Return to Transcripts main page


Tsunami Killed At Least 281 People in Indonesia; Mattis Signs Order to Withdraw U.S. Troops From Syria; Body of Migrant Girl Who Died in U.S. Arrives in Guatemala. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired December 24, 2018 - 00:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The death toll from Indonesia's tsunami keeps rising. More than 280 people have been killed and officials fear there could be another wave.

"It's all yours, we are done."

What Donald Trump said to the Turkish president on the phone when he decided to pull out U.S. troops from Syria.


WILLIAM ANDERS, APOLLO 8 ASTRONAUT: For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.


VANIER: Christmas Eve 50 years ago. A live broadcast from space, a historic photograph and a win over the Soviets: the triumph of Apollo 8.

We are live from the CNN Center. I am Cyril Vanier, it is great to have you with us.


VANIER: The death toll is still climbing after Saturday's tsunami in Indonesia, at least 281 confirmed dead. More than 1,000 injured and 11,000 people displaced. The wave ripped across parts of Java and Sumatra, including beach sites popular with tourists. A number of hotels were severely damaged along with hundreds of homes. Here is how one survivor describes what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I saw the huge waves at around 9:30; I rushed to the guest rooms and told the guests and my manager to run. And we evacuated to a higher place. The waves were 2-3 meters high, they became even higher after hitting the walls. The waves hit the area three times as they became stronger and stronger.


VANIER: The tsunami truck without warning. One official says Indonesia lacks a proper alert system. Rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing but another disaster could be on the way. Saturday's wave was likely triggered by this, the Anak Krakatau volcano. And it hasn't stopped erupting, raising fears of another tsunami. For more, CNN's Will Ripley is in Hong Kong -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Cyril, yes, this horrific event late Saturday has taken so many people by surprise. The common thinking is that you have an earthquake and then you are on alert for a tsunami.

So for all of these people at the Tanjung Lesung beach resort along the Sunda Strait in Indonesia or near the Sunda Strait, this is just absolutely shocking, that the Anak Krakatau volcano could cause an underwater landslide; also simultaneously a full moon, potentially playing a role in this horrific tsunami that so far has killed more than 200 people.

It's also really shining a light on the fact that Indonesia doesn't have an active tsunami warning system at this point. There is a network of buoys that exists but we are told they have been down since 2012, officials blaming everything from vandalism, budget issues to actually technical damage to the buoys.

Buoys would have prevented perhaps the massive loss of life from that tsunami back in September on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, which was caused by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, more than 2,000 people died in that tsunami.

The death toll here considerably lower but still just a tremendous human tragedy. You are talking about 281 people killed, 843 injured, 28 people still missing. And police are saying that the number of dead is expected to rise. Listen.


HASAN ABDUL AZIS, MEDICAL OFFICIAL, POLICE IDENTIFICATION UNIT (through translator) That number of dead is increasing and we are still using facial identification as conditions are allowing for them. Faces can still be recognized. So far today we have handled 67 bodies from Kuritsa (ph) and surrounding areas. That's not including Tanjung Lesung, which still hasn't been counted yet.


RIPLEY: And that was one resort that was hit very hard. You are talking about extensive damage to the coastal areas hit by the tsunami, some 558 houses, nine hotels, 60 restaurants, 350 boats, all suffering very severe damage -- Cyril.

VANIER: And there were so many sad stories to come out of Indonesia. One of the first that emerged was this pop band that was performing during the tsunami -- Will. RIPLEY: I think the video of the Indonesian pop band Seventeen's concert really hit home for a lot of us, just how horrifying this -- and really surprising and shocking this moment was, there they are on stage, all of a sudden the stage is lifted up by this massive wave.

You hear people in the crowd screaming and then there was that tearful Instagram post, where the band's lead singer said the band's bass player and his manager were killed. Three other --


RIPLEY: -- band members missing, his own wife missing. And, of course, the timing of this. Three days before Christmas. It brings back memories of December 26th, 2004, that Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean; 226,000 people killed in 14 countries and Indonesia bore a large death toll in that incident, more than 120,000 Indonesians killed in 2004.

So if there is a lesson to be learned here it's that Indonesia needs to put more resources into the early warning system to try to get people as much advance notice as possible before another disaster like this. And on this Christmas Eve, you just have to -- your heart has to ache again for the people of Indonesia, who have endured more than their share of tragedy this year -- Cyril.

VANIER: Absolutely. And sadly, we have had to report on, as you say, natural disasters in Indonesia multiple time this year alone, Will Ripley reporting live from Hong Kong, we'll get more updates from you in the coming hours.


VANIER: And support for those affected by the tsunami is pouring in from around the world, including the Vatican. Pope Francis prayed for the victims at his Sunday service at St. Peter's Square. He said he was spiritually close to this place and the all the people affected and asked for relief to their suffering.

The U.S. president doesn't like the fact that his Defense Secretary's resignation letter has been squarely in the media spotlight. So apparently he decided to kick off James Mattis' retirement early.

And no end in sight. An update on the border wall battle that's keeping parts of the U.S. government shut down. Stay with us.





VANIER: U.S. Defense officials say outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis has signed the order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. That is despite the fact that Mattis is resigning partly because of the decision by President Trump to pull the troops out. The order paves the way for more than 2,500 American service members to start leaving Syria.

On Sunday Mr. Trump tweeted that's he discussed the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying they plan to coordinate a slow withdrawal. It's the second phone call between the two leaders in less than two weeks.

Sources say Mr. Erdogan was making a case for the U.S. to leave the region days before Mr. Trump decided to do it.

And Mr. Trump responded in the December 14th phone call, "OK, it's all yours, we are done."

Turkey has been building up its forces along the Syrian border for several weeks. Mr. Erdogan has said that he intends to target Kurdish fighters and ISIS militants in Syria.

Meanwhile, President Trump says he will replace Defense Secretary James Mattis after the new year, two months earlier than Mattis planned to leave. President Trump named a temporary replacement, CNN's Barbara Starr has the details.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The search for a new Secretary of Defense goes on. But for now, Deputy Secretary Of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, number two at the Pentagon, has been named by the president to become acting Secretary of Defense as of January 1st.

James Mattis had wanted to stay until February 28th. But he got a phone call from Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, saying, you need to go by January 1st. That is the president's decision.

There was a feeling inside the White House officially that they needed to get a new person in that they didn't want Mattis in a lame duck position. But administration officials will tell you that, behind the scenes, the president was not happy with the extensive news coverage of Mattis' departure, of his resignation letter, saying basically that he was resigning in protest over the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

So Shanahan now has the leading role here at the Pentagon. He's been involved mainly in things like acquisition reform and innovation. Now with no foreign policy experience, he will take on a national security role on the international stage, dealing with America's military allies and America's military adversaries -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VANIER: There is little hope the partial U.S. government shutdown will end before the new year. No substantive progress has been reported in budget talks. CNN's Sarah Westwood reports on the battle over funding for President Trump's border wall. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump and his administration are bracing for what could be a lengthy shutdown that lasts beyond the holidays as Trump continues his demands for funding for a border wall and Democrats continue their refusal to fund it.

Recall that the president initially demanded $5 billion in funding for the border wall and he said that money had to be for the construction of a physical barrier along the southern border; it couldn't just be for border security in general.

Sources say vice president Mike Pence offered support for a border security package worth $2.5 billion if it included funding for a wall. That offer came during a meeting Saturday on Capitol Hill with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.

But Schumer, according to those sources, rejected the offer so the talks still appear to be deadlocked. Budget director Mick Mulvaney predicted the shutdown could last into the next Congress, beginning on January 3rd when House Democrats take over. And Mulvaney suggested that --


WESTWOOD: -- House minority leader Nancy Pelosi may be limited in her ability to make a deal with this administration that reopens the government because of her looming Speaker's race. Take a listen.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Here is the problem, of course, is that as recently as two weeks ago, they offered us $1.6 billion for that same thing so they are moving in the wrong direction.

I think it's a really good question here as to whether or not this deal can be cut before the new Congress comes in. I think there is an implication here for Nancy Pelosi's election for the speakership. I think she's 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's Speaker.

If that's the case, I think there is a chance we go into the next Congress.


WESTWOOD: Now that was Mulvaney, the incoming White House chief of staff, speaking on FOX News Sunday. The president has been all over the map when it comes to this funding fight, at first claiming that he would be proud to accept responsibility for the shutdown if it was in pursuit of funding for his border wall before shifting to blame Democrats for the shutdown. But it's still unclear how much less than that 5 billion-dollar number

the president would ultimately be willing to accept. It's also unclear what, if anything, the Democrats would be willing to approve in terms of funding for his wall.

Democrats don't have a lot of incentive to negotiate on the president's terms right now, given that they will soon be a majority in the House -- Sarah Westwood, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Joining me is Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, a historian and a professor at Princeton University.

Julian, this is the third government shutdown this year. We haven't seen this since the '70s.

Is this the most dysfunctional that Washington has been in 40 years?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think government shutdowns are a measure of dysfunction. It's a sign that people in charge of government aren't governing. And in this case, I really think it goes to the Oval Office and the decisions of the president.

But when the government closes its doors three times in one administration, I think you have to take that as a sign that something is not working in Washington.

VANIER: Outgoing Republican senator Bob Corker, who we know is no friend of Donald Trump, says this government shutdown over border security is a made-up fight. Listen to him.


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


VANIER: Is this a made-up fight?

ZELIZER: I think he's right in one sense in that there was a deal on the table. I think many Republicans on the Hill were ready to pass a continuing resolution, let the funding go to February without this border wall.

And the president really is injecting this, he did it because he was being criticized from the Right. He does it because I do think he wants to show his base he's fighting for something. But there is really not much demand for this border wall/slats that he's talking about.

So it is manufactured, it's unnecessary and it has real world consequences on all of the people who don't get paid and who are affected by parts of the government that are shut down. VANIER: I think there is a powerful counter argument to this idea that it's a made-up fight. Donald Trump isn't just fighting for a random thing, he's fighting to fulfill probably his central campaign promise, which is the border wall and increased border security. So that's what he promised his voters.

ZELIZER: No, that is true, the problem was the original promise. So many people, including national security conservatives and people who are for tough border policies don't think the wall is useful, necessary or really even possible in terms of the cost that it will be.

So I think that's what Corker means when he says it's made up, not that it's not something he promised and aims to fulfill. Let's remember, the president promised many things, which he has really put aside since the campaign.

VANIER: Right, but this was a really a key point of his central -- not just his campaign but to this day his political persona and his presidency.

You are a historian, if you take a big step back, do shutdowns matter much for the course of a presidency?

ZELIZER: Well, the one in 1995 and '96, when Republicans controlled Congress under Newt Gingrich, who was the Speaker, and Bill Clinton was the president, that had big consequences, not so much for the president but for more Congress.

In that case, the Republican Congress got the blame and it really undercut their political standing at a moment they were feeling pretty good and feeling pretty emboldened and it had real consequences and it also just had consequences on the functioning of government. It lasted for many weeks and many branches of the government really weren't working as they should.

So that's an example of one that really mattered.

VANIER: Julian Zelizer, a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you very much.

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

VANIER: An estimated 800,000 federal employees may be impacted by the partial shutdown --


VANIER: -- and that apparently includes the operators at the White House switchboard. This is the voicemail message callers to the White House currently hear.


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


VANIER: During last January's government shutdown, the White House public comment line played an outgoing message blaming the Democrats. I guess they moderated the message this year.

It's been 50 years since NASA's Apollo 8 mission delivered this powerful transmission from space.


ANDERS: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth and the Earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep.



VANIER (voice-over): We look back at the historic message that united a troubled world. That's ahead.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one, zero. Ignition. Lift off.

VANIER (voice-over): And SpaceX has successfully launched its first national security space mission for the United States. The Falcon Nine rocket blasted off on Sunday, carrying a powerful GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force. The aerospace company saying the satellite will be more accurate than other navigation systems currently in operation.


VANIER: Half a century ago millions of people around the world turned on their TV on Christmas Eve. What they heard was American astronauts reading the Bible to them live while orbiting the moon, moments after orbit four, taking that picture. The year was 1968, a year of war, assassinations and turmoil and NASA had cobbled together a last-minute mission to beat the Soviets to the Moon: Apollo 8.


ANDERS: For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

VANIER (voice-over): On Christmas Eve 50 years ago, one-third of the world's population listened for the first time to a message from outer space.

ANDERS: And God said, let there be light.

VANIER (voice-over): Delivered by astronauts aboard the first manned mission to the moon, a reading from the Bible's book of Genesis.

JEFFREY KLUGER, AUTHOR: Even people who have no sense of religious faith understood that this was something deeply transformative.

VANIER (voice-over): Jeffrey Kluger was 14 years old that Christmas Eve in 1968. He would go on to author a book with one of the astronauts on board.

KLUGER: Their voices, which were distorted across a quarter of a million miles of space, brought home in a very vivid way the distance they had traveled and the improbability of it.

VANIER (voice-over): Apollo 8 was a giant leap forward in the space race, cobbled together with a deadline from the U.S. president to make history before the end of the year.

KLUGER: The Russians may well have beaten us to it and the decision was made, we are going to give ourselves 16 weeks and figure out how to get ourselves to the Moon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, zero. We have lift off.

VANIER (voice-over): Apollo 8 launched on deadline but the mission remains one of the riskiest and most dangerous in the history of America's space program. Kluger says NASA even warned one of the astronauts' wives --


VANIER: -- that her husband had a 50-50 chance of surviving.

KLUGER: The biggest fear, a darker fear in some ways than the profound tragedy of what would happen if the men died was that there was a chance that their main spacecraft engine would work but only once, to slow them down enough to get them into lunar orbit. If that engine had not worked, the crew would orbit the airless moon forever and ever. They would be orbiting today in a $100 million sarcophagus.

VANIER (voice-over): Luckily the crew returned home safely and brought with them an image that would become one of the most recognizable in history, popularly named "Earthrise."

KLUGER: What they had in their camera that night was something that gave human beings an entirely different paradigm shifting view of their world. When that picture was developed, people saw something they had never seen, the Earth as a fragile sphere in the vastness of space and it's widely credited -- and it should be -- with helping to kickstart the environmental movement.

VANIER (voice-over): As Kluger tells it, the image and the mission became messages of hope in a bleak time; 1968 saw the assassination of two beloved leaders and tens of thousands of U.S. troops died in the Vietnam War. KLUGER: It could not save 1968, although one of the telegrams the astronauts got from an anonymous American said, thank you, you saved 1968, I am not so sure it could save it; the lives that were lost were lost. We could never get Dr. King back, we could never get Senator Kennedy back. But there was redemption, to make the year somehow seem that it ended on meaning.

VANIER (voice-over): On Christmas Eve of that tumultuous year, the Apollo 8 crew chose to read the world a story of divine creation from hundreds of thousands of kilometers above.

KLUGER: It was a year in which the nation and the world had bled from a thousand self-inflicted wounds and then, here we were, on Christmas Eve, reading verses of renewal in a year in which people deeply needed rebirth.

I teared up at Genesis and I teared up even more at the end, when Frank Borman said, "And from the crew of Apollo 8, good night, good luck --

FRANK BORMAN, APOLLO 8 ASTRONAUT: ... a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.


VANIER: And from all of us here at the CNN Center, have a great day. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will have the headlines for you in just a moment.


[00:30:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back. Your headlines again on CNN, the official death toll has jumped again from Saturday's tsunami in Indonesia, at least 281 people are now confirmed dead. More than a thousand people were injured and 11,000 have been displaced.

The wave was likely triggered by the Krakatoa Volcano. It has not stopped erupting, raising fears of another disaster.

U.S. officials say outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis has signed the order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The Execute Order spells out how and when the troop removal will take place. We don't have specifics, but it's expected to take several weeks to withdraw more than 2,500 service members from Syria.

And the body of a migrant girl who died in U.S. custody has been returned to Guatemala now. The remains of Jakelin Caal Maquin will be taken to the remote indigenous community where she was from. The 7- year-old and her father were detained near the U.S.-Mexico border, on December 6th. She died two days later after falling ill.

Reuters is urging Myanmar to free two of its reporters who were detained last year, while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims. The news agency issued the statement ahead of an appeal hearing scheduled to take place, Monday.

The journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison, over alleged possession of classified materials.

That's your CNN NEWS NOW. Stay with us. Up next, "TRUE TOKYO"