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U.S. Military Ordered to Plan Major Withdrawal from Afghanistan; Trump Says Possible Oversight by Democrats is "Presidential Harassment"; Trump Blasts Comey During Christmas Remarks; Mueller Expected to Wrap Up Russia Probe in 2019; Top 8 Stories from 2018. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 26, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:00] MAJ. ISAIAH THOMASON, U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD: It's tough. Like I said, with kids, Christmas is a lot more important to them so it becomes a lot more important to me. Missing their faces. Face Time helps a lot. But still, you can't make up for it.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: How many Christmas have you been away from your family?

THOMASON: Oh, probably five.

BOLDUAN: You can't even count them anymore?

THOMASON: No. It's past counting now.


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: We thank you for your service, and Kate for bringing us that report.

Up next, presidential harassment. That's what the president calls potential oversight by incoming House Democrats who are going to take over the majority. I'll get reaction from a member of the House Judiciary Committee next.


[13:35:13] BASH: President Trump is already trying to head off the incoming Democratic majority in the House, declaring that oversight by the Democrats amounts to nothing but presidential harassment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That'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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Joining me now from Memphis is Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, Democrat on the House Judicial Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining me.

First, your reaction to what you just heard from the president.

REP. STEVE COHEN, (D), TENNESSEE: Oversight is one of the principle roles that Congress is supposed to play. And in the 115 Congress, which was an embarrassing Congress, they didn't engage in oversight. They instead were complicit with Trump in everything he's done to violate the Constitution, whether it be emoluments, whether it be potential obstruction of justice, whether - anything he engaged in. They're supposed to engage in oversight. Instead of running interference for him, Nunez was running over to the White House and having a press conference. It was embarrassing. But we're going to engage in congressional oversight, the role of Congress and a proper role.

BASH: No question, it is the role of Congress, constitutionally, as you mention, but then you have the politics. How concerned are you, particularly as a, you know, red-state Democrat? Memphis is not conservative territory, but still, you're a southern Democrat. How concerned are you about overreach and that it could backfire?

COHEN: I don't think there will be overreach because I think this man has done more things that need oversight that have been neglected the last two years. And while we'll be working on things that are positive for the American people in terms of health care costs and prescription drug prices and preexisting conditions and voting rights, et cetera, we'll concentrate on oversight well. There's been so much, just numerous areas where he needs to have oversight. We'll engage in that. I think people elected Democrats and what us to this, to put a check and balance on this president who is out of control and we'll respond to what the people elected us to do, both providing things they need in their daily lives and for protection of our democracy and the rule of law.

BASH: Congressman Cohen, the president spent part of his Christmas going on attack. One of the people on the receiving end of that was former FBI Director James Comey. Take a listen.


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


BASH: Congressman, does he have a point? Democrats, including you, were calling for Comey to resign, saying that he was not doing the job correctly as far as the investigation of Hillary Clinton and other things. Does he have a point there? COHEN: He does in terms of fact that Senator Harry Reid and I both called for his resignation in late October when he reopened the investigation into the public and I thought that helped the defeat of Hillary Clinton. Nancy Pelosi nor Chuck Schumer did call for the resignation. But there was a difference. That was outside of the parameters of what the FBI director was supposed to do that close to an election and it did have an effect and it was wrong. But after that, when the Russia investigation got going, it was clear James Comey, who is a man of rectitude, who did that for the purpose of making clear that there was no reason with Loretta Lynch to back off of the investigation and he told Congress it was closed and he felt it was incumbent upon him to announce to Congress that it wasn't closed, it was open, and he made a mistake. But as time went on, we saw he was a good steward of the investigation --

BASH: So --

COHEN: -- of really foreign involvement in our election, it wasn't right. And the president fired him not because of the Rosenstein memo that he called for to say that was the reason, but it was what he told Lester Holter --

BASH: So you're saying --


COHEN: -- that he was firing him because of the Russia thing.

BASH: You're saying, in retrospect, that the way he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation was right?

COHEN: No. I'm saying it was wrong. It was wrong. I understand where he was coming from. He thought he was doing the right thing to protect the FBI and the Justice Department, but I think he was wrong to announce it. It sent a letter. He let the letter go public.

BASH: Right.

[13:40:04] COHEN: It did have an effect to cause people to change their minds. But after that was done, and he took control of the investigation, he should not have been involved or fired for the fact he would not kowtow to the president.

BASH: Let's look ahead to the new year. Presumably, Robert Mueller, his investigation will wrap up at some point in 2019, produce a report. Do you and your fellow Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have a plan yet for how to proceed once the report is finished?

COHEN: I think we're looking to the report because, like in Watergate, it will be a road map to areas where we need to proceed. There has to be hearings on violations of the Emoluments Clause and on obstruction of justice. Chairman Nadler will make those decisions. But those are two areas. There will be others, too. We need to have those hearings. Once we get Mueller's reports, I think we'll have other hearings where we'll see there's been violation of law and constitutional authority. Whether they lead to impeachment or not is another issue. But I expect --


BASH: Are you confident the Mueller report will be public?

COHEN: I'm not confident it will be public but I think Whitaker was put in there strictly to make it not public. But I think Mueller will find ways through the courts, through the grand jury, just as they did during Watergate, to see if it becomes public. They'll be subpoenas and he can testify. And need be, I think Bob Mueller is such a patriot that if he has information which I believe he does that I think the judge in the sentencing of Flynn showed that he saw through the non-redacted report that there was issues with Russia that bordered on treason or were treasonous, I think he will come forward no matter what it takes to save our country from --

BASH: I'm sorry --

COHEN: -- from the activity that occurred in the past.

BASH: I have to go, but want to ask, are you saying you've seen something that suggests that Michael Flynn committed treason?


BASH: OK, I just wanted to make sure.

COHEN: But what I think you saw with what the judge said, what the judge said, that the judge saw --


BASH: Which, to be fair, he then apologized and said he went too far.

But we'll have to leave it there. We're out of time.

Thank you, Congressman, so much, for coming on. Happy holidays to you.

COHEN: You're welcome, Dana. Happy New Year to you.

BASH: Thank you.

A renewed fight for gun reform, a battle at the border, a nation divided over a Supreme Court justice. Up next, the year in politics.


[13:46:48] # : Political headlines dominated 2018, from a contentious confirmation battle for a Supreme Court seat to the death of political giants. Here's a look back at the year in politics.


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

EMMA GONZALEZ, STUDENT: 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.


BASH: Then their demand for stricter gun laws went global with march for our lives.

DAVID HOGG, STUDENT: We can and we will change the world.


BASH: Washington felt the weight of several icons passing away in 2018.


BASH: Senator John McCain died in August after a 13-month battle with brain cancer. The naval fighter pilot and Vietnam prison 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.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE 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, (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: She was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning.

TRUMP: Immigration.



BASH: President Trump continued to put immigration front and center in 2018 posing 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.

[13:49:59] TRUMP: We're not letting these people invade our country.

BASH: After the election, the president stopped talking about the caravan, but not about immigration. He ended the year with a government shutdown over 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: 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 fire-hour Trump/Kim meeting, they announced a denuclearization agreement.

TRUMP: We've developed a special bond.

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

ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D), CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT, NEW YORK: You have made history tonight. BASH: It was the year of the woman, with record-breaking numbers of

women running for and winning race at the local and national level, especially Congress, 14 women elected in the Senate, bringing it to a total of 25. And 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, leaving to a day of public testimony for the ages, starting with Christine Blasey Ford.

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, ACCUSED KAVANAUGH OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: 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.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: 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 had been sexual 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 reelection 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.

BASH (on camera): Big deal? Very big deal?

JOSH HAWLEY, (R), SENATOR-ELECT, MISSOURI: Big deal. Very big deal.

BASH: Think that could make the difference?

HAWLEY: Yes, I do.

BASH (voice-over): 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 contact 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.


BASH: 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. He is looking at the possibility of more charges from the special counsel.

And 2018 ended with the president nominating a new attorney general, William Barr, to oversee the investigation after he fired Jeff Sessions. And Mueller's team bringing charges against 32 entities and individuals. Five people leading guilty and four sentenced to prison.


[13:55:17] BASH: What a year. Buckle up for 2019.

That's it for me. "NEWSROOM" with Ryan Nobles starts right after this.