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Sources: Bolton Wanted to Assure Coalition Partners that U.S. was "Staying in Syria until Iran is Out of Syria"; Judge Orders North Korea to Pay Warmbier Family $500M; 8 in 2018: Top Stories in Sports; Pope Francis Celebrate Mass at the Vatican. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 25, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[10:31:47]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning new information about what U.S. officials told their coalition partners in the weeks leading up to the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. Two sources tell CNN that National Security Adviser John Bolton ordered senior officials to meet directly with those partners to assure them that the U.S. is, quote, "staying in Syria until Iran is out of Syria."

Joining me now, former director of communications for the U.S. National -- the director of National Intelligence, Shawn Turner. Thanks very much for joining us today, Shawn.

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks, Jim, Merry Christmas.

SCIUTTO: So you heard the reporting there about really a 180. The president's National Security Adviser instructing his officials to go out and say, listen, we are in Syria until this fight is over, as long as Iran is there, then the president up ending that really in a day with a tweet. How upsetting is that, not just U.S. partners on the ground but U.S. soldiers on the ground and the intelligence officials who were backing them in this fight?

TURNER: Yes, Jim, I mean, this is the kind of thing that's terribly disruptive to our partners and allies and to our service members serving overseas. Your reporting on this validates what I've been hearing from former colleagues, and that is that there is a - you know, there are hundreds of career professionals in the Intelligence Community, at the State Department, at the Defense Department, who have spent an entire career studying the challenges that we face and learning how to bring the president decision advantage with regard to all the challenges we face around the world. And basically those people have been sidelined. And that's what I've heard repeatedly over the last six months.

And so, what you see Bolton making this call and with this kind of disconnect between the National Security Adviser and the president, when you see this kind of chaos that didn't exist under previous administrations, when there was a solid process for making National Security decisions.

SCIUTTO: And this is the point that this senior administration official made to me was that this is not isolated to the Syria decision but this is across the board for National Security decisions, that the process in effect is nonexistent, that there were no discussions and if you have those discussions, they could be up end by tweet. How unsettling is that in terms of America's broader National Security priorities beyond the fight against ISIS and Syria but Afghanistan challenging Russia, challenging China? What happens to a country's National Security I guess messaging, you could say, around the world, but also its strategy, when things are decided like this?

TURNER: You know, Jim, I served in the previous administration, both in the NSC side and in the White House in the National Security space. And I can tell you that there was a process there that while at sometimes there was a great amount of frustration with the process because it was so detailed, so involved, but there was a process there that gave our partners and allies around the world confidence that the United States was looking at these challenges and looking at these issues from every possible angle, and that we would ultimately come up with a decision that was not only in the best interests of U.S. National Security but took into consideration all the interests of our partners and allies around the world. So when there is no process, when there is this kind of uncertainty over what the president is going to do over what the National Security decisions will be here in the United States.

[10:35:04] What that does for our partners and allies is it basically tells them that they need to go it alone. It creates a situation where the United States is somewhat sidelined as our partners and allies come together to make decisions, come together to decide what's in their own best interests without the United States being at the table to have a voice in this, or with the United States having a voice that our partners and allies simply can't rely on.

SCIUTTO: And those are statements that you've heard from some of the leaders of some of America's closest allies, not just in the wake of the Syria decision but more broadly. Angela Merkel has said that. That now the French President Emmanuel Macron has said that now Europe has -- cannot count on America, which is a remarkable thing to hear from America's closest allies there. I wonder this, because of course the question is what happens as a result of this, Russia and China we know are watching very closely. Are you concerned that they seek to take advantage of this, knowing that the U.S. is pulling back? Say, China has its eyes on Taiwan. Russia has its eyes on even NATO allies in Eastern Europe. Do they look to take advantage of this by taking aggressive action?

TURNER: Yes. Look, Jim, I'm beyond concerned because we're already seeing the kind of seeds of this kind of new world order being laid with regard to not only our partners and allies having this sense that they need to go it alone, but what we're seeing in Russia and China is, we're seeing them look at the different areas in which the United States is projecting uncertainty, looking at different areas where we're having trouble in our relationships with partners and allies, and they're finding those gaps there. And you can rest assured that no country is more willing to fill those gaps than China when it comes to everything from economics to military to, you know, a wide range of issues that we're dealing with, particularly in the South China Sea as well. So it does cause me some concern that we're not seeing this for what it is and that the current administration is making decisions that are not necessarily taking the long view of what China, Russia, and others around the world are thinking.

SCIUTTO: It's a sobering landscape. Shawn Turner, thanks very much, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

TURNER: Thanks, Jim, Merry Christmas to you too.

SCIUTTO: A federal judge here in the U.S. has ordered North Korea to pay half a billion dollars to the family of Otto Warmbier. The family had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the country. The judge found that the regime is liable for the torture and extrajudicial killing of an American college student. Warmbier was arrested in North Korea for stealing a painting from a wall while touring the country in 2016. He died shortly after he was returned to the U.S. 17 months later. North Korea has not responded to the ruling. We're going to keep on top of the story and we'll be right back.

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[10:43:30] SCIUTTO: From a spectacular Winter Olympics to a big year for Serena Williams, here now the top eight sports stories of 2018 from CNN's Andy Scholes.

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ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: 2018 was another memorable year in the sports world. Serena returned with controversy. Tiger was back on top. And hundreds of women bravely came forward to confront their abusers.

March Madness had its usual drama with buzzer beaters and upsets. But it was a 98-year-old nun who captured the hearts of the country.

Sister Jean, the team chaplain for Chicago Loyola became the star of the NCAA tournament as the 11th seeded Ramblers shocked everyone by making it to the final four.

JEAN DOLORES SCHMIDT, TEAM CHAPLAIN FOR LOYOLA UNIVERSITY: Oh, don't be nervous with me.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You're a celebrity.

SCHMIDT: I know. That's what they tell me.

SCHOLES: The Ramblers would fall short as Villanova won it all, claiming their second title in three years.

At number seven, two first-time champions and a historic inaugural season, the Las Vegas Golden Knights becoming the first expansion team in any of the major four sports leagues to win their division in their first year. Golden Knights making to finals before losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're Stanley Cup champions! Yeah!

SCHOLES: This was the first title for the Capitals after years of disappointing seasons.

[10:45:02] And for the superstar Alex Ovechkin, he finally got to hoist the Stanley Cup after being considered the best player to never win a title.

In the NFL, the 2018 playoffs were dominated by an underdog and their backup QB, Nick Foels leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl against Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots. The Eagles would win their first Super Bowl, 41 to 33. Foels named the game's MVP.

In 2018, Tiger Woods finally climbed back on the top of the golf world. After nearly winning the PGA championship, Tiger Woods triumphant at the Tour Championship in September, and in an incredible scene, thousands of fans chasing Tiger up the final hole of the tournament, and for the first time in five years, Tiger had won a PGA event.

TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: This is my 80th win. And, you know, all I have gone through to get to this point, it's pretty special.

WIRE: Welcome to South Korea.

SCHOLES: The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang saw North and South Korea march in the opening ceremony together under a unified flag for the first time since 2006. The two countries yielded a joint women's hockey team. Isn't that sport where team USA saw one of their biggest victories?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What a night it was.

WIRE: Dramatic finish as American women captures Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years.

MEGHAN DUGGAN, USA WOMEN'S HOCKEY TEAM CAPTAIN: Brings tears to my eyes. It's been an incredible last 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The World Cup is officially up and running in Moscow.

SCHOLES: Sports biggest spectacle more than lived up to the hype with thrilling high-scoring, close games from start to finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is absolute pandemonium in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been an amazing World Cup. It's been a very rainy but France the fitting champions in an exciting finale.

SCHOLES: At number three, athletes using their voice. In August, the NFL season once again started with President Trump attacking players who kneeled during the national anthem. A player who started the movement, Colin Kaepernick remains out of football, but he did pick up a new sponsorship deal with Nike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.

SCHOLES: LeBron James has always been one to speak up on social issues. But in February, he was told to just, quote, "shut up and dribble" by a Fox News host.

LEBRON JAMES, LAKERS FORWARD: We will definitely not shut up and dribble. I mean so much too so many kids that feel like they don't have a way out.

SCHOLES: After losing in the finals again to the Warriors, LeBron announced he was taking his talents to Hollywood to play for the Lakers. But it was what LeBron did off the court this year that he calls the most important thing he has ever done.

LEBRON JAMES, LAKERS FORWARD: When I was younger and I said if I ever had the means or if I ever became successful or anything, you know, I want to be able to give back.

SCHOLES: LeBron opening an elementary school for at-risk youth in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Just nine months after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, Serena Williams made her return to grand slam tennis at the French Open, controversially, unseeded after her maternity leave. Later after finishing as the runner-up at Wimbledon, Serena again made the finals at the U.S. Open. And her match against Naomi Osaka turned into one of the most controversial in tennis history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You stole a point from me. You're a thief, too.

SCHOLES: Chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, penalizing Serena for receiving signals from her coach, breaking her racket, and for verbal abuse. The last penalty cost Serena a full game, which resulted in her arguing with officials that she was being treated more harshly than male players.

The number one sports moment of 2018 is the courage and bravery of the hundreds of women who confronted their sexual abuser. Former U.S. and Michigan State gymnastics doctor, Larry Nasser.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Larry Nasser is in another Michigan courtroom for another sentencing.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michigan State University is being investigated by the Attorney General's office.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Larry Nasser likely will be spending the rest of his life behind bars.

SCHOLES: More than 150 women gave impact statements at a marathon sentencing hearing for Nasser. And in June, many of those women took the stage at the ESPYS as they were honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. And gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman was among them -- gave an inspiring speech.

ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST: If just one adult had listened, believed and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would have never met him.

SCHOLES: But sports in 2018 will be remembered for empowerment and perseverance. From Serena to gymnasts, inspiring women are making their voices heard, building a foundation for years to come.

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[10:54:44] SCIUTTO: A very Merry Christmas to you, your family, to all our servicemen and women serving both here in the U.S. and far from home. Christmas celebrations happening around the world this hour, it's a time of peace, reflection for Christians honoring the birth of Jesus.

[10:55:00] This morning, Pope Francis hosted a Christmas mass at the Vatican. Later, his message delivered to St. Peter's square, he encouraged the faithful to denounce materialism and selfishness. He also wished for this, quote, "fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture."

There were smiles on the faces of migrant children off the coast of Libya. These children rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers provided the children with toys and games and even Santa hats there, as you can see. In China, the small Catholic population there celebrating mass. Tibetan Catholics also marking the day with traditional dancing and cakes. And a festive but very chilly celebration in Germany, the Berlin Seal swimmers took their traditional dip in a lake. The temperature, a cool 39 degrees Fahrenheit, ouch. But the Christmas cheer is surely keeping them warm this winter.

There is much more ahead on CNN. A very Merry Christmas to you. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan will be right back after a quick break.

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