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Government Still in Shutdown; RBG Recovers from Surgery. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 25, 2018 - 15:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Today, Christmas Day, President Trump suggested attempts at oversight by Democrats who will take control of the House in nine days could lead to what he called presidential harassment.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES: Well then it's probably presidential harassment and we know how to handle that. I think I handle that better than anybody. There's been no collusion. After two years, no collusion. There has been collusion but it's been by the Democrats.



BASH: It's not the first time the president used that term when hammering Democrats, especially those critical of his administration, and it's not the first time he used it when talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation. But so far, multiple people linked to the president have pleaded guilty to various charges.

With me now to discuss this is Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor and CNN Analyst. Presidential harassment, is that just his term for checks and balances?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, I'll tell you this, Dana, I was a prosecutor for a long time, I've heard a lot of different cases and statutes. There is no such thing as presidential harassment on the law books.

I think what the president is trying to do, really, is create a narrative here. A narrative that casts himself as a victim, a victim of Robert Mueller, of the southern district of New York, of the FBI and he's now anticipating what's going to happen next week when the democrats take over the House of Representatives and I think he's correctly anticipating that he's going to see an onslaught of subpoenas and investigations.

But a little bit more even sophisticated than that, I think he's trying to advance this notion that he's above the law, and his lawyers have gotten onto this as well, that because he's the president of the United States, he can do whatever he wants, he cannot be subpoenaed, he cannot be indicted, he cannot even be investigated.

I think we're going to have a real legal showdown there.

BASH: Yeah, I mean look, I think you're exactly right, that he is playing the victim. And it works. I mean, some of his political advisers have told me that the more Russia is in the news, the more it helps his numbers politically because those independents who are not thrilled with him, some of them tell their pollsters that they feel that he's getting a raw deal.

So I think that is exactly right. That plays into it. You are an attorney. You don't just play one on TV like me. Do you -- if the president called you and said, hey, Elie, I saw you on TV and I want some legal advice going into the next year, what would it be?

HONIG: A couple things. First of all I say, look, put down the phone, stop tweeting. Or at least stop tweeting about this case.

BASH: You wouldn't be the first person to ask him to do that, but go ahead.

HONIG: I know. I think he's a tricky client, I'm not sure he'd listen to me, but you do the best you can do as an attorney. Look, he's only digging himself in deeper, especially on the obstruction case. Every time he tweets out something about this case, it's going right into Mueller's obstruction file.

And the other thing, I think this president would be well advised, as much as he might not want to do it, but to take a page out of Bill Clinton's book in the late '90s. When Bill Clinton was being investigated by Ken Starr, Clinton created a separation.

He basically said, I'm going to go on being president day by day, I'm not going to directly address this case publicly, my lawyer are going to handle the criminal investigations, the congressional investigations, but I'm going to create a separation so I can do my job and not be distracted and not have myself dragged into it. I think that's a pretty savvy way to approach what's really a difficult situation.

BASH: Yeah, I mean, Bill Clinton cut deals with Republicans, there was a shutdown then and at the end of the day, the Republicans got blamed for it. That's a different story. But you're right, he's not an easy client, let's say, when it comes to President Trump, which is, I think, an understatement, the biggest understatement of the year.

HONIG: I'd take the case. I'd do my best.

BASH: You would take the case? Alright, good to know.

HONIG: I'd try. I like a tough case, sure.

BASH: Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: And up next, an update on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's recovery from cancer surgery.


BASH: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is recovering after undergoing cancer surgery on Friday. And as the Supreme Court icon continues to try to get better, a new movie about her life releases today.

The film, titled "On the Basis of Sex," chronicles the early chapter of RBG's fight for equality. Brooke Baldwin spoke to the movie's star, Felicity Jones, and screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, who is also Justice Ginsburg's nephew.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: She is a legend here in America and beyond and when you are cast in the film, I had read that then you went out to dinner with Justice Ginsburg. What was that like, just sitting in the same space, you know, inhaling the same oxygen as someone so extraordinary? And also what observations did you take to use in the film?

FELICITY JONES, PLAYS RUTH BADER GINSBURG IN NEW MOVIE: Initially it was hugely nerve-racking.

BALDWIN: Was it?

JONES: Very intimidating to be playing someone who is so hugely beloved and adored and has got to the position she's in because of her integrity and her sheer hard work. So initially, you know, you just sort of -- you're taking it all in. But I mean, she's phenomenal.

The way that she managed to change a system that didn't even want her there. The system was saying, you should be in the kitchen, what the hell are you doing trying to enter the courts? And the way she managed to navigate that and harness that frustration and turn it into something incredibly positive is just remarkable.

BALDWIN: Was -- to get her blessing for this film, was it easy?

DANIEL STIEPLEMAN, SCREENWRITER, "ON THE BASIS OF SEX": Her response was, "If that's how you want to spend your time." So I guess that was easy. For me the hardest part was asking because I had the idea initially at my uncle's funeral, which is not the ideal place to come up with an idea for a movie.

BALDWIN: But you never really fully heard about this first human rights case until -

STIEPLEMAN: No, I had never heard about this case.

BALDWIN: Uncle Marty's funeral.

STIEPLEMAN: And it was sort of astounding that like - it was like oh, right, at some point you were my age and you became Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Like how did you do that? And so that was what I wanted to understand and I wanted to understand their marriage because I was pretty newly married and my wife and I really looked to them as our role models, this is what a marriage is supposed to look like, because they're such great partners.

BALDWIN: So the film, though, starts, so she's at Harvard Law at one of very, very few women in this class.

STIEPLEMAN: Yes, nine in a class of 500.

BALDWIN: And then it goes through this first massive case where she is there with her husband standing in front of the Tenth Circuit Court arguing this case for this man. Why choose to really focus on that case for the film?

STIEPLEMAN: Because it's the only case that Ruth and Marty ever argued together. So the story is really, it's about a marriage, it's about a family. It's about the two of them fighting in court for what they also figured out to do at home, which was live as true equals.

BALDWIN: There was a line, speaking of achieving, there was a line from this Harvard Law School professor that is repeated by now Justice Ginsburg, when she's standing in front of the Tenth Circuit Court, she says, "A court not ought not to be affected by the weather of the day, but the climate of the era."

And just lastly, can you speak to the significance of that quote, of that sentiment, and just the climate now in America, especially for women?

JONES: Absolutely. It was fascinating talking with Justice Ginsburg last night. We had the screening in New York and she was saying how fortunate she was to be the right person at the right time and that time was with her in order to effect great change. And I was thinking how we need that person now, obviously, to carry on the baton that Justice Ginsburg started.

BALDWIN: Do you want to add to that?

STIEPLEMAN: Yeah, I mean, what I'll say is, you know, what I learned from Aunt Ruth is that sustainable change comes from changing the culture, but you also have to change the laws and the institutions and that's what she did. I mean, there's enough - to quote my own writing again, there's another line where she says, you know, "We're not asking the court to change the country, we're asking to protect the right of the country to change."

BALDWIN: Well done.

STIEPLEMAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Well done. Congratulations.

JONES: Thank you very much. BALDWIN: Very much to you both.

STIEPLEMAN: Thanks for having us.

BALDWIN: Thank you.


BASH: And up next as the president vents about the partial government shutdown entering its fourth day with no end in sight, we'll take a look at the top political headlines of 2018.


BASH: Political headlines dominated 2018. From a contentious confirmation battle for a Supreme Court seat, to the death of political giants. Here's the year in politics.


BASH (voice-over): When a former student opened fire, murdering 17 people, including 14 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Emma Gonzalez and fellow survivors channeled their sorrow into action.

EMMA GONZALEZ, ACTIVIST: For every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you!

BASH: Across the country, thousands of students heard the cry coming from Parkland, Florida, and staged a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each victim of the shooting. Then their demand for stricter gun laws went global with March for Our Lives.

DAVID HOGG, ACTIVIST: We can and we will change the world!

BASH (on camera): Washington felt the weight of several icons passing away in 2018.

(voice-over): Senator John Sydney McCain died in August after a 13- month battle with brain cancer. The naval fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war was known for bucking his party and reaching across the aisle to get things done. In classic McCain style, he asked the two men who defeated him for president to eulogize him.

FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: I don't know what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.

BASH: His final maverick move? Not inviting the president he tangled with and worried about as America's leader to his funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We honor our 41st president --

BASH: The country also mourned the death of former President George H.W. Bush, described as decent, honorable and gracious. The 41st president, who managed the end of the Cold War without a shot fired, was eulogized by the 43rd president, his son. FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: Let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have.

BASH: A family grieving for not one parent, but two. With the passing of 41's wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, just seven months earlier. An American icon, who was remembered by another famous son.

JEB BUSH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: She was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning.

TRUMP: Immigration. Immigration. Immigration.

BASH: President Trump continued to put immigration front and center in 2018, imposing a controversial family separation policy.

TRUMP: When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.

BASH: Images of children in cages sparked an outcry from both sides of the aisle, along with revelations that at the height of the policy, more than 2,600 children were separated from their parents after entering the U.S. illegally.


Bowing to political pressure, the president reversed himself and signed an executive order to end the separation. A few months later, in a raw political move to motivate his base, he warned against a caravan of immigrants headed to the southern border.

TRUMP: We're not letting these people invade our country.

BASH: After Election Day, the president largely stopped talking about the caravan, but not about immigration. He ended the year threatening a government shutdown if he did not get funding for his signature campaign promise, the border wall.

The president stunned the world in Helsinki this year, when he stood next to Vladimir Putin and not only failed to admonish the Russian president for meddling in American elections, he accepted Putin's denial.

TRUMP: So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

BASH: Angry Democrats and Republicans lashed out in disapproval. Senator McCain called it one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. But that wasn't the only 2018 Trump shocker on the world stage. After months of rhetorical fire and fury with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, President Trump broke precedent by agreeing to a summit in June in Singapore. After a nearly five-hour Trump/Kim meeting, they announced what they called a denuclearization agreement.

TRUMP: We have developed a - a very special bond.

BASH: Despite the warm embrace, 2018 comes to an end with reports that the hermit kingdom is still operating secret missile bases.


BASH: It was the year of the woman with record-breaking numbers of women running for and winning races on a local and national level, especially congress. 14 women elected in the Senate, bringing it to a total of 25. 102 women will serve in the House next year, breaking the previous record of 85. Women from all walks of life are flooding the Hill, with one exception. Republicans. Only 13 GOP women will be in the house next year. The lowest number in a quarter century.

Supreme Court fights are always high stakes, but President Trump never imagined what would happen when nominating Brett Kavanaugh, someone he thought was a rather safe pick. Several women came forward, accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, leading to a day of public testimony for the ages. Starting with Christine Blasey Ford.

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling.

BASH: Kavanaugh followed with a fiery defense.

JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: I'm not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done this.

BASH: Ford's story touched a nerve among women across the country who have been sexually assaulted and afraid to come forward or not believed. A new front in the Me Too movement. Republican Jeff Flake had just announced he was a "yes" vote, and this happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter.

BASH: A rattled Flake worked with Democrat Chris Coons to delay the vote for a week while the FBI investigated. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed to the high court's swing seat. Trump's second Supreme Court win in just two years.

A Kavanaugh "no" vote would cause trouble for some red state Democrats up for re-election in places like Missouri, where that state's now GOP senator-elect, Josh Hawley, predicted it would be a game-changer. And he was right.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like, that could make the difference?

HAWLEY: Yeah, I do.

BASH: GOP backlash over the Kavanaugh fight energized their base and helped republicans maintain their majority in the senate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And CNN projects that Democrats will reclaim control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

BASH: On the House side, a very different story. Democrats found that blue wave and rode it back into the majority, winning 40 seats. Almost twice the 23 needed to take back the House.

TRUMP: There was no collusion whatsoever.

BASH: It's been over a year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller was given the mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with Trump aides or associates. The president spent the year trying to undermine it.

TRUMP: It's a terrible witch hunt.

BASH: The Mueller investigation has revealed that many in Trump's orbit had contacts with Russians. 16, to be exact. But the most stunning revelation, Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison and turned on the president, cooperating with federal investigators.

The president now calls Cohen a liar and a rat. And after months of claiming his innocence, the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, pled guilty to several crimes not associated with the Trump campaign.


He cut a deal with Mueller, which by year's end, fell apart.