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President Donald Trump Blames Democrats On Partial Government Shutdown; President Planning To Yank All U.S. Troops From Syria; Defense Secretary Mattis Is Out Of The Job On January 1st. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 23, 2018 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: -- American men and woman federal employees about 800,000 of them are wondering when they will see another paycheck. The reason, Washington infighting has stopped funding for nine cabinet departments. They are shut down.

American monuments are close to the public. The doors of government buildings are locked. There is no money to pay the people who work there. President Trump and Democrats in Congress digging in, not moving over money. The President wants for his promised wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

Now one Senate Republican is not happy with the whole dispute that has so many American workers in professional limbo. He says this fight is not even a real one.


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


CABRERA: The man who will soon start as President Trump's chief of staff says don't expect the shutdown to end before the New Year.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Here's the problem, of course, is that as recently as two weeks ago they have offered us $1.6 billion for that same thing. So they are moving in the wrong direction. I think there is really a good question here is to whether or not this deal can be cut before this new Congress comes in. I think there is an implication here for Nancy Pelosi's election for speakership. I think she is now in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing to where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the President on anything until after she is the speaker. If that's the case, again, I think there is chance we go into the next Congress.


CABRERA: Also today, an announcement from the President that he is pushing out his defense secretary much sooner than expect. Retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis retired Thursday frustrated that his and the President's views, in his words, do not align. Mattis wanted several weeks to transition the Pentagon to new leadership. But the President today tweeting he has already picked someone to act as acting defense secretary and wants him to start in just a few days. He is Patrick Shanahan, the current deputy defense secretary. More on that in a moment.

Back to this government shutdown. It boils down to billions of dollars of funding for President Trump's border wall. Remember that border wall, the one that Mexico was going to pay for. Here's what first candidate then President Trump promised in speech after speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Going to be a very tall wall, very strong wall, very powerful wall.

TRUMP: It is going to be such a beautiful wall. It is going to be so big. It's going to be so powerful. It's going to be as beautiful as a wall can be. And who is going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.

TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.


CROWD: Mexico.

TRUMP: Mexico is going to pay for the wall and they understand that.

We need security. We need the wall. We are going to have it all.


CABRERA: Mexico had a very different idea. It is current President who was just sworn in earlier this month says his country will not pay for the wall. His predecessor also said, no. And here's how former President Vincente Fox put it when asked on CNN.


VICENTE FOX, FORMER MEXICO PRESIDENT: You can use my walls, we'll never pay for that (bleep) wall.


CABRERA: Blunt words there from Vincente FOX on whether Mexico will pay for the wall. Even the President's own acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney said this about the President's wall back in 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MULVANEY: The fence doesn't solve the problem. Is it necessary to have one? Sure. Will it help? Sure. But to just say, build the darned fence and have that be the end of the immigration discussion would be absurd and almost childish for someone running for president to take that simplistic view. And by the way, the bottom line the fence doesn't stop anybody who really wants to go across. You go under, you go around, you go through and that is what the ranchers tell us is that they don't need a fence.


CABRERA: Fast forward to last week when President Trump started talking about the possibility of a government shutdown, what we heard from him is that if Democrats refuse to use U.S. taxpayer money to pay for the wall, he, President Trump, will shut down the government. Listen to that exchange with Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer.


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.


CABRERA: Well now, President Trump is changing his tune. After saying he would take ownership of a government shutdown, he is now saying it belongs to -- drum roll please, the Democrats. And he also made a slight change in how he refers to what U.S. taxpayers are getting for their money, he shifts from a border wall to border security. Take a listen.


TRUMP: The House of Representatives voted 217-185, approving strong border security, and the money necessary to take care of the barrier wall or steel slats, whatever you want to call it, it's all the same. Tremendous enthusiasm for border security. They want to see something happen on border security.


[18:05:02] CABRERA: So now President Trump says Democrats won't pay for border security. He is substituting that term for a border wall. And guess what? Border security and a complete border wall are not the same thing.

Here's the kind of border security in fact Democrats have already supported. In 2013, Senator Schumer and House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, both were in favor of spending $40 billion on a border security plan that called for building 700 miles of new fencing, and would have doubled the number of border security agents to roughly 40,000. It got bipartisan support and passed in the Senate but failed in the Republican controlled House.

So in the past, Democrats supported $40 billion on border security. But they made it very clear now that they will not spend billions of dollars to pay for President Trump's border wall.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: So, Mr. President, President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall.


CABRERA: The current funding bill President Trump is insisting on includes $5 billion for DHS, which will be able to replace about 115 miles of existing wall. It will also pay for more than 100 miles of new linear wall or steel slat, that's his new go-to along the southwest border. The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. There are currently about 650 miles of border fencing already built. It's seen here highlighted in red, you can do the math there. And that's really what this government shutdown is all about since President Trump insists that this is what Americans voted for, to build a border wall, maybe Mexico will step up to help him keep that promise?


FOX: You can use my walls. We will never pay for that (bleep) wall.


CABRERA: Thus, here we are at this shutdown with no money from Mexico and no agreement in the U.S. Congress to pony up your tax dollars to pay for a wall. That is the state of play.

And here's what we know now about where things could be headed. Incoming acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, made the rounds this morning on all the morning shows and said this about current negotiations.


MULVANEY: All I can tell you is the Democrats offered us -- I think they offered us $1.6 billion a couple weeks ago, then they offered the President $1.3 billion this week. That's a negotiation that seems like it's going in the wrong direction. We even insisted on five and the discussions are between 1.6 and five.


CABRERA: And now CNN is reporting that the White House will accept $2.5 billion for border security but Democrats are refusing to budge from $1.3 billion.

I want to bring in Democratic congressman John Garamendi of California.

Good to have you with us, sir.

Congressman, is that your understanding that the White House is now offering $2.5 billion? And if so, are you willing to accept that? REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I have heard many, many

things over the next several hours. And the numbers are moving faster than I guess the planes out of Dulles airport. But the reality is that we really don't know what this White House wants. Keep in mind that less than a week ago the Senate thought they had a deal with the President. And in a unanimous Senate vote a bill was passed and that did have $1.3 billion for border security in it. Came over to the House of Representatives for final concurrence, guess what, the President changed his mind, demanded $5 billion, and that's at that point the Republicans in the House put 217 votes up on the board and sent a bill back to the Senate that was dead on arrival. And so now we do have the Trump shutdown, just as he promised.

Yes, there is a possibility of negotiating this thing out. But I will tell you what I'm concerned about. This is real money from the taxpayers of America. Real taxpayer money. Where is this money going to be spent? Which part of that 1900 mile border is going to have a new fence or a wall or repaired fence.

I want some very specific things. I'm on the armed services committee. And we won't let the air force spend any money to build a new hangar until they tell us why it's needed, where it's going to be built, what it's going to cost, and then we will authorize that construction. The President said he wants a blank check.

CABRERA: OK, I hear you. But the Democrats actually offered President Trump border security funding at least three different times earlier this year. In fact, at one point going as high as $25 billion. Are Democrats digging in now because they don't want to give the President a win?

GARAMENDI: No, that's not the case. We want to be very careful about what we are doing here. We want border security. We are not going to give this President a blank check to go do whatever he wants to do with a little slush fund. We have seen enough of that out of him already with his foundation. So what we wanted is a very clear plan on how this border is going to be secured.

And I will tell you this. If we are going to spend money wisely, spend it on the U.S. coast guard, which interdicts 10 times the amount of drugs that the border patrol agency do on the borders. Beef up those points of entry so that every train, every car, every truck that passes through is checked and the drugs are not in those.

The drugs are not coming in the backpack of children crossing over the border. It's coming in other directions. And we need to pay attention to that. We need to be wise about how we are spending the taxpayer money.

[18:10:38] CABRERA: It seems like everyone is now acknowledging though this could go on until Democrats take over next week or even beyond. Are you worried your party could end up paying a political price for this, for being unwilling to meet in the middle or at least the perception that Democrats aren't willing to meet in the middle?

GARAMENDI: No. Just a moment here. The Democrats are more than willing to meet in the middle. We are willing to meet even beyond the middle, as long as there is a rational use for the money. It's not about fulfilling his promise.

CABRERA: OK. So if you get a rational use for the money, if he says, not just about the border wall, I want to increase technology. I want to increase personnel, perhaps. Those are just a couple of ideas I'm throwing out, a random ideas. But how much money are you willing to offer?

GARAMENDI: Yes. Well, we know the top side is $5 billion. Show us how you are going to spend that money wisely? How are you going to use it to interdict --

CABRERA: So you would be willing to go all the way to $5 billion, if it's for border security, not the wall or not just the wall?

GARAMENDI: It's not just the wall, it's what is going to be done with the $5 billion the President is demanding. If that money is to be spent wisely, you mentioned technology, we know that's a more valuable and actually a much better use than putting up a fence that you can crawl under or go over or whatever, we know that we need to fund the coast guard. We know that we need to have better security at the ports of entry so that we can actually check the various contraband that we know is passing through those areas. These are all things we do need and we did more border patrol agencies.

And one more thing that this country desperately needs and that is a sense of humanity. We need to understand that we are housing thousands upon thousands of kids in very crummy jails separated from their parents. This is wrong. We are right here on the day or two days before Christmas in a time we ought to be caring about each other. And this nation is totally doing inhumane horrible things to children across our and various detention facilities.

So you want to spend some money, let's spend some money on processing so those children can get back to their parents.

CABRERA: I want to talk to you about James Mattis and his resignation, your original response you heard when he was resigning was oh (bleep). Now Trump announced today deputy secretary Patrick Shanahan is going to temporarily replace Mattis as an acting defense secretary? Does that apiece some of your concern?

GARAMENDI: No. We are going to put in charge $700 billion a year a fellow that comes from one of the largest defense contractors in this nation, a fellow has no military experience, certainly has experience as a defense contractor. But we need somebody there that understands the geopolitical reality of this world and understands the role of our U.S. military. The strongest most capable military in the world has to be used most wisely.

CABRERA: What makes you think he doesn't understand that?

GARAMENDI: He has nothing in his background that indicates he has that military experience. CABRERA: Congressman Garamendi, really appreciate you joining us and

offering your perspective on those important issues. Thank you. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas to you.

GARAMENDI: And to you. Thank you.

CABRERA: Thank you.

President Trump forces Mattis out early as secretary of defense. He names his replacement. Will the new Pentagon chief be on the same page as his boss? We will talk about that just ahead.


[18:18:12] CABRERA: The President planning to yank all U.S. troops from Syria, declaring victory over ISIS. The ramifications of this extraordinary decision are, to use a word of the President, huge. His own defense secretary, James Mattis resigned in protest. Also throwing in the towel, the man leading the global fight against ISIS, Brett McGurk. President Trump is facing a wave of concerns from people on both sides of the aisle and around the world. Could a U.S. withdraw trigger an ISIS growth spurt or create a dangerous power vacuum for Syria's dictator Assad who is backed by Russia. To be clear, Trump's decision has big name supporters, too. Here's Senator Rand Paul.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: When the President declares victory over ISIS, he is exactly right. We took back 99 percent of their land. Aren't these people going to stand up and fight for themselves? Can they not do anything? And it doesn't work to have Americans policing Muslim lands. It just engenders more terrorism.


CABRERA: Let's look at the numbers. The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mostly special operations forces. Their job, train local forces to fight ISIS. President Trump says ISIS is defeated in Syria, true or false? The bottom line is we just don't know exactly how many ISIS fighters remain in Syria.

As a general rule ISIS fighters don't like to be counted, staying underground. But according to coalition estimates some 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in one Syrian town alone. And the defense department says up to 30,000 ISIS members are still in Syria and Iraq combined.

You know who is cheering? Take a guess, Russia. President Trump and the White House falsely claim Russia is not happy about this decision. Here's White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the idea that Putin is happy about this is ridiculous. He's not. This puts a greater emphasis and makes them have to actually step up and do something and do more in the region and puts them at a greater risk. So I think that's just silly.


[18:20:12] CABRERA: Silly? No. What she just said is not true. The fact of the matter is, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, expressed delight about President Trump's announcement. Watch.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): As far as ISIS is concerned, I agree more-or-less with the President of the U.S. We, and I have speculated about this before, have really achieved substantial changes with regard to the militants in Syria.


CABRERA: Even the President's favorite TV show, FOX & Friends, had mixed reviews on his bold Syria move.


BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FOX & FRIENDS: He is giving Russia a big win. Vladimir Putin praised him. He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing. He said President Obama is the founder of ISIS. He just re-founded ISIS.


CABRERA: Take that in for a moment. When FOX & Friends is throwing shade on President Trump's Syria policy, when some of his biggest political allies are saying, this is a mistake, you have got this wrong, Mr. President, why doesn't he listen to them? What happens next? Time will tell.

Here was what Friday. ISIS militants re-attacked U.S.-backed Syrian forces in eastern Syria from the ground. A tweet saying quote "ISIS is still strong." And that is why President Trump's Syrian decision is such a big deal.

Now more on that shake-up at the Pentagon. Defense secretary Mattis is out of the job on January 1st. President Trump today forcing Mattis out two months earlier than planned and replacing him with Patrick Shanahan. The man now tasks with overseeing trump Syria troop withdrawal.

Let's bringing in retired army major general James "Spider" Marks, a CNN military analyst and Susan Glasser, Staff writer at the "the New Yorker."

General Marks, thanks for being with us.


CABRERA: What do you think of the President's pick for new acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan? MARKS: Well, he is certainly got the tip of the continuity. He has

been the def sec for Jim Mattis for little over a year. He understands what the thrust are in the Pentagon. He understands what the priorities are. It's also been reported that he has the ear of the President so that he is probably maybe a little more aligned. And typical of most deputies, he is probably been working the internals of the Pentagon, in other words, he knows where the bodies are buried. He understands the mechanism. So he has his finger on the pulse.

He certainly has a reputation and resume that would support his being in the position. Look. There are, essentially, are three types of people you want to have. You want to have somebody who has great management and leadership capability. You need to have somebody who might be a warrior or somebody who has both, warrior and leader management piece.

Jim Mattis had the latter in spades, an incredibly gifted guy. In fact, I would suggest Jim Mattis is the latter day version of George Marshal. What you get in now secretary Shanahan is going to somebody who be someone who has got that management and leadership capability. We will see what happens from here.

But the department of defense will be fine moving forward, it just is a very difficult step for him to take to try to follow and really try to replace Jim Mattis.

CABRERA: Susan, what's your take on the President's pick? Is this someone who will be in lock-step with the President's world view?

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I guess the President hopes so. I mean, I think this is all part of a pattern we have seen this year of President Trump replacing those, especially on the national security and foreign policy side, who challenged him, with people who have been on notice really from day one that that kind of offering your own opinion, disagreeing with the President is no longer welcome in the Trump administration. So to the extent that this is a more permanent solution, I think, you know, President Trump is looking for yes, men, in the job.

I found it very striking today that it was reported that it was secretary of state, Mike Pompeo who actually delivered the news to defense secretary Jim Mattis that he was out January 1st because the President didn't have the willingness to deliver that news himself. He apparently has not spoken to Mattis since Thursday.

You know, this is obviously not normal. You do not have the secretary of state in no way, you know, is in the chain of command transmitting orders normally from the President to the Pentagon chief. And it speaks to how unusually President Trump is running his administration.

I think -- remember, our allies are in a deep state of concern, some of them verging even on panic at the instability and the erratic nature of the national security policy that is playing out from the Trump administration right now. This is going to reinforce that in a major way. CABRERA: General, the President regularly touted his generals, my

generals, he would say -- Flynn, Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, why has he pushed them all way?

[18:25:08] MARKS: well, clearly the generals, the admirals, those senior leaders, understand what the relationship is with their respective bosses and with those that they are charged with leading. And that requires transparency. That requires pushback. That requires a routine look in the eye of your boss, and to tell them what he or she often doesn't want to hear. And that obviously is pushing the President to a point where he wants to move these folks away.

But that's how senior military leaders are trained. That's how we grew up. That's what we are required to do. Sure, we are part of a higher (INAUDIBLE) organization. Burt at the same time, you know, the boss has to turn around and you say I want you to do something amazingly difficult and may cost probably some lives.

What do you think about this? You better be honest and you better be prepared to give that individual your best counsel. In this case, it is the commander in chief, the President of the United States, irrespective who that person is.

CABRERA: So Susan, who is that? Who is left to stand up to Trump, to tell him what he doesn't want to hear?

GLASSER: Well, it's not clear to me, especially when it comes to matters of national security, that there is anyone who is willing to stand up to him. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, both have views that differ quite strikingly from those of President on significant issues of foreign policy given their previous pronouncements before they took these roles.

But I think in both cases it's not clear that they have continued to stand up to Trump in private. John Bolton, for example, seemed to have come close to losing his job early on in his tenure as national security advisor when he seemed to be signaling to the North Koreans a skepticism about the peace talks. And since then, we have not heard a lot to suggest Bolton is pushing back aggressively on Trump.

And you know, I think this is again a real challenge to our system. But remember, Democrats are going to be taking control of one of the Houses of Congress, starting in January, and so you will see more public pushback, more challenge to his administration's on for policy from Capitol Hill starting in January.

What does that mean in terms of how Trump will choose to respond to it? It's not clear. But already, I would say, since November and the election, he has significantly escalated his rhetoric. He has made these decisions about troop pullouts in Syria and Afghanistan despite the recommendation of these advisors.

CABRERA: Susan Glasser and General Spider Marks, good to see both of you. Thank you very much for being part of our conversation.

MARKS: Thank you, Ana. GLASSER: Happy holidays and Merry Christmas.

CABRERA: Turning from international issues to your finances after the latest plunge on Wall Street, will your 401(k) get a break this holiday week? Here's more.

Here is CNN's Alison Kosik with more.

ALLISON KOSIK, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. There's no sight of Santa Claus on Wall Street this year. Instead, investors considered Jerome Powell the Grinch. Last week, the fed chief did signal fewer interest rate hikes in 2019 but the struck a more optimistic tone than the market was looking for.

That sparked fierce selling on Thursday. The Dow fell below 23,000 for the first time since October of 2017. Both the DOW and S&P 500 are negative for the year. That puts the doc back on track to have their worst annual loss since 2008 great recession and their first annual lose since 2015.

This week, volume is expected to be light which can exaggerate moves in the market. Plus, there are only three full trading days. The market closes early on Christmas Eve and is closed on Christmas day.

In New York. I'm Alison Kosik.

CABRERA: Now to our top international story, rescuers frantically trying to find victims of a deadly tsunami. And new volcanic eruptions raising fears another one could happen.

Just ahead, a survivor shares her terrifying story with us. Stay with us.


ANA CABRERA, ANCHOR, CNN: As rescuers comb through rubble in Indonesia, searching for survivors of Saturday's deadly tsunami, the volcanic eruption, officials believe caused that disaster is erupting again, spewing ash and smoke high into the air. Officials say there is a potential for another tsunami.

At least 222 people are already confirmed dead and more than 800 are injured. Officials say the death toll could rise since dozens are still missing. The moment of impact caught on camera at a beachfront concert. And I have to warn you, the images are a bit graphic. Again, no warning whatsoever, as a wall of water slams through the back of the stage, the lead singer confirming one band member was killed, along with the band's manager, the lead singer's wife among the missing, along with other band members.

Now, joining us via Skype, a survivor of this tsunami, Dr. Natasha Phebe. Doctor, thank you for being with us, can you walk us through what happened, what you witnessed when the tsunami hit?

NATASHA PHEBE, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR, INDONESIA: Yes, so, when the tsunami hit, actually, I just left the beach around 10 minutes because I just had dinner with friends at a beach front restaurant and then when we arrived at the main road after we left the restaurant, it was already chaotic in the main road.


PHEBE: Because people tried to run away from the beach, so that's what happened at the time.

CABRERA: How did you escape? How did you get to higher ground quick enough?

PHEBE: Actually, once we arrived in the main road, it's not very far to go to the evacuation route. So I was in the car with one of my colleagues and our driver, so we just quickly blend with other people, and then go to the evacuation route and stay there for a while.

CABRERA: The pictures that we're seeing look like there's catastrophic damage in some places, again, we're reporting more than 200 people are already confirmed dead, with hundreds of people injured and dozens still missing. What's happening on the ground right now? What have you seen? What have you been a part of?

PHEBE: Yes, so --

CABRERA: I'm sorry. We lost Dr. Phebe there. We do know she has been working to try to treat some of those who are injured. Again, we continue to follow the developments after this tsunami that struck Indonesia, killing hundreds of people already and you can see what they are left with right now, as they continue to prepare for what could be an additional tsunami with ongoing volcano activity in that area. We'll try to get Dr. Phebe back as soon as possible.

Meantime, the incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says President Trump's conversations with his acting Attorney General about the Mueller probe are quote "wrong at every level," end quote.

And now, I have Dr. Phebe back with us, let's go back and try to continue our conversation and I'll apologize in advance we lose the connection again. Again, things are moving on the ground there obviously, communications and technology could be disrupted. So tell me what's happening on the ground there, Dr. Phebe, what you've witnessed and what you've been a part of?

PHEBE: So, from yesterday I have been involved in medical intervention, helping the local health facility for treating the older patients that came from the field because we just started evacuation yesterday morning. Because of course, people were afraid to get into the area again. So evacuation started in the morning, yesterday.

And then, since then, the government already did good collaboration with all the local society and now, we are - since last night is what we have seen is some of the heavy equipment already transferred to the area to help the next evacuation for today. That's what we see - we saw last night.

CABRERA: And can you tell us about what kind of injuries you're seeing?

PHEBE: Yes, mostly multiple trauma, because people were - took a breath with water and then drown and all the debris in the water hit them. Yes, several head injuries, and some people get injured as well when they tried to evacuate themselves on the motorbike because they were scared and maybe they are panicked, so road accidents also happened at the time.

CABRERA: What is your plan now, moving forward?

PHEBE: Our plan moving forward, is of course, we continue to find all the people as much as we can with the evacuation. And then, of course, we will prepare for the mitigation for the next things that might happen, and can we move to the car because we need to leave now.

CABRERA: Okay, we'll let you go. Dr. Natasha Phebe, thank you for taking the time and wish you the best. Please stay safe. We'll be right back.


CABRERA: Welcome back. In just 11 days, Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, and they're eager to use their subpoena powers. One of the first officials they want to question is acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker and that was before new reports came out this weekend.

According to multiple sources, Trump has been lashing out at Whittaker, specifically about those charges that implicate the President in a hush money scheme. Congressman Adam Schiff, the incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee tells CNN he wants to get to the bottom of those conversations.



ADAM SCHIFF, INCOMING CHAIRMANG OF HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The President of the United States is discussing a case in which he is implicated with the Attorney General. That is wrong at every level. And of course, it will taint anything that this acting Attorney General does, any role he plays in this investigation. This is a real assault on the rule of law and we are going to scrutinize every single action by Matt Whittaker to make sure that the public knows just what he does.


CABRERA: Former Federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, is joining us now. Jennifer, thank you for spending part of your holiday weekend with us. I really appreciate it. Our reporting, based upon multiple sources, and I want to read you this key line from our piece exactly as it is written.

"Trump pressed Whittaker on why more wasn't being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place suggesting they were going rogue." Jennifer, is that obstruction of justice?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, that's the big question, right? I mean, one of the problems is the President does have the right at some level to oversee the entire executive branch and that includes the Department of Justice. But the fact is that while it's not technically a legal violation, the President never does and should never really inquire into any matter certainly that involves him.

Instead, the mechanism for making sure that his oversight is appropriate is Congressional. So I think Congressman Schiff is right to say they should inquire into that in hearings. I don't think it's likely to be obstruction of justice as far as a criminal charge goes but is obviously something Congress should look into. It's highly, highly inappropriate.

CABRERA: So if Democrats call Whittaker to testify, could he just claim executive privilege?

RODGERS: I don't think so. You know, they throw around the term "executive privilege" pretty freely especially when people want to inquire into things that the President is doing, but it's not as broad a doctrine as all that. So you know, Congress's role is in large part is to make sure that the Executive Branch is working properly and so, I think it is within their mandate to speak to Whittaker the President's attempted interference into that.

And you know, we have to remember back to why Whittaker was appointed in the first place. You know, he didn't have the credentials for the job. He didn't have the reputation. He doesn't have the experience. He wasn't next in line or next to next in line.

So I think everyone anticipated that the reason he was put there was to be someone who would be willing to do the President's bidding in this way which makes everyone even more suspicious that that is what's going on here. The fact that CNN has learned about these conversations, what are the chances Mueller knew about them already?

RODGERS: Well, you know, if we know, Mueller knows, I think that's fair to say just across the board. He has a team of terrific investigators and lawyers who obviously are working diligently and have been for some time. So if the public knows, there's no question that Mueller knows that and a whole lot more.

CABRERA: What can he do about this then given Whittaker is the oversight, his boss, essentially?

RODGERS: I don't know that there's much that Mueller can do about this in particular. This really goes to the Oversight that Congress should be having. You know Mueller's job is to investigate and where appropriate bring charges and of course, at the end of the case to write a report about what he has found.

So this would only factor into the extent that it would play into a criminal charge or would need to be put into his report. And you know, I don't see it as linked up to anything that Mueller is doing. You know, even the obstruction piece that Mueller has been investigating has to do with the intent to obstruct the Russia investigation specifically, and this is not a part of that.

So I wouldn't expect this episode to really make it into Mueller's work so much, I think it will be handled more on the Congressional side.

CABRERA: All right, Jennifer Rodgers, good to have you with us. Thank you, happy holidays, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

RODGERS: Thank you, you, too.

CABRERA: Thanks. For a decade, a young boy in the Philippines was pen pals with a charity sponsor in America. And for those 10 years he had no idea he was corresponding with a President of the United States. Details on how this secret was kept and finally revealed in the "CNN Newsroom."


CABRERA: President George H.W. Bush's legacy will live on long after his death. The 41st President of the United States secretly sponsored and wrote to a Filipino boy for ten years all while dropping hints as to who he really was. Our Kaylee Hartung has the story.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, REPORTER, CNN: Even in death, the legacy of former President George H.W. Bush lives on through the lives he touched in America and abroad. Compassion International, a global nonprofit organization that uses local churches to help children in poor communities released letters shared between the former President and a young Filipino boy named timothy.

"Dear timothy, I want to be your new pen pal. I'm an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids, and though we have not met, I love you already." And so began a decade-long friendship between Timothy and the former President.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Walker, how are you? I hope you're in good condition. I would like to thank you for not forgetting me. You're so nice and good. God is so good to us."

Bush wrote his letters under the alias of George Walker to protect his identity because the Secret Service was concerned for Timothy's safety if it were revealed he was friends and in contact with the former President.


HARTUNG: Wes Stafford, the former President of Compassion International served as an intermediary between the two new pen pals. And he says that although former President Bush used an alias, he became worried when the former President sent this letter with a picture of his dog. Stafford also tells CNN the letters from the former President were

some of the most sweet and spirited letters he has read from any sponsor about Bush's habit of revealing hints of who he could be in his letters made the job of keeping the former President's identity a secret harder.

"Timothy, have you ever heard of the White House? That's where the President of the USA lives. I got to go to the White House at Christmastime." Included with most of the letters from former President Bush was a gift and a challenge. "Be sure to say your prayers. I do every day. This birthday present will show you the time all around the world."

Timothy never caught on to the hints about Bush's identity in his letters and only found out the real identity of his pen pal after he graduated from the program. When he did find out, Stafford says he was surprised to have been pen pals with someone who had been President of a nation.

Although Compassion International and Timothy have since lost contact, the bond he shared with the former President half a world away is not forgotten. Kaylee Hartung, CNN.