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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Makes Surprise Visit to U.S. Troops in Iraq; Trump Defends Syria Pullout Plan during Surprise Iraq Trip. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 26, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for watching. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, holiday surprise, the President makes his first trip to a combat zone visiting U.S. troops in Iraq.

Plus, the stock market roars back to life days after the President may have sent it into a tail spin with a tweet. So does mean, Trump Treasury Secretary answer the tweet (ph).

And the man who taught the President to tweet is my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight we have breaking news. President Trump's surprise visit to Iraq, his first visit to a combat zone since taking office nearly two years ago. The President and first lady arriving at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq around 7:00 p.m. local time that's just outside Baghdad. The President spending three hours on the ground meeting with some of the 5,200 troops that are currently serving in Iraq. He also met with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq as well as commanders on the ground. Asked if he was, by any chance, concerned about flying into a war zone, the President said, absolutely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had concerns for the institution of the presidency, not for myself personally. I have concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through with the darkened plane with windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever anywhere, pitch black, I've never seen. I've been in many airplanes, all types and shapes and sizes. I've never seen anything like it. We're coming in and I know all the things that were surrounding us for safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Today's visit comes a bit of back drop of great uncertainty at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered to leave his post by January 1st two months earlier than planned after clashing with the President over his announcement last week to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, and his resignation, of course, after that. Jessica Dean is OUTFRONT now for us live from the White House. Jessica, how did this trip come about? What are you hearing?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening to you, Kate. We are hearing bits and pieces as we put this all together. The President saying today in Iraq that three or four weeks ago they started planning trip. They had to cancel, he said, a couple for security reasons because people were finding out about them, he said.

We do know that they left Washington under the cover of darkness, flew overnight to Iraq. You heard the President talking about some of those security measures. The first lady, of course, accompanying him on this trip.

And earlier today here at the White House people did start to notice it was very quiet here, characteristically quite also no tweeting from the President. That was another indication to some people that maybe there was something going on.

Once the President landed there in Iraq, reporters who were traveling with him did ask him why come specifically here? And his answer was that he had talked about the country as even a private citizen before he became President and that he really more than anything wanted to go and pay his respects to the men and women there who are serving our nation overseas, especially during this holiday season. So it was important for him, he said, to get there and to do that in person.

Now, also while he was there, he talked a little big about Iraq and our strategy there, someone asked him if he planned on pulling out the troops there, he said there were no plans for that. In fact, he said that Iraq could act as a base because he has decided to withdraw all the troops from Syria that it could act as base if America needed to go back into Syria.

And then he went back and double downed on that decision to withdraw all troops from Syria, saying that people are going to come around to his way of thinking and that the U.S. cannot be the world's policeman, Kate

BOLDUAN: All right, Jessica, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. We're going to discuss all this right now. OUTFRONT now, David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents, Kori Schake, she's former Deputy Director for Policy Planning at the State Department under George W. Bush, who has also known Secretary Mattis for over a decade. And retired Admiral John Kirby, he was a spokesman for both the Pentagon and State Department during the Obama Administration.

Great to see you all, thank you so much for being here. David, the President faced a lot of criticism for not visiting troops until now in a combat zone, I mean since becoming commander in chief, obviously. One part of that criticism was that he's making these policy decisions without seeing it firsthand. So does this trip quiet that criticism?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it will quiet some of it, not all. Some of the critics will carp that he only stayed on the ground three hours rather than see very much who is in, you know, in the interior cabinet sort of thing. But overall I think the President deserves credit for going. And, you know, he is -- we've been hammering him almost every night on various things. When he does something right, we should say so.

And this is very much a tradition for Presidents, it goes all the way back to Lincoln who liked to visit the battlefield and boosted the moral of the troops and frankly boosted Lincoln spirits. And especially since the Vietnam War, Kate, when American troops have been in action overseas, Presidents do go and it's expected of them to go. And it's a good thing President Trump did go.

[19:05:04] BOLDUAN: John, how important do you see this visit today?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think it is important. I agree with David it's important to go, I mean especially at the holidays. It's not just for the troops it's for their families back home who are missing them. So, I think there's a lot to be said for that. I'm waiting to see what he said at al-Assad specifically in the troops because my worry is when he tends to get around military audiences he tends to politicize his rhetoric in an inappropriate way.

So I'm waiting to see what he actually said. But I was glad to see he went. I'm sorry he had to be goaded into it. I'm also sorry he didn't get a chance talk to Iraqi leaders. Because his decision about pulling out of Syria and making maybe Iraq a little bit more important to the ISIS fight than it was. I mean this was an opportunity to see it from their perspective. The new Prime Minister is not convinced that ISIS is defeated as his predecessor was. They are conducting about a strike or two per week on ISIS targets in Iraq. So there was a lot of ground that he could have covered with Iraqi leaders as well and I'm sorry to see that that didn't happen.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you more about that but just a second. But Kori, while the President was on the ground he said this. This is sticking out to a lot of people even Jessica Dean was even noting it earlier. He said this, "The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world." The President said, and goes on to say, "We're spread all over the world. We're in countries that most people haven't even heard of. Frankly, it's ridiculous."

If you're serving in the military, your stationed frankly, anywhere in the world and you hear that from the commander in chief, what does that do?

KORI SCHAKE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: Well, it suggests how little the President understands about the importance of working with allies far distance from our own shores in order to protect our security. It also makes clear how little the President understands about the experience of the men and women in harm's way and their families, and how they think about these problems.

I agree with John and I agree with David that it's important that the President went, but a lot of what he said when he was there was problematic. You wouldn't realize any country but the United States was fighting ISIS to hear the President. There are 74 countries involved in the coalition to defeat ISIS, and the President didn't have a single thing to say about anybody else whose young men and women are in harm's way. BOLDUAN: Yes, and I know in conversations you have -- in conversations in Afghanistan last week and all the conversations I had about any of the fight was about with our partners Afghan partners, with our partners, NATO partners and that's were all of the conversations are when you speak to military leaders on the ground.

John, about the meeting, not meeting that was scheduled between Trump and the Iraqi Prime Minister, so it's canceled not -- we don't entirely know why. It turned into something of a phone call. But the reason offered according to the Iraqis that put on a statement was that it was due to -- and here is what the statement said, "A variation of views to organize the meeting." Couple of things, what is that mean? Why wasn't this ironed out ahead of time and how big of a deal is this?

KIRBY: I worked for two years at the state department. I can't figure that diplo speaking out. I have no idea, but I do think it was a missed opportunity for the two to get together and talk because I mean Iraq very much still is in this fight. Kori is right, it isn't just about Iraqi. There are 74 plus nations involved in this coalition and his decision to pull out so abruptly really caught everybody off guard.

And remember, Kate, that there was just parliamentary elections in Iraq about a third of the parliament now are aligned with the Shia minority and with Iran are not in all favor of American-continued presence in Iraq. So the new prime minister's got his hands full and it would have been guessing good for both men to sat down and start to work out how they're going to go forward with Iraq's now changing perspective in the war.

BOLDUAN: And David, President Trump criticized President Obama for withdrawing troops too quickly from Iraq. And that concept led to now a very famous line, let me play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TRUMP: ISIS is honoring President Obama. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS. He's the founder.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BOLDUAN: You hear that today in this kind of new perspective of -- is it called irony that he says that, but now goes to Iraq has he is announcing that he's pulling U.S. troops out of Syria?

GERGEN: Absolutely. I think it's a huge irony that this trip is taking place when he's engulfed in controversy over a decision event to not only withdraw from Syria, but to start drawing down from Afghanistan quickly. That's over the objections of his highest commanders and of course led to the Mattis resignation. I mean, the bigger irony in some ways Kate is that we have a president, Trump who lauds the troops but can't get along with the generals.

[19:10:04] You know, he's appointed four generals to major positions in his administration in the inner circle. All four have left under very difficult circumstances with him criticizing and diminishing them, you know as you know, they serve, they leave whether it's Mattis or Kelly, or McMaster or Flynn. Look at those people who had won a lot of glory when they wore uniform, came in to serve the President, boom, they got hit by him. And now he's going to salute the troops. There's somehow those two things don't fit together very well.

BOLDUAN: Kori, I was struck. Look back, he likes people falling in line, the alternative, clearly not so much. I was struck in talking about Mattis' resignation Kori and the defense secretary, he spent Christmas day working. He was at the Pentagon in his third floor office. A lot of folks work they says that's just what Mattis does, this even after the President decided to push him out two months earlier than he had planned with his resignation. You've known him for more than a decade. What do you think of his leaving end like this?

SCHAKE: Well, I think it was principled both in outlining his disagreements with the President's worldview about the value of America's alliances and the importance of America's alliances for our security. I also think it was important that Secretary Mattis and his resignation letter emphasized that the President has a right to a cabinet that supports his views and wants to carry out his policies. That kind of discipline is such a striking contrast to the reckless indiscipline of President Trump, for example, today in Iraq making really partisan political statements in front of serving troops deployed overseas, blaming the Democrats for the government shutdown, claiming that troops hadn't gotten a pay raise in ten years, which is not true, and several other mischaracterizations. It's bad for the military and it's bad for the country, for President to do stuff like that.

BOLDUAN: Yes and another mischaracterization is when he said that bid nice is we've knocked them out, we've knocked them silly, and if you can talk to a lot of generals on the ground who will tell you the contrary right now.

I really appreciate it guys, thank you very, very much.

OUTFRONT for us next, reaction to Trump's Iraq visit. What is the Pentagon saying tonight?

And the stock market way, way up today as government shutdown drags on. Plus, how does an eight-year-old migrant boy diagnosed with a cold and a fever die in U.S. custody? Their demands for an investigation tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:05] BOLDUAN: Back with our breaking news, President Trump's first visit to a combat zone. The President and First Lady visiting troops in Iraq today just days after facing bipartisan criticism for announcing orders to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. The President faced questions about this today while he was on the ground. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any plans to pull forces out of Iraq as well?

TRUMP: No plans at all. In fact, we could use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria after.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Is that true? Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT now at the Pentagon. Barbara, how do you expect Pentagon officials are going to react to that idea? That something to work on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it may well be in fact because at least it gives them some ability to try and still prosecute ISIS targets inside Syria, but it will be difficult because think of it this way. Back in 2014, 2015, the U.S. was conducting some air strikes from Iraq into Syria. But at that time, ISIS was a major force. There were convoys on the ground. They could be seen moving into cities, moving through highways and areas where they could more readily be targeted.

Now, ISIS is pretty much hunkered down, hide in a way, mixed in with civilian population, very tough to find the targets and prosecute them. Not impossible, but tough. And what you need to be able to go after those very limited targets is intelligence on the ground, real- time intelligence on the ground to do an air strike or a ground combat mission, and that's what will be missing. There will not be U.S. troops on the ground under the President's orders. I think the military will want to have the capability to be in Iraq and strike into Syria, but it's going to be something that's going to be very tough for them to do. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, losing those precise capabilities very quickly after they pull out. Thank you, Barbara. I really appreciate it. Thank so much.

STARR: Sure.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin, he sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), FOREIGN ERLATIONS COMMITTEE: Kate, good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. So, President Trump, he's taking a lot of heat for not visiting troops and combat zones since becoming Commander-in- chief. He now has. What's your reaction?

CARDIN: I'm pleased to see that he went to thank our troops for their service to our country. We'll wait to see exactly what he said over there --

BOLDUAN: Right.

CARDIN: -- because there some concern that he may have politicized his visit. But being in the war zone, thanking our troops for serving our country is something a president should do. BOLDUAN: You've been highly critical along with a lot of people about Trump's announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. You're definitely not alone. You've got -- even putting aside Democrats and Republicans, you've got Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton who also weren't on board with that. But President Trump is not changing his mind and he even went as far as to say this today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think that a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It's not fair when we burden is all on us. It's time for us to start using our head. We don't want to be taken advantage anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: He seems to think you'll be coming around on this one. What are the chances of that happening, Senator?

CARDIN: Kate, there's two major problems with the President did on his announcement of withdrawing from Syria. First, our military, our leadership believes that it's not wise in our fight against the terrorists, against ISIS that we need a physical presence in order to know where they are, to make sure they don't reemerge. So, he's going against the advice of our military. Secondly, we have a coalition and did this without consultation or working with the coalition or partners that we have in fighting terrorism. For both of those reasons this decision, we're not going to come around to his way of thinking. There's other concerns as well as to the Kurdish fighters and their safety. So there's many concerns with the way the President went about making this decision and I think it's only going to get more challenging as we go forward.

BOLDUAN: And one of those additional challenges could be looking into Afghanistan. CNN's reported that the U.S. military has been order to drop plans to withdraw about half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Senator Lindsey Graham, he told me that he fears more than anything that it draw down too big and too soon there could lead to a second 9/11 coming our way, those are his words. Do you agree with him?

[19:20:24] CARDIN: Well, I am concerned with the way the President conducts foreign policy including his decisions on where our military should be. I would agree that there's not a military solution to these problems. We're going to have to find other ways to deal with them, but the way the President is going about it is not in our best national security interests.

So, what he suggesting now on Afghanistan, once again, we have a coalition partners, there's a lot of complications in America's presence. Not being there, we lose a lot of support in the region. America's reliability is put on the line. For all those reasons it challenges our national security the way the President is doing it. He's putting America at risk.

BOLDUAN: And also I want to ask you, you guys are going to be heading back to work on the finance committee as well. President Trump, he talked about the government shutdown while he was on the ground in Iraq. He was asked if he'd be OK with $2 billion for the border wall instead of the $5 billion that he's demanding. Just to listen what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Will you do down from $5 billion to $2 billion for border security in the conversation with the Democrats?

TRUMP: Well, you know, as you know, we've already built a lot wall, we're building a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of negotiations, have you come down from your $5 billion ask to $2 billion?

TRUMP: Here's the problem we have. We have a problem with the Democrats because Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots. Not Chuck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you accept the $2 billion instead of $5 billion?

TRUMP: I'm not going to talk about it now but I will say this. We have been building a lot of wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I was struck by that, Senator, because he dodged the question three times and he had a very firm position on the $5 billion for a long time now. Do you see that as an opening? Do you think he's caving?

CARDIN: Kate, no one knows what the President is thinking. He's changed his mind so many different times. We had an agreement to continue government and operations. We're continuing resolutions and continue our negotiations into the New Year. The President signed off on that. Then he changed his mind after he heard the reaction on certain networks.

So, I'm not clear what the President is trying to achieve. I don't think the Republican leadership in Congress is clear as to what the President is trying to achieve.

One thing is clear, we all want border security. We're prepared and already have provided funds for border security. A wall does not make a great deal of sense and we know that. And the Republican leadership knows that. We can work with the President on border security, but come January 3rd we're going to have much better oversight with the House of Representatives under Democratic control. We'll get more answers.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask you, on that exact point just on the -- kind of the reality of this moment, you guys don't get back into session until tomorrow afternoon. I believe it is. At this point, do you think it is a guarantee that nothing is going to happen in terms of funding and the shutdown until the new Congress has sworn in and Democrats take control of the House?

CARDIN: The commitment made by Leader McConnell is that there will be no further votes on this until we have a sign-off from both the Democratic leader and the Speaker as well as the Democratic leader and the Majority Leader in the Senate with the President out front in support of that. I think that's not likely to happen until January 3rd with the new Congress is in session. It's possible, but unlikely.

BOLDUAN: Buckle up, everybody. Senator, thanks for coming in.

CARIDN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT for us next, as President Trump quieted some criticism with his Iraq visit today, he still faces questions at home about the stock market. Big questions about that.

And also, this continued issue with staffing. And looking for answers, exactly how and why did a second child die while in U.S. custody after crossing the border?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:27:29] BOLDUAN: Breaking news, President Trump making a surprise visit to troops in Iraq, his first, and it comes after a chaotic home alone, if you will, Christmas at the White House.

Over the holiday, one source telling CNN the President was growing increasingly frustrated with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin over the volatile stock market and also saying Mnuchin job could be in "serious jeopardy."

OUTFRONT now, a member of President Trump's 2020 re-elect advisory council Rob Astorino and Former Clinton White House Aide Keith Boykin.

Keith, too scared to be in the studio with us today, I see. My goodness not fair. OK, so Rob, the President is now angry at Mnuchin. He's asked if he can fire about the possibility. He's asks if he's allowed to fire the Fed Chairman, J. Powell. That seems to me the definition of uncertainty, something that you might have been told once or twice. Markets do not like. How is anything he is doing right now helping?

ROB ASTORINO, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2020 RE-ELECT ADVISORY COUNCIL: Well, the market's rebounded tremendously today, bigly, a thousand points. And I think -- look, there's always a correct correction in the market and there's always sell offs towards the end of the year as people try to get their tax write-offs.

BOLDUAN: Nothing like the worst Christmas Eve trading day ever.

ASTORINO: That was crazy, but I don't think Mnuchin is going anywhere. He is very well received by the Trump family.

BOLDUAN: OK.

ASTORINO: And he's trusted. And by the way, the biggest signature item of the presidency so far was ushered in by treasury, by Steve Mnuchin. So, tax cuts --

BOLDUAN: Tax cuts.

ASTORINO: -- that was the biggest thing and that could be the thing that gets him a second term.

BOLDUAN: And Keith, how do you respond to that? Because as Rob said, the market rebounded huge today. It was like roaring back, biggest daily point gain ever. So I guess forget the chaos talk altogether?

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, what the market is in right now is a stage of volatility. Markets don't like instability, unlike certainty and the Trump administration is giving them all of that with the trade policy, with the comments about the Fed, with the government's shutdown. It's chaos with people leaving and resigning. We don't know what's happening and the market don't know what's happening.

On top of that the President goes ruins Christmas with his comments yesterday. And the markets have not been happy about everything that happened before Christmas, by the way, and just one comment about Steve Mnuchin. Steven Mnuchin is by the way, he's a movie producer. He's not a treasury secretary before that. The guy went down to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico during the government shutdown, has a meeting with the "Plunge Protection Team" which sends of bells, and whistles, and alarms to people on Wall Street worried about where the banks actually have liquidity because he's out there telling people that they do and nobody was even questioning that as a fact.

I just don't think this is a team that knows how to shoot (ph). And Trump said that he was going to pick the best people. These are clearly not the best people.

[19:30:08] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Well, Mnuchin in that bizarre statement following those calls, that's one thing, but I think we would all aspire to be someone who can do their job while in Cabo San Lucas. OK? I'm just going to say that right now..

BOYKIN: Not during a government shutdown, though. His wife down on the beach while the president is shutting the government down because of a border wall in Mexico is ridiculous.

ROB ASTORINO (R), FOMER WESTCHESTER COUNTY EXECUTIVE: What's he going to do about it, though?

BOYKIN: Come back to Washington and do your job?

ASTORINO: To do what? To do what? The president is doing his job. He's the leader. He's the chief executive and he's the one.

By the way, nothing is going to get done anyway because all the senators are out of town

BOYKIN: Not when the market is in free fall. We had the worst Christmas Eve ever in market history.

ASTORINO: But it went up 1,000 points a day later?

BOYKIN: We're still on track for the worst December since the Great Depression.

BOLDUAN: You have such a different tone today.

BOYKIN: Thank you, thank you.

BOLDUAN: This was not -- this was not a good couple of days when it comes to trading.

But let's stay on Mnuchin for a second. If Trump would fire Mnuchin because his job is in jeopardy, I will look down at my notes. Trump is working with an acting attorney general, an acting EPA administrator, an acting soon-to-be defense secretary, and acting chief of staff. Not to mention that he needs a new interior secretary after Zinke, and the Senate has yet to confirm his U.N. ambassador to the -- ambassador to the United Nations.

How is that functioning?

ASTORINO: There's people in charge.

BOLDUAN: Then why do we have secretaries? Why do we have a confirmation process? Who needs it?

ASTORINO: There's an acting. It's not like there's a void. There is somebody there. Now, look, should there be more stability, it's up to the president of the United States, whomever it is to work with the people who are going to get the job done for him and his agenda, who is not just loyal but whom he trusts.

But turnover always happens, but as far as Mnuchin goes, I don't think Mnuchin is going anywhere. I think he's important to this administration.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

BOYKIN: You just mentioned Matthew Whitaker. There was a story that he lied on his resume and on government documents about his own academic credentials. This is the attorney general, the acting unconfirmed attorney general who has never been vetted apparently by Trump or anyone else, who's lying and he's the chief law enforcement officer of the country.

What kind of statement does that say about our government and law enforcement? At the same time Trump is attacking the FBI and Robert Mueller and other institutions that are supposed to be important for preserving law enforcement

BOLDUAN: Let us end here. Through it all, there is one thing that should be easy to get this time of year. Friends, that is Santa Claus. Even here, Rob Astorino, President Trump just can't. In case you all missed it, here's the president taking calls from children on Christmas Eve speaking with a seven-year-old girl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You just have a good time. You still believe in Santa?

SEVEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL: Yes.

TRUMP: Because at 7, it's marginal, right? Well, you just enjoy yourself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean you are a father of, what, three kids?

ASTORINO: My nine-year-old was happy that Santa Claus came yesterday

BURNETT: Thank God the Santa Claus didn't listen to President Trump because obviously Santa Claus came. Lots of gifts were given out.

ASTORINO: But a seven-year-old doesn't know what marginal means.

BURNETT: Is that the only Christmas miracle from President Trump on this one, not only the market bouncing back, but with a seven-year-old doesn't know what marginal means.

BOYKIN: I haven't seen the girl's reaction until now. Trump continued to talk about it anyway as if Santa didn't exist. This guy is not only -- he's going to make Christmas great again and everybody is going to say make Christmas great again. He's ruined Santa Claus.

ASTORINO: Next year, we're going to talk about elf on the shelf.

BURNETT: We'll take that on. That stays on for next year because I have a lot of thoughts on that.

Guys, great to see you. We've saved Christmas together.

OUTFRONT next, a second migrant child dies in U.S. custody. Tonight, calls for an investigation into how it happened and what are they going to the about it now.

Plus, he taught Trump how to tweet. Is he regretting that now? The president's former Twitter guru is my guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:38:38] BOLDUAN: Tonight, Democrats are demanding an investigation after an eight-year-old boy from Guatemala died on Christmas Eve in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Felipe Alonzo Gomez is now the second child to die in U.S. custody this month.

Dan Simon is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Felipe Alonzo-Gomez' final days were spent 2,000 miles from his home in Guatemala, shuffled from U.S. Border Patrol custody to the emergency room. The second Guatemalan child to die in the agency's custody this month, the tragedy is raising new concerns about whether federal authorities are equipped to deal with families with young children pouring across the border.

Incoming Representative Veronica Escobar whose district covers the El Paso area is concerned.

VERONICA ESCOBAR (D), TEXAS CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: Congress and the administration have not provided the resource in personnel and infrastructure to adequately take these folks in.

SIMON: Here's the time line from customs and border patrol.

On December 18th, Felipe and his father were taken into custody about three miles from the official border entry in El Paso, Texas.

On December 23rd, due to overcrowding, Felipe and his father were transferred to a center in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 80 miles away.

On the morning before Christmas, a processing agent noticed Felipe was coughing and had glossy eyes. He was transported to the Gerald Champion Region Medical Center in Alamogordo at 9:00 a.m. The hospital diagnosis, the common cold. Hospital staff gave Felipe Tylenol.

But things hardly got better. By 1:20 p.m., Felipe had 103 degree fever. At 2:50, he was released with prescriptions for ibuprofen and the antibiotic amoxicillin. Father and son were transferred to a temporary holding facility at another holding checkpoint. Agents gave Felipe a dose of the prescribed medication two hours later.

But at 7:00 p.m., Felipe vomited, and the agency says his father declined hardware medical assistance. At 10:00, agents concerned that Felipe was lethargic and nauseous again. So, he and his dad were sent back to the hospital.

On the trip, Felipe started vomiting again and lost consciousness. At 11:07, Felipe arrived at the hospital but doctors were unable to revive him. An autopsy will determine the cost of death.

Felipe is the second child to die in border patrol custody in the past month. Seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died on December 8th, less than two days after being detained at a remote border crossing in New Mexico. It is still unclear what caused her death. She was buried on Christmas Day in her hometown.

The deaths have prompted the CBP to announce policy changes. It will conduct secondary medical checks on all children in its custody with a focus on those under 10. The agency also says it will work with ICE to improve transportation and work with nongovernmental agencies and nonprofits for temporary housing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SIMON: Well, facing a fresh new crisis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced a series of changes that will include having all children in the custody of Border Patrol looked at by medical officials including whether or not their parents asked for it. In the meantime, the focus remains on this terminal, this Greyhound Bus terminal in El Paso where hundreds of migrants were released in the past few days really in the freezing cold with nowhere to go. Well, that created its own PR problem. Apparently that practice has stopped for the time being.

We're told more than 500 additional migrants will be released into the El Paso area tonight, but in a much more coordinated way with area shelters.

BOLDUAN: Maybe giving people a heads up. Dan, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, secrets of the president's social media habits revealed. The man who taught Trump to tweet is OUTFRONT.

And Senator Lindsey Graham hoping to convince President Trump that Afghanistan is worth fighting for 17 years later. But it is mission impossible now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we pull out, if we go to zero, this place will fall apart very, very quickly and we'll regret that decision at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:46:12] BOLDUAN: Some more breaking news just in. President Trump has just now arriving at Ramstein Air Base in Germany after his surprise visit to Iraq. We'll bring you more updates on those when we get.

Today's busy schedule giving him clearly very little time to tweet and it's stark contrast to his typical day, especially his Christmas Eve tweet storm of 13 messages many one day, including this one. I'm all alone, poor me. And another tweet comparing the Fed to a powerful golfer who can't putt.

So, how did the president fall in love with Twitter? Where did this love affair begin?

OUTFRONT with me now is the guy who taught Twitter to Donald Trump, Justin McConney. He's a former social media director for the Trump Organization.

Justin, thank you for coming in.

JUSTIN MCCONNEY, FORMER SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR FOR TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Thanks for having me on this show. Now, people are going to recognize me as the guy who taught Trump how to tweet. I'll probably need security detail when I walk out in the set.

BURNETT: Exactly. I'll be your muscle. You can definitely argue depending on your perspective, he's either the most famous or most infamous Twitter user in the world, in the president. He loves it, but he didn't always love it.

How did this love affair come about?

MCCONNEY: Well, it's interesting. They started his account in 2009 to promote a book. He wasn't involved at that point.

Around 2011, I edited a video for the company and I noticed there was no social media presence for the president or his company. They had no YouTube channel, his social media, his Twitter was very bland for someone with such a colorful personality, who go on Howard Stern and answer any type of question possible.

And he enjoyed this video I cut together for him. I quickly pitched him on the idea of getting on social media. He knew what Facebook was and Twitter was. He understood the concept, but he didn't know how to maximize to special effect. So, the way I got about it, here's a guy who doesn't use a computer, how do I explain this. I got it, TV.

Let's create content that will earn media. So we started doing video blogs from his desk. And the first one that was a hit was him answering why I use a fork and knife to eat pizza.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

MCCONNEY: It ends up on every network. And the next morning, he calls me and goes, this is unbelievable. I used to have to call like 20 reporters in here to get that type of coverage. You're telling me I can put out 20-second video clip and that's going to get in every network like this? I'm like yes. And that's what sold him on to it.

BOLDUAN: And that sounds exactly like this, because his awareness of the media, and his concern and interest all the time about his PR and how it's handled.

MCCONNEY: He is a PR mastermind. He couldn't get enough of the press. And he was very analog back then. He had a flip phone, he didn't use Twitter himself, so I would have to print out his mentioned, he would take a sharpie and mark off the ones he wanted me to retweet and respond to. He used to call me --

BOLDUAN: Oh my goodness. He didn't get it, but he got it?

MCCONNEY: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And he dictated tweets to you for the longest time. What then was your reaction when he realized in the moment that he had finally realized that he could do this himself?

MCCONNEY: Well, he asked me, I had the iPhone and he said what's better, the iPhone or the Android? I said the iPhone. He goes, the android got a bigger screen. I said there's no way he's going to do this.

I heard he's playing with Twitter in his office. No, it's not going to happen. One night a tweet goes out and it was an innocent tweet but the time it went out, like, I don't remember approving this. I start checking with people with access to the account. They're like, I didn't do this, I didn't do this. And I found out Trump did it.

And my first reaction was similar to Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park when he learned that velociraptors can open doors. I'm like, oh, no, this is -- it's not going to get any better from here.

BOLDUAN: And it literally is, it was game changing and is game changing. What do you think of his Twitter feed -- what do you think of his Twitter feed these days?

MCCONNEY: I think it can be better. I think he should be connecting more with people. Back then he was replying to people, that doesn't seem to be happening anymore. Could be less angry. I don't think the Christmas Eve tweets, I wasn't impressed by them. There's too much anger.

He has a great sense of humor and I don't think it's come across a lot in the last two years.

[19:50:00] And I think he should go back more to showing his sense of humor, and connecting with people, appearing on camera more. There's not a lot of video, and also other social media platforms. He's not using Instagram stories that often, he's not using Facebook to the best of its abilities. There's just a lot of changes he can make.

BOLDUAN: Can you tell difference between when it is his tweet and when people are tweeting for him? Because I've seen all these that people tweet for him and tweet with misspellings to make it look like him.

MCCONNEY: I can tell the difference. If there's a photo or video attached, there is no way he did it. If it is early in the morning, it is definitely him, because when I was with the Trump Organization, anything early in the morning was him, once he was in office, we took care of it. Once it was night, it was him. So, time of day is how I could try to figure out --

BOLDUAN: So now infamous mastermind of President Trump's Twitter and Twitter habits. Thanks for coming in. I appreciate it.

MCCONNEY: I appreciate it. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

Next, coming up for us, a Trump ally admonishes the president to make an overseas troop visit to those in Afghanistan.

And coming up on New Year's Day on CNN, a story of comedy great Gilda Radner. Here's a sneak peek of the CNN film "Love, Gilda".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GILDA RADNER, COMEDY GREAT: Hi, I'm Gilda Radner. And -- OK, now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People want to know, what made you funny?

RADNER: From the time I was a kid, I loved to pretend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the very first performer chosen for the cast of "Saturday Night Live".

RADNER: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just loved her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I basically stole all of my characters from Gilda.

RADNER: I can do almost anything if people are laughing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boom, ba, ba, boom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda was just not quite herself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One morning she just said, I don't know what's wrong with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The comedian gets the most unfunny thing in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She felt that she could be of help, and that's exactly what she did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How often do we get to know exactly how brave we are?

RADNER: I always felt that my comedy was just to make things be all right.

ANNOUNCER: "Love, Gilda," New Year's Day, at 9:00 p.m.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:55:43] BOLDUAN: Breaking news, President Trump just touching down at Ramstein Air Base in Germany tonight after a surprise visit to Iraq where he responded when he was there to critics who say he's making a mistake pulling all U.S. troops from the fight against ISIS in Syria.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REPORTER: Sir, what do you make of people like Lindsey Graham who say you're making a mistake?

TRUMP: Well, I had a good debate with Lindsey Graham in front of a lot of people the other day. I think even Lindsey would say that that had a big impact on him. Lindsey Graham is somebody that I like. We work together. We agree

on many things. We agreed on Justin Kavanaugh, Justice Gorsuch. We agreed on many things.

I think that a lot of people will come around to my way of thinking.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I just returned from the region following Senator Lindsey Graham. He was visiting troops in Afghanistan. Here's my exclusive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Senator Lindsey Graham is on a mission, a mission to connect with the troops but also a mission to convince a president that after 17 years, Afghanistan is still a fight worth fighting.

(on camera): You've been here so many times. Why come back this time? What is this visit about?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I always come back as much as I can. One, if you're sending people over here to fight for your country, you at least owe it to them to kind of check in on them.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): We had exclusive access to follow Graham on a whirlwind tour. He's been to the region more than 40 times, but this marks his first trip back to Afghanistan without his closest friend and confidante.

GRAHAM: This is the first trip without John McCain. This is a tough one. I was just thinking how many times I've been here, but just almost all the time with John, and the president is going to make some decisions about Afghanistan soon. I hope he makes good ones.

BOLDUAN: From Kabul to Kandahar, his message to the troops -- we've got your back.

GRAHAM: Outstanding. How long have you been here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About two and a half years.

BOLDUAN: But Graham doesn't seem so sure President Trump feels the same way.

GRAHAM: I would hope the president would come over here. I know he loves the military. I would advise him to come over here and say thank you. Understand Afghanistan being in Afghanistan is a completely different experience than talking about in the Washington.

BOLDUAN: And by being in Afghanistan this time, the senator says he received critical status updates from the top Afghan commando.

GRAHAM: A good outcome in Afghanistan is important to the United States.

BOLDUAN: And also the top American commander of U.S. and NATO forces there. Both saying ISIS is on the rise.

GRAHAM: The ISIS threat in Afghanistan is far greater than I thought it was. If you get a peace agreement tomorrow between the Taliban and the Afghan government, that will not solve the threat to our homeland.

BOLDUAN: Yet , President Trump made no secret he has little interest in committing U.S. troops to conflicts overseas. Look no further than his announcement this week.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we've won. It's time to come back.

BOLDUAN: Even before that, this was Graham's greatest fear about Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: The bad news, if we leave this place, it will go to shit in a year.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Seriously?

GRAHAM: We're going to fight this war with the radical Islam whether you want to or not. The question is, who's backyard? I choose the terrorists' backyard versus America's backyard. I choose to do with it partners. The Afghans have been good partners.

So I hope people understand that these soldiers that you see around and you talk to, they're a virtual wall against radical Islam coming to America.

BOLDUAN: What do you say to a president who ran on "we're not the policeman of the world"?

GRAHAM: I know what you're being told, President Trump, what about will happen in Afghanistan. Here's the difference, this is the center of gravity. This is the place where it all started.

If we're driven out of Afghanistan, if America is beaten after having spent all these years and this much blood and treasure, every jihadist throughout the world would be on steroids.

BOLDUAN: What would happen if President Trump decides to pull everybody out tomorrow?

GRAHAM: We could, if we make the same decision we did in Iraq, leave too soon, set in motion chaos that would make Iraq look like a walk in the park and I think one of the most likely outcomes would be a second 9/11 coming our way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: That decision by the president coming very soon.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.