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The Third Government Shutdown Of The Year Enters Its Third Day; New Report That President Trump Vented About His Former Attorney, Michael Cohen To The Acting Attorney General. Aired: 11:30-12n ET

Aired December 24, 2018 - 11:30   ET


ROB ASTORINO, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2020 CAMPAIGN ADVISORY COUNCIL: ... maybe that's a little juvenile, but you know what, I think the President is right on border security. I think most people agree that we do need that. It's part of it, it's not the whole thing.

KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN: When, you look at polling, yes, not most people would agree that you need a wall though. Polling shows, what is it? It's like hovering around like 30% or something.

ASTORINO: Well, but you know what, I think people think the immigration system is broken.

BOLDUAN: Yes, there's that.

ASTORINO: That we do have problems at the border.

BOLDUAN: But immigration system broken is different than the only solution is a border wall, right?

ASTORINO: It's part of it, it's not the only solution. That's not the only thing he's saying that needs to be fixed, too.

BOLDUAN: To Rob's point, though, I'll give him one point, and that's it, to Rob's point though, Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly are amazing reporters have been reporting that Pence lowered the ask on the border wall funding from $5 billion to $2.5 billion. Why not take that?

JOE LOCKHART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Right. Because and I foot that question around, why didn't they take the $1.3 billion for border security? The President is singularly saying that the only way to secure the border is to build this wall. Everyone else is arguing that you need border security and you need an overall comprehensive immigration reform package.

The Democrats now have the leverage coming in, taking Congress, to push the President to come to the table and do a comprehensive package.

BOLDUAN: Well, how does this get resolved, though? A comprehensive package, I would like to argue, it takes time. And it takes real pressure, and it takes not, you know, looking at it now, a divided Congress coming in, how does this get resolved? I really don't see this because I would have thought they were smart, this would have been resolved before they left town.

LOCKHART: Well, it was resolved. The Senate passed unanimously a spending bill to go to them and then ...

BOLDUAN: The Senate resolved --

LOCKHART: ... and the House was ready to do it, too, and then Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity got upset, and Rush Limbaugh criticized the President and he decided to undermine the whole process and move. The problem right now, is in political deals, you have to have incentive to give.

BOLDUAN: Right, this is not a policy problem that we are looking at.

LOCKHART: No, it's not. It's politics, and Trump thinks he's winning. He thinks he is winning because this plays to his base.

BOLDUAN: Do you think he's winning?

ASTORINO: Let me turn this table around for a second. Everyone is saying it is Trump and the Trump base and the right. Chuck Schumer and the left, all they're hearing is "Don't give Trump any victory or anything. Oppose the wall." So they're saying, nothing.

How could Chuck Schumer say "You're not getting anything for the wall, period?" How is that negotiating in good faith? Now, the President has dropped apparently his ask from five to whatever it is, where are the Democrats? Are they willing to come to the table?

LOCKHART: Earlier in the year, we had the outline and framework for an overall deal. Democrats and Republicans, bipartisan ...

ASTORINO: But it didn't get there though.

BOLDUAN: I actually think we're -- go ahead.

LOCKHART: Let me finish here. It didn't get there because at the last minute, Trump pulled out.

ASTORINO: No, there were poison pills put in there, yes, there were on immigration. There are were poison pills put in.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this, but I think we're kind of dancing around something I think is important. Who is negotiating? Who is going to strike this deal? Is it McConnell and Schumer who is going to strike the deal? Is it Pence and Pelosi who strike the deal?

ASTORINO: The White House has to be partisan, right?

BOLDUAN: But I am saying I think that is part of the problem. Is it Donald Trump and the Freedom Caucus who eventually will figure out what they want and what they can agree to? I don't know.

LOCKHART: McConnell and Schumer did strike a deal. The House was ready to do it, Trump said "no." So Trump has to decide when is the pressure high enough on him that he has to give? And he will have to give because there's no incentive, there's no one in the Democratic Party and privately there's very few people in the Republican Party and the Senate who believe this idea of a wall is a good idea.

ASTORINO: Well, I think most people think it's part of the solution. It's not in and of itself.

LOCKHART: This is what we hear from Donald Trump and we hear from his supporters, most people, everyone. In the United States Senate, there is very little support for building a wall. There is support for border security. There is a difference. It is a political game that's being played by the President and --

ASTORINO: By both sides, by the Democrats, too.

LOCKHART: No, the Democrats are willing to support border security. They don't - they are not --

ASTORINO: Why did they vote for a physical barrier - a wall - a couple of years ago, and now it's off the table?

BOLDUAN: At this point, the idea of a wall and a fence is definitely political on both sides, but the idea of border security, definitely everyone supports.

LOCKHART: Border security is an integrated sophisticated program to secure the border. What Donald Trump is talking about is building from the East Coast to the West Coast a wall that no one in the Senate supports.

BOLDUAN: And no matter where we are on policy and where we want to get, I mean, I really do wonder, come Thursday, there are not going to be cooler heads that are going to prevail that are going to return to town. I really don't understand --

ASTORINO: And the American public right now is not affected and probably won't be. You realize how big government is and how much you can live without it.

BOLDUAN: Well, because - no, no, this is a partial - part of this is, this is a partial shutdown because Congress actually did some of its job and did pass some funding. So there is some of this, but --

ASTORINO: I don't think it's going to happen until the new Congress comes in.

BOLDUAN: Until the new Congress -- I'll tell you, I'm going to speak to a union rep coming up for Federal employees and we'll see if they think that no one is being affected. I would say that.

LOCKHART: No, no. That's right. There's 800,000 people who are impacted by this. These are government workers. So can you imagine Trump, if GM furloughed 800,000 workers? What do you think he would do then?


ASTORINO: There's a difference.

BOLDUAN: I know.

ASTORINO: For the most part, government stays open, all the essential things stay open. The American people really don't feel it. I do sympathize with the people who are being furloughed.

BOLDUAN: And people work without getting paid ...

ASTORINO: Yes, I do.

BOLDUAN: ... and right now, no guarantee that they're going to get paid back and let's see if the House blinks ...

LOCKHART: And we have our national Christmas tree and we can't turn the lights on. How does that make us feel?

BOLDUAN: Stop climbing up a Christmas tree, okay. There's your first thing. Great to see you guys.

ASTORINO: So, Kate, have a blessed Christmas.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, lashing out, a new report that President Trump vented about his former attorney, Michael Cohen to the acting Attorney General. In doing that, did the President cross a new line? We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Maybe Matt Whitaker is getting a little taste of what it was like to be Jeff Sessions for so long. Multiple sources telling CNN that President Trump has ripped into Whitaker, his acting Attorney General, at least twice in the last two weeks. Why? Well, sources say the President was upset that Federal prosecutors under Whitaker filed charges against his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, charges that implicate the President. None of the sources though suggest that the President directed Whitaker to do anything about it, but the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee says the damage is done.


ADAM SCHIFF, RANKING MEMBER, 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 Whitaker to make sure that the public knows just what he does.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, former Federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. It's great to see you, Elie. So what you heard just right there from Schiff that he says it's wrong on every level and it will taint anything that Matt Whitaker does, kind of going forward as acting Attorney General, do you agree?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I do. Somebody needs to tell the President, "Stay away from the Department of Justice's cases, stay away from the Southern District of New York. No good can come of this.

Think about it. We had the President of the United States sit with the acting Attorney General and tell him "I'm furious about this thing the Southern District did." Now, I know he claims or the reporting is, well, he didn't give any specific instructions, but when your boss calls you into the room and says "I'm furious this happened," how is that different than saying don't let this happen anymore.

BOLDUAN: This is echoes of kind of Jim Comey, right? I mean and the question again, if he was venting, if that's how it is described, and not specifically asking Whitaker to do anything about it, I mean --

HONIG: Yes, when your boss vents, it means something, right? You listen and you take the cues and it goes back to sort of one of the President's original sins here is when he tried to get Comey, pressured Comey to drop the Michael Flynn investigation. The president needs to get it through his head that the Department of Justice does not exist to serve his own personal interests. The Department of Justice is going to do its cases and needs to be left alone.

BOLDUAN: And we know, Elie, that Robert Mueller - it is part of the investigation - is looking into obstruction as it relates to Jim Comey, so obviously, the logical kind of line of thought is then, does Robert Mueller start looking into this?

HONIG: Yes, I mean, look, the President keeps throwing logs on the fire of obstruction. I mean, all of this evidence, all these tweets he sends out, when he berates cooperating witnesses as rats, when he praises Roger Stone for what? Some criminals call a stand-up guy, right? He has courage. He is staying silent. When he pressures Matt Whitaker directly, keep the Southern District off my case, all of this should be going into Mueller's memo.

BOLDUAN: We also heard from Adam Schiff over the weekend, he basically made the case yesterday that no matter what, even if the President would claim executive privilege over the public release of the Robert Mueller final report in the Russia investigation, no matter what Schiff says he is going - going to make it public. Obviously, it is his role as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, incoming. Can he? Should he?

HONIG: Yes, I think he will eventually have that power. And look, it's super - it's incredibly important that he is in that role because it's a key check on making sure that Mueller's final report doesn't get squashed or sort of swept under the rug. The way it's going to happen under the regulations is Mueller furnishes his report to the Attorney General, maybe Whitaker, maybe Barr, at the time, who knows.

That AG then has to decide how much - whether and how much to furnish to Congress and if that AG makes an improper decision and says none of this is going over, Adam Schiff has sent a signal, "I'm going to fight for that. I want to see it all."

There may be some pieces that need to be carved out. There may be some pieces that are classified, that are sensitive national security, there may be a legal fight about executive privilege. Rudy Giuliani has already said we're going to object to a lot of this on executive privilege. I don't think he gets very far with that argument. I think the Richard Nixon example shows that executive privilege is really quite limited, but that fight is going to happen and Adam Schiff has made clear he is ready for it.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and smart man. There would be - there's absolutely going to be a fight at every turn if you look at just every turn up until this point. Great to see you, Elie.

HONIG: I'd expect that. Thank you, too.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. Thanks for coming in. Coming up for us, forget the politics. What does the government shutdown mean for more than 800,000 federal employees across the country? We're going to bring that to you, next. Be right back.


BOLDUAN: If you're trying to reach the White House right now, this is what you're likely to hear.


AUTOMATED FEMALE VOICE: 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.


BOLDUAN: Right now, there's no way to tell how long the partial government shutdown will go on, but we do know how many people are being impacted - 420,000 Federal workers are expected to work without pay during the shutdown; 380,000 are furloughed meaning they're on leave without pay until a deal is struck and Congress has yet to approve a measure guaranteeing that they'll get back pay once back on the job.

And this is the third shutdown this year, remember. Joining me right now is Jacque Simon, she is a policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest Federal employee union in the country. Jacque, thanks for coming in.



BOLDUAN: So three days in, what are your members telling you?

SIMON: Oh, our members are very unhappy, understandably. They can't believe the disregard that the President has shown for their economic welfare. It was only five days ago, I believe it was five days ago, yes, that the Senate passed a funding measure unanimously and it was on its way to passage in the House when suddenly the White House decided that it would be a good idea to shut the government down and have the whole 800,000 Federal employees' paychecks hostage while the country debated how much money to spend on a particular element of border security. And they're just feeling very demoralized and angry, to be honest.

BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, there's been a question of who owns the shutdown. I had a political debate about it earlier in the show, Jacque, and it was the Republicans saying, "The Democrats. The Democrats own this because they are giving - they are absolutely not compromising at all when it comes to this one issue of border security." The Democrats saying obviously President Trump owns it, he is sticking on this talking point - talking about just a border wall when it comes to - and he has also of course said that he would be proud to shut the government down.

When it comes to what your members are looking at, who owns this?

SIMON: Well, it's hard for me to answer that question. I mean, what our members want the public to understand is that they're real people with real families and real bills to pay. For the most part, they live paycheck to paycheck, they're very modestly-paid employees. For example, Transportation Security officers working this busy holiday travel season at airports, they take home substantially less than $500.00 a week and in many cities, that's barely enough to keep body and soul together.

They have bills to pay. They've got families to support. They can never do without pay, they can never do without one day or two days or three days of pay, but it's especially infuriating around the holiday season.

Bold Well, I actually was going to ask you about kind of what the average salary was, if you will, of your members because Scott Perry, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, he was speaking to "POLITICO" who is doing a reporting on this, of course, and when asked about the impact of the shutdown on Federal workers being furloughed, "POLITICO" says that Perry says this. He argued it had no real impact since employees eventually get paid back, quote, "Who's living that they're not going to make it to the next paycheck>" What do you say to the Congressman, Jacque?

SIMON: It's very frustrating to hear somebody who is oblivious to the economic situation that most middle class and working class Americans are in today and Federal employees are no different. You know, Federal employees actually have had pay freezes and, you know, minuscule pay adjustments over the last several years. Their retirement benefits have been cut. They have no cushion.

For the most part, they have no cushion. These are rank and file Federal employees who we represent -- law enforcement officers, corrections officers who work in Federal prisons who protect us all from these dangerous incarcerated individuals. They're going into these prisons every day, putting their lives on the line. They make very, very modest salaries.

And the idea that they're being forced to work without a paycheck is just unconscionable. When a lawmaker makes a comment like that, to show how completely out of touch and oblivious they are to living standards for working people, it's very frustrating. Not all lawmakers feel that way, certainly. There is legislation that would guarantee the back pay and Federal employees have wonderful advocates in Congress, but, you know, that comment isn't helpful.

BOLDUAN: As we speak right now, the shutdown continues. Let us see what comes in the coming days. Jacque, thanks for come in, I appreciate it.

SIMON: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, should you be preparing for a white Christmas and what does that mean for everyone traveling today. We are tracking the weather across the country on this Christmas Eve, that's next.


BOLDUAN: Quiet and cold on this Christmas Eve, but a new storm brewing out west could complicate things if you're heading out of town.

CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar is tracking the very latest. Allison, what are you looking at right now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: Right, so we are keeping an out eye out. We do have some delays across the areas of the northeast due to some snow, cities like Buffalo, Hartford and Boston, but it's out west. This is where the focus is. Not only do you have some delays around cities like Salt Lake, Portland, and San Francisco, it's because thunderstorms are a rarity for city this time of year.

But the concern is what does that system do over the next couple of days? As it continues to push off to the east, it will continue to bring rain and snow through those areas. But once it gets towards the plains, you're going to have a lot of that gulf moisture surge as well as the warm air. Now, the cold air on the back side will produce blizzard-like conditions. But unfortunately, Kate, for areas of the southeast, will have the threat for severe weather Wednesday through Friday.

BOLDUAN: All right, buckle up everybody and happy Christmas Eve. Great to see you, Allison. Thank you. Thank you so much all for joining me. "Inside Politics" with Manu Raju starts right now. We will see you tomorrow.