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Christians Celebrate Christmas Around the World; Trump Spends Christmas at White House as Shutdown Continues; Mattis Delivers Final Christmas Message as Defense Secretary. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:35] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you and a very merry Christmas to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy Harlow has this morning off.

And we begin with Christmas celebrations around the world today. A time of peace, a time of reflection for Christians on the birth of Jesus.


SCIUTTO: This morning, Pope Francis celebrated Christmas mass at the Vatican. Later in his message in St. Peter's Square, he encouraged the faithful to denounce materialism and selfishness. He also wished for, quote, fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture. Quite a message this morning.

There is an extra reason to celebrate in Iraq. For the first time in that nation's history, the Iraqi government has marked Christmas Day as a national holiday. Country is still home to some 300,000 Christians.

In England, Queen Elizabeth and the royal family spent their Christmas morning celebrating mass. Newlyweds Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are spending their first Christmas as husband and wife. They are set to welcome their first child in the spring. The queen is expected to deliver their Christmas message to the nation in a tradition in the next hour.

And a bit of a tradition in Australia, it is, of course, summer there, southern hemisphere. So, Christmas for many means a day at the beach, decked out in Santa hats and Christmas cheer. Thousands spending the holiday in the sun. That doesn't look so bad today.

Meanwhile, President Trump, he celebrated Christmas morning at the White House, not his Mar-a-Lago as originally planned. This as we entered day four of a partial government shutdown. He is now the first president to spend December 25th at the White House since President Clinton did in 2000.

Abby Phillip joins me now with more on his schedule today.

Abby, so I believe Melania came back last night. He's no longer alone in the White House as he was tweeting about yesterday. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. A

bit of a change of plans for President Trump and the first family. Melania Trump did return home just shortly after President Trump tweeted: I'm all alone here. Poor me.

But this is because of a government shutdown, a partial government shutdown that began more than three days ago and so far, there is no sign that any progress has been made, meaning that President Trump is going to be here for the foreseeable future and last night, he and the first lady went out. They celebrated mass at the National Cathedral, the midnight mass on Christmas Eve and President Trump also spoke to children who called in to the NORAD Santa tracker, annual tradition here at the White House.

Usually, President Trump and the first lady will do this down in Florida at Mar-a-Lago, but since they are here, President Trump really has been consumed by so many things -- the government shut down and the resignation of his defense secretary and his demands for a border wall.

But at least so far, Christmas morning, it has been relatively quiet here. He's sent one tweet wishing the country a merry Christmas and in just a few minutes, we're expecting President Trump from the Oval Office to speak to troops who are deployed overseas, another annual tradition of presidents going back many, many years. This time, President Trump will do it in the oval office.

SCIUTTO: Well, when he did it on thanksgiving day it was interesting and we'll bring those comments to you as they happen.

Abby, please stay with us.

Amid all of the holiday cheer, a reminder that we are four days into a partial government shutdown. It has left some 800,000 Americans either out of work or working, but not getting paid. Meanwhile, the president is airing his grievances on Twitter, attacking Democrats, the Fed, a Republican senator and senior officials who have recently left his administration. The stock market also saw its worst Christmas Eve ever. Let's not forget the Mueller investigation and the walls that have been closing in on him, the president for the last few week.

Abby back with us now, along with Manu Raju and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian.

Manu, first of all, thanks to all of you for coming on Christmas Day. I hope your families aren't going to punish you when you get back because my family certainly is, but I appreciate you coming.

Manu, let me start with you. What's happening on the Hill? Senators left town and there doesn't seem to be substantive negotiations to resolve the impasse over the spending bill.

[09:05:04] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. There are virtually no negotiations that are happening at the moment. The last face to face interaction was Saturday, as Vice President Mike Pence came up to Capitol Hill, met with Chuck Schumer and Schumer rejected that offer out of hand. That offer at the time, the $2.5 billion for border security and for that border wall, that was less than what the president has proposed, $5 billion, but more than what the Democrats have said which is $1.3 billion, which Schumer and the Democrats are in no mood to negotiate knowing that they as a matter of days going to control of the House on January.

Now, the House and Senate don't get back until Thursday. At that point, it's not clear any more progress would have been made by that point and members are supposed to give 24 hours before any vote were to happen on the floor of the House or the Senate. So, that basically means putting it as soon as they get a vote on anything would be five days before Democrats retake control of the House. So, at which point people are saying this will probably last for days, if not weeks into the New Year.

So not much optimism at this point and yesterday, Democratic leaders put out an aggressive statement saying that the president is responsible for plunging the country into a crisis at the moment and they don't know who the president is negotiating with and they don't know where it stands on some of these numbers, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, beyond the politics, you just have to remind folks. These are 800,000 people who might have trouble making ends meet this Christmas. They don't know when they're going to get paid and the worst time of the year you can imagine for families.

Karoun, clearly, Democratic leadership and the president and they're making a political judgment here, right, that this is to their political benefit to dig their heels in. Who's right? Who stands to gain from a protracted shutdown and who stands to lose and who will take the lion share of the blame?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, at this point both sides are trying to spin very hard to make sure the other side does, right? You saw Trump go from I'll own the shutdown about a week ago to it's Democrats' fault and Democrats have been labeling this a shutdown within the get go. I think each one's message will play fairly well with their base, but then it gets to the point where, yes, it's difficult for you to be out of work at the holidays and the people not who are out the work and the ones watching are distracted at the holidays as well.

When we get back from that and this goes deeper into January and they can't resolve it right away, everybody is going to be to blame and it's not like congressional approval ratings are sky high these days and neither is President Trump's and they both have to be making this calculation. I think at this point, because Trump said that he owned it, he's taking more of the brunt of it. But it depends on how long this is going. If the Democrats can't find a way to bring some sort of a deal to the table that Republicans and especially the president can accept once they take power, they'll start to shoulder a little bit of the faulting, too.

SCIUTTO: Abby, Newt Gingrich, he raised the prospect -- this is someone who supports the president, the president seeks his counsel sometimes, he raised the prospect of this quid pro quo. Trump gets the money for the wall and then you have a DACA deal, and that is a compromise that has been discussed in months past.

Is that a possibility here to resolve this or is that -- or is that as a reality off the table?

PHILLIP: Well, given that we are making almost no progress, I guess anything is a possibility, but as you mentioned, this is something that was on the table months ago in a number of different forms, and the White House rejected each and every one of them as possible options. President Trump would have gotten $25 billion in border security had he traded it for a deal on DACA with the Democrats.

But because we were going into a midterm election cycle the White House calculated that it would be more important to the president and to his base to fight for the wall going up into November than it would be to strike a deal earlier in the year and so here we are still talking about the same kind of quid pro quo, but again, I don't hear any sense from this White House that that's something that President Trump is willing to do at this moment.

That being said, from the very beginning, it has not seemed that there has been much of a plan here on the part of the president and his advisers. This has been a day-by-day operation for President Trump. In fact, last week when he rejected the -- I'm sorry, when he rejected Senate majority leader's clean bill which the Senate put to a vote and passed it was a surprise to a lot of people. As Manu know, people were telling folks on the Hill that the president was going to sign that bill.

So, again, we don't know what tomorrow is going to bring, but this is all President Trump. This is all what is the president willing to accept? Where does he think his base is? And I think at the moment, he's very concerned that he's going to get really slammed by folks on the right, by the talk radio hosts, by TV personalities and I think that fear has not gone away.

[09:10:00] Whether it will go away on January 3rd when Nancy Pelosi takes over, that's a different story and I don't think we will know until then.

SCIUTTO: Yes, so many of these decisions, including national security and the Syria withdrawal based in part on what the president's gut is that particular day.

But, Manu, the markets did not like the president's attacks on the Federal Reserve chairman, discussions as some reported last week of firing the Federal Reserve chairman because he views him as raising interest rates and therefore single-handedly bringing down the markets -- of course, there's a whole host of factors.

I'm just curious, when you're speaking to Republicans on the Hill are they concerned about the president attacking what is an institution that by design is meant to be independent of the president and independent of Congress, as well? RAJU: No question about it. Not only are they concerned about him

going after an institution and its independence, but they also like the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell. They believe a lot of Republicans do, that he's been doing actually a good job.

They don't blame him for the problems in the market that are happening right now because Republican conservative orthodox, they don't like the more interventionist ways of past Fed chairman including Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen and the way Powell has raised interest rates and that is the appropriate way to handle the Federal Reserve. So, Powell was confirmed overwhelmingly by both parties and you've heard a number of Republican senators in recent days saying going after Powell and the talk of dismissing him. That would not fly in this Republican Senate.

Of course, the question, is does he legally have the authority to do that which is one reason yet president is going after Steven Mnuchin instead for that decision to pick Powell, but clearly there's another support for the Federal Reserve chairman within the president's own party.

SCIUTTO: The market did not like the suggestion of interference and it dropped. That's one of the reasons it had the worst Christmas Eve on record. We know that the president places a lot of stock, shall we say, in where the Dow is as a barometer of the success of his administration. When it was going up he was talking about it every day, practically.

What is the level of concern for the president to watch it going south and going south? By the numbers we are officially in a bear market now.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I wouldn't be surprised if the president tries to start to distance himself from previous comments about how the success of his presidency can be measured by how well the stock market is doing. But, look, Trump has to be watching that closely. He's made very clear through off-the-cuff statements and he thinks that this matters a lot, he thinks it's a judgment call, it could explain why he's taking proactive steps to react which is making the situation worse.

I mean, you can't completely solve the stock market in just the financial system. The stock market reacts to all kinds of things, such as immediate pullouts of troops from different posts around the world. When people are feeling uncertain, that uncertainty is relayed in the stock market and this president has made clear, especially in the last two weeks that he changes his mind from day to day, whether it's the shutdown, or how he's acting as commander in chief or what he's going to do with his financial top advisers.

So, that creates more uncertainty and makes situations worse and that makes Trump look at that and panic more and react more and it's kind of a cycle that continues in that way.

SCIUTTO: Vicious cycle. Listen, guys. Keep a promise for me. Spend time with family and friends today at first opportunity, but thanks for -- thanks for joining us this morning.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: New concerns on how the U.S. is making its decisions about national security. A senior administration official telling me that the process, quote, has basically stopped working. What now?

Plus, you may consider it a Christmas miracle. Wall Street closed for the holiday because this is one December investors certainly do not want to remember.

And a rising death toll now, extensive damage. We are just learning how big the deadly wave was that devastated parts of Indonesia.


[09:18:13] SCIUTTO: Defense Secretary James Mattis is extending some holiday wishes during his final days as a member of the Trump administration. For announcing his resignation, Mattis wrote a letter. In it, he honors the sacrifices that our country's service men and women are making and urges them to carry on the, quote, proud legacy of those when came before them.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, Defense Secretary Mattis, he has aren't let the past weeks' events and months because we know there's been disagreement between with him and the president for some time, but really a heartfelt message to the many thousands of U.S. troops deployed if broad this holiday season.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. And I think it's important to remember, Jim Mattis is a veteran. He is a marine of many decades of service and has seen combat in many locations, a lot worse has happened to James Mattis and the troops he's led than Washington politics. I think that would very much be his view.

He will be just fine, but in addition to his written message to the troops, he recorded a message it's not at all clear yet. It has been broadcast, but it is out there, and many of the troops are listening. Listen to part of it.


JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Since Washington crossed the Delaware at Christmas in 1776, American troops have missed holidays at home to defend our experiment in democracy. To all you lads and lasses holding the line in 2018, on land, at sea or in the air, thanks for keeping the faith. Merry Christmas and may God hold you safe.


STARR: And I have to tell you, I think that that is the message from so many commanders right now at this holiday season for the troops which is you're out there. You're doing your job. [09:20:00] Keep doing your job. When we have something different to

tell you, we will.

They know that the troops, the rank and file are very uncertain right now, feeling some anxiety about what has been happening and there's very much an effort to calm that down -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And Jim Mattis, always the historian. Of course, he'd remind us. I forgot that the crossing of the Delaware was on Christmas Day.

Your sources are telling you that Mattis based on his experience had strongly-held views on U.S. national security priorities. That clashed with the president, is that right?

STARR: Well, that is right. I mean, Mattis has his world view. He is always someone as a student of history who plays the long game. Mr. Trump, perhaps much more mercurial, making more instant decisions as your own reporting is showing and that is something that simply came to a parting of the ways in Jim Mattis' view and it did come to a head after many weeks over the issue of withdrawing troops from Syria seen by the secretary as not being well thought out and well planned and being something that Mr. Trump apparently decided upon when he had a phone call with the Turkish leader who wanted U.S. troops out of northern Syria and Mr. Trump agreeing -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, happy holidays to you.

STARR: You, too.

SCIUTTO: We'll see you soon.

A frightening new revelation about the process that goes into matters of national security for this country. A senior administration official tells me that the decision making process has, quote, basically stopped working. The same official says decisions regarding the safety of our country are now made on a whim on phone calls.

Joining me now is Samantha Vinograd, who once served as a senior advisor to the National Security Adviser under President Obama.

Samantha, thanks for joining us today.


SCIUTTO: So, I spoke -- I had a long conversation with a senior administration official yesterday just expressing alarm at the process here. Let's look at the Syria decision for a moment done summarily after a phone call with the Turkish president. Why is it important, if you were to mach a decision to pull troops from a country, to do so consulting with your senior advisers, but also consulting with your partners in the field?

VINOGRAD: Well, putting the cart before the horse, in this case, a presidential decision absent of policy process means that the president has no idea what the second or third order effects are of that decision. We're seeing that play out right now when we have allies with Emmanuel Macron criticizing us publicly, the Kurds expressing doubt about their own safety and President Erdogan taking a victory lap, unfortunately.

The Situation Room was created for a reason. It was not an architectural experiment and when I was at the White House the difficulty is not finding enough time to get in all of the meetings that we wanted because in those meetings, Jim, and you have different levels and you have the deputy secretaries that meet and then the secretaries and the full national security council, you really hone the intelligence on a particular issue and develop a range of policy options for the president so he can make a fully informed decision. Absent that kind of process, there is no way that the president in the first instance can fully understand the intelligence ahead of him, nor can he fully understand every policy option he has to choose from and again, what the second and third order effects are of making a particular decision.

SCIUTTO: Well, one is leading allies in the fight in the lurch and that was the message from speaking with officials and the Syrian Democratic forces and they're blocked in the battle and the final chapters against is and they're learning that American allies will disappear and the same source and another telling us at CNN that the national security adviser John Bolton, in recent weeks, he instructed senior officials to meet face to face with partners in the fight to deliver the message that the U.S. will be in Syria, as long as Iran is in Syria. This, of course, reversed by the president.

What does this say about John Bolton's position as national security adviser if he's sending folks out to the world to deliver one message, and the president reverses that summarily?

VINOGRAD: Well, Jim, we have the National Security Council and the national security adviser runs these National Security Council meetings and is in lockstep with the president so there's a message of cohesion within the president's team that's message abroad. The fact that the national security adviser went out and talked about our presence in Syria and the president undercut him really just lets every foreign leader around the world know, they really have to just pick up the phone and call the president like president Erdogan did, ask a favor and the president will agree no matter what he has told his national security team and that undercuts the ability of the national security adviser and other officials and just messages that foreign leaders can just go straight to president Trump.

[06:25:00] and he'll accept what they have to say.

SCIUTTO: Samantha Vinograd, it's an alarming portrait there. Thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: Stock prices, they're falling around the world after just a dismal Christmas Eve on Wall Street here on the U.S. The markets in a freefall not seen since the 1920s. You heard that right. Coming up, how the president and treasury secretary could play a part in what's happening.


SCIUTTO: The markets being closed today may actually be a Christmas gift to investors. Stocks continued their slide yesterday on Wall Street. All three indices ended the short Christmas Eve session down more than 2 percent, keeping stocks on track for the first December since -- you hear this right -- the Great Depression.

The selloff coming despite an attempt by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ease investors' concern. He ended up doing the opposite.