Do you blame the Fed chairman? Do you blame the hike in interest rates for the kind of slide that has been experienced this week?
GUZMAN: Well, it certainly seems like the markets have responded to those hikes. We have an economy that has really been roaring. We are basically the supreme economy of the world. We have the most competitive economy in the world. We have the best haven for foreign direct investment. We have full employment. We have growth in sectors, the president has been improving our trade agreements in a bilateral and multilateral fashion so that we level the playing field. And one of the best signs that we've had is the growth in wages, which means that this economic upturn is not temporary, but it looks like something that is sustained.
WHITFIELD: Is it a combination of things that would --
GUZMAN: We have an economy that needs room to grow. I'm sorry, go ahead.
WHITFIELD: Is it a combination of things that would bring, a combination of things -- I have a feeling you are getting some feedback in your earpiece, so we apologize for that, hopefully we can fix that for you. But I'm wondering if it is a combination of things that have laid the groundwork for the kind of volatility we saw in this past week, thereby, if that's the case, there a singular fix? Or would it be a combination of things?
GUZMAN: Well, it is always a combination. The post-election response of the economy was not great, and then this last interest rate increase was also not great. But the bottom line is that the president sees that we have an economy that needs room to grow. And so raising the rates right now might actually precipitate a recession. And we don't want that. We would like to see the economy continue to grow at the clip that it has been growing at, and sustain four percent, if possible, which is something that no one expected or thought possible. But the president's economic policies and tax cuts and pro-business policies and trade policies have really improved the economy, and we are seeing full employment. We have seen employment on a level that we haven't seen in 50 years.
WHITFIELD: OK, soes sends additional jitters when you have the president talking about the firing of a Fed chairman, of Jerome Powell?
GUZMAN: Well, the president certainly has the right to express his displeasure at the actions of the Fed. And I think it -- I don't think it increases uncertainty. It shows that the president is determined to grow the economy. And he has shown that in many ways. And we've done many things to reduce jitters. One of the things we underestimate is the foreign environment, where we are improving or working toward improving our relationships, our trade relationships with multiple entities and partners, and so balancing the playing field.
WHITFIELD: Joseph Guzman, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much. And have a great holiday.
Coming up, President Trump and his acting attorney general hitting a bit of a rough patch. CNN has learned that Matt Whitaker may already be in the Trump doghouse after just a few weeks on the job.
[14:39:22] WHITFIELD: The incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee is demanding an appearance from acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who oversees the Russia investigation. New York Democrat Gary 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. Multiple sources say Trump was angry that federal prosecutors who Whitaker oversees referenced the president's actions, actually incriminating him in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to.
[14:40:00] None of the sources suggested the president directed Whitaker to stop the investigations however. Joining me, Robert Mueller's former assistant at the department of justice, Michael Zeldin. Happy holidays. Good to see you, Michael.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER'S FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT DOJ: Happy holidays to you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK, so reportedly the president has weighed in, really calling Whitaker under the carpet for not protecting him, not standing in the way of prosecutors who were also making ties between Michael Cohen's charges and the actions of the president. So is this of concern?
ZELDIN: Of course, it is of concern. The role of Matt Whitaker, or any attorney general, is not to protect the president personally, but rather to administer justice fairly. And indeed, there are rules in his own administration, written by his own White House council, Don McGahn, that limits the nature of the communications between the White House and the DOJ so as not to create an appearance of partisanship in the administration of justice. This seems to violate that, the spirit of those regulations.
WHITFIELD: And so on top of all of this now, we also learned that Whitaker disregarded advice from a DOJ ethics official to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Can he be made to recuse himself? Or when a recommendation comes in from someone on ethics, should you be honoring it?
ZELDIN: Yes, you should be honoring it. No, he can't be required to recuse himself because, I believe in this case, the decision was that it creates the appearance of conflict, but not that he has an actual conflict. So I would think that the discretion that he exercises should be to recuse himself so as not to create the appearance of some wrongdoing on his part. But he clearly has elected not to do that. And goodness knows what sort of reaction he would get from the president if he were to recuse himself. Two attorney generals in a row recusing themselves might be more than the president could tolerate.
WHITFIELD: And Representative Nadler, he wants Whitaker to testify to the Judiciary Committee. Do you expect that would happen?
ZELDIN: Well it is not sure what he wants him to testify about. If he wants him to testify about the circumstances under which he was appointed, communications between himself and the president leading up to this, that might be problematic from an executive privilege standpoint. If he wants to get some assurance from Matt Whitaker that while he is in his job, he will administer justice fairly and impartially without interference , then I think that might be an appropriate oversight role.
WHITFIELD: Is that almost like a mini swearing in without really getting the nomination?
ZELDIN: In a sense. I think that they want to in some respects test Matt Whitaker's integrity. Remember, before he was appointed, he had written some pieces on CNN.com and spoken on television, sort of critical of the Mueller investigation. Then he gets appointed by the president in a way that made people think that he was there to in some way interfere with it. So I think Nadler in his oversight responsibilities is fair to want to find out that that isn't true, and that Whitaker will be an honest broker.
WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave is there for now. Michael Zeldin, thanks so much.
ZELDIN: Thank you, Fred. WHITFIELD: Right now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
is recovering from surgery to remove a pair of cancerous nodules from her lung. The 85-year-old justice underwent the surgery six weeks after she fell at her office and fractured three ribs. So that is at the same time doctors discovered the malignant nodules. A court spokesperson says there is no evidence of more disease anywhere else in her body. Ginsburg is expected to remain in the hospital for several days.
Still ahead, police in Colorado make an arrest in the case of a mother missing for nearly a month. Why authorities are now charging her fiance with first-degree murder, next.
WHITFIELD: The fiance of Kelsey Berreth, the missing Colorado mom, has been arrested and booked on murder charges in connection with her death. Dozens of officers have been searching for Berreth, ever since she vanished on Thanksgiving Day. Police say she believe she is dead, though they have not found her body.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is following the developments from Colorado. So Kaylee, what more do we know about these charges and the circumstances?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, even without Kelsey Berreth's body being found, investigators have enough evidence that led a judge to sign that arrest affidavit for Patrick Frazee. Patrick Frazee now being held in the Teller County jail without bond on a charge of first-degree murder and also a charge of solicitation for first-degree murder. The first-degree murder easy enough to understand, but that solicitation charge brought about some questions. The district attorney went to great lengths to help us understand that means that more than just a discussion was had between Frazee and another individual about plans to commit this crime, but rather, actions. There was with a firmness of intent to commit this crime with another person.
Now, the arrest affidavit and all other investigation records have been sealed by a judge. The judge saying that that will remain the case so long as this investigation is ongoing, to protect it. But the judge said that will not be the case indefinitely. So it could be about 30 days or so before we really learn any more about that evidence, that investigators collected, again, primarily at Kelsey Berreth's home. They say they believe that is where her murder was committed.
[14:50:07] Investigators have been very tight-lipped themselves throughout the course of this investigation. But there was one piece of information that really brought a lot of questions about, and that was three days after Kelsey Berreth first went missing, on November 22nd, on November 25th, her cell phone sent text messages to Patrick Frazee and also to her employer, telling her employer at least that she would not be showing up for work for the next week. Those cell phone messages were sent after pinging a tower in Idaho. Investigators say that is, in fact, where her cell phone ended up, and they are still working to recover it. But that is just one piece of an investigation that is still continuing that we will be interested to find some resolution to.
This has been a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional investigation, Fred, and it will continue for some time. We will be looking to see Patrick Frazee back in court on December 31st. And in the next week to 10 day, the district attorney here will be filing formal charges against him. But in the meantime, Patrick Frazee will remain behind bars. And we do know that the daughter he and Kelsey Berreth shared, one- year-old Kaylee, is being returned to Kelsey Berreth's family safely.
WHITFIELD: Horribly complex. All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.
Still ahead, cut your hair or don't compete? A high school wrestler forced to make that choice during a competition. More on the controversy after the break.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. A New Jersey school district has banned a referee from officiating wrestling matches after he forced a student to cut his hair or forfeit a max. The moment was captured on video and it is drawing outrage. It shows a member of the school athletic department cutting the team's dreadlocks so that he doesn't have to forfeit his match. The black teen's teammates and coaches offer support after the white referee's ruling. The wrestler went on to win his match, but now the state athletic association has launched an investigation. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us with more on this. Polo, what is the latest.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, school officials saying that they have been told that the referee in question will not be refereeing any matches at the Buena Regional School District in New Jersey until the actions are reviewed. The New Jersey attorney general civil rights division says it is now looking into the possibility of bias being a factor in this incident. It took place on Wednesday.
I want to lay out a timeline now that came straight from the school district. The varsity wrestler stepped onto the mat on Wednesday evening to compete before the referee told him his hair length and that also that his head gear were not in compliance with regulations. Obviously faced with that kind of option of potentially forfeiting the match, the school district says that it was the wrestler who then agreed to have his hair cut on the spot. And that's where the video picks up.
The district says none of the staff influenced the student in his decision. The district also pointing out that the referee does not actually work for them but instead is a part of New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, or the NJSIAA. Who are they? They are basically the governing body that oversees high school athletics. So a question now that the school district, that the NJSIAA and mainly the state A.G.'s civil rights division have to answer, was this actually a case of bias? Usually, this athletic association leads the way in these kinds of investigations, Fred, involving players and coaches. However, technically since the referee is a member of that association, that is why the state has agreed to take the reins in this as they continue to investigate.
We should mention, though, that CNN has attempted to reach out not only to the referee in question, but also the parents of that student, and we are still waiting to hear back. Back to you now, Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK. All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.
Thanks so much for being with me this afternoon. We are hoping that you are having a great holiday season. And don't forget to join Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen as they co-host CNN's New Year's Eve coverage live from times square with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon. The fun starts at 8:00 eastern right here on CNN.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you back here tomorrow.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It's 3:00 eastern, noon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN Newsroom. And now, we are not just cruising into the holidays this weekend, no way. In fact, right now the usual Washington turmoil has spilled into literally the entire country.