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Trump Tweets On Sunday That He Is Dismissing James Mattis Earlier Than February; President Trump And Senator Bob Corker Trade Jabs Once Again. Aired: 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 24, 2018 - 12:30   ET


MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": ... everyone could see how much people loved him or could go to Capitol Hill still in his capacity and be grilled, so the President is standing by his decision for now, but defensive about the backlash that he has faced about it.

MANU RAJU, ANCHOR, CNN: The backlash is real and what's remarkable over the weekend. I mean just to look at how James Mattis, a man respected for his years of service across the aisle, both sides of the aisle, supposed to leave at the end of February, suddenly Trump tweets on Sunday that he was dismissing him.

And the reason we're all learning about is because of the news coverage, not what Mattis had initially, but how it was perceived. Help us understand, help our viewers understand how the President processed this decision and why he responded to the news coverage rather than the decision to resign itself.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE "NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think look, there is nothing but personal pique here, right? Like I mean, Mattis was being hailed, in recognition of the fact that he had been widely respected as somebody who sort of was a guardrail for the President, helping to prevent the President from doing things that allies and his folks here in the government didn't want him to do.

And the more that Mattis was hailed as that kind of person, the more Trump grew frustrated with it. So out of the personal pique - wouldn't you want your Defense Secretary, your outgoing Defense Secretary, to be in office for several weeks if not a couple of months to do a transition to the next person? But instead, because of the frustration that he - the personal frustration, that he didn't feel he was being - his decision was being questioned, he didn't feel like he was being compared adequately to this outgoing general, he decided to terminate him in a matter of days.

And I think that underscores what is so troubling to allies, especially around the world, as much as the decision itself. It's the process. And you mentioned this question that Mercedes Schlapp was asked about who was part of the decision making. The reason she had trouble answering that is because from all the reporting, we know the answer is almost nobody, I mean, literally almost nobody.

For any of us who have covered the White House over the years, that's just so remarkable. I mean, we can't say it enough, the extent to which big decisions like this are often just - it involved scores of people across multiple agencies, meeting repeatedly to sort of go through what the consequences are.

TALEV: Well, and even the people who are aware of the decision making didn't agree with it, and some people were cut out.

RAJU: He seems to be listening to Turkish President Erdogan more than he is in his own National Security advisers. This is from CNN's reporting today. "Erdogan was explaining all the problems with the U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria and was irritating Trump, according to a senior administration official who received a detailed readout of the phone call between both Presidents. "Okay, it's all yours, we are done," that's what Trump said, according to the source. We react to that.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I mean, it just illustrates first of all just the tumultuous situation that we're in. But also remember, I mean, there's going to have to be a new Defense Secretary that's going to have to be confirmed, that's going to have to satisfy enough senators on Capitol Hill.

And what I found remarkable when Mitch McConnell said last week that he praised Mattis' world view and his emphasis on global alliances and he urged the President to pick someone in the mold of Mattis, essentially and that's what a lot of Republican senators are hoping for.

The problem is it's Mattis' precise world view that got him canned by the President. So who is going to pass muster with both President Trump and particularly the Senate Republicans? You have senators including Joni Ernst and Mike Rounds both Republicans on the Senate Arms Services Committee openly lobbying for Heather Wilson, who is currently the Air Force Secretary and it is pretty unusual to see Republicans openly pushing candidates like that and I think it does kind of underscore the uncertainty of that Senate Republicans have about who the President may ultimately pick.

RAJU: Fifty three - forty seven, Senate. I mean, there's still a good chance someone gets confirmed. But this could be a fight.

BURGESS EVERETT, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": This is typically one of the easier slots to confirm, people can come together on National Security, on Mattis, as Michael was saying, you talk to Democrats and you ask them who in the Trump administration you like? Who is doing something that you can approve of? This was the answer, it was Mattis. "I sleep better at night," Claire McCaskill told me this summer when she was campaigning in Missouri, "I sleep better at night because Mattis is in charge of our troops." And that's no longer the case.

I also think, the interesting thing is I don't think the President is really listening to your hawkish types right now. I mean, look at who he is praising in his Twitter account - it's Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who are typically people outside the mainstream of the Republican Party with their isolationist foreign policy views and instead, the President is tilting way more towards them.

RAJU: Yes, it's amazing to see the embrace, the full-on embrace of Rand Paul when most Republicans on Capitol Hill say completely opposite of what Rand Paul says on these issues. More on that ahead, and before we go to a break, former Intelligence Director James Clapper channeling the ghost of Christmas yet to come with this ominous prediction for next year in Washington.



JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: We may look back in 2019, longing for the relative calm of 2018, because I think there's going to be a lot more of this.

RAJU: Topping our political radar, we're now about 20 minutes from the early close on Wall Street, and it's been another ugly session for stocks. Right now, the Dow is down close to 500 points. This follows the steep losses we saw last week. The worst week for the index since the 2008 financial crisis.

Uncertainty in Israel as leaders of the coalition government announce they'll dissolve Parliament and hold early elections in April.


RAJU: Prime Minister Netanyahu's right-wing partnership currently has a one-seat majority. It could mean the early vote to renew their mandate as they face trouble on multiple fronts. Netanyahu himself faces corruption allegations and Israeli police say there's enough evidence to indict him.

Senator Bob Casey is still kicking himself for Hillary Clinton's loss in his state back in 2016. He tells "POLITICO" he regrets not urging her campaign team to visit the non-major cities in Pennsylvania. Senator Casey won a third term last month carrying some of the working class counties he says Clinton should have seen more of.

As for a possible White House run, political sources say it's unlikely Casey will enter the fray, but could be someone's pick for VP.

And more intrigue surrounding the so-called mystery company that's become part of the Mueller investigation. Chief Justice John Roberts last night halted the contempt citation against the unnamed foreign- owned corporation. It essentially pauses an Appeals Court ruling order the company to turn over information about its commercial activities until the justices can review responses from the government due by December 31st.

And next, the nickname is back. President Trump and Senator Bob Corker trade jabs once again.


RAJU: President Trump has his own airing of grievances happening on Twitter right now. In the past hour, Trump has tweeted about the shutdown, border security, Saudi Arabia, and the wall. His latest tweet, "I'm all alone, poor me, in the White House, waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed border security. At some point the, Democrats not wanting to make our deal will cost our country more money than the border wall we are all talking about. Crazy."

Mentioned in today's tweet storm is outgoing Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump's name chanted the Senator this morning and last night. The message, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." "Corker wanted to run, but his poll numbers tanked when I wouldn't endorse him," the President tweeted. Trump goes on to say that without his endorsement, it was game over for Corker.

The senator fired back, "Yes, just like Mexico is paying for the wall," insinuating there was - Trump was just lying, and ending the tweet with the hashtag, "#AlertTheDayCareStaff."

But not all GOP senators are on the President's naughty list, Trump gave Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a shout-out Sunday saying, "Mitch McConnell just told a group of people and me that he has been in the U.S. Senate for 32 years and the last two have been by far the best and most productive of his career. Tax and regulation cuts, VA choice, farm bill, criminal justice reform, judgeships and much more. Great."

It's not entirely clear what Mitch McConnell and meeting was that with the President, and also Bob Corker and him - this feud has been going on for some time. Clearly, also, there is some factual inaccuracies with that. We can get into it at some point, but I do want to point out, he was responding to Corker's comments yesterday on the "State of the Union." Where he raised a lot of concerns and one of the things that Corker said was, the next three months of this presidency could be integral in determining the future of President Trump.


BOB CORKER, U.S. SENATOR, TENNESSEE, REPUBLICAN: 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 these next three months could well determine whether he decides to run again or not.


RAJU: I mean, do you guys cover the White House, do you think that the White House views it this way that the next three months are that important, or not?

SHEAR: Look, one of the things that's characterized this White House has not been extended planning and looking down the road in any long way. But I do think that there is a sense of dread in the West Wing about what potentially is coming on a number of fronts.

There's the Mueller investigation, and that looks, to the extent we all can know the timeline of it, it looks like that might be wrapping up in the next few months. There's the Democrats taking over in the House which leads to investigations and there's just a general sense that the President has kind of reached the end of his rope to the extent that he was self-modulating his actions, if we can call it that, over the last two years, you know, people in the White House think that's now over. So yeah, the next few months, if you combined all of those things, they could be critical.

TALEV: And then there's the economy, which is, let's be honest, what we're talking about this week and what's gotten the President so frustrated with his Fed chair, his Treasury Secretary and so on and so forth. He has been in a position where he's been able to pursue some of the more controversial policy measures of his administration both because Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress and because he had the economy on his side.

When the markets decline, if there is further economic erosion, if people keep using the "R" word, if things start moving into that territory, it not only changes the balance of power in Congress, which the Democrats have already taken over the House, but it changes the bedrock on which it is built, all the rest of his calculations.

RAJU: How people speak out against him. I want to bring in something that I spoke about with Claire McCaskill, the outgoing Missouri senator about last week. She says - Corker is one of the handful of Republican senators that actually speak out. She says privately, they say things much different about Trump.


CLAIRE MCCASKILL, OUTGOING U.S. SENATOR FROM MISSOURI: They're keeping their head down. And here's what they're rationalizing in their heads. Now, they'll tell you, if it's just the two of you, "The guy is nuts," you know, "He doesn't have a grasp of the issues. He's making brash decisions. He is not listening to the people who know the subject matter."


MCCASKILL: But in public, if they go after him, they know they get a primary, and they know that's tough. They watch what has happened to their colleagues who did go after him. This is a completely different Republican Party.

Now, I think history will judge some of my colleagues harshly, that they didn't stand up to this President.


RAJU: Do you think the next Congress is going to be any different, the Senate specifically -- Flake gone, Corker gone, McCain passed away -- will there be Republicans speaking out against him?

KIM: Well, that's to be seen, especially with the incoming Utah Senator Mitt Romney. But I think what's important to remember is that the Senate's political fortunes this cycle really hinged on the President and his popularity. But look at the Senate map for the next cycle, it's people like Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Joni Ernst, who are up for reelection in blue-purple states. They are going to have to distance themselves from Trump politically speaking and that will determine a lot of what they say and act on Capitol Hill.

RAJU: A lot to follow in the months ahead. But first, up next, what was the vibe on Capitol Hill this year?


RAJU: What was the mood like in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mood in there is not good.


RAJU: My colleagues, Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim and I spend most of our working hours on Capitol Hill, chasing members of Congress through the hallways to ask them about the political news of the day between the Russia probe, the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the midterms, and of course, the President's Twitter account. There's been a lot to ask about in 2018.


CHUCK SCHUMER, MINORITY LEADER: Do you know what number CR this is? This has been going on for six months. They've had a three-month CR, they've had a one-month CR, they've had a two-week CR.

RAJU: Do you believe there's a secret society in the FBI trying to take down the President?

If you were him, would you continue in this job getting humiliated day after day?

LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR, SOUTH CAROLINA, REPUBLICAN: I hope he will continue in the job because I would hate to find a replacement for him. I think he is doing a good job, but if you want to blow up the Senate, trying to find an Attorney General to replace someone to replace Jeff Sessions under these circumstances.

RAJU: Do you think Kim is very talented as the President said?

CORKER: I have no earthly idea.

COREY BOOKER, U.S. SENATOR, NEW JERSEY, DEMOCRAT: I am standing on this hill and if they want to kick me out of the Senate, so be it, bring it.

RAJU: Are you comfortable with the President's attacks on Christine Blasey Ford?

SUSAN COLLINS, U.S. SENATOR, MAINE, REPUBLICAN: The President's comments were just plain wrong.

RAJU: Did the White House have any role in your memo, sir?

ROY BLUNT U.S. SENATOR, MISSOURI, REPUBLICAN: Democracy dies in darkness, my friend. Get to work.

RAJU: Senator, how are you doing?

BLUNT: I am about to find out how little I know again today.


RAJU: Just a taste of what we all go through every day. What's been your experience like? This Congress of course, we're in a very unusual period. Having to cover the White House and talk to them about what's coming out of the White House every single day?

KIM: Well, one thing I learned is that oftentimes Republican senators have not seen the thing President Trump hasn't just tweeted about a lot of times ...

RAJU: Or they say they haven't seen it.

KIM: Or they say they feign ignorance a lot. But look, there is where - this is an administration where there has been so much of an impact on Congress beyond just the legislative impact and on voting on nominations. We know that a lot of people on Capitol Hill are among the President's closest advisers. Senator Lindsey Graham, he went from an enemy during the 2016 campaign to now, one of his closest advisers.

We know the Freedom Caucus, which perhaps didn't have as wide scale of influence as they did under the Obama administration when they were just kind of annoying House Republican leadership, does has the President's ear.

To cover that nexus of his administration and Congress has been a really an interesting relationship to watch. And the relationship between Democrats and the Trump administration will be one to watch as well.

RAJU: It's interesting, I mean, watching how the Republicans distance themselves from what Trump is saying, they're trying to say, saying versus doing. But saying is doing because the President's words actually matter. How long do you think they can continue to separate that as we head into this new Congress and this really uncertain period at this point for this White House?

EVERETT: I mean, we'll be looking a lot to the Senate Republicans like Seung Min just mentioned. They have a difficult map and a bunch of swing states and some of those states, I would think, you are going to still have people that are close to the President maybe until their primaries are over, and then they need to win a general election, and that suggests maybe you don't flip that switch until the middle of 2020.

So I don't anticipate a huge break from the President on daily issues, no matter how upset they are about Mattis, Syria, shutdown. Right now, I think, in two months we are going to be on to something else.

RAJU: And you get a sense to the members that are just really, really weary about the fight and controversy. We all covered the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings. What stuck out to you the most in dealing with and covering that and watching that unfold in front of your eyes?

KIM: Well, I think just how contentious the nature of this fight was. And a lot of senators said afterwards just how they felt this particular nomination battle really changed the texture and the fabric of the Senate forever. And I think, I maybe thought that was hyperbole at the time, but you do see how - I mean, Lindsey Graham had become such a key figure in that entire fight, and he decided to campaign on behalf of - he can't pit against his own sitting senators, which he says he usually hasn't done before.

And so that raises the question, if we found ourselves in another confirmation fight in the next two years into the presidency, what's going to happen in that instance?

RAJU: I mean, Burgess, I mean, the members seem like they just totally dislike each other at this point?

EVERETT: I wouldn't even say that. I don't even know that - I don't even sense that the fabric of the Senate has necessarily been changed as much as people are weary about what's coming next.

And, you know, I think Bob Corker is probably one of the few - not only is he speaking out but he likes to talk about this.

RAJU: More to say in the weeks ahead, of course.