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Trump Moves Up Mattis Departure; Washington In-fighting Puts Partial Government Shutdown; Underwater Landslides Causes Tsunami in Indonesia; Troop Withdrawal Signed by Mattis; Trump Says ISIS Largely Defeated; Two Tourist in Morocco Beheaded. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello on this Sunday. You are live in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. And the U.S. government, very little of it is stable this weekend, operating as it should. Large parts of it are shutdown, 800,000 federal employees essentially working for free or staying home because of beltway bickering over Mexico's wall money.

And tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Here comes something else pushing the Trump administration's wheel of chaos even faster. The president today tossed out a name, a man being promoted to run the Department of Defense just days after General Jim Mattis threw up his hands and quit. Mattis made it clear he wanted several weeks to make the transition at the Pentagon smooth and smart and thoughtful.

The president clearly has other plans. He picked someone to start right away, to take the reins of the entire United States military. CNN's Elise Labott is in Washington for us. And Elise, you were in a briefing just a short time ago. A senior official told you and a few others about the president's decision. Let's hear it.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. Well, you remember Secretary Mattis, when he announced his resignation and handed it to President Trump that he was planning on leaving at the end of February and he thought that would help ensure a smooth transition to his successor, the new defense secretary.

Originally, President Trump went along with that plan but today, President Trump is saying that he wants General Mattis, Defense Secretary Mattis, to leave at the end of the month on December 31st and has named one of Mattis' deputies, Patrick Shanahan, to take over as acting defense secretary on December 31st. Ana?

CABRERA: All right, Elise Labott, thank you for the update. And now IO want to turn to the other separate reason the Trump administration is in turmoil this week and there is zero resolution so far on the one issue that has brought the U.S. government to a grinding halt. That means Christmas Eve and Christmas Day about 800,000 federal employees, men and women, won't know for sure when they'll get a paycheck or when they'll go back to work.

The president and Senate Democrats bickering over Mexico wall money throwing a Christmas cloud over all these people. And today, the man who runs the White House sort of officially, the soon-to-be acting chief of staff weighed in on the government shutdown with nothing optimistic to say to those hundreds of thousand of Americans waiting for word on their federal jobs.

This shutdown might last a while. Mick Mulvaney today, "It is very possible that the shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress." The new Congress starts January 3rd, 11 days from now.

Mulvaney, by the way, now one of three high-level people with the word "acting" in his title, just like Patrick Shanahan, "acting" defense secretary whom we just talked about, Matthew Whitaker, the "acting" Attorney General -- both men joining acting White House chief of staff Nick Mulvaney.

Back to the government shutdown now, a Republican congressman says the person to blame is not the president, not Senate Democrats, but Nancy Pelosi.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I think the sticking point is really that Nancy Pelosi is driving most of this negotiation. You would think it would be Chuck Schumer, but I can tell you, based on conversations I've had as recent as this morning, it seems like Nancy Pelosi is actually the leader -- the minority leader in the Senate. And so they've come at an impasse. This is all about trying to make sure that Donald Trump does not secure the border.


CABRERA: U.S. senator, though, from the president's own party disagrees saying this partial government shutdown affecting so many federal employees at Christmas time is a childish, political stunt.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R) TENNESSEE: This is a made-up fight so that the president can look like he's fighting. But even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You're saying President Trump, if he wants that money for the border wall for border security, he can get it but he needs to makes a deal, but he doesn't want to make a deal, he just wants a campaign issue, am I hearing you correctly?

CORKER: It has to be that because this is like falling off a table. The Democrats easily would support more border funding, border security. They've said that, 25 of them came to the floor and voted for something that provided $25 billion worth of border security in exchange for dealing with the Dreamers, and Republicans want to deal with the Dreamers.

So, this is something that is unnecessary. It's a spectacle and, candidly, it's juvenile. The whole thing is juvenile. I want to see real border security and that's why I'm disappointed of where we have ended up at the end of this Congress.


CABRERA: Let's bring in CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House tonight. Sarah, a sitting, albeit outgoing U.S. senator, a Republican, though, calling the shutdown a spectacle of the president's making. How is that going over inside the White House right now?

[17:05:10] SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it's not going over so well. The president firing back hours later via Twitter claiming falsely that Bob Corker supported the Iran nuclear deal. He didn't. And also, claiming that Corker came to the president and requested an endorsement and was unable to run for re-election after the president withheld that endorsement. That is also not what happened when Corker announced his retirement.

But there has been a lot of finger pointing going back and forth across the aisle surrounding this shutdown. The president has been all over the map when it comes to who bears responsibility for the shutdown, initially saying that he would be proud to own the shutdown if it was in pursuit of money for his border wall and then switching to blame Democrats.

The president has said that he wants $5 billion for the border wall and he says that must be for the construction of a physical barrier along the southern border. He says it cannot be used for general border security and Senate Democrats are signaling that they're not willing to give the president any money for the construction of a wall but they might be able to consider a border security package.

Now, sources tell CNN that yesterday Vice President Mike Pence, in a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill offered support for a $2.5 billion border security package if it included funding for the wall. But those same sources say that Schumer rejected that approach. So it seems as though the talks are still deadlocked.

And the president's lack of clarity about what exactly he would support has caused a lot of headaches for lawmakers who really have no idea how far down off that $5 billion demand the president would be willing to come. It's not exactly clear how far up the Democrats might be willing to come from zero.

But it is clear that right now the landscape is not tilted in the president's favor, Ana, because there's no real incentive for the Democrats to negotiate on the president's terms when they will soon control the House in just less than two weeks, Ana.

CABRERA: Sarah Westwood at the White House. Thank you. Let's bring in a lawmaker. Our next guest is Republican congressman, Matthew Gaetz. He is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which pushed for the president to reject the continuing resolution earlier this week that would have kept the government open. Gaetz also had lunch with the president yesterday at the White House. Congressman, thanks for joining us. Happy holidays to you. I appreciate you coming on. REP. MATTHEW GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me. I have to take

exception with what your White House correspondent just said. She indicated that the president only loses leverage over time as Democrats take control. Let me offer an alternate theory. Nancy Pelosi obviously has a launch sequence that she initiated by having Elijah Cummings send out 51 investigatory letters.

If there's a shutdown when she becomes speaker of the house, then I think there is going to be an immigration debate at the forefront of the body politic to an extent to which she was not anticipating. So we're prepared for this to be a long, partial shutdown. We're prepared to go into the new congress.

Because what I think Senator Corker gets wrong is that the president isn't informed by some juvenile desire to win. He is met with these families of people who have lost loved ones at the hands of violent criminal aliens and I think that that is his principal motivation for digging in at this time.

CABRERA: OK, let me ask you about this lunch because Senator Richard Shelby, who was also at the lunch, reportedly described the president as exuberant during that meeting. Would you also describe the president as exuberant?

GAETZ: Yes. It was in stark contrast to "The New York Times" reporting that the president was isolated and alone. He was rather engaging and his typical self, kind of moving about the various issues that are before the Congress and before the country.

But he was very clear that he is not going to take a bad deal under the pressure of time before Nancy Pelosi's speakership. And it is a little odd to us that Nancy Pelosi does seem to be driving the negotiations over Chuck Schumer. That's dangerous for Schumer because he may have a few Democrats to break away with us.

CABRERA: But, sorry, hold on for a second. Again, getting back to his mood, though, I just want -- I don't want to mischaracterize anything. He was exuberant. Do you agree with that? Was he exuberant over the shutdown and the situation we're in?

GAETZ: Well, I would say he was happy and engaged. No, look, we're friends of the president. The president was having lunch with his friends and allies and I think he was largely happy to see us.

CABRERA: OK, because it is, you know, the scenario is we are in a partial government shutdown --

GAETZ: No, we were there to work.

CABRERA: -- the defense secretary has resigned. The guy who is leading the fight against ISIS just resigned as well. We also had the Dow suffering its worst week in the financial crISIS, such the final crisi in 2008 so --

GAETZ: Yes, wages are also rising faster than they ever have in 10 years. I mean, there are a few victims going on to. CABRERA: A lot to be -- there are a few good things going on, there's

also a lot this week that's been like oh, my, how did we end up here? But let's move on because I understand there were no Democrats at yesterday's lunch. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wasn't there either. And here is what your colleague, Congressman Ryan Costello told me about this meeting.


REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, look, if everybody's hungry and they want to have lunch, by all means, but I don't know how you solve a problem unless he's telling them to get on board and vote for the clean CR. I mean, I don't know what to tell you.

[17:10:03] Those are the folks right there that are against the clean CR. Those are the ones that are against funding the government right now.


CABRERA: How do you see the shutdown ending though if the president isn't only reaching out -- he's only reaching out to those who helped force the shutdown, who are, in his perspective on his side?

GAETZ: I like Ryan Costello a lot, but I don't think I'm going to take a lecture on what constitutes productive engagement from a guy who quit and didn't run again. So I mean, like I think we were there to support the president and to thank the president.

It's no secret that immigration hardliners asked the president not to sign a continuing resolution that was functionally, you know, a white flag of surrender on the issue of border security. We want our president to fight.

CABRERA: But is he having to negotiate with you? It doesn't sound like you guys are the people he needs to negotiate with.

GAETZ: No, we're there to support him. We are on the president's team. He wasn't there negotiating with us. We were there engaged in strategy discussion --

CABRERA: Right. So how do you move the ball forward?

GAETZ: -- because we have to -- look, we were there to discuss what we need to do to ensure that we protect the American people who want rising wages and safe streets. That is a very worthy reason to get together. We were building a strategy to try to get border security outcomes that the president ran on.

I think that there are some Senate Democrats who are interested in solutions like the Bridge Act, like TPS, who might be willing to come on board with a robust border security package, with a physical barrier, with a wall or whatever you want to call it. And I think that's ultimately our path to success. We're never going to get Nancy Pelosi but I think we get a few Democrats. CABRERA: But look, even Mick Mulvaney, who I know is in that room, who in 2015 called the wall childish. He said it was absurd. He said it wouldn't be effective. Listen.


MICK MULVANEY, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: 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. And that's what the ranchers tell us, is that they don't need a fence. What they need is more manpower and more technology and more willingness to enforce the law as it exists today.


CABRERA: Does he have a point?

GAETZ: I think we all become more informed over time. I didn't hear those sentiments from Mick yesterday and I also know that a recent poll of Border Security Agents showed that 95 percent of them agreed that more physical barriers would assist in the performance of their duties.

So, this isn't an either/or. I think we can have an all of the above strategy to secure the border, but Democrats keep voting against all of the things that we hope will keep the country safer like he verified, like sanctuary city reforms, like ending chain migration.

CABRERA: But that's not true. That's not true. I remember. I've been around here long enough to remember in February when the Democrats came forward and said we will give you $25 billion for border security in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for DACA.

GAETZ: Yes. I don't think we're ready to have a massive amnesty deal for border security because a lot of conservatives are concerned that it's like amnesty dow (ph) and then hopefully border security later that never really comes.

And so I think there is sort of a time fuse there that is concerning to a lot of us. But you do actually make a point that there have been Democrats in the past who have acknowledged the risks of illegal immigration. A matter of fact, Chuck Schumer himself in 2006 said that our local governments were at risk of being overrun by illegal immigration.

That seems to be a reason why we ought to invest in border security and we ought to make sure to have a physical barrier as a part of that package. And ultimately, I think we can get there. And look, if there are things like the Bridge Act that don't include a massive pathway to citizenship amnesty, I would love to see the Democrats put together something and negotiate with us. The president is here, he's negotiating, making offers and I think that we should continue those productive discussions.

CABRERA: OK, I want to turn to acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, CNN now reporting that Trump has lashed out at Whitaker on at least two occasions in the last few weeks. At one point, he asked Whitaker why more wasn't being done to control prosecutors, who had implicated Trump in federal crimes surrounding those hush money payments. Do you think it's appropriate for President Trump to discuss this criminal case he's involved in with a Justice Department official?

GAETZ: I have not seen any evidence that indicates that that reporting is accurate. I've seen it, but frankly, I've seen so much reporting from like secondhand sources out of the White House, I often don't comment on just a rumor in the absence of evidence.

What I do know is the president should declassify all of the FISA application on Carter Page because I think that gets to the root of why we're having this Russia investigation and I think it stems from the personal bias of a lot of people there who didn't like Donald Trump.

But as it relates to the Southern District of New York and stuff going on there, just frankly, Ana, that's not something the judiciary committee members really get involved in.

CABRERA: But you were very outspoken about that infamous tarmac meeting between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton. You called it improper. You even offered an amendment saying the rule of law still matters and called for justice and robust oversight. Are you going to put forward a similar amendment calling for more information about these conversations between Trump and Whitaker?

GAETZ: I don't think that will be necessary because I'm pretty confident that Jerry Nadler, the incoming Democratic chairman of the judiciary committee will have Matt Whitaker before us. But you know what, look, I think that the best thing to do is for the senate to confirm Barr.

[17:14:56] I am a little uncomfortable with having an acting attorney general, not as a result of the Russia investigation but just because I think we need a permanent attorney general so we can really clear up the whole Whitaker tenure by moving him out and having the Senate confirm someone who is eminently qualified in Mr. Barr and then we can move on. I think both sides would likely have greater confidence if we had a permanent attorney general and not someone who are in acting capacity.

CABRERA: And speaking of in acting capacity, you are in the Armed Services Committee and we just learned Trump is replacing the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, with deputy secretary Patrick Shanahan in an acting capacity. What do you know about Shanahan's philosophy? Is it different from Mattis?

GAETZ: Shanahan is an ultimate like operations guy. He is very effective at the business enterprise of the Pentagon. I don't believe that Mr. Shanahan will be asked to serve in a permanent capacity in that role. I think there are some others being considered, but Shanahan will be able to keep the trains running on time.

Our troops will have the support of an acting secretary of defense who knows the enterprise very well and I think that he is absolutely qualified to run the place until we get full-time secretary of defense confirmed.

CABRERA: Congressman Matt Gaetz, great to have you with us. Thank you very much for taking the time and happy holidays.

GAETZ: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

CABRERA: Merry Christmas to you as well.

GAETZ: All right.

CABRERA: More than 200 people are dead, hundreds are injured after a tsunami hits this popular beach resort in Indonesia. We'll tell you why people had no warning.

Plus, as the president is claiming victory on the war on ISIS, we'll take a look at the real picture on the ground (inaudible) straight ahead. You are live in the "CNN Newsroom."


CABRERA: It's now almost 4:00 a.m. in Indonesia where searchers are frantically trying to find survivors from a deadly tsunami that struck without warning late Saturday, apparently caused by a volcanic landslide. At least 222 people are dead and more than 800 are injured. Dozens are still missing, hundreds of buildings destroyed.

Among the victims, some people at beachfront concert, the moment of impact caught on camera. And we want to warn you, the images you are about to see are graphic. Again, no warning whatsoever as a wall of water slams through the back of the stage here. Just watch. Here it comes.

The lead singer confirming one band member was killed, along with the band's manager. Other band members are still missing. CNN's Mikhil Kumar is joining us now. Nikhil, what is the latest on the search and rescue efforts?

NIKHIL KUMAR, NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Well the latest, Ana, is you know, rescuers are still out there, trying to find people, more than two dozen still unaccounted for. This is in addition to the more than 800 people who we know have been injured.

More than 220 who, as you said, have been killed by this devastating tsunami, which hit this area, the Sunda Strait, between the islands of Java and Sumatra and Indonesia late Saturday evening. As you say, out of the blue.

The cause is believed to be a volcanic eruption in that region which triggered underwater landslides and that sent up the tsunami waves which hit these people in what is a very popular tourist area, busy at this time of the year, almost without any warning. So, rescuers are still out there, trying to find people, trying to take who have been injured and bring them medical assistance. And, you know, and just clear away the debris. More than 500 homes, we

know, have been destroyed. We know that some 60 restaurants, nine hotels, more than 300 boats heavily damaged which gives you a sense of the magnitude of the devastation. Ana?

CABRERA: The pictures are incredible. It sounds so scary. The death toll, I hope, does not go up. Nikhil Kumar, thank you for bringing us the latest information, and by the way, we will be talking with somebody on the ground there who witnessed this firsthand who is now working to try to help people who are injured. She has got medical expertise. She's coming up in our next hour. So stay with us for that.

Now, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis leaving, there are no more generals left in the president's inner circle. So, who is left to say no to the president? We'll take a look, next.


CABRERA: Defense Secretary James Mattis is out of a job in just eight days, and that means the President's band of experience military generals, my generals, as he like to refer to them, have all abandoned ship. General H.R. McMaster, gone, General Michael Flynn, only lasted 24 days on the job.

Also headed for the door, General John Kelly, the man hired as chief of staff to bring order to a chaotic Trump White House. I want to take you back in time just over three months to the words of an anonymous senior level Trump administration official and that infamous "New York Times" opinion piece.

And I quote, "I work for the president but my like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't."

President Trump isn't often kind to those leaving his White House. Take a look at Rex Tillerson, the man President Trump chose to represent American foreign policy on the world stage. Trump now says his former Secretary of State is, "dumb as a rock." It begs the question what is the president actually looking for to help guide him and the country?

If it's not about expertise or character or leadership experience or diversity, what is it? Who are the adults in the room? Who is left that's willing to tell the president no? I want to bring in Bill Kristol, the director of Defending Democracy Together and former editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Bill, we just listed all these people who are gone, all these generals, add in former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and outspoken GOP lawmakers like Corker and Flake, also gone come January. Who is left that is going to tell the president no?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Yes, not many people at all. There are awful lot of yes men and women who will tell him yes and curry favor by not trying to stop a lot of extremely ill- advised and dangerous things he's doing. If you think about it, Jeff Sessions, whatever you think of him as attorney general, had enough standing to say no to Trump.

Don McGhan, the White House counsel joined with Sessions. So on the rule of law side, they stopped some bad things from happening. Now we have a new White House counsel not with much political, you know, not with much stature. I think its fair -- I mean, good lawyer but not someone who has his own political base.

And obviously Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general and the foreign policy area, it's very obvious McMaster, Mattis, Nikki Haley gone or on their way out -- John Kelly, people who could stop the president from doing really ill-advised and unfortunate things in trade, which is rattling the markets so much.

[17:30:01] Gary Cohn, gone. Rob Porter, who had his own problems but still worked with Cohn to try to keep the trade warriors in the White House under control, gone. So, I've been very worried about this for months and I think Trump is now getting the kind of people around him that he likes having around him and that's very bad for the country.

CABRERA: There is a lot of pressure though on this president especially after the past week. Listen to Republican senator Bob Corker today on CNN's "State of the Union."


CORKER: I do think this next three months is going to be a very important three months for our country. I'm cheering the guys on that are there, but I think this next three months could well determine whether he decides to run again or not. I think it's going to be very important for our country that the United States Senate really dig in and make sure we don't make other colossal mistakes as it relates to foreign policy.


CABRERA: A couple of important things he said there. Let's start with the first part. He suggested the president may not run again. Could he decide not to run? Is that realistic?

KRISTOL: He could but it would be better if people took him on and said they will try to deny him the Republican nomination. That's what Bob Corker should do, it's what others should do. We don't know who ultimately might be able to beat him, but the more people get in and say or just say publicly, just say, we can do better in 2020.

This is the Republican Party. Dominate Donald Trump in 2016, we're not going to be able to litigate that. But going forward, do we really want four additional years of this guy? If Bob corker and a lot of other people including people who are in office, who aren't leaving office started to say that, that would be great.

But look at that (inaudible), look at that lunch he had at the White House yesterday? That says it all, doesn't it? I mean, he has four House Republicans, none of them whom has ever been in leadership or led anything. Totally irresponsible Freedom Caucus members.

Three senators sort of randomly -- Lindsey Graham, who I don't know if he wants to be secretary of defense or not, Shelby, the chairman of appropriations and I can't remember who the third senator was, someone of no -- I don't think of great importance or stature. And that was it. That's who he's going to negotiate?

The government is shut down. You people can laugh about it over Christmas. It doesn't make that much difference. We are in a holiday year, but it does begin to matter at some point plus, there area a lot of other crises.

Look at the markets. The treasury secretary today -- the Treasury Department put out a statement saying that treasury sector had called the heads of the six largest banks to make sure they had enough liquidity? That alarms me.

And again, that the president is having lunch at the White House with, you know, sycophantic members of Congress, one or two senators start in to the mix. They are yakking it up there, according to Representative Gaetz and he's not doing anything serious, but I need these challenges.

CABRERA: But look, one of those people who were there, Lindsey Graham, did push back on the president this week, very openly critical about his move to remove troops from Syria. Could that be a turning point Republicans no longer just backing this president full stop?

KRISTOL: I would like to know if Lindsey did that in person to the president. But yes, look, I do think this week could end up having been a big moment where the Syria pullout, which is so ill-advised and so poorly considered and prepared for combined then with the resignation of Secretary Mattis, and then this accelerating of his departure petulantly done by the president.

I do think an awful lot of Republicans who have sort of been hoping against hope that we could make it through the next two years and then maybe another four after that, we get some good judges, and then you combine that with the stock market with the election results in November, I feel that we are -- the cracks are getting larger in the sort of fortress of support for the president.

People are getting a little more emboldened and people really now have to step up now and just say, you know, fight him on various issues but also just, I think, challenge him more broadly.

CABRERA: Bill Kristol, good to have you with us. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Thanks for being here for this holiday weekend.

KRISTOL: To you, too.

CABRERA: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Her death sparked a political debate in Washington. And now, the 7- year-old migrant girl who died seeking asylum in the U.S. has been repatriated to her homeland. Jakelin Caal Maquin's body was returned to Guatemala City today.

Her health deteriorated during a 90-minute bus ride to a border patrol station in New Mexico, and two days later she died at a Texas hospital. Jakelin and her father survived an arduous journey from Guatemala to the U.S. Now the family's lawyers want to know if the little girl's death could have been prevented.

The president is claiming ISIS is largely defeated and yet we have seen a number if recent ISIS-inspired attacks. So what is the truth? And why are nations like Turkey and Russia, the ones cheering President Trump's move? Next.


CABRERA: Just in to CNN, a defense official has now confirmed to CNN's Barbara Starr that the Pentagon order to withdraw from Syria has been signed by none other than outgoing defense secretary Jim Mattis. He resigned Thursday after trying unsuccessfully to change the president's mind.

This order paves the way for exactly how and when U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Syria but we don't know what those details are exactly. The draw down is expected to begin in the coming weeks and could last several weeks.

Now, Trump's reason for pulling out of Syria, he says ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. But CNN's Ian Lee explains how that claim of mission accomplished might be premature.


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.


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 the U.S. would finish the job.

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. ENVOY TO ANTI-ISIS COALITION: Nobody is saying that they're going to disappear. Nobody is that naive. So, we want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained. It think it is 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 that defeat is endured.

LEE (voice-over): Trump, who claimed he didn't know McGurk, called him a grandstander. On the heels of the president's victory tweet, ISISI 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 they could defeat the terror group but any operation in northern Syria would likely start a new confrontation between the sworn enemies, Turks and 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."

CORKER: We're just a few months away from finishing something that we started, where we would annihilate 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 either the Syrians or the Turks.

LEE (voice-over): The United States Arab allies in the region also condemned 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, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISER: Let's defend our national security, let's put America first. 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 groups affiliates still actively operate 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. A premature mission accomplished likely sowing the seeds of future attacks. Ian Lee, CNN, Jerusalem.


CABRERA: Joining us now to discuss, former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd. Phil, what does this pullout of Syria mean for the war on terror against ISIS?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Look, I think we're confusing two questions here. The question one is the president's decision to pull out the policy. Question two is how we do it. I think it's debatable and I actually would support the president in terms of saying I think it's maybe time to get out of Syria, but you don't want -- let me give you a parallel to where we are in the vacation season.

You don't want to be called on Christmas morning to be told 15 people are coming to your house on Christmas. You would like to say that's a great family reunion, but I would like to prepare for that. The question here is, how much time do we give the Turks, our Kurdish allies, the Jordanians to prepare for this? It sounds almost like we made a policy decision and announced it by twitter. You can't do that, Ana. You can't do it.

CABRERA: Well, Trump did just tweet this afternoon, "I just had a long and productive call with President Erdogan of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria and the slow and highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded trade." He appears to be backtracking though on his initial rapid withdrawal order. What do you think that's about?

MUDD: I think it's about people looking at him and saying if you have an ally who is an ally for years in the Middle East, including people like the Kurds, who could lose their lives when we withdraw, it might be a good idea to give them a couple of months heads up to say when you're leaving.

I think it's also interesting to say I had a long and productive call with the Turkish leadership today after you announce that you're withdrawing. My question is whether the U.S. military and our allies knew beforehand. And my sense, for example, from Mr. McGurk's resignation, is that the people who were involved in this didn't know that this was happening. Again, you can withdraw, but you've got to tell people before you're withdrawing so they have a chance to prepare.

CABRERA: There have been blowbacks from allies, from members of the president's own party on Capitol Hill, and yet you have countries like Turkey and Russia cheering the president's decision to leave Syria. Why?

MUDD: Because they won. They won for two different reasons. The Turks are looking at it, saying the American supported Kurdish people. The Kurdish people want a separate entity in Turkey and the Turks, I suspect, they are now saying we can go after those people the Americans supported, potentially including killing them.

[17:45:07] Let's make this even simpler, Ana. If you're the Russians -- if you are the Russians, you are looking for allies across the Middle East. You found an ally in Syria over the past several years. The Americans withdrew and the Russians are saying we now have another ally that says, this is Bashar al Assad, they Syrian leadership who used chemical weapons against his own people, he is now saying our ally will never be the Americans. It will be Vladimir Putin who stood by us. We lost this one.

CABRERA: Phil Mudd, thank you.

MUDD: Thank you.

CABRERA: Always appreciate your perspective. Happy holidays.

MUDD: Thank you. You, too.

CABRERA: ISIS isn't the only organization on the radar in the war on terror. According to the U.K. security minister quoted in "The Sunday Times" Sunday, "Al Qaeda, the same organization behind the 9/11 attacks is plotting to carry out new attacks on airports and airlines." The newspaper also quotes sources saying sketches of drones designed to deliver bombs were discovered in the U.S.

And this revelation comes as British officials are still investigating who is responsible for flying drones over the Gatwick airport. The drones disrupted flights for two day this is past week, stranding tens of thousands of passengers.

And as Ian Lee just mentioned briefly in his piece, authorities in Morocco have arrested 14 people in connection with the beheading of two tourists backpacking there. We have details just ahead.


CABRERA: The brutal beheadings of two Scandinavian women in Morocco are sending shockwaves across Europe and North Africa. The two friends were backpacking in the high Atlas Mountain range when they were attacked. The Moroccan government is calling their murders a terrorist and criminal act.

The Moroccan state news agency released these photos of three unidentified suspects. Video has also surfaced of four beheading suspects pledging allegiance to ISIS. Our Polo Sandoval has reaction now from Morocco.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moroccans are mourning. This weekend, hundreds took to the gates of both the Norwegian and Danish embassies in the city of Rabat with messages of support and of condolence for the families of two murdered backpackers. Twenty-eight year-old Maren Ueland was from Norway. Twenty-four year-old from Louisa Jespersen from Denmark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are enthusiastic about outdoors and outdoor activities.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): She is seen in this online 2017 video posted as part of a competition for a polar expedition. The bodies of the two friends were discovered last Monday in a remote part of the high Atlas Mountain range. A Moroccan government spokesperson called the killings a terrorist and criminal act.

MUSTAPHA EL KHALFI, MOROCCAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (through translator): It is an act that does not align with values of Moroccans or with their traditions nor with the traditions of that region specifically. It is an act that we refuse and strongly condemn.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): The Danish security and intelligence service tells CNN they are analyzing a video purportedly showing the grisly beheading of the two women. At least 13 people have been arrested, reports a Moroccan state news agency. Four of the suspects believed to have direct involvement appear in a video pledging allegiance to ISIS but do not reference the recent killings.

The murders have sent shock waves through Morocco, though the country has witnessed several ISIS attacks over the past years, it is generally considered safe for tourists. Back at the embassies, Moroccan's are taking a stand against terrorism, their signs read, sorry. Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


CABRERA: Another week, another stunningly public high level departure from the White House and a president seething (ph) at negative press coverage making sure Defense Secretary Mattis is out the door almost immediately. What will this mean for U.S. forces in the global fight against ISIS? Details ahead live from the "CNN Newsroom."


CABRERA: According to Donald Trump, nobody knows more about practically everything than Donald Trump. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember how Muhammad Ali always used to call himself the greatest of all time? Well now, it's President Trump is calling the greatest at all times.

TRUMP: I think nobody knows more about campaign finance 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 is 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 Corey than he knows about himself." 3 TRUMP: Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.

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

TRUMP: I know words. I had 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 (on camera): Thou shalt not exaggerate, Mr. President.

For years, journalists have been chronicling Donald Trump's breathtaking self-admiration delivered in the third person no less.

TRUMP: Because nobody has ever had more crowds like Trump has had.

MOOS (on camera): 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? You mean someone understands tax laws better than he does?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything you can do --

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

TRUMP: They have more leak than me. I have better everything than they have, including this.

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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I can, yes, I can.

MOOS (voice-over): New York.


CABRERA: And 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.

You are in the CNN "Newsroom." Thank you for rolling with me. I'm Anan Cabrera in New York. Great to have you on this Sunday. It is just hours before this Christmas Eve and right now, so many American men and women, federal employees, about 800,000 of them, are wondering when they will see another paycheck.

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