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CNN NEWSROOM

Democratic Leaders React to Partial U.S. government Shutdown; Conservative Critics Hit Out at Republicans, Trump; U.S. Stock Markets Continue to Tumble; Mattis Resigns over Policy Disputes with Trump; Police Arrest Two over Gatwick Drone Incidents; Trump Lashes Out at Acting AG Whitaker over Cohen Case; Sen. Lindsey Graham Fears U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan; Supreme Court Upholds Block of Trump Asylum Ban; Trump Knows Everything. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 22, 2018 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:00]

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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. government partially shuts down. President Trump said he would take the blame for it about a week ago but now he's flip-flopping, blaming Democrats.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Also this hour, planes are back in the air at London's Gatwick Airport and police make an arrest after drone sightings cause days of chaos.

HOWELL (voice-over): Plus, a CNN exclusive: Senate Republican Lindsey Graham says Afghanistan is still a cause worth fighting for and fears that pulling out of the country right now would lead to, quote, "another 9/11."

ALLEN (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, coming to you live from Atlanta. It's the holidays I guess, so Happy Holidays early.

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN (voice-over): I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: -- to you and to everyone. I'm George Howell from CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.

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HOWELL: 4:00 am on the East Coast. Thanks for being with us.

For the past four hours, parts of the United States government have been shut down. What that means is hundreds of thousands of federal employees will feel the pain. For how long, who knows.

ALLEN: Not a holiday gift they wanted from their leaders. Nearly a half million employees will be expected to work without pay until lawmakers make a deal. Lawmakers left Washington Friday without a bill to fund the government

by a midnight deadline. They are deadlocked over, you know what it is, President Trump's demand to fund a border wall which Democrats oppose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Call it a government shutdown, call it whatever you want. But we knee their help to get this approved. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: In a sound bite he said, call it what you want. But remember a week ago he called it a shutdown he would take credit for. President Trump's Democratic opponents, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi issued a new statement a short time ago about the shutdown.

After eight years in the minority, their party is set to regain control of the House in January, this, of course, after the midterm elections.

ALLEN: Their statement reads in part, "If President Trump and Republicans choose to continue this Trump shutdown, the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to reopen the government in January."

HOWELL: Meantime, U.S. senators are set to return to Capitol Hill in the coming hours. That will be very important as they continue their talks on the shutdown.

ALLEN: Our Phil Mattingly explains how they reached this point and the impact it's causing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're in it now. The White House, Congress, Washington is now officially in a government shutdown or at least a partial government shutdown; 25 percent of the federal government no longer has money to function.

The question, the biggest question is, how do they get themselves out of it?

The reality, when you talk to individuals actually involved in the negotiations, there's no clear end anytime soon. Here's the baseline this started with.

President Trump made very clear a couple of days ago that $5 billion for the wall was his baseline. Anything lower than that, he was not willing to accept. Democrats had made clear that the president already said this would be his shutdown; if it shuts down, it's President Trump's fault. They feel no incentive to come to the table and give in any way for any type of border wall funding. Here's what we know at the moment.

Negotiations did start in earnest and White House officials coming up to Capitol Hill, going back and forth for a couple of hours, trying to figure out if there was some path forward. But those negotiations have not yielded what I'm told anywhere close to an agreement. They're billions of dollars apart with no clear end game in sight.

So the big question becomes, how does this end?

Sources I'm talking to on Capitol Hill say they don't have a good answer right now. Essentially somebody has to blink, somebody at the White House, the president has to blink, cave, basically agree to potentially go forward with what the Senate passed in a unanimous manner, in a bipartisan manner earlier in the week, a clean stopgap bill with no border wall funding.

Or Democrats would have to blink, start moving toward the president, start trying to fund the wall or at least put money toward that. The latter is certainly not an option from the Democratic perspective and the president hasn't shown any sign that he wants this fight to end anytime soon.

So with all that in mind, as lawmakers went home on Friday and considered whether or not they were even going to come back on Saturday, the reality remains this: 25 percent of the government is shut down. A clear solution is not currently in the offing and there's a very real possibility this goes on, not for hours but potentially for days -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, Capitol Hill.

[04:05:00]

ALLEN: All right, he said 25 percent of the government shut down.

What is at stake during a shutdown?

At least 420,000 employees will be expected to work without pay until lawmakers make a deal. About 380,000 employees will be placed on furlough as we head into the holidays.

Essential services like Social Security will still get funded and the mail will be delivered. Federal employees who keep people safe, like the military and law enforcement officers, will keep working.

HOWELL: So a government shutdown is where we are and to talk more about that is CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart.

Thank you so much for being with us today here to talk about the situation. First of all, we're in the middle of a government shutdown. This means some 800,000 people will be affected.

You've been in touch with people on Capitol Hill, who have insight into what the president is thinking.

What are you hearing?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He met with senators today in the midst of all this. And his position truly is that he wants to stand firm on the $5 billion number. It is critical, knowing full well when the Democrats take control of the House in January, the leverage of Republicans is going to be tremendously reduced.

So right now he stands firm on that. He feels he's in a better negotiating power come January if he stands firm on this. This is not good. It is not good to have a government shutdown as we head into the holidays.

But he's looking at this as short-term pain for long-term gain. In the long term, he needs to have progress on this wall and this is a way he can go about it. Me and many other Republicans, I never thought we would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it. But that is something his base wants it. He promised that and he really needs to deliver on it.

HOWELL: You say the short-term pain for long-term gain and it seems like the window is narrowing for the president when the House is taken over by Democrats.

Looking ahead, though, the question is, who is to blame for this?

President Trump at one point said he would take the mantle for this. Now he's pointing at Democrats. Let's listen to what the president said on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle, I will be the one to shut it down.

It is up to the Democrats. So it's really the Democrat shutdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: So which is it?

ALICE STEWART: It depends on who you ask. Republicans will say this is the Democrats and the Schumer shutdown whereas you have Democrat who will say, no, this is -- the president is in charge. It is up to him.

But clearly in my view it might not have been the most wise statement to make last week, to say that he will be proud if we have a government shutdown because it does put the onus on him.

But at the end of the day, this could have all been avoided if both sides with the president at the helm could have come together and negotiated because they made it quite clear, the president made it clear, I want $5 billion.

Democrats made it quite clear, maybe we'll give $1.6 billion and there is room for negotiation in between that and I think that's critical moving forward.

We can all agree we do want a secure border and it's an important national security issue.

(CROSSTALK)

ALICE STEWART: Absolutely. But whether or not the wall is the way to go about doing it remains to be seen.

(CROSSTALK)

ALICE STEWART: And there are ways to negotiate. I think DACA protections would be a good leverage and negotiating tool, providing protections for DREAMers. That would be a good negotiating aspect.

HOWELL: But symbolically, this president wants this wall. He wants the symbol of it. He wants to stand firm. He wants people to see that it was created. That is the sticking point here.

ALICE STEWART: It certainly is. And we can all remember, when he was running for office and when he was campaigning, he would say, we're going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.

And his base loved that. It was a key campaign issue, a rallying cry for his base and he really wants to deliver on that. You can look at all the stats and figures on what's the best way to keep our border secure and to make that a key national security issue and there's a lot of debate on whether an actual wall is the way to go about doing it.

There's a lot of controversy regarding that. But this president has been clear, that's what he wants, that's what he promised his base and that's what he wants to make sure that they get.

HOWELL: Alice, we know this was fundamental, central to the president's campaign running for this office and we're at a point now where it seems that the pressure is definitely on him to get something done.

The question now is, where is that pressure coming from?

I want you to listen to these two sound bites. We'll talk about them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: The Republicans are bowing down apparently. Even though we allocate money we need for criminal justice reform or Planned Parenthood or whatever the hell else --

[04:10:00]

LIMBAUGH: -- liberal cause is clamoring for your tax dollars.

ANN COULTER, ULTRACONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: It will be a joke presidency that scammed the American people, enraged -- amused populists for a while. He'll have no legacy whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, FOX News. We know the president likes to watch television, FOX News, listen to these commentators.

Is that where the pressure is coming from here?

ALICE STEWART: It is. In large part, it's more than casting them off as big voices of the Right and conservative voices, they're emblematic and representative and voices of the flyover country, of the Rust Belt states, of the forgotten Americans who got him into office.

So those on the Left and Democrats and many others can look at them as very popular right-wing voices. But they're representative of his base and he really does need to deliver on that.

Look. He made it clear today, look, $5 billion, I'm the art of the deal, I'm the man who knows how to make deals, I'm going to start with that. He's made it quite clear he's willing to back off on that. But right now he has to stand firm and hope the Democrats try to come and meet him.

But as we know, when we get further down the road and the Democrats are in charge, they're going have to find a way to meet in the middle and possibly find some other carrot and stick approach to make sure they get it done.

HOWELL: Earlier we heard from the person who's going to be leading the White House, running the White House, Mick Mulvaney. And his take on the wall is very interesting back then. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The fence is an easy thing to sell politically. It's an easy thing for someone who doesn't follow the issue very closely to, say, oh, that will solve everything, build a fence.

The fence doesn't solve the problem. To just say build the darn fence and have that be the end of an immigration discussion is absurd and almost childish for someone running for president to take that simplistic a view.

And by the way, the bottom line is the fence doesn't stop anybody who really wants to get across. You go under, you go around, you go through it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HOWELL: When words come back to haunt you, "childish."

ALICE STEWART: Everything is on tape. And you have to remember that. Those are strong words but there's some truth in what he's saying. The wall isn't going to solve everything. A lot of these people that are coming across our southern borders are going underneath the wall or they're flying into this country.

So the wall's not the end-all and be-all but it's something the president was able to point his finger at and promise his base. He was going to get it done and he needs to make progress. And I'm not saying it's the correct answer and it's going to solve all the problems. But in his mind, in his base, that's the good way to go about doing it.

HOWELL: Alice Stewart, thank you again so much for your time.

ALICE STEWART: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: Those Mulvaney comments coming from 2015. It is important to point out the lens here. There are some who wake up and hear about the government shutdown and they want it. They're part of the Trump base. There's some who hear about it; this means they may not get paid.

Federal employees are people who don't want a government shutdown. And then internationally, how does this make the United States look?

So there are different ways to look at this.

ALLEN: Absolutely. That's one issue on the president's plate.

Here's another, that's the stock market. President Trump is reportedly so angry with his own appointee at the U.S. Federal Reserve that he discussed firing him. Bloomberg reports that Mr. Trump got frustrated with Fed chairman Jerome Powell after recent stock market losses and this week's interest rate hike by the Fed.

Global business executive Ryan Patel suggests the president is partly responsible for that hike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN PATEL, GLOBAL BUSINESS EXECUTIVE: In all respect to President Trump, he can say whatever he wants to say because the Federal Reserve was very clear, it is very independent from him.

Powell came out to say that day on his speech that they're making decisions separate. And I think truthfully, when they made that decision to make that interest rate hike, I almost felt they didn't have a choice because they were getting so much pressure from the president to do the opposite. It felt like they would have had to cave in.

I think the little caveat that they did for next year is that they're only going to do two rate hikes versus three. But to be able to influence something directly like that is not going to be in his power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: We'll have more of my interview with Ryan Patel in the next hour and talk more the other factors that are driving the markets down and driving a lot of people in the markets kind of cuckoo.

HOWELL: Let's talk about the numbers. Wall Street capped off a rough week with more losses on Friday. The Dow closing down 414 points for the week. It fell 6.9 percent, the deepest weekly plunge since the recession in 2008.

Now to the technology-oriented Nasdaq, losing almost 3 percent Friday and now is officially in bear market territory. And the S&P 500 dropping another 2 percent down 7 percent this week alone. Wall Street's losses --

[04:15:00]

HOWELL: -- this week reflect fears of an economic slowdown and an aggressive Federal Reserve.

ALLEN: A source says President Trump hates the resignation letter of his U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. The two-page letter offers not one single word of praise for the president.

HOWELL: A source also says it angers the president to hear Mattis described as the adult in the room, the adult in the administration who kept Mr. Trump's impulses in check. CNN's Jim Sciutto picks it up from here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): 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.S. troops from Syria. When the president would not relent over the course of a 45-minute meeting, Mattis resigned.

It is a departure that has sent shockwaves across Washington and the world. His resignation came just one day after Trump announced a 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."

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.

SCIUTTO: The rift between the president and Defense Secretary Mattis had been building for some time. According to a senior defense official, some in 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: The American troop withdrawals, along 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 that America's allies had 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.

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There are talented individuals that will come forward.

The real essence of the question is, are they going to want to raise their hand and say, yes, I will take this job?

SCIUTTO: Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. The man overseeing the Russia probe and other investigations is already feeling the heat from his boss. We'll have details.

ALLEN: Also, ahead, days of chaos at one of the U.K.'s busiest airports may finally be over. We'll have the latest on the investigation into the drone sightings at Gatwick.

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ALLEN: The good news is planes are flying again at Gatwick Airport and police have arrested two people over the string of drone sightings near the field.

HOWELL: That's right. The first case of the sightings started on Wednesday. Drones spotted dangerously close to runways at that airport forced a 32-hour shutdown and forced the busy airport to briefly close again on Friday after another drone sighting. Gatwick aims to run a full schedule of flights Saturday. That's the good news.

ALLEN: Now that video there, people actually getting to go to their gates and fly. The earlier pictures from the week where people jammed in, going nowhere. Let's get to our Anna Stewart. She's at Gatwick Airport.

This must be a huge relief for the tens of thousands of holiday travelers, Anna, who were stuck and for authorities who couldn't find who was behind this. Now they've arrested two people who may be behind it.

What do we know about the investigation?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The investigation is still ongoing but as you said, last night two people around 10 o'clock at night were arrested. This following a sighting at around 5:20 which temporarily suspended the runway and caused momentary panic.

But it got up and running again. What we know about the investigation, the police have said, "Our investigations are still ongoing and our activities at the airport continue to build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions from drones by deploying a range of tactics."

So we don't know much about the two people arrested yet. They haven't been charged. We hope to get more information today. In terms of the actual tactics, I was speaking to the police leading the investigation yesterday. They say, as of yesterday, they have a whole range of options in terms of finding these drones, mitigating the risks around them than they had on Wednesday night or Thursday.

So, many more options, which meant, when they did find a drone yesterday, Natalie, they were able to actually reopen the runway and ensure passenger safety, which is something that couldn't be done Wednesday night or Thursday.

So they have gotten much more further ahead. They have sophisticated options to deal with this, which they won't get into with us, we can imagine something very high-tech, probably signal jamming technology, something like that.

They don't want to get into it because they don't want perpetrators to know about that. There are also unsophisticated options. Yesterday they were talking about the possibility of just shooting the drone out of the sky. That was something that was ruled out earlier in the week because they were worried about the danger to the public.

But honestly, things are moving on and all flights are taking off and landing, although there are some delays.

[04:25:00]

ANNA STEWART: In total, this has impacted 150,000 passengers.

ALLEN: My goodness. They have to be so relieved that they're on the move.

What about regulations?

Drone technology is advancing so rapidly. As you say, they do have tactics that they don't want to give out to try to stop this.

But what about the laws there in the U.K.?

Are there expected to be some changes?

ANNA STEWART: So currently the law is fairly basic with drones. You're not allowed to fly a drone above 120 meters or within the plummet of an a/field or an airport. You can face up to five years in jail if you do. That's what the perpetrators of this can look forward to, one would hope, if justice is served.

In terms of regulation there have been calls for this. The CAA, which is the aviation regulation here, has been looking into tightening that regulation already but, of course, this has captured Britain's public imagination somewhat. Everyone wants to see some serious regulation in place as quickly as possible, including for things like the large drones, like the ones that have been bothering the airport here.

They want to make sure that those are registered to the owners, to the operators, that perhaps data from the drone that's digital, that can't be tampered with, perhaps even something like blockchain. So you know where the drone is at all times, it can be detected.

But the problem is, Natalie, frankly, if someone wants to go rogue, they can. You can buy drones and you can tamper with them. You can also build your own drones, is what I've been learning, so it doesn't necessarily solve all the problems here -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right, and it is a serious safety issue. One small drone can do such damage to a very large airliner. Anna Stewart, outside Gatwick, really appreciate it. That's all good news. Thank you.

HOWELL: Still ahead with so many clouds circling the Trump White House and various investigations, some that could implicate him, Mr. Trump is lashing out at his hand-picked acting attorney general. We'll explain why -- ahead.

ALLEN: Also ahead, the resignation heard around the world. U.S. allies are stunned that the adult in the Trump administration has left the room. We'll have more about what Mr. Trump thinks about that characterization.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. See you in a minute.

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ALLEN: And welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for your you this hour.

(HEADLINES)

ALLEN: All right. Sources are telling CNN that President Trump is lashing out at acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.

HOWELL: The reason raises questions about what President Trump wants the Justice Department and his attorney general to do for him. Our U.S. Justice reporter Laura Jarrett has this story for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: New details are emerging about the president's anger over how his attorney and long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, has drawn him into investigations by federal prosecutors.

And the person now bearing the brunt of those frustrations, well, his hand-picked acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. According to multiple sources familiar with the discussions, on at least two occasions in the past few weeks, the president has vented at Whitaker, in particular about how prosecutors implicated the president in a hush money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign.

Crimes that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to in the Southern District of New York. To be clear, none of the sources suggested that the president directed Whitaker to actually stop any of the investigations.

But the president believes the situation is unfair because he and his attorneys suggest that these were not illegal payments. But more importantly, these discussions between Trump and Whitaker really show how the president believes the attorney general should serve as his personal protector.

While not confirming any of these conversations, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement, quote, "The president and his lawyers are upset about the professional prosecutors in the Southern District of New York going after a noncrime and the innuendo that the president was involved."

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story -- Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Laura, thank you.

Now to the U.S. and Afghan. The U.S. military has been ordered to draw up plans to pull out around half of its troops from that nation, this according to a U.S. Defense official. But one U.S. senator says a premature withdrawal is one of his greatest fears.

ALLEN: One of the goals of Senator Lindsey Graham's recent trip to the country was convincing President Trump of the same. CNN's Kate Bolduan traveled with the senator and was granted exclusive access to his trip.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Senator Lindsey Graham is on a mission: a mission to connect with the troops but also a mission to convince a president that, after 17 years, Afghanistan is still a fight worth fighting.

BOLDUAN: You have been here so many times.

Why come back this time?

What's this visit about?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I always come back as much as I can. One, if you're sending people over here to fight for your country, you at least owe it to them to kind of check in on them.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): We had exclusive access to follow Graham on a whirlwind tour. He's been to the region more than 40 times but this marks his first trip back to Afghanistan without his closest friend and confidante.

GRAHAM: This is the first trip without John McCain.

[04:35:00]

GRAHAM: This is a tough one. Just think there a minute ago, how many times I have been there but just almost all the time with John. And the president's going to make some decisions about Afghanistan soon. I hope he makes good ones.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): From Kabul to Kandahar, his message to the troops: we've got your back.

GRAHAM: How long have you been here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 2.5 years.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): But Graham doesn't seem so sure President Trump feels the same way. For one, the commander in chief has yet to visit any combat zone, including where the fight against Al Qaeda after 9/11 began.

GRAHAM: I would hope the president would come over here. I know he loves the military. I would advise him to come over here and say thank you, sit down with President Ghani and the Afghan partners and tell them what you would like them to do better.

Understand Afghanistan, being in Afghanistan, is a completely different experience than talking about it in Washington.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): And by being in Afghanistan this time, the senator says he received critical status updates from the top Afghan commando...

GRAHAM: A good outcome in Afghanistan is important to the United States.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): -- and also the top American commander of U.S. and NATO Forces there, both saying ISIS is on the rise.

GRAHAM: The ISIS threat in Afghanistan is far greater than I thought it was. If you get a peace agreement tomorrow between the Taliban and the Afghan government, that will not solve the threat to our homeland.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Yet, President Trump has made no secret he has little interest in committing U.S. troops to conflicts overseas. Look no further than his announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria.

TRUMP: Now we have won. It's time to come back.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Even before that announcement, this was Graham's greatest fear about Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: The bad news, if we leave this place, it will go to shit in a year.

BOLDUAN: Seriously?

GRAHAM: If we pull out, if we go to zero, this place will fall apart very, very quickly and we'll regret that decision at home. The people that we're holding at bay over here want to hit us again at home. So people understand that these soldiers that you see around here and you have talked to, they're a virtual wall against radical Islam coming to America.

BOLDUAN: What do you say to a president who ran on we're not the policemen of the world?

GRAHAM: "I know what you're being told, President Trump, about what will happen in Afghanistan. And here's the difference. This is the center of gravity. This is the place where it all started.

"If we're driven out of Afghanistan, if America is beaten after having spent all these years and this much blood and treasure, every jihadist throughout the world will be on steroids."

BOLDUAN: What would happen if President Trump decides to pull everybody out tomorrow?

GRAHAM: You need to ask that question to our military leadership. I have asked that question. And they have given 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 a second 9/11 coming our way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Sobering comments there from Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of President Trump.

HOWELL: Right, it does indicate a divide right now between the GOP with the president's strategy on Afghanistan at the very least.

President Trump was apparently caught off guard by the resignation of his Defense chief, James Mattis. Mattis had gone to the White House Thursday to try to persuade the president not to abandon the Kurds fighting against ISIS in Syria. When the president refused, Mattis quit on the spot.

ALLEN: Afterward, a source tells CNN the president hates how the story is being covered, especially to hear Mattis described as the adult in the administration. We'll talk with our guest, Steven Erlanger, of "The New York Times" joining us from Brussels with his take on the Mattis saga and the message it sends to U.S. allies.

Good to see you, Steven. Let's start with the letter of resignation.

What stands out to you for the Defense Secretary's reason for quitting, if you can read between the lines, his thoughts perhaps on Mr. Trump's leadership?

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it was a quite explicit letter. It's the first resignation of Defense Secretary in my memory. I think it was long in coming. Mattis has spent his whole life defending NATO and multilateral alliances. The president hates them.

Mattis has tried to defend them and support them. His letter said, you no longer care about what I care about and perhaps you should have a Defense Secretary that's more in line with your views.

Now Trump has been trying to push him out, it feels like, for quite a --

[04:40:00]

ERLANGER: -- long time. He's been calling him Moderate Dog rather than Mad Dog. Even called him a Democrat the other day.

So I don't see why this is a surprise. I think Mattis has had this letter drafted for many, many, many months now. But he had just had enough. And the other thing about the letter, there isn't a word of praise for President Trump in it.

ALLEN: Right. Exactly. And I want to talk to you, though, about the ramifications of what Mr. Trump has done as far as Syria and now Afghanistan. And let's talk about the president's attitude toward allies and relations between the U.S. and other countries.

Mattis said in his resignation the core of American national interests lay in providing effective leadership to our alliances.

What do you think, Steven, will be the fallout of his decision of troops leaving Syria and Afghanistan?

ERLANGER: There's already been a lot of distress among allies. Perhaps they put too much faith in Jim Mattis' ability to restrain the president's instincts. The president always says his instincts matter more than anyone else's words, including Lindsey Graham's, by the way.

I think for the military, they've put in a lot of blood and treasure, particularly in Afghanistan and now they're being told it's all been a waste.

Now on Afghanistan, it's true; the policy wasn't really working and it may be time for a rethink. But you don't do it against all the advice of your intelligence agencies, your security agencies, your allies and do it on a whim and that's what the president, I'm afraid, seems to be doing.

ALLEN: He's reportedly furious at the reporting that's come out, that, with Mattis out of the picture, who will keep Donald Trump and his impulses in check?

One can understand why Mr. Trump doesn't like the characterization.

But is it somewhat accurate?

ERLANGER: Well, he doesn't like the press, period. He certainly doesn't like any coverage of him that's at all critical. He's never liked this idea of Mattis and McMaster being the adults in the room. He's resented it from the very beginning.

I think it's one reason why he wanted, in the end, to rid himself of them. John Bolton is an adult, let's be honest. One may disagree or agree with his strategies. He also opposes getting out of Syria and the cut in Afghanistan, I believe. But there's no question he's an intelligent adult.

And I think, you know, Trump listens to him, he trusts him. But this is a president who thinks he knows better than anyone else and his whole life has led him to this point. So I think he's going whatever he feels like doing. He listens only when he chooses to listen.

ALLEN: We always appreciate your insight, Steven Erlanger, thanks.

ERLANGER: Thanks, Natalie.

HOWELL: An American liberal icon undergoes surgery. The Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't let that stop her from dealing a major blow to the Trump administration. We'll have details on that ahead.

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[04:45:00]

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HOWELL: Thanks for spending the day with us on CNN NEWSROOM. Welcome back.

A major blow to the Trump administration dealt at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices upheld a ruling that blocks the administration's controversial asylum ban.

ALLEN: And this comes as one pivotal Supreme Court justice recovers from surgery. CNN's Justice correspondent Jessica Schneider has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A swirl of Supreme Court news. 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 there was no evidence of cancer post-surgery and no further treatment is planned.

Justice Ginsburg is now resting. 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.

But 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.

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 judges to refuse to unblock the asylum order. So the chief justice with this vote really seemed 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 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Asylum bans, border walls, how about an offbeat story about President Trump? We've got one. He claims to be a leading expert in tech, campaign finance and toys and so much more.

Who knew he had mastered so many fields?

Well, he sure did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know words. I have the best words.

I think I have the best temperament.

Look, nobody has better toys than I do.

ALLEN (voice-over): Ahead, a look at Donald Trump, the master of pretty much everything.

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[04:50:00]

(SPORTS)

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ALLEN: All right. We do this one for you every year. The annual Christmas lottery in Spain, known as El Gordo or the Fat One, is underway.

HOWELL: The drawing is for what's considered the biggest lottery jackpot in the world and there's very specific protocol to it. Listen.

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HOWELL (voice-over): School children, they pull the numbers, these wooden balls, out of two large revolving spheres and then they start singing the corresponding numbers written on each ball.

ALLEN (voice-over): The Fat One itself or the final winning number is potentially worth 2 billion euros, about $2.3 billion, although this prize is spread across thousands of tickets.

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HOWELL: I think I would be singing, too.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Nobody knows more about many subjects than Donald Trump and that we have on a top authority because it's according to Donald Trump.

HOWELL: That's what he says. From campaign finance to toys, tech -- who knows more on tech than Donald Trump?

Or trade?

That's what he says. The president claims that he knows best. He says it's a gut thing and comes down to instinct. Our Jeanne Moos has more of these greatest claims.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember how Muhammad Ali always used to call himself the greatest of all time?

Well, now it's President Trump calling himself the greatest at all times.

TRUMP: I think nobody knows more about campaign finance --

[04:55:00]

TRUMP: -- than I do.

Nobody knows more about trade than me.

Nobody knows more about construction than I do.

MOOS (voice-over): What field doesn't he excel in?

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

Nobody knows more about environmental impact statements than me.

There's nobody that understands the horror of nuclear better than me.

MOOS (voice-over): It's enough to make your head explode.

TRUMP: Nobody knows the politicians better than I do, believe me.

MOOS (voice-over): Even political opponents like Cory Booker, "I know more about Cory than he knows about himself."

TRUMP: And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.

MOOS (voice-over): President Trump sure knows how to spew superlatives.

TRUMP: I know words. I have the best words.

I think I have the best temperament.

Look, nobody has better toys than I do.

MOOS (voice-over): And from a guy who doesn't like to read, this:

TRUMP: And nobody loves the Bible more than I do.

MOOS: Thou shalt not exaggerate, Mr. President.

MOOS (voice-over): For years, journalists have been chronicling Donald Trump's breathtaking self-admiration, delivered in a third person, no less.

TRUMP: Because nobody's ever had crowds like Trump has had.

MOOS: Occasionally President Trump has demonstrated a flash of humility, a moment of modesty.

TRUMP: I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone.

MOOS (voice-over): Almost anyone.

It means someone understands tax laws better than he does?

BETTY HUTTON, ACTOR: Anything you can do --

MOOS (voice-over): -- he can do better.

TRUMP: They're more elite than me?

I have better everything than they have, including this.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN --

HOWARD KEEL, ACTOR: No, you can't.

HUTTON: Yes, I can, yes, I can.

MOOS (voice-over): -- New York.

KEEL: OK, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Next, President Trump will be an expert on a government shutdown. That's our top story, we'll have it for you coming next. Thanks for watching this hour. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. More news right after the break. Stay with us.