Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: Dem Oversight Could Amount to "Presidential Harassment"; Indonesia Tsunami: 429 Now Confirmed Dead, Number Expected to Rise; Judge Orders North Korea to Pay Warmbier Family $500M. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired December 25, 2018 - 11:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Thanks for your support. Thanks for all the packages I've been getting, we're losing count. Mom, dad, family, friends, Jamie and Jeff, love you, guys. Sorry I can't be with you.

[11:30:00] I'll see you.



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is now claiming that Democratic efforts to continue the Russia investigation in the coming Congress could amount to, in his words, presidential harassment.

The president making that statement a short time ago from the Oval Office and also returning from a familiar refrain.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion. There has been collusion but it's been by the Democrats.

[11:35:01] But there's been no collusion. And you're talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money. There's been absolutely no collusion.

But there has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats, with Russia and with a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn't have been dealing with, including very dishonest people.


BOLDUAN: All right. Joining me right now, Matthew Rosenberg, CNN national security analyst. He also covers intelligence and national security for "The New York Times", of course.

It's great to see you.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks for having me. BOLDUAN: So, with what the president is saying here, no collusion, no

collusion. I mean, yes, this is something we hear over and over again, but on this Christmas day as we reflect back and we start looking forward to 2019, can the president say no collusion still?

ROSENBERG: Look, it's a tough one. You know, collusion is this broad term, but we do know --

BOLDUAN: It sounded so specific at the beginning --

ROSENBERG: I know it's not so specific --

BOLDUAN: But not so.

ROSENBERG: Look, we do know his son met with a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin in June 2016 to talk about dirt from Hillary Clinton. We do know him and his organization were negotiating for a Trump Tower Moscow to the first half of 2016. So, I think "no collusion" is a strong statement. Maybe it was. They were definitely collusion curious, that's for sure.

BOLDUAN: Collusion curious might be my favorite line of the day. Millions of dollars wasted as the president put it, but if you look back at the special counsel, the SDNY, and what they've come up with, more than 36 people and entities have been charged, overall 192 criminal counts.

Is that wasted money? I mean, I guess there is a political answer to that, but on its face, who decides that it's wasted money?

ROSENBERG: It depends on how you look at it. If you see that you got convictions of Paul Manafort, you've got guilty pleas from Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, justice is being served here. People who are guilty are being found guilty. But if you see this as some kind of witch hunt, you would say it's money wasted.

BOLDUAN: The president also unprompted, in speaking with reporters after his call to the troops. He also brought up James Comey. I want to play that for everybody. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Everybody hated Comey. They thought he did a horrible job. The Democrats hated him. They were calling for his resignation. They were calling for his firing, including Schumer, including Nancy Pelosi, until I fired him. And once I fired him, everybody said, oh, why did you fire him, why did you fire him?


BOLDUAN: He's trying to prove a larger point but I do wonder what it means, if it means anything, that the president, unprompted, wants to focus on Jim Comey, on this day, at the end of year.

ROSENBERG: I mean, he seems to be lashing out of what he can, no collusion, Jim Comey, these are greatest hits for Trump. He's not wrong, the Democrats sort of did hate Comey.

BOLDUAN: Correct.

ROSENBERG: They were furious, they thought Comey cost Hillary Clinton the election. However, when Trump fired country because he wouldn't pledge loyalty, because he was pushing forward with the Russia investigation, I think Trump is leaving out the inconvenient fact that there was a reason that he fired him, an apparent reason he fired Comey, and that enraged Democrats as well.

BOLDUAN: Context, though, context.

So, from you know, as we look at it, from the Trump Organization, to the Trump campaign to the Trump Foundation, everything is under investigation, everything is under investigation right now, basically that the president has touched. What does this look like in 2019, do you think?

ROSENBERG: You know, it's -- there's only so much you can -- I was talking about -- I'll let him remain nameless but a prominent slightly alt-right figure. He said, all this stuff with Russia, the corruption stuff, there's too much there, it doesn't look like a witch hunt anymore.

I thought that was pretty big, considering the guy I was speaking with. The question is how big do those flames get in 2019, do they engulf the president, do they engulf members of his family?

BOLDUAN: Do you think there's one person, one figure in this, from Michael Cohen who said he would Cooperate, Michael Flynn who didn't get his sentence, who the special counsel has said he's been cooperative, or even Maria Butina, is there one figure who will be the most central in this?

ROSENBERG: I mean, it depends. I think that, obviously, if you're the president, the person who you were closest to in business was Michael Cohen. If there's wrongdoing, he's the one who's going to the most. But who dealt with what is a huge question for all of us. This Mueller probe, there's a lot going on that we don't know.

BOLDUAN: We sure don't. Let's see what happens in 2019. Thanks for coming in, Matthew. Thanks for coming in.

ROSENBERG: Merry Christmas.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, the death toll in Indonesia continues to rise, it's really unbelievable over there, along with fears that another tsunami could come along at any time. We're going to get the latest from the region.

First, though, a Christmas message from a U.S. soldier I met last week in Afghanistan.

[11:40:01] Here is Colonel Keith Benedict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COL. KEITH BENEDICT: I would just like to say merry Christmas to my parents in Arizona and to my wife and kids in Pennsylvania. Wish I could be there with you. Your support means everything from the American people. We continue to feel it here even this far away, and we cherish it. We're here to serve and do our best.



BOLDUAN: Indonesians are trying to recover from a deadly tsunami, but also facing the threat of new disasters on the way. The death toll there is now 429 people, nearly 1,500 injured.

[11:45:03] Those numbers are expected to rise. And officials are warning people that the threat of more deadly waves is very real.

CNN's Ivan Watson has more.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, since Saturday's deadly tsunami, the death toll, the number of people injured, the number of people missing, just continues to rise. Among the victims of this tsunami, the wife of the lead singer of the Indonesian pop band Seventeen, their concert was tragically cut short Saturday night when the tsunami struck. All of the bad members aside from the lead singer were killed. He announced on Tuesday his wife was killed as well.

CNN journalists caught up with some of the search and rescue teams that included a K9 sniffer dogs. Unfortunately, in the event of this team, we were informed that they had found along a nearby stretch of beach, the bodies of three adults and another toddler. So, this holiday season just so devastating for so many people in Indonesia.

A survivor tells CNN that more needs to be done for advanced warning in the event of these types of disaster.

BAPU SUWARNA, SURVIVED TSUNAMI (through translator): An early warning system is so important. It took only seconds, not minutes, after hearing the thunder sounds and then the waves hit us. From the bottom of my heart I sincerely request that the government set up an early warning system so the people can anticipate an incoming tsunami.

WATSON: Indonesian authorities say there was no system in place for this unique geological circumstance, a huge volcanic eruption on Saturday, a massive landslide, and a subsequent tsunami at a time when there was a high tide and full moon that would have led to higher water levels. That said, Indonesia is vulnerable to tsunamis.

And the volcano that caused this disaster is still very active. Our team could hear the ominous rumbling of the volcano in the distance on Tuesday. They said it sounded like distant thunder -- Kate.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN: Ivan, thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Still ahead for us, a federal judge tells North Korea it must pay for the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, half a billion dollars actually. But will Warmbier's family see a cent? That's ahead.

But also this, another Christmas message from an American service member I met in Afghanistan. Here is Colonel Briscoe (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: I miss my family, I love them very much. I always thank them for them allowing me to do this job and being patient with, you know, their dad being away, especially to my wife, who has oftentimes reminded me that she's a single parent at times when this is going on. But she wears it as a badge of honor now. Thanks for everything they do.



[11:52:35] BOLDUAN: Half a billion dollars, that's how much a federal judge in the United States has ordered North Korea to pay Otto Warmbier 's family in the wrongful death lawsuit. Warmbier was 22 years old. He was on tour of North Korea in 2016 when he was arrested for stealing a poster, yes, you remember.

The regime released him a year later. He was a coma when he arrived back in the States. He died days later. North Korea has not responded to the ruling, but will they pay?

Joining me right now is former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, Shan Wu.

Shan, great to see you. Thank you for being here.

So, a federal judge awards a half billion dollars from North Korea. Are they ever going to see any of that money, do you think?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They may be able to see some of it. The judge reacted to the anguishing nature of the case. I represent so many college students, and this is such a worse case scenario for the family.

It's really going to end up being somewhat of a diplomatic issue. The legal analysis is a default judgment. Most of the countries are sued under exceptions that don't show up. So, it's a default judgment and a collections question. There are some North Korean assets in the country. They'd have to be identified and seized. But ultimately, this is a diplomatic solution rather than a solution in the courts.

BOLDUAN: I mean, how do the Warmbiers go about it? If there are North Korean assets that are frozen, how do they get access to that? What's the process? WU: First, they have to identify what the assets are and then they would have to file legal papers using the federal court judgment to essentially put a lien on those assets and try to seize them. The more practical solution and more realistic one, although very time consuming, is what happened if you remember in the Lockerbie, Scotland bombing, where after years of litigation, finally Libya caved in to international pressure and entered a settlement for a couple billion dollars for the murders of some 270 people in the bombing.

BOLDUAN: And, Shan, one attorney who has worked with victims of international terror attacks and looking at this case, the cases like this is less about the money and more about acting as a deterrent. Do you agree?

WU: Yes, that's right. And also the nature of the bulk of this award was $150 million in punitive damages to the estate and $150 million in punitive damages to the parents.

[11:55:01] And they distinguish in the cases between punitive and compensatory. Compensatory for the out of pocket loss of such a young life. Punitive is meant to send a lesson. It's meant to deter. And that's the real value of these large sums.

Whether or not they would collect, the real message is to tell these countries you cannot engage in this kind of massacre of innocent people.

BOLDUAN: Even with the judgment, though, it brings so little to the family that lost so much.

Shan, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

WU: Good to see you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We're going to have much more -- thank you. You too.

Much more ahead on President Trump's impromptu Christmas press conference that happened this morning, digging on the border wall, talking about collusion again, attacking Democrats in Congress. What else did he say?

Stay with us.