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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Makes First Visit to War Zone; Shutdown Stalemate. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 26, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:17] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening to you. Hope you had a very good Christmas holiday. Jim Sciutto, sitting in for Anderson.
President Trump and the first lady have just landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on their way home from a surprise visit to the troops in Iraq. The kind of visit he had been criticized for not doing yet in his administration. Mr. Trump is returning to a largely chaotic situation here in Washington. Much of it of his own making, especially in recent days.
Since just last week, the president has let large chunks of the government shut down over funding for his demanded border wall. He mentioned it today during his visit there while repeating a number of lies on the subject which we're going to get to shortly. He also took credit falsely for troops getting their first pay raise in ten years. In truth, they've been receiving annual wages for the last three decades, oddly sadly, such routine lying isn't what's knocking Washington off kilter. It's not part of the recent chaos. The shut down is.
So is the president's decision to pull troops summarily from Syria, as his move over the weekend to give his Defense Secretary James Mattis an early shove out the door after Mattis' resignation generated good lines for him, bad ones for the president.
Also, part of the self-made mess, railing against the Federal Reserve chairman, only to watch at markets tank as a result. And of those stocks today racked up huge gains, uncertainty remains after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin made a series of really baffling phone calls to bankers over the weekend, saying the government was ready to handle a financial crisis which as far as anyone knew was not a concern until he brought it up.
There was also this. Before departing for Iraq, Mr. Trump spent the weekend treating out grievances, and settling personal scores. You might have seen this, as well. He basically told a little girl there is no Santa Claus and asking her, and we're quoting, now are you still a believer in Santa, because at 7, it's marginal, right?
And wherever you stand on jolly old elves, it is a Christmas fact that the president is now or will soon be operating without a jolly old attorney general, chief of staff, defense secretary, U.N. ambassador or special envoy in charge of the fight against ISIS. That is the backdrop to the president's trip. And we're going to get to all of it tonight. But, first the trip itself. CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now from the
Pentagon with details.
Barbara, this is the kinds of trip that requires really weeks of preparation because of the very real security risks on the ground. It doesn't happen overnight. Tell us what you knew about the run-up to this.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the Secret Service and the U.S. military, Jim, know how to do this. They did it for President George W. Bush, President Obama when there was much heavier combat going on in Iraq.
But it does take weeks of planning. None of this is at the last minute. You cannot assume this was because of some political agenda that just emerged this week. The Secret Service works with the military. They work on locking down air space when Air Force One is approaching, when it's on the ground and as it's leaving. They work on gathering any intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that they may need to keep an eye on potential adversaries in the region, satellites are watching, communications intercepts are going full blast.
They're scooping up everything they can. It's -- you know, it's a very different scenario for Mr. Trump who talked about landing in the dark and being -- expressing some anxiety about all of it. It's the kind of thing U.S. military troops in war zones do every single day, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, it was interesting he referred to that to soldiers currently in the fight -- on the frontlines of this fight.
Substantively, the president addressed troops on ISIS threat but he also brought up domestic political issues which he has done at times, the government shut down, the border wall he wants with Mexico. That's a difficult situation to put deployed troops and their commanders in, is it not? Tell us about how those issues were raised and do we have a sense of the reaction to them?
STARR: There's a couple things in the videos that's quite interesting. We see the president signing the red baseball caps that appear to say Make America Great Again. We see him taking a photo with someone who identifies himself as a chaplain for a SEAL team but those red baseball caps he is basically engaging in political activities with the troops when is he does that.
The word is the troops brought the caps to be signed. You have to ask yourself where their commanders, where the sergeants were. They should know that U.S. troops do not get involved in politics and that it is very dicey business for them to be doing this, Jim.
[20:05:06] SCIUTTO: These are important norms. They're there for a reason.
Just quickly, the trip occurred as the president has, of course, pushed his defense secretary out. He resigned in protest over several of the president's decisions, but the president after he got a lot of good headlines, Jim Mattis, that is, then brought up his departure to January 1st.
Tell us about the reaction. Mattis enormously respected, former general -- the reaction and also the move to replace Mattis.
STARR: Well, let me say something first. You know, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary has just tweeted out that there was a discussion with commanders on the ground. They've come up with a plan to work against ISIS. It's terrific in their words and that we'll all learn more about it soon.
What the president said on the ground is had he want to use Iraq as a launching point now for attacking ISIS in Syria, very difficult to do. Those targets inside Syria without ground troops will be tough to find. And Mattis knows all of this.
The Pentagon very much, you know, trying to portray business as usual, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will become acting. The president says he may be there awhile.
SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, thanks very much as always.
Perspective now on the presidential trip, the presidential turmoil at home, all the rest. Joining us for that, Rear Admiral John Kirby, who served as both state and Defense Department spokesman during the Obama administration, also former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod, he's host of CNN's "THE AXE FILES", and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who commanded troops during combat in Iraq.
So, General, let me begin with you. You were in Iraq for both President Bush's and President Obama's visits. Tell us the importance, the symbolism, why this matters to troops and commanders on the ground.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), U.S. ARMY: The one I'll relate to most, Jim, is President Bush's visit to Baghdad in 2003. That was a tour where I was there and in fact, he was visiting our unit the first armored division. And it was a surprise to everyone except the corps commander, me and about two other guys when he stepped in front of a thousand or so soldiers and they were jazzed. Hugely energetic and loved to see the commander in chief, no politics involved. They were really focused on the fact that someone within their chain of command at the highest level had come to visit them on Thanksgiving Day and served turkey and shot selfies with the troops and hobnobbed with all the soldiers.
So, that's kind of important. It's a morale factor to be there with the people serving in distant lands. So, that's a good thing. That's factual. That's good.
But when presidents come and I've seen both President Obama and President Bush visit war zones, you shouldn't get political. It's about supporting the troops. It's about showing their loved ones back home that you're there suffering hardships with them. And in President Obama's case, I think he spent three or four days in Iraq touring around Anbar province and President Bush's case in 2003, he was on the ground for about 36 hours met not only with the soldiers but also with the U.S. diplomats and with the Iraqi counterparts.
So it was not just a morale visit. It was also meant to discuss issues at hand and it certainly wasn't to politicize the acts of the today.
Jim, I'll share one story with you. We had a CODEL with us, senator one time that tried to do some of the politicalization and basically stiff the other side. I won't tell you which side was which. But I literally pulled that senator aside and said, please don't do that in front of our soldiers. They're here to fight for America, not for the Democrats or the Republicans.
SCIUTTO: John Kirby is, tell us why that matters? Because it's been a pattern with this president. We saw that during his Thanksgiving phone call to troops deployed where he brought up the wall and so on, in highly politically charged manner. Why for deployed forces in war zones from the commander in chief, why is that a problem?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, because again, you are wanting to represent to the American people on behalf as their president that you care about the mission, that you understand what you're asking them to do, and that you understand what the future holds for them. It's also an opportunity and he really missed it here to talk not just to our troops but the troops of our allies and our partners. We are allied with Iraqi security forces there and he didn't meet and talk to any Iraqi officials, gets their perspective.
They've got a new government now. They got a new prime minister, and prime minister who doesn't share their perspective of his predecessor that ISIS has been defeated there. So, I think it's not just about the morale for troops, it's about understanding what you're doing and what you're asking them to do and understanding what our allies and partners are up to.
SCIUTTO: David Axelrod, so as you watch this -- and again, listen, the president made a trip to Iraq.
[20:10:05] And in the days and weeks leading up to it, there was a lot of criticism had he not yet done that. Now, he has visited troops in a war zone, credit where credit is due, no question. But, of course, he brings up politics and he even brought his own concerns about safety, mentioning how the windows in Air Force One had to be blacked out as they were landing. He didn't say nervous but he did say he had concerns about the safety.
Is that the kind of thing that a president should do to soldiers, servicemen and women on the ground who are facing very real threats every day?
DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Clearly not. Look, first, I do want to say it's been two years, and it's good that he went to see the troops. Important that he went to do it. He was criticized for it obviously. They wanted to address that, and so I -- we should give him credit where credit is due.
But no, he should not have said that or many of the other things that he said. I was lucky enough to join the president, President Obama on a trip to Iraq and a trip to Afghanistan. And there were two purposes for each trip. The first and foremost was to meet with the troops, to boost the morale of the troops and to bring a message of appreciation from the American people and to let them know that we're thinking of them and that we're behind them.
The second was, as has been mentioned, to confer with our allies and partners and that was a very important part of it. And that clearly wasn't on the agenda here. And it does give you the sense that this was sort of a box checking exercise in many ways for the president. It was a serendipitous timing because it clearly was planned before everything that's happened.
And you know, yesterday was kind of an orgy of self-pity and rage on Twitter from the White House. So it changed the subject. It put him in a much better position and coming with all the turmoil and defense in the Defense Department, it's a valuable thing, but peculiar in many other ways.
SCIUTTO: General Hertling, so we have the optics there, the concerning comments, political with the troops. Let's get to the bigger picture, because the president made a substantive decision last week to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, which set the troops on the ground spinning a bit.
We heard that from reporters traveling with commanders who were having trouble answering questions to those forces as to what happens, next. At the same time, the president cutting in half U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He is now saying that the U.S. is in effect going to use those troops in Iraq to police across the border in Syria. Does that work?
Because that fight in Syria against ISIS has been described to me by folks in the administration as if not the most successful, one of the most successful counterterror nonconventional operations. Can you do that from afar without U.S. forces on the ground?
HERTLING: I'm going to take you back about two years, Jim. Remember way back in 2016 earlier than that when we were having so much problems with ISIS in Syria, and part of the reason we were having that difficulty is because we didn't have eyes on the target. We didn't have intelligence coming from human beings. We had overhead platforms and we certainly had a lot of jets doing their thing but you couldn't call in the fire on the right targets.
So we put troops on the ground to do exactly that. We're just going to go back to where we were before, and yes, you can certainly conduct cross border operations. Don't get me wrong. We have established a couple of forward operating bases inside of Iraq on the boundary at a place called Qim (ph) and another place which I won't mention.
But unless you're there in the fight, you can't get to the enemy, especially when you're talking about an enemy that is largely defeated but still has a little bit of fight left in them where you've got to dig them out of the ravines and out of the river banks and buildings where they still remain. That's where you really need eyes on the ground. And I personally think it is taking a huge step backwards to pull our forces out of Syria.
Politics -- you know, war is politics by other means, but this is not good politics or good warfare.
SCIUTTO: David, final question if I can, because beyond the mixing politics with a visit to the troops, the president flat out lied to the troops today. I think you have these happen so often. It's like water off a duck's back.
We want to draw attention to this because he said he gave the military a raise for the first time in more than ten years. And that he gave them a raise greater than 10 percent. Neither of those is true. The military's received a pay increase every year except 1983 which was apparently a technical glitch. By the way, the raise in the most recent year 2018 was 2.8 percent.
The president lied to forces deployed abroad. They would know it because they know what's in their paycheck. What's the consequence of that?
AXELROD: Well, you know, it's one more thing that I think creates can confusion and problems with morale. These young people I was struck when I was there and I'm sure you were, as well, Jim, and certainly the other two gentlemen know better than I how splendid these young people are, how committed they are, how difficult the work is. And they conduct themselves according to rules and norms. They expect their leaders to do the same.
So, you know, it's one more thing that makes you want to shake your head and wonder what is going through his.
SCIUTTO: Listen, gentlemen, thanks to all of you for sharing your experience there, and I hope you get some break for the holidays. We appreciate you joining us tonight.
AXELROD: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, more on the shutdown battle and the president's false statements about the wall. Also, the death of another young child in the custody of U.S. border patrol agents. Later, the road map investigators are could soon be following when House Democrats start looking into the Trump Organization. That and more when 360 continues.
[20:20:40] SCIUTTO: President Trump and the first lady are now at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It's a refueling stop. The president meeting with a number of military commanders aboard Air Force One while there, and he is also expected to get off the plane and meet with troops nearby. As we mentioned before the break, before leaving Iraq, he did speak at
length about what he's returning to the U.S. to do. Here's what he said when asked how long he thought the government shutdown would last.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We need a wall. So when you say how long is it going to take? When are they going to say we need border security? When are the Democrats going to say?
Don't forget the Democrats all agree that you will need a wall until I wanted it. Once I wanted it, they didn't agree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The president also repeated a claim that he had tweeted out before leaving for Iraq, quoting now, I'm in the Oval Office and just gave out 115-mile long contract for another large section of the wall in Texas. We're already building and renovating many miles of the wall, some complete. Democrats must end shut down and finish funding. Billions of dollars and lives will be saved.
Keeping them honest, it is unclear what he's referring to. Presidents do not award construction contracts. Departments and agencies do, but only after Congress, this is by the Constitution, appropriates the money and if as some reports suggested he was talking about money that has already been earmarked, then what he announced with great fanfare was not anything new.
Also, as CNN's extensive reporting has shown, the president's claim that, quote, we are already building and renovating many miles of wall, is only half true. Renovating, yes. New construction in fact, no.
Abby Phillip is at the White House tonight with a closer look at the wall and the shutdown over it.
Abby, we've been speaking a lot these last few days. You know, the question being, is the White House showing signs of giving ground and are Democrats, where do those negotiations if any, where do they stand right now?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, where they stand is basically that we have no more clarity today than we did several days ago. The president's rhetoric has basically stayed the same. He's talking about a desire for a border wall but not talking any amount of specifics about what exactly he would accept in terms of a dollar figure.
Now, even when he was asked repeatedly by reporters on the ground in Iraq about what number would he accept, would he accept $2 billion or less than the $5 billion that he originally wanted, the president dodged the question. He's instead put this almost solely on Nancy Pelosi who is likely to be the next speaker of the House on the Democratic side. He claims Pelosi can't give in this negotiation because she needs votes for her speakership.
At the same time, the president needs a win for his base and for now, he's simply reiterating his talking points, talking repeatedly about the wall and changing the way that he talks about the wall, talking about a fence some days steel slats on other days, talking about new wall and renovated wall, but not talking with any amount of specifics about what it would take for him to reopen the government.
SCIUTTO: And let's be honest, the Democrats offered more money, many months ago in exchange in part for a deal for DACA. The president turned that down. There's a lot of water under this bridge.
The president has been throwing out numbers about a wall, this contract for 150 miles that was awarded. And he also says we're probably up to over 200 miles of wall. Nobody knows what really the facts are here that the president is claiming.
Tell us what the truth is about the current status of the wall funding for it and new construction.
PHILLIP: Well, the president has been making a lot of those claims and nobody in the administration, the White House or the Department of Homeland Security, has been leaping to explain himself. Frankly, these numbers, the $115 billion that he says is being gimp out, well, that as you know, Jim, is not a real thing. The president doesn't just sign a check and hand out money for a contract at the border.
So, President Trump is simply taking what already exists perhaps fencing over on the border and calling it his wall. He's been doing that and similar things for quite some time now.
The question of how much wall has actually been built is that not much has been built, frankly.
[20:25:02] There has been no money allotted for that wall. The Department of Homeland Security has been working to rebuild or to renovate parts of the fencing that has already existed there for many years but the president has been eager to take credit for that. I think today is no different.
SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks very much.
Joining us now, former Trump campaign adviser, Steve Cortes, CNN political commentator and former Democratic South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers, and also former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, he is a CNN political commentator, I should say, as well.
Steve, let me begin with you. President often says he's a dealmaker. We're in the midst of a battle here. It's ultimately a political question, right? And both sides calculating that they have the politics right here, right? Democratic leadership on one side, Republican on the other.
STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.
SCIUTTO: Who in your view has the politics right?
CORTES: I think the president does. I think ultimately. I say that for a couple reasons, number one, because he ran on this and emphatic on this point, perhaps the foundational issue in fact of his 2016 campaign. He was unambiguous and the people voted for him knowing that his elemental issue was the wall. He has the mandate from the people to go forward right now.
I think that the Democrats have shown themselves to the American people to be duplicitous on this. To sort of channel John Kerry, they were for the wall before they were against the wall. The president is right, the only reason they're digging their heels in isn't because they're against border barricades. We know that's not true. They voted for it in the past.
They're against Trump's barricade for political reasons and that's really too bad. And they in my view then are responsible for this unfortunate standoff right now.
SCIUTTO: Bakari Sellers, I imagine you have a slightly different point of view. Response?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think what Steve says is absurd because he didn't run on there explicitly. Steve might have been at many rallies when the president said --
CORTES: Yes, he did.
SELLERS: Finish the sentence, Steve. We're going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.
And the fact that the president of the United States lied to the American people, lied to the world and the fact that Steve and many others believed that Mexico was going to pay for this wall is one robe he's in this hole.
The other reason he's in the hole is because Democrats are in favor of border security. In fact, we offered the president of the United States $25 billion for there asinine wall before in exchange to make sure that 800,000 or excuse me, 800,000 DACA recipients would have a pathway to citizenship. Because we're not just going to give away the entire cow, right, we just cannot do that and so a lot of people want us to just sit back and say oh, my god, we're going to do this without getting anything in return. That's not the case.
This wall is not going to fix our immigration problem in the United States. And I think most people are looking at the president of the United States and Steve and many others and saying I thought Mexico was going to pay for this in the first place.
SCIUTTO: Charlie Dent, you've been in Congress as a Republican. When security at the border has been debated before, in your view, as a Republican, is the wall necessary for security? And I suppose more importantly, as a Republican, is the president making the right bet here to say government's going to stay shut down until I get my money? CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN, PENNSYLVANIA: Well, Jim, I did
vote for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized up to 700 miles of vehicular and pedestrian barriers on the southern border. Last I check, they're close to 700 miles of barriers on the southern border.
We don't need a 2,000 mile long fence on the southern border. We all know that. I haven't heard one expert who said we need so.
So, this shut down is owned by the president. The party making the policy demand, if you don't give me the wall, I'll shut down the government, guess what, you own the shut down. Just as Senate Democrats own the last one when they insisted on DACA as part of funding the government, didn't work out, when Ted Cruz went on his suicide mission on Obamacare, that's who owns the shut down.
So, right now, the president is not in a good political position. The Democrats have no incentive to negotiate with the president before January 3rd when their leverage is greater than today. So, I'm not sure what's to be gained here. There's a simple way out of this. Simply pass the six appropriations bill that are ready and do a continuing resolution on the homeland bill.
SCIUTTO: Just to pause for a moment, because we have some live pictures coming in. This is the president. He's stepped off Air Force One at Ramstein in Germany. This of course, a stop on his way home from this brief visit to Iraq refueling. He's met with some commanders there.
Now, he's meeting with some soldiers again at Ramstein Air Force Base. This is often where soldiers are returning from deployments in places like Iraq. That might be a stop on their way home, as well. Those where is live pictures there. I want to come back to the panel now.
SCIUTTO: Sorry, Steve, go ahead.
CORTES: Yes, Jim, I really want to correct because that was a demonstrably false statement just made that no experts want more border barricades. That's not true. The Customs and Border Protection Union --
DENT: Not 2,000 miles of concrete barrier.
SCIUTTO: Not 2,000-mile. That is different, Steve.
CORTES: They have argued we need a wall. They have said -- that we -- what we have is --
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Across all 2,000 miles?
CORTES: Fencing is not adequate that we need -- they have used the word wall and it has to be a lot -- it maybe not all 2,000 but a lot more miles than we have right now. (CROSSTALK)
SCIUTTO: The President interestingly --
CORTES: At 89% --
CORTES: On the border, America's cop who's are guarding our country say they want the wall.
SCIUTTO: OK, that to be clear, that's not what the -- the President, he talked about a wall extend that the voter, beyond the fact Mexico didn't pay for it. But is issuing to me, two days ago, the President seemed to shorten the wall to 550 miles, I don't know if any other -- any other folks talk it -- are we starting to see where the negotiation could it end up Bakari?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I mean -- Jim, I really want Steve to chime in and help the American people understand why Mexico is not paying for the wall. I mean, I think that's first. I mean, I think that Steve and everyone else perpetrated this lie for a long period of time. And I think the irony of us having this conversation about a wall and it's funny that Steve is quiet because he can't answer that question. But the irony of us having this conversation about a wall --
CORTES: I'm quiet because I'm trying to be respectful --
SCIUTTO: Let him finish please.
SELLERS: Yes, I think the irony of us having this conversation about a wall juxtaposed against the President, visiting the military tonight, is it there are over 40,000 coast guard officers, who because the President wants this wall are not getting paid. They're actually, our military people, our coast guard, members are out there working right now and not getting paid for the work that they're doing because the President wants this wall. And so everyone thought Mexico was going to pay for the wall and now we have service members who are not getting paid.
I mean, I don't know how Democrats to blame for this. And right now, Republicans had the House, the Senate and the presidency. So please explain.
SCIUTTO: What is your answer to that? And I will (INAUDIBLE).
CORTES: Sure. I'll tell you two things on it. First, is I think it's worth America paying for and clearly I have a different view than the President. (CROSSTALK)
CORTES: I think -- I just said that's not what he said Bakari, I'm talking for me. It well worth it why, because a wall will pay for itself. Incredibly quickly. Perhaps, even in months. Given how much we spend on border enforcement and how much in economic vitality illegal immigration costs this country. However, if it's --
SELLERS: How --
CORTES: -- important for Mexico to pay for it --
CORTES: -- and the President says it is.
CORTES: Because it will save us -- it will save us so much. The amount that we spend enforcing immigration laws because of our porous southern border. That -- that amount will decrease vastly once we have a secured southern border.
CORTES: Because we won't need --
CORTES: -- because we won't need to be running, I'm trying to tell you. Because we won't -- for example, when we're not housing literally tens of thousands of people who have come across a porous and largely open border, that will no longer be the case. They will not be able to freely enter United States and then game our asylum laws and falsely claim that they have a right to asylum in the United States. That will stop once we have a real barricade.
SCIUTTO: I just want to keep our viewers up to date. That that was the President there on the ground on Ramstein again signing Make America Great hats is something he did in Iraq which attracted some attention. Clearly political. Not something Presidents typically do with deployed forces.
Charlie, just because we're running out of time, I want to give you final word here. This is basically a political game of chicken between Democratic leadership and the President. Who's winning? Who's going to win?
DENT: Well, I think look -- I think Democrats will win this little battle, simply because they have -- they have a lot of leverage. They're going to get -- if the President is smart about this, he'll take wall funding in exchange for the Dreamers or maybe even this Mueller protection bill. There are few things he can get in exchange for it, the question is, will the President make up his mind? And just to respond to Steve. The border patrol wants a transparent barrier. Something they can see through. They haven't ask for a concrete barrier to my knowledge. I was on that Homeland Security Committee. I knew what they were talking about. They needed detention beds, they needed roads, access roads along the border. They need all sorts of interior enforcement support which we tried provide for them secure offense act. They weren't talking about a 2,000 mile concrete barrier. It's just not true.
SCIUTTO: Folks, we're going to have to leave it there. Certainly a conversation is going to continue at least as long as the shutdown does. Steve Cortes, Bakari Sellers, Congressman Dent, thanks very much and happy holidays to you and your families.
An 8-year-old migrant relevant to this conversation. A migrant boy, died in U.S. custody on the southern border. Just ahead, the very latest on what happened, the second child to die just in the last few days.
[20:38:13] SCIUTTO: A sad story this Christmas. An 8-year-old migrant child has died at a hospital while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the second such death of a child this month.
CNN's Nick Valencia tonight, has the latest from El Paso, Texas.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a matter of three weeks it happened again. This time it happened on Christmas Eve. 8- year-old Guatemalan migrant Felipe Alonzo-Gomez became the second child this month to die while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. No official cause of death has been given. But the child died about 14 hours after a CBP agent first noticed he was sick according to a time line provided by the federal government.
Alonzo-Gomez was picked up on December 18th after crossing the border with his father in El Paso, Texas. In the following days he his father were shuffled between CBP facilities, at least one of which was overcrowded. On Christmas Eve morning, Alonzo-Gomez was taken to the hospital after showing possible flu symptoms. He was diagnosed with the common cold and given Tylenol. But under an hour later his fever reached 103 degrees. By 3:00 p.m. he was released from the ER anyway and prescribed an antibiotic and ibuprofen.
Around 10:00 p.m., the child was so lethargic and nauseous, he was taken back to the hospital. Alonzo-Gomez lost consciousness on the way to the hospital and was pronounced dead shortly before midnight.
Last week the head of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen, faced blistering questions about the detention process following the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, also a migrant from Guatemala.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many children 17 years old or younger have died in DHS, ICE or CBP custody since you took office?
[20:39:59] KRISTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY: I will get back to you on that figure. What I can tell you is that we have saved 4,200 migrants who are at distress --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well approximately, how many have died?
NIELSEN: I understand your question, sir. I will get back to you.
VALENCIA (voice-over): The intense scrutiny surrounding the deaths of two children in CBP custody this month is forcing changes at CBP which is said it is beefing up its medical screenings with a focus on migrant children under 10 years old. Others questioning the effectiveness of President Trump's much touted wall from stopping migrants from crossing the border.
REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR, (D) TEXAS: I want to point out that Felipe and his father were apprehended in the El Paso sector where a wall already exists. And this tragedy should be a wake-up call to folks who believe that mythology about walls. They just do not work.
VALENCIA: And tonight we're learning more information about migrants that are going to be released, expected to be released. It was earlier I got off the phone with Rubin Garcia, he is the director of the Enunciation House, which is a local charity here which houses migrants and refugees. He tells CNN that there is expected to be 522 migrants that are going to released tonight and he calls this a pre- plan and coordinated effort.
He says, we won't see what we saw earlier this week at this very same Greyhound Bus Station, were nearly 200 migrants were released with no food, no water and effectively no place to go. These migrants however close Jim -- or more than 500 actually are going to be -- going to shelters, Jim, these shelters that already bursting at the seam from the demand of the new influx of migrants.
SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, I know you're going to stay on top of it.
Democrats are ready to open up a flurry of Congressional investigations into all things President Trump from his D.C. hotel to possible ties with Russia. A quick road map for those investigations is next.
[20:45:24] SCIUTTO: One week from tomorrow Republicans turn over control of the House to Democrats. That means that Democrats get their first chance to demand answers and actually expect to receive them from a host of subpoenas. Randi Kaye, looking into where lawmakers may start the first family's business empire.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is the Trump Organization mixed up in money laundering? That's what some members of Congress want to find out. Deutsche Bank has a history of illegally laundering Russian money and a relationship with the Trump Organization.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: They've paid hundreds of millions of dollars and fines to the state of New York, because they were laundering Russian money. And this apparently was the one bank that was willing to do business with the Trump Organization. Now, is that a coincidence?
KAYE (voice-over): There's also the Michael Cohen problem. The Trump Organization's long time lawyer pleaded guilty in August to eight counts including campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump which Cohen said included payments designed to silence women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, which Trump has denied.
MICHAEL COHEN, FMR ATTORNEY OF DONALD TRUMP: He direct me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.
KAYE (voice-over): Voters were kept in the dark as they headed to the polls. Yet Cohen admitted in court filings that in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office, he kept information that would have harmed Trump from being made public during the 2016 elections cycle.
(on-camera): And what about the proposed Trump Tower in Moscow? Cohen had previously said talks about the Moscow project ended in January 2016 before the Iowa Caucuses, it turns out that was a lie. According to Rudy Giuliani, the talks continued into November. The month of the election.
In court, Cohen admitted he made his false statements consistent with individuals ones, political messaging and out of loyalty individual one? Just to is the individual one, Donald Trump.
(voice-over): All of this matters, because if its true, it could prove Trump was seeking business with Russia while Moscow was secretly working to get him elected. And speaking of hotels, attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. have filed a lawsuit and subpoenaed financial records from the Trump Organization and the Trump International Hotel in D.C.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: This is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C. the best location.
KAYE (voice-over): The hotel plays host to foreign officials and leaders from around the world. The lawsuit suggests the President breached the emoluments clause of the constitution which prohibits the President from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office. All said, at least five committees in Congress now poised to probe the Trump organization on everything Trump's touched, including his yet to be released tax returns.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: Also investigating Trump world, federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York and office led early in the Trump administration by Preet Bharara who we spoke with earlier.
SCIUTTO: So Preet, I'll ask you to look at this as a prosecutor might. What does -- what stands out to you about the Trump Organization if you were looking into it? What rocks would you be turning over?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: All of them. There -- I mean a lot of them have been turned over. But there are so many more and I think the Trump Organization along with associates of Donald Trump and perhaps family members of Trump and as we know Donald Trump himself are facing fire from not just the special counsel's office but also, the southern district of New York.
Also depending on what happens with the case involving Maria Butina, from the D.C. it was attorney office. There are matters are being looked at with respect to Russian interference which may have some bearing on what the Trump campaign was doing at the national security division. And then of course you have all these new gavels being handed over in the House where Democrats are taking over control of that chamber.
SCIUTTO: And listen, I mean you mentioned one of those is the Oversight Committee. Chairman Cummings talked about this. Seeking documents here. What can the President, could the White House do but turn over those documents? Of course they can refuse, but now those Democratic led committees in the House have subpoena power.
BHARARA: Yes, look you can fight subpoenas. People do it all the time and you can get into a protracted process. And I oversaw an investigation when I was working on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is bipartisan. Where we issued subpoenas and the White House would claim executive privilege and some of those gets filed up on court. What you like to do depending on the political leverage you have, not just the legal arguments that you may have underlying your claim for documents is to work out some accommodation.
[15:50:14] So, you know, if the person is not going to come to testify on subjects A, B and C, maybe they can come and testify on subjects A and B. And you saw some amount of accommodation with respect to the written questions and answers between the special counsel and Donald Trump.
So, you know, beginning in January, the Democratic chairman have a powerful tool that is backed by law. The White House also has, you know, a legal strategic tool that has been used by every administration going back to the beginning, of saying that the request for documents and the request for testimony fall outside of he scope of oversight, and more specifically, they will say there is executive privilege, there is deliberative process privilege, there is attorney/client privilege. So, both sides have weapons and defenses, but it's not going to be as easy as it has been for Trump so far. SCIUTTO: The prosecutors, they have an advantage here to some degree, right? They have two inside men, two major players in the Trump Organization, Michael Cohen, of course, but also Allen Weisselberg, the Trump organization CFO. Cohen is going to jail, Weisselberg he's been granted immunity for his cooperation. As you know better than me, prosecutors don't handout immunity unless they've gotten a fair amount of cooperation already, right?
BHARARA: It's either that and without a combination of having gotten information and also believing that person's testimony. And information is so valuable that you're prepared to accept that that person might not be punished for any involvement that he or she had in the activity. So sometimes it's the case you give immunity to somebody who, you know, is a big player in some enterprise, and sometimes you give immunity to somebody who is a little bit larger player.
But it's so important to your making case against other folks that you give special privilege to that person, so they have that. I think that's very significant. And they also have people who are not necessarily within the Trump Organization, but someone like David Pecker who is the head of AMI that owns the "National Enquirer," also has the same granted immunity and also probably has very significant information about the Trump Organization.
SCIUTTO: Preet Bharara thanks very much.
BHARARA: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Nearly 3 million men and women served this country in the Vietnam War. Donald Trump was not among them. But a half century later, one of the biggest questions about the bone spurs that he blamed for that lack of service, could finally be answered. That's next.
[20:56:29] SCIUTTO: While the President was on his first visit to U.S. troops deployed abroad, the "New York Times" revealed new details about how he might have avoided service during Vietnam, which he blamed on bone spurs, it is heels.
A foot doctor may have helped get a medical waiver. As a favor for his clinic's landlord of the 1960s, that landlord Fred Trump, the President's father. The "Times" reporter Steve Eder who broke the story, spoke with the daughters of the late podiatrist about the mystery and he joins me tonight.
So Steve, this has been a long-running question about exactly how the President came to get this deferment from Vietnam. You have dug in and discovered the back story here. Tell us what you found.
STEVE EDER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, what we found -- this is like you say, this is a 50-year mystery and lots of intrigue around President Trump and his Vietnam record, just like previous Presidents, the Presidents before him. What we found here is, you know, one possible explanation, you know, about the medical aspect of this and the podiatrist who was involved. A guy who was renting his office space from Fred Trump in Jamaica Queens, and, you know, his family, their account is that -- this was -- this family lore, a story of how their father had helped the Trumps.
SCIUTTO: So the doctor himself he has passed away, but these are his daughters who are the sources here. And their contention is that he was given favors, the doctor, Dr. Bronstein, because of this favor, they say he did for the President, or more correctly, for the President's father.
EDER: Yes. It was sort of, you know, a courtesy and a favor. You know, I think that the -- the way that they have described this, their understanding was always that it was -- you know, that their father had done this favor for Fred Trump, you know, for his young son at the time, his 22-year-old son. And, you know, in exchange he got, you know, essentially an attentive landlords, you know. If there was some kind of issue in the building, needed something, they were attentive. They -- you know, and they took care of those kinds of issues.
You know, another podiatrist who knew Dr. Bronstein, you know, told me that he had heard a story from Dr. Bronstein about, you know, how the Trumps had treated him pretty well over the years, you know, including when, you know, with rental increases and things like that with his office space.
SCIUTTO: And did -- and, again, this is the daughters describing what their father, the doctor, did. But do they say that the father told them he made up this diagnosis, that it was a false diagnosis?
EDER: This is what they say. They said that their father -- you know, the sense that they always got from their father was there was not really a disqualifying issue here. But did he actually examine Donald Trump? You know, they don't know -- they don't know those -- that level of specifics. Their father has been dead for 11 years. It was one of those stories and the family that they would discuss and talk about. You know, Donald Trump, you know, before he was President was, you know, was obviously a prominent businessman, even through the '80s. And so it was the kind of thing that would come up. It was a family story that was discussed.
SCIUTTO: Right. Now, are there any documents that they had to confirm the story? Because my understanding is the President's selective service records or draft records, they do not specify what medical condition he was specifically deferred for.
EDER: Yes, exactly. The records themselves that are available publicly, you know, through those selective service records, those don't spell out the specific condition. And, you know, one of the things that we looked into here with this piece to try to sort of get to the bottom of it and find out was, you know, are there any records. And, you know, we just -- weren't able to find any corroborating records.
[21:00:03] SCIUTTO: Well it's a fascinating story. Steve Eeder, thanks very much.
EDER: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: That's it for me tonight, I'm Jim Sciutto. But a big night ahead, a CNN Special Report, All the Best, All the Worst 2018.