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Trump to Force Defense Secretary Mattis out by New Year's Day; Treasury Secretary Scrambles to Calm Investors; Trump Defends Decision to Pull Troops out of Syria. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 23, 2018 - 16:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you for a good laugh on that one, Jake Tapper.

Don't forget to join CNN to experience the incredible story of comedy legend Gilda Radner in her own words. "Love, Gilda" a CNN Film airs New Year's Day at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Hello again. Thank you so much for joining me Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Days after Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced he would resign in February, President Trump is forcing him out early, saying he will be gone by New Year's Day. Deputy secretary Patrick Shanahan will step in as acting secretary.

Aides say the president did not realize how critical Mattis' resignation letter was until he started watching news coverage and realized Mattis quit in protest of his foreign policy and his surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now.

Barbara, what do we know about Patrick Shanahan?

And is the inference here the president didn't just thoroughly the letter from Mattis?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he may not have, actually, Fred. What we know is this. There is a new tweet at this hour from the Defense Department, where Secretary Mattis pledges that he will work with Patrick Shanahan, his deputy, his number two, who will now become acting Secretary of Defense on January 1st to ensure a smooth transition.

That transition was supposed to be a lot longer than January 1st.

My colleague, Elise Labott, has learned that it was secretary of state Mike Pompeo who called Mattis this morning and told him the proposed end of February date to leave the Pentagon wouldn't work. The president wanted him out by January 1st.

The more public reason is that the White House felt such a long transition period would leave Mattis as a lame duck. The reality is that the president had, indeed, become irritated with the extensive news coverage about Mattis' departure.

The big question now, who is Patrick Shanahan, who will work as acting Secretary of Defense?

A 30-year veteran of Boeing, working on both commercial airplanes and military programs. He came here with the Trump administration and, as deputy, his portfolio mainly has been things like acquisition, arms sales, space force, space issues, innovation, the very typical kinds of things -- the business matters that appealed to Mr. Trump.

Now Shanahan will have to turn to the international stage with no foreign policy experience. He will have to work with NATO, with America's military allies and with America's military adversaries -- or at least keep a pretty sharp eye on them -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Joining me right now, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, a former Pentagon press secretary and a State Department spokesman; political columnist for "The Washington Post," Dana Milbank; and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Network's April Ryan.

Good to see all of you and happy holidays.

Admiral Kirby, this latest tweet, does that now make for a much smoother transition now between Mattis and Shanahan?

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I don't know that it makes it more smooth. I will say that putting Shanahan in charge will ensure continuity. And I think that makes perfect sense. I think we should take some comfort in the fact that he has been at the Pentagon for a while.

And largely the job of Secretary of Defense is running the programmatic side of the military, the budget issues. And he has a good firm footing in that. So I'm not too worried about that.

I also don't think the argument of Mattis being a lame duck makes much sense. Two months is more than enough time for the Secretary of Defense to have worked in getting a successor, getting the admin to nominate somebody. That would have been just fine, too. I think that Mattis was acting in good faith when he asked for another 60 days to do that.

So I think it's going to be OK.


And so, April, the president's initial reaction when Mattis stepped down after the resignation letter, he tweeted out thanks to General Mattis for his distinguished service, et cetera. Everybody has been poring over the resignation letter from General Mattis.

And he said, "Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."

Now we're hearing that the president has been unnerved by this letter and so he's expediting this exit.




WHITFIELD: Why is this making matters better?


RYAN: Well, first of all, the president does not -- it's hard to even say. This president does not really like to read a lot. He does bullet points. And maybe someone gave him the bullet points of the letter and then he heard the rejection of him on television. He doesn't like that.

But the problem is the president really needs to sit down and read what comes before him.

Two, I'm hearing from sources that this is not going to bode well with troops and Admiral Kirby is right. But the troops, I hear, want someone more than a bureaucrat, you know. This is not -- we're going to see how this goes over. It just doesn't sit well in this moment in time.

WHITFIELD: Apparently already -- right, troops had been saying Mattis was revered and they trusted him. And to hear that he is resigning is upsetting, especially those who are abroad.

RYAN: Yes. And people are even saying that this is going to kind of resemble what happened with Tillerson. You had someone from the outside, someone who was at Exxon. But you did have Condoleezza Rice give him a glowing endorsement. He understood foreign policy.

But you have a bureaucrat who is sitting there, versus someone who had been on the field, on the playing field, on the ground. It's more than just pushing paper. It's understanding the stakes that are so high right now. The activity, the possible activity or the withdrawal in various parts of this world.

WHITFIELD: Dana, President Trump will start this year with big cabinet turnover. It's not just Mattis. It's John Kelly, Ryan Zinke, Nikki Haley. Her last day is December 31st. This is a lot.

And the word "chaos" has been used a lot to associate what's happening in this administration and in this White House.

But the White House is saying this isn't chaos. The president says I'm in the driver's seat here. I know what I'm doing here. And he's going with his gut.

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He is going with his gut, Fred. The problem is the gut is telling him different things at different moments, as we've seen with his reaction to the Mattis resignation.

You had not only Mattis saying he would stay on for a couple of months, you had the White House saying that he was going to stay on a couple of months. So that's what gives the sense of chaos.

It's not the Shanahan appointment; that isn't going to rock people, certainly the way that the Whitaker appointment did at Justice. I don't think people will doubt his credentials, at least on a short- term basis.

The real question is, it shows that there's not a lot of forethought going into major decisions. And one major reason why Mattis wanted to stay on for that period of time is to reassure foreign leaders and foreign capitals that there would be a calm and steady transition.

They're already unnerved by the Syria decision, by the Afghanistan decision and by the Mattis departure. This is one more thing that just indicates that there's needless instability going on here, even if the underlying appointment isn't problematic.

WHITFIELD: And, Admiral, what does it say that the commander in chief is not the one who would make that phone call to Mattis, to say your last day is going to be January 1st instead of February 28th, but instead it would be the secretary of state Mike Pompeo?

KIRBY: Yes, that's really strange. That's the first I heard of that, listening to Barbara. That doesn't make any sense to me at all. I guess that tells you how much Trump leans on Pompeo and considers him his closest ally in the cabinet.

But it's weird to get a call from the secretary of state. There's absolutely no precedent for that. That's not the way it's supposed to be done.

If it is not the president himself, you would think it would be the chief of staff. And of course we only have an incoming interim chief of staff right now.


KIRBY: But I think it would have been certainly a much more gentlemanly thing for the president to do, to make that call himself.

WHITFIELD: April, there's a lot of messiness going on here, you know. You've got the Treasury Secretary --

RYAN: To say the least.

WHITFIELD: -- to say the least. I'm looking for a nice way to put it. But it is kind of messy.

(CROSSTALK) WHITFIELD: You've got Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who apparently is trying to allay fears, big banks out there, with the market tumbling last week, ending this year, historic lows over a decade. And now reportedly we're learning that Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, is in Mexico, vacationing with his kids in Cabo San Lucas.

So is he making these phone calls from Mexico?

And of all places right now, especially, Mexico?

RYAN: While the government is shut down.

WHITFIELD: Is shut down over this whole wall issue involving Mexico.

RYAN: Over the wall, yes, the slats or whatever you want to call it, the impaling slats.

It doesn't bode well. Steve Mnuchin is not known for the best optics. Remember, a couple of months back, he got off the plane and his wife did the Instagram.

WHITFIELD: Extravagance.



RYAN: Very extravagant. This administration that sometimes thumbs its nose at tradition and what it looks like and what it should be like.

As the government is shut down and the president is still in the White House, even though people are saying this is a Trump shutdown, the president should be at the White House and even his cabinet officials should at least have the appearance -- especially someone who is dealing with the money.

And right now money is the issue. You have consumer confidence is down as you're in the midst of a government shutdown.

What did the Dow close?

How did the Dow close last week?

WHITFIELD: Even though reportedly Mnuchin is on his own dime. This is not like a government --

RYAN: Even if it's on his own dime, the optics don't look good. It's all about money. It's about money and he's the money man. And they're talking -- Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't realize the taxpayers ultimately would fund the wall. You would think that he would be here to help guide them about what's funding an how you fund it and how taxpayer dollars play. It's just the optics are not good at this moment in time.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And then besides optics, there's this.

Dana, you call the White House and apparently you hear this. Here is the outgoing message.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We apologize but due to the lapse in federal funding, we are unable to take your call. Once funding has been restored, our operations will resume. Please call back at that time.


WHITFIELD: I mean, April, you're making me laugh. I'm seeing your head shake.

Dana, what's going on here?

MILBANK: Each time this sort of thing happens, we think it's a gag. But maybe Steve Mnuchin has gone off to Mexico. He's going to get the money for the wall, he's going to bring it back from Los Cabos, he's going to be the hero. The shutdown will be resolved; the markets will stabilize themselves.

You know, you don't know whether to laugh or cry at this moment.

RYAN: Exactly.

MILBANK: Any one of these things we're talking about -- the shutdown, the market turmoil, the Pentagon, the rest of the cabinet, Syria -- any of these could be the major crisis headline at the moment and we just have to juggle them all.

WHITFIELD: OK. Thank you so much to all of you.

RYAN: Sad.

WHITFIELD: Happy holidays. It is something else.

April Ryan, Dana Milbank, Rear Admiral John Kirby, appreciate your time.

Next, new details around Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, Trump declaring we are done in the fight against ISIS but the terror group is very much alive and well. Why many lawmakers and U.S. allies worry ISIS will only get stronger now.





WHITFIELD: Welcome back. President Trump is still defending his controversial decision to pull

U.S. troops out of Syria. In a tweet, the president once again claimed ISIS was decimated in Syria and repeated that he is bringing U.S. troops back home.

The decision to leave Syria prompted Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign. His stunning departure was followed by the resignation of Brett McGurk, the president's top diplomat in charge of destroying ISIS.

Despite those major exits and criticism from some lawmakers and U.S. allies, the president's incoming acting chief of staff says Trump has made up his mind on this issue.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Any chance the president changes his mind about this and reverses course?

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No. I think the president has told people from the very beginning that he doesn't want us to stay in Syria forever. You're seeing the end result now of two years' worth of work.


WHITFIELD: President Trump declared historic victories against ISIS but the terror group is still carrying out attacks in Syria and around the globe. Several lawmakers and U.S. allies fear a pullout of U.S. troops in Syria could breathe new life into ISIS. Here is CNN's Ian Lee.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An ISIS-inspired shooting at a Christmas market leaves five dead in France.

Two Scandinavian tourists beheaded in another ISIS-inspired attack in Morocco, all in the month U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted, the terror group defeated in Syria.

TRUMP: We have won against ISIS.

LEE (voice-over): Trump's decision caught administration officials off guard. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned, followed shortly by anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk, who just this month reassured allies in the region that the U.S. would finish the job.

BRETT MCGURK, PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR THE GLOBAL COALITION TO COUNTER ISIL: Nobody is saying they'll disappear. Nobody is that naive. So we want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained. I think it's fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate until we have the pieces in place to ensure that defeat is enduring.

LEE (voice-over): Trump, who claimed he doesn't know McGurk, called him a "grandstander."

On the heels of the president's victory tweet, ISIS in Syria launched a new, deadly offensive. The terror group still holds land in Syria, while their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large.

The United States' main ally against ISIS, Syrian Kurds, are now abandoned, weakened and exposed. Turkey assured the Trump administration that they could defeat the group but any operation in Northern Syria would likely start a new confrontation between the sworn enemies of the Turks, the Syrian Kurds, chaos ISIS would likely exploit.

Republican Senator Bob Corker had strong words about Trump's decision on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're just a few months away from finishing something that we started, where we would annihilate a large number of ISIS members. And we stopped.

I'm just saddened for our country. I'm saddened for the broken relationships with countries that have been with us. I'm saddened for the many Kurds and others that likely will be killed and slaughtered by --


CORKER: -- either the Syrians or the Turks.

LEE (voice-over): The United States Arab allies in the region also condemn the decision, fearing Iran, too, would take advantage. Even senior Israeli political and military officials, usually staunch supporters of Trump, expressed sharp criticism, fearing a Tehran power grab.

Despite the backlash, the U.S. administration remains defiant.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISER: Let's defend our national security. Let's put America first and let's not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries, as is the case in Syria.

LEE (voice-over): But more eyes on Iran could lead to fewer on ISIS. The terror group's affiliate still actually operates across North Africa and in Afghanistan, another country where Trump wants to see U.S. troops leave.

Defeating ISIS will only come down to destroying their safe havens but the ideology as well. The premature mission accomplished likely sowing the seeds of future attacks -- Ian Lee, CNN, Jerusalem.


WHITFIELD: Let's talk more about this. With me now is David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst and a national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

Good to see you, David.


WHITFIELD: So one has to wonder, can the U.S. count on these very allies who now are taken aback by this decision for the U.S. to pull out of Syria?

SANGER: The allies have been working very much in concert with the United States and with the United States Special Forces on this.

When you think about the size of the American force commitment to Syria, it's pretty small, 2,000. Just think, at the height of the Iraq War, we had closer to 170,000 on the ground. In Afghanistan, a little more than 100,000.

So with 2,000, you can't really change the fate of a country. But you can, as the report indicated, that you just heard, you can stay on the cutting edge of the intelligence about what's happening to ISIS.

And what we learned, of course, prior to 9/11 and other moments, is when you lose the intelligence on the ground in foreign countries, you frequently don't see something headed here.

WHITFIELD: So even though the numbers are low, support and intelligence are vital, particularly in counterterrorism as a whole.

So we're also learning now, though, that the president had a conversation with Turkey's president, Erdogan, on December 14th, and told him -- I'm quoting now -- "It's all yours. We are done."

And Erdogan then told Trump they would finish off ISIS.

So was that the prelude to this decision?

SANGER: Certainly there are a number of our allies who believe that that conversation was the prelude. I found it particularly interesting that the administration said very little about that phone call in a readout to us right after it happened.

But more importantly, they said very little to the British, to the French, to many of the other allies who were there, which made them suspicious about what had happened.

What we think we now understand about that call is the president went significantly off script, that he had been given a pretty good set of talking points and that when Erdogan came out and basically said, we'll take care of this if you pull out, the president immediately went back to his instinct to get everybody out.

We also know the president has talked a lot with his aides about getting everybody out of Afghanistan. Not necessarily the wrong policy choice over the long term. But the way he did it, taking the allies by surprise, allies who are depending on U.S. Special Forces there, taking his own national security team by surprise, not explaining to the American people what his rationale was, other than it's time someone else do this, that's been, I think, the reason he has seen such a big backlash.

WHITFIELD: But that has been the style of the president now for two years, not to explain, not to get ahead of, you know, the reaction, anticipate the reaction but just to kind of tweet out or, you know, send very confusing messaging.

So now what about this potential power vacuum in Syria?

How significant of a concern should that be?

SANGER: I think a very significant one. The first question is, has the president done a great favor to the Russians and to the Iranians, who are on the ground there?

As you listened carefully to the president's advisers, one of the arguments they were making, whether you believe it or not, for the reason the United States needed to maintain a presence, was to keep Iran and Russia from basically playing the only game in deciding the succession in Syria.

Secondly, I think, to John Bolton, the national security adviser, and certainly to Jim Jeffries, who has been the adviser on Syria for the president, who gave a speech on Monday, they made the argument that Iran's presence was a significant reason the United States needed to keep some --


SANGER: -- presence on the ground. Bolton himself said just a few weeks ago, publicly, you won't see the United States leave the ground in Syria until the Iranians do. What the president hasn't done is explain how this fits in with his Iran strategy. There are ways to explain it but he hasn't done so.

WHITFIELD: All right, David Sanger, thank you so much. Happy holidays to you.

SANGER: Happy holidays. Good to be with you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come, a top Democratic lawmaker sends a message to President Trump saying, like it or not, Mueller's report on the Russia investigation will become public. More on that -- next.

[16:30:01] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: Welcome back. When Robert Mueller finishes his investigation, the President's lawyers have said they might try to block the report from being publicly released. But the incoming Chair of the House Intelligence Committee says not so fast. Representative Adam Schiff tells our Jake Tapper he will force the release if he has to.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN: We ought to make sure this report is public. Now, there may be parts of the report that have to be redacted because they involve classified information or they involve grand jury material. But here is the thing. For the last two years, I have been warning the Justice Department as they've been turning over tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of pages of investigative files in the Clinton e-mail investigation, that whatever precedent they were going to set they would have to live by.

Which means that when the Mueller investigation is over, they're not going to be in a position to say we're not going to provide information to Congress about this investigation, so they've already decided that's the precedent they're going to live by. And at the end of the day, this case is just too important to keep from the American people what it's really about.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now is CNN Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig. Good to see you. So what is the precedence on, you know, Congress releasing information the President might not want released?

ELIE HONIG, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes. There's a delicate dance that's going to break out here. What's so happen under the regulations is Mueller is supposed to file the report with the Attorney General, whoever is supervising him at that point. And then the Attorney General's going to need to make the decision whether and how much to turn over to Congress.

And that's going to be a complicated and probably politically-heated discussion. There's going to be issues of executive privilege. There's going to be issues of grand jury confidentiality that the House is going to have to negotiate with the Attorney General.

WHITFIELD: So you can bet that the White House attorneys are already trying to figure that out. You know they're already laying the groundwork for the avenue that they want to go.

HONIG: Yeah. And we've already seen some hints of what some of the White House arguments are going to be. They're going to argue executive privilege. They're going to argue that internal conversations that have happened within the White House with attorneys should not be turned over to Congress, should not be made public.

We could see a legal fight similar to the one that we saw with Richard Nixon back in 1974. I think if you look at that opinion from the Supreme Court, it suggests that we will see it publicly, that executive privilege is limited to issues of national security, military secrets, and not so much to issues that intended to insulate somebody from liability.

WHITFIELD: And then, of course, there's the issue of what will Congress do once it is to receive a report, any version of it. What do they have the power to do? What would they actually act on?

HONIG: Yeah. I mean that's both a legal and a political question. I think obviously, it's going to depend on the contents of the report. How much of a bombshell is it? How incriminating is it to the President or to others? And then the Congress, the House in particular is going to have to make the decision. And there's a political calculation.

Is it worth it to impeach? I've heard plenty, and I'm sure you have to, Fred, of Democratic representatives say, you know, it's not going to be worth the political cost to impeach. They look back at Bill Clinton. They see that Bill Clinton's approval ratings shot up after he was impeached. So there's some reluctance.

On the other hand, I think if the report has enough substance to it, I think there comes a point where the Democratic Congress has a job to do, regardless of the political consequences.

WHITFIELD: Hmm. And then none of that really obviates whether there will be any kind of other form of prosecution, you know, post any Presidential term.

HONIG: Yeah. I mean there's an open question about whether DOJ can indict a sitting President. The current guidance within DOJ is that DOJ should not be doing that. I don't think that will change. I don't think we will see an indictment of President Trump while he's in office. There's a separate question about whether DOJ might indict him on his way out.

You have to still think about the statute of limitations. Any crime would have to have been committed within five years. So that will then turn on, I guess, to an extent, whether the President wins re- election in 2020.

WHITFIELD: Right, all right, Elie Honig, good to see you, happy holidays.

HONIG: All right, you, too.

WHITFIELD: Another week, another dramatic staff shake-up at the White House. Now, the New York Times is reporting the President is becoming increasingly isolated and suspicious. President Trump reportedly asking why is it like this. We'll discuss next.


[16:35:00] WHITFIELD: President Trump and Republican Senator Bob Corker are squaring off on, of all places, Twitter. Corker was on CNN's State of the Union this morning and blasted Trump for the shutdown, saying it is just a political stunt, and calling Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria a mistake. Not too long after that, President Trump went after Corker on Twitter, writing in part, Bob Corker was responsible for giving us the horrible Iran nuclear deal, which I ended, yet he badmouths me for wanting to bring our young people safely back home.

Bob wanted to run and ask for my endorsement. I said no and the game was over. Senator Corker, well, fired back via Twitter saying, yes, just like Mexico is paying for the wall with the #alertthedaycarestaff. Yeah. It's gone there now. Let's check in with CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House. So give us a fact check on all of this and how the President is spending his time at the White House today.

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Well, Fred, President Trump and Senator Bob Corker have had a complicated relationship over the past couple of years to say the least. Corker has at times been a supporter of the Trump Administration's agenda, at times been a critic. But President's claim that Corker backed the Iran nuclear deal is just simply not true.

[16:40:04] Corker was actually a vehement critic of the Iran nuclear agreement as negotiated by the Obama administration. And in 2015, Corker wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post that Congress should reject that deal. But this is not the first time that the President has used that false attack against Corker. They were feuding last fall when the President first brought it up.

And Trump also falsely claimed that Corker came to him and requested an endorsement, and then absent that presidential endorsement was unable to run for re-election because his poll numbers tanked. Nearly the opposite scenario is what actually happened. CNN reported at the time that the President offered to endorse Corker, and asked Corker to reconsider his decision to retire early, imploring him to run again.

But the President frequently sensitive to criticism from fellow Republicans, although we should note at one time, he did have enough respect for Corker to consider him as a potential running mate and later as a potential Secretary of State. But, Fred, Corker is just one of several Republicans who have been critical to Trump who will not be returning to Washington in the New Year.

WHITFIELD: Oh, how things have changed, OK. Sarah Westwood thanks so much, from the White House. So a lot of Presidential candidates might think they alone can fix America's problems. But Donald Trump actually said so, out loud. And now, two years after voters gave him the chance, a devastating portrait in the New York Times details just how alone the President feels or at least how alone he might be.

I am joined by CNN Chief Media Correspondent and Anchor of CNN's Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. All right, Brian. So good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So we're talking about him feeling very alone, or at least the article kind of paints that portrait, increasingly paranoid even, according to the Times. But this, as he sheds staff or fires people, so, you know, is he alone because of his own actions or is he alone because he's finding out that he's not getting a whole lot of support?

STELTER: Yeah. In some ways, you know, he says he wants loyalists around him. He's had people leaving the administration who are not loyal to his agenda. But the Times describes him as increasingly isolated, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker, say -- describing without using the word paranoid, as saying he sounds paranoid. Here's part of the story that prescribes the President TV consumption. It says he's spending ever more time in front of a television, often

retreating to a residence -- his residence upstairs, out of concern that he's being watched too closely, suggesting he doesn't like people knowing that he's watching so much TV. But obviously, that TV feedback is part of what's going. It's part of the problem here. He's raging against the coverage.

That's what led him to push Mattis out early. And that's a vicious cycle. You know we hear about a virtuous cycle, something good. This is a vicious cycle making things worse.

WHITFIELD: So it paints the picture that he's more consumed with how people are discussing, you know, evaluating how he's doing the job as opposed to being consumed about doing the job.

STELTER: Right. This is the as seen on TV presidency. So he sees something on TV, he lashes out about it, and then the cycle resumes. It is not a healthy cycle for any politician. Never mind the President. And I think that's why we're seeing the increasing concern among Republicans. By the way, there are lots of reasons for them to be concerned. But one of them is his behavior, his lashing out, his responses on Twitter to various news stories and the various subjects.

The President seems very influenced by ring wing news -- not right wing news outlets, ring wing entertainers like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. He does not seem so influenced by his own staff.

WHITFIELD: Right. Hence, more recently on the whole, you know, spending proposal and he was on board, and then suddenly he wasn't after hearing, you know, from them or hearing their sentiments. So the next two years, you know, they could be harder for Trump, right, than the last two. And will it be because of this, you know, right wing media echo chamber or, you know, will this isolation kind of get the best of him?

STELTER: Well, the next years will be harder for him and for his staff, in part because the Democrats control the House. Even more investigations than we've seen so far. But also, you know, the Times describe the President as lashing out at his aides, cursing at his staff. It sounds like a hard place to work right now, maybe getting harder in the New Year.

WHITFIELD: Hmm. All right, Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. We've got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom right after this.


[16:45:00] WHITFIELD: All right, 2018 was a big year in sports that was full of controversies that included the return of iconic athletes. Andy Scholes takes a look back at the top eight sports stories of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDY SCHOLES, SPORTS ANCHOR, CNN: Twenty eighteen was another memorable year in the sports world. Serena returned with controversy. Tiger was back on top, and hundreds of women bravely came forward to confront their abuser. March Madness had its usual drama with buzzer beaters and upsets. But it was a 98-year-old nun who captured the hearts of the country.

Sister Jean, the team (Inaudible) for Chicago Loyola became the star of the NCAA tournament as the 11th seeded Ramblers shocked everyone by making it to the final four.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, don't be nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a celebrity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. That's what they tell me.

SCHOLES: The Ramblers would fall short as Villanova won it all, claiming their second title in three years. At number seven, two first-time champions and an historic inaugural season, the Las Vegas Golden Knights becoming the first expansion team in any of the major four sports leagues to win their division in their first year.

[16:50:11] Golden Knights making the finals before losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're Stanley Cup champions! Yeah!

SCHOLES: This was the first title for the Capitals after years of disappointing seasons. For the superstar Alex Ovechkin, he finally got to hoist the Stanley Cup after being considered the best player to never win a title. In the NFL, the 2018 playoffs were dominated by an underdog and their backup QB, Nick Foels leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl against Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots.

The Eagles would win their first Super Bowl, 41 to 33. Foels named the game's MVP. In 2018, Tiger Woods finally climbed back on the top of the golf world. After nearly winning the PGA championship, Tiger Woods triumphant at the Tour Championship in September, and in an incredible scene, thousands of fans chasing Tiger up the final hole of the tournament, and for the first time in five years, Tiger had won a PGA event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my 80th win. And, you know, all I have gone through to get to this point, it's pretty special.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to South Korea.

SCHOLES: The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang saw North and South Korea march in the opening ceremony together under a unified flag for the first time since 2006. The two countries yielded a joint women's hockey team (Inaudible) sport where team USA saw one of their biggest victories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What a night it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dramatic finish as American women captures Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brings tears to my eyes. It's been an incredible last 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The World Cup is officially up and running in Moscow.

SCHOLES: Sports biggest spectacle more than lived up to the hype with thrilling high-scoring, close games from start to finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is absolute pandemonium in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been an amazing World Cup. It's been a very rainy (Inaudible) France the fitting champions in an exciting finale.

SCHOLES: At number three, athletes using their voice. In August, the NFL season once again started with President Trump attacking players who kneeled during the national anthem. A player who started the movement, Colin Kaepernick remains out of football, but he did pick up a new sponsorship deal with Nike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.

SCHOLES: Lebron James has always been one to speak up on social issues. But in February, he was told to just, quote, shut up and dribble, by a Fox News host.

LEBRON JAMES, LAKERS FORWARD: We will definitely not shut up and dribble. I mean so much too so many kids that feel like they don't have a way out.

SCHOLES: After losing in the finals again to the Warriors, Lebron announced he was taking his talents to Hollywood to play for the Lakers. But it was what Lebron did off the court this year that he calls the most important thing he has ever done.

JAMES: When I was younger and I said if I ever had the means or if I ever became successful or anything, you know, I want to be able to give back.

SCHOLES: Lebron opening an elementary school for at-risk youth in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Just nine months after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, Serena Williams made her return to grand slam tennis at the French Open, controversially, unseeded after her maternity leave. Later after finishing as the runner-up at Wimbledon, Serena again made the finals at the U.S. Open.

And her match against Naomi Osaka turned into one of the most controversial in tennis history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You stole a point from me. You're a thief, too.

SCHOLES: Chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, penalizing Serena for (Inaudible) coach, breaking her racket, and for verbal abuse. The last penalty cost Serena a full game, which resulted in her arguing with officials that she was being treated more harshly than male players.

The number one sports moment of 2018 is the courage and bravery of the hundreds of women who confronted their sexual abuser. Former U.S. and Michigan State gymnastics doctor, Larry Nasser.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Larry Nasser is in another Michigan courtroom for another sentencing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michigan State University is being investigated by the Attorney General's office.

WHITFIELD: Larry Nasser likely will be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

SCHOLES: More than 150 women gave impact statements at a marathon sentencing hearing for Nasser. And in June, many of those women took the stage at the ESPYS as they were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. And gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman was among them -- gave an inspiring speech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If just one adult had listened, believed and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him.

[16:55:02] SCHOLES: But sports in 2018 will be remembered for empowerment and perseverance. From Serena to gymnasts, inspiring women are making their voices heard, building a foundation for years to come.


WHITFIELD: What a powerful year, indeed, in sports. I am Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for joining me today, and happy holidays. Newsroom with Ana Cabrera starts right after this.