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Trump Makes Surprise Visit To U.S. Troops In Iraq; Dow Soars 1,086 Points In A Miraculous Comeback; Trump Has No Plans To Pull Troops Out Of Iraq, Could Use Iraq As A Base If We Wanted To Do Something In Syria; Trump Defends Shutdown: American Public Is Demanding A Wall And He Will Do Whatever It Takes To Get Funding; Trump: Pelosi "Is Calling The Shots" On Shutdown; New Questions After Boy Caught At U.S. Border Dies In Custody; Trump Touts 'Progress' Despite Latest U.S.-North Korea Problems. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 26, 2018 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:08] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now. Breaking news. Trump in Iraq. The president and first lady pay a surprise visit to U.S. troops near Baghdad. Will their thank yous be enough to erase doubts about president's decision in withdraw U.S. forces from Syria? And prediction that people would come around to his way of thinking through or misfired.

Whatever it takes, as the government shutdown stretches into its fifth day, the president says he's willing to wait as long as necessary for Congress to approve money for his border wall. Is there any room for compromise?

Record-breaking rally. After enduring the worst Christmas eve in history, U.S. stocks rack up their best day of the year as Dow Industrials break a record soaring more than a thousand points. What's behind the turn-around?

And little boy lost. An eight-year-old from Guatemala captured at the border dies in U.S. custody. It's the second such death of a child in a month. What went wrong this time, and can more deaths be prevented? We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

ACOSTA: We are following major breaking news this day after Christmas. President Trump and the First Lady greeted U.S. troops in Iraq today. It's the first commander-in-chief trip to a conflict zone and comes only days after he announced U.S. forces will be pulling out of Syria. A decision that provoke the resignation of defense secretary James Mattis.

The president also had plenty to say about the government shutdown and his demand for billions of dollars from Congress for a border wall. We'll get reaction from Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, a member of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents, analysts and specialists. They have full coverage of the day's top stories. But first, let's start with CNN White House Correspondent, Abby Phillip. The White House, Abby, kept the president's trip under wraps, as expected, until just a couple of hours ago.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. President Trump here left the White House under the cover of darkness on Christmas day, and President Trump said that he had been planning this trip for several weeks, but it had been rescheduled numerous times due to security concerns. But in the three hours that they spent on the ground, they met with troops and commanders, greeted them in the Mess Hall, and then the president delivered remarks.

Now Jim, we have to remember that this is a conflict in Iraq that President Trump has repeatedly called a waste of U.S. blood and treasure. But President Trump is still, even as he is on the ground in Iraq, saying that the U.S. is not going to continue to be the policeman of the world.


PHILLIP (voice-over): In a surprise holiday season visit, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump landed in Iraq to visit with troops stationed at Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad.


PHILLIP: Leaving the White House under the cover of darkness on Christmas Day, the trip marks Trump's first visit to a war zone as president. And it comes less than a week after Trump ordered a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria at a partial drawdown in Afghanistan. On the ground in Iraq where some 5,200 U.S. troops are still stationed, the president defended his decision to leave Syria. A call he made without consulting military advisers earlier this month.

TRUMP: I think that a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It's time for us to start using our head.

PHILLIP: As Trump seeks to boost morale among soldiers and commanders stationed abroad, uncertainty remains about the U.S. strategy in the Middle East to combat the terror group, ISIS. Two years after he falsely claimed that President Obama was responsible for ISIS's rise --

TRUMP: ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS. OK? He's the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton. Co- founder.

PHILLIP: Trump is now facing criticism that he has abandoned U.S. allies in the region who are still fighting to crush the terror group. Even as he insists they have already been defeated, telling reporters --

TRUMP: We've knocked them out. We've knocked them silly. PHILLIP: All of this unfolding amid an avalanche of problems on the

home front, including a partial government shutdown that the president isn't backing down from. Trump telling reporters in Iraq that the border wall must be funded.

TRUMP: Do whatever it takes. I mean, we're going to have a wall.

PHILLIP: While 800,000 federal workers spend the holidays in uncertainty due to the partial government shutdown, the president complained that he was all alone in the White House after he cancelled plans to travel to Florida for Christmas. Trump's sour mood was fueled by steep losses on Wall Street this month, caused by his own trade war and his sharp criticism of Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell.

[17:05:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the Fed chair?

TRUMP: We'll see. They're raising interest rates too fast. That's my opinion.

PHILLIP: A source familiar with the matter says Trump has blamed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for the decision to recommend Powell for the Fed job and his failure to calm markets. And despite Trump's praise of his treasury secretary yesterday --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still have confidence in Secretary Mnuchin?

TRUMP: Yes, I do. Very talented guy. Very smart person.

PHILLIP: Mnuchin is still under the gun and his job may be in serious jeopardy, that source says.


PHILLIP: Now, Steve Mnuchin might be receiving a little bit of a Christmas reprieve after the stock market's massive rally today, over 1,000 points regained after some steep losses on Christmas Eve. And President Trump is also saying to reporters in Iraq that he's planning to go to the border wall sometime in January before the State of the Union address. But before he returns back home from that visit to Iraq, we are told by the pool reporters traveling with him that he'll make one more unscheduled stop before returning to Washington. And also returning to that partial government shutdown. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. And we know you'll be watching all of that, Abby Phillip. Thank you very much. And for more on the president's surprise trip, we're joined by CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr and retired admiral John Kirby, who was the spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department during the Obama Administration.

And Barbara, this trip comes to Iraq just days after the president announced a complete withdrawal of troops from Syria. What more are you learning about this decision, and what the president is saying today? What's your response to that?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president had a very interesting wrinkle on all of this, Jim. He suddenly said that, you know, ISIS is not so dominant any more. Didn't say specifically defeated, as he previously said. Not so dominant. And suggested that if ISIS comes back in Syria, the U.S. will be able to conduct operations against them in Syria from positions inside Iraq. That may be militarily very difficult.

If you're going to conduct air strikes, if you're going to do ground operations, you have to have very specific detailed intelligence from the ground, and if U.S. ground troops are not in Syria, that may be very tough to come by, just as Russian, Syrian, Iranian-backed militias, ISIS are all on the move inside Syria. Everybody is maneuvering, everybody plans to take ground as the U.S. Withdraws, Jim.

ACOSTA: And John, the president said today that ISIS was basically defeated. He said they had been knocked out, knocked silly, and so on. But he also wants to use Iraq as a base to launch attacks in Syria. How practical is that? What do you make of the president saying that? It sounds as though he's keeping a reserve plan in place in case they hadn't been defeated.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Right. It's kind of going against what he said before.

ACOSTA: Right.

KIRBY: And we know that they're not defeated, Jim. I mean there's no argument about that. He seems to be the only one to think they're completely gone out of Syria. But go back to 2014, 2015. That's exactly what we were doing. We were based in Iraq and we were launching strikes into Syria.

Barb brings up a very good point. That gets harder to do, particularly now that ISIS has gone more to ground in Iraq and Syria. The targets are more dynamic. Fleeting, more fast. And there's fewer of them. So that's why the boots on the ground and getting the geolocation and the intel on the ground makes the targeting much more effective. It was one thing to go after ISIS targets in 2014 and 2015 when there were more of them. When they were more overt. When they had infrastructure to hit. That's not the case now. Now is the time to press the advantage and it's the worst time to take the troops out.

ACOSTA: And Barbara, we saw the president signing a campaign hat, a red hat, his "Make America Great Again" hat. Is that unusual, to see the president doing that on base? Does this run the risk of the president, you know, facing some accusations that he's turning some of this into a campaign stop? What do you think?

STARR: Well, you know, this is very interesting. The pool reporters traveling said that the troops brought the hats with them, including one hat that said "Trump 2020." We will have to see if that actually proves to be the case. The question is if they brought them or if the president brought them. What commander allowed that to really happen? Because this is very much against military policy and regulation. Troops are not supposed to be involved in political activities. The U.S. military is not a political force. And there's no question, the saying "Trump 2020" and "Make America Great Again," those are political slogans of a Trump campaign. They are not governmental sayings, to say the least.

ACOSTA: Right. And John, I mean, what would the concern be if something like that is going on, do you think? Or is this just, you know, a soldier is there, he's got a hat in his locker and he runs over and says, hey, when am I going to have another chance for the president to sign one of these things?

KIRBY: Yes, look, I mean it kind of blurs the line, because Trump is his slogan, and where is that line? But Barb is right. It is in fact a campaign slogan, that's a campaign item, and it's completely inappropriate for the troops to do this.

ACOSTA: Not supposed to do it.

[17:10:02] KIRBY: Not supposed to do this. And I'm sure their boss is seeing that. They're not going to be happy about it.

But look, the president has to take some ownership of this, too. Every time he's around military audiences, he tends to politicize it, and he brings in complaints and grievances from outside the realm of military policy. This was wrong for him to do it, as well. I'm going to be really interested to see, Jim, when we get video of his comments to the troops, his actual speech in Al Asad, and I hope that he didn't politicize those sets of remarks, but we have to wait and see.

ACOSTA: And Barbara, speaking with the president said there, the president said today that he's not in any rush to fill the job of defense secretary. The position that Mattis resigned and I guess he'll be vacating sooner than expected. Does the deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, have the experience to lead the military for the foreseeable future, if that's what the president is planning?

STARR: Well, if that's what he's planning, you know, that's what it's going to be. Shanahan is a long-time Boeing executive. He has a lot of experience in large organizations and corporate matters, large budgets, acquisition, innovation, all the issues that he's been dealing with as deputy defense secretary.

As he takes on acting secretary, what officials are saying is, he will have to rely more on the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, the vice chairman, General Paul Selva. He will have to rely on military advice as he forms any recommendations for the president.

Remember, Mattis had been in the Marine Corps for decades and had been in the most senior command positions. So Secretary Mattis had a lot of military operational experience himself. He didn't need to rely on the uniforms quite as much. This will be a much more traditional construct, I think, where the acting secretary of defense will likely turn to the military to get their views, their advice, as he forms any recommendations for President Trump.

ACOSTA: OK, Barbara Starr and John Kirby, thank you very much. Joining us now is Democratic congressman, Denny Heck of Washington. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. Happy holidays.

Want to start first with the President's comments that we saw in Iraq and we're hearing some of it, some of these clips are going to come in, in dribs and drabs because of technical problems that some of the crews on the ground there in Iraq had getting that video out. But on the surprise holiday visit to Iraq, the president apparently said about ISIS, we have knocked them out. We have knocked them silly. Have we?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, first of all, Jim, let's all be glad that the president is no longer alone in the White House. Evidently the markets are, as well. I am going to set aside any criticism I might have of him for visiting Iraq two years into his administration. I think it should have come much sooner. In part, because I'm glad he finally did it. And better late than never. I think it's totally appropriate for a president to go to war theater and extend to the troops the heartfelt wishes and prayers, frankly, of the American people.

But I think what is deeply disappointing is that when he went to Iraq, he used it as an occasion to advance his specific policy objective as new policy to withdraw from Syria. And I think that's highly inappropriate use of a visit like this. He ought to be there first, foremost and last and only for the troops that are there.

ACOSTA: So you think engaging in this kind of political debate and trying to tout this decision to move U.S. troops out of Syria was a mistake.

HECK: Totally. He ought to be there for the troops. Jim, I have the unbelievable honor to represent the 45,000 people per day that report to work at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord outside Tacoma, Washington. And I've had the privilege to be in Afghanistan to visit with some of those people. There was only one purpose for that visit. Not just to learn more, but to extend to them our best wishes and to let them know that the American people are as supportive of them as service members as we can be. And on behalf of the American people, that's what the president should have been doing. Period.

ACOSTA: And President Trump was highly critical of President Obama in his decision to remove troops from Iraq. You'll recall during the campaign. Abby Phillip just played it a few moments ago. He referred to President Obama as the founder of ISIS and so on. Does it appear, in your view, that the president has a plan to avoid a similar outcome this time around?

HECK: The only plan that I've ever observed from President Trump, frankly, is that he pull out one of his four tried and true plays. He only has four. He doesn't have three, he doesn't have five, he doesn't have any other number. And his four plays are deny, attack, play the victim and change the subject or distract. And virtually everything that he does falls into one of those four categories.

Now, my concern of late, Jim, is that as the Mueller investigation appears to be reaching a crescendo, and is greater peril to him, then when he plays the distraction card, change the subject card, it has to be more chaotic, more dramatic, in order to change the subject and divert attention from where the Mueller investigation has gotten to us at this point.

[17:15:12] And so I think there is great peril for America, the American government and the American people as we get closer to the conclusion of the Mueller investigation that he will do things like this, just to change the subject.

ACOSTA: And meanwhile, as you know, congressman, we're now into the fifth day of a partial government shutdown and President Trump said earlier during this trip to Iraq he's willing to do whatever it takes to get a wall. Let's play some of what he had to say.


TRUMP: Whatever it takes. I mean, we're going to have a wall. We're going to have safety. We need safety for our country. Even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border. We have the terrorists also coming in through the southern border.


ACOSTA: Your response to that, congressman.

HECK: Well, first of all, I think all Americans want improved border security. I know I certainly do. But I would say a couple of things about it.

First of all, this is not what he said last week through his vice president. Who told the Senate that he was OK on the clean continuing resolution without his $5 billion demand for a wall. And as a consequence of that communication from the vice president of the United States, the Senate passed unanimously that continuing resolution. It was only after he heard from a couple of hosts on brand X alternative network that he decided to change his mind.

So it's not clear to me what he says is going to hold for how long. That's the first thing I would say about that. And we just don't know with him.

Second thing I would say about it, Jim, is let's remember that we have appropriated money for improved border security. Last year it was nearly $1.4 billion. And nowhere near all of it has been spent. So he's asking for American taxpayer dollars, not for the Mexican government to pay for it, as he promised at the beginning of his campaign, when he hasn't even yet spent that which he was given for the last fiscal year.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Denny Heck, thanks very much for joining us. And happy holidays. Good talking to you, congressman. We appreciate it.

HECK: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: And stay with us. We'll have more on the president's visit with U.S. troops in Iraq, including his latest comments on the government shutdown. Plus huge breaking news on Wall Street. Investors follow up a Christmas Eve bloodbath by setting biggest percentage gains in nearly a decade.


[17:21:44] ACOSTA: We're following multiple breaking stories at this hour. President Trump made a surprise visit to Iraq today. We'll have more on that in a few moments. There is also breaking news on Wall Street. If you missed it, get this, after suffering through the worst Christmas eve in history, U.S. stock markets roared back today, posting record gains. CNN's Alison Kosik is that the New York Stock Exchange. Tell us about this very quick turn-around, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the bargain hunters certainly in full force for an incredible rebound for the Dow, making its biggest single-day point gain in history, it's best day coming after its worse Christmas eve. The massive surge coming at some investors have said the selling over the past couple of months was just overdone. You look at it since its October peak, the Dow has lost 5,000 points. Some people have been questioning why since all the economic data in the U.S. really doesn't point to a looming recession.

But what has undercut confidence lately and really heightened in the market are the political risks and impact of President Trump's tweets and statements attacking Fed Chairman Jay Powell. They have actually moved the markets. It's been a catalyst driving them down. It's undermined confidence and although today was just a massive day for the Dow, Trump's unpredictable nature that continues to be a threat to the stability of the market.

The question now becomes, can this upside momentum continue or is this going to be just a one off? Now, it's also going to be interesting to see if President Trump's tweet -- if he tweets about the Dow's remarkable move higher. Keep in mind, he hasn't taken any responsibility, Jim, when the market has moved lower. We shall see what happens tomorrow.

ACOSTA: We have certainly noticed that. All right, Alison Kosik, thank you very much.

Now to another of the afternoon's breaking stories today. Unbelievable. President Trump on his way home after a whirlwind visit to U.S. forces in Iraq during some three hours on the ground, the president met with U.S. troops and commanders, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. And on the return flight, he and the first lady are stopping at a U.S. air base in Germany.

Let's asks our correspondents, experts, analysts about this. The president what he had to say on this trip. John Kirby, I guess better late than never for the president. What did you make of what he did there on the ground? I mean there was some politicking, it appears. And playing some defense in terms of some of his policies.

KIRBY: Yes, look, I mean, first of all, I'm glad he went. I mean it's good for a commander-in-chief to visit the troops. It's good for their morale and for their families' morale at holidays. Nothing wrong with that. I'm reserving judgment until I can see what he actually said to the troops in his speech at Al Asad. I'm not surprised that Iraq was chosen. And I know this trip has been weeks in the planning, but certainly comes at a good time for him in terms of being able to articulate the reason why he wanted to pull troops out of Syria. And so, look, Iraq is going to be even more important now going forward based on that decision that was before.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can articulate it, and he did, more than we've heard, saying that he's going to keep troops in Iraq, about 5,200 right now. And that that's how he will deal with Syria from Iraq. A lot of people don't think that's the way to do it, because you remember President Obama -- you remember. You were there. Tried that.

ACOSTA: He tried that.

BASH: But the other thing that was really striking is him saying, ISIS has been annihilated. You know, maybe that's true. But if the U.S. pulls out of Syria, and that is not the case any more, you've got a mission accomplished banner over air craft carrier scenario all over again.

[17:25:04] ACOSTA: That's right. And we haven't seen the video yet. We should not to our viewers. We're waiting for that to come in. We've had some technical difficulties on the ground. Let's play a little bit of what the president had to say one week ago when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and I'll get April Ryan's take on that, on the other side.


TRUMP: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beating them badly. We have taken back the land.


ACOSTA: And apparently, this is according to some of the pool reporting coming out of Iraq, April. And obviously, we need to wait for the full context of everything that's been said, the full verbatim. But he says ISIS is very nearly defeated. And that Turkey and others will knock out what's left. He said he's spoken with President Erdogan, and that president Erdogan will jump in and fill that void, apparently. What do you make of, you know -- sounds as though the president may be slightly walking back, you know, that announcement a week ago when he said ISIS is defeated.

BASH: Yes.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He has to walk it back because, Jim, as you know, ISIS is something that is just not a bottom line. We saw that with Al-Qaeda. You had to work diligently in various countries to be able to beat them back, take their ground.

You know, for ISIS it started in the Obama Administration, and they're continuing. And the problem is, if the United States pulls out too soon, there's an issue of reconstitution. That they could grow once again. The United States is a large force that puts a lot of pressure on Syria for ISIS and the fight against ISIS.

But here's the issue. Our allies. We have to worry about our allies, as well, who are very upset about this pullout, without any conversation with our intelligence community to make sure that this was the right thing to do. And then also, you would have to remember, ISIS is this big group, but they also believe in this lone wolf mentality. Taking someone and sending them somewhere to do something large. A large-scale. One person. It's not like Al-Qaeda getting people to fly into planes any more. One person can just create mass destruction.

So this president is being made aware after he made his knee-jerk reaction as a distraction some would say like Congressman James Clyburn, the incoming Whip of the House who says it's a distraction what he's done to try to get people off of other things. But he's had this knee-jerk reaction now people are talking to him and it sounds like he's trying to listen now to fix what could be a big mess in the long run.

ACOSTA: OK, Jeffrey Toobin, we'll get to you in a few moments. We're going to come back in a moment and get that hot take on the other side. That will be a big tease. Everybody will wait to hear what Jeffrey has to say after the break.


ACOSTA: Exactly, all right. And we'll be right back.


[17:32:20] ACOSTA: And we're back with our correspondents and analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, you recall during the campaign when then candidate President Trump went after Barack Obama, called him the founder of ISIS because he pulled the troops out of Iraq. And the vacuum filled with these terrorists. And now he wants to pull troops out of Syria.

Let's go back and listen to what President Trump said about Barack Obama during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: ISIS is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder of ISIS. OK? He's the founder. He founded ISIS.

I meant he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her too, by the way, Hillary Clinton --

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO SHOW HOST: But he's not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He's trying to kill them.

TRUMP: I don't care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq, was that, that was the founding of ISIS.

Obama is the founder of ISIS, OK? The founder.

Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS. Because of his weak policies, and because he failed -- he failed. Because he failed to get them out. Because he failed to do something about it.


ACOSTA: Jeffrey Toobin, now you have the President today in Iraq defending his troop pullout of Syria to the troops, to the U.S. troops in Iraq today. That was part of what he had to say. What do you think about all of this?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think that that campaign talk was just campaign libel and absurd. I think what you actually have to look at is what the President has been saying for a long time about troops in the Middle East. This is a very interesting part of Bob Woodward's book, where he keeps saying to his generals, why are we in Afghanistan 17 years later? Why do we have all these troops over there?

I think a lot of Americans are pretty sympathetic to that view. That, you know, we send troops in the Middle East, and we rarely make things better.

I think the aberration was the talk during the campaign was simply an idiotic way of attacking Barack Obama. But the core idea of wanting troops out of the Middle East is something I think Trump believes, and is something that I think a lot of Americans have sympathy for.

BASH: Jeffrey is so right. There's no question.

RYAN: But Jim --

BASH: There's no question that the President lines up with Barack Obama and Democrats like Barack Obama in the notion of America shouldn't be the world's policeman. And it's why Donald Trump is completely at odds with everybody except Rand Paul in his party on Capitol Hill.

[17:35:06] And they've been criticizing him like we haven't seen them criticize him about anything. About Russia, about spending, about anything until he announced that he was going to pull troops out of Syria. And he did appeal to a new kind of voter. And he did appeal to the changing feeling among Republican voters, never mind new Republican Trump voters.

ACOSTA: And April, I mean, as you know, it's not only the decision to pull out it's the way the President did it.

RYAN: Yes.

ACOSTA: Because had he given a speech and said, you know, we're going to have this plan and we're going to do this and we're not going to be the policeman of the world. By just firing off a tweet and announcing a policy of this magnitude, which apparently triggered the resignation of his defense secretary, that is a component -- a big component in all of this.

RYAN: Yes. And everyone Jeffrey and Dana, they're both right. But the President just talked about this. But it was how it was delivered. You know -- and those reckless statements that he made about Barack Obama being the founder of ISIS. Those were reckless statements. But he has called for withdrawal in Syria. But the issue, from what I'm hearing from so many, again, going back to Congressman James Clyburn, who is the incoming whip of the House and so many others in the Intelligence Community, they're saying it's not about the fact that he's doing this. It's about how he's doing it, and the timing.

Specifically the timing. Why now and how he did it. That's the issue. There wasn't a conversation with the allies. Again, who are upset about how he's doing this? And what does it mean? There's so much on the table that he did not think through. It's like, yes, we're going to do this, but we're going to put it out right now, because all of this is going, and I need to do this. And people are thinking there is a silver bull. Yes, it's a real issue. And yes, troops do want to come home. But it's how he did it and the timing. That's what's in question.

ACOSTA: And Dana, getting back to something else the President talked about today. I mean, he was not only talking about Syria and ISIS and so on, he was talking about the shutdown. He was talking about wanting to do whatever it takes as he described it, to get his wall on the border. And I believe in one of the question and answer sessions with reporters he talked about even wanting to do a groundbreaking at the border for his wall before the State Of The Union speech. Let's play a little bit of what the President had to say. We have some of that video in.


TRUMP: Whatever it takes. I mean, we're going to have a wall. We're going to have safety. We need safety for our country. Even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border. We need a wall. So when you say how long is it going to take? When are they going to say that we need border security? What are the Democrats going to say? Don't forget, the Democrats all agreed that you need a wall until I wanted it. Once I wanted it, they didn't agree.


ACOSTA: Dana, that is not true what he said there, but putting that aside, you've covered a Congress for so many years. I mean, we're going to have a new House of Representatives coming in, led by Nancy Pelosi, during a government shutdown, it appears, at this point, with no end in sight.

BASH: No. No. And no incentive by the President, if that is his number one political and policy goal to change it, if he doesn't get what he wants. And you see the wheels churning of a businessman and a marketer. He's going to go and he's going to have a groundbreaking. I mean, it's like he's groundbreaking at a Trump Tower, a new Trump tower, because he know --

ACOSTA: A building that might not get completed.

BASH: And, you know -- exactly. He knows how powerful that is. One quick thing I should also add is that the incoming congresswoman from El Paso where this young boy crossed over illegally and ended up dying in New Mexico, she said that where they crossed over illegally, there's a wall. So it kind of flies in the face of what the President has been saying for so long about the need for a wall.

ACOSTA: And -- And --

TOOBIN: I Just --

ACOSTA: Go ahead Jeffrey, yes.

TOOBIN: I just remembered too, that the main pitch that Donald Trump made during the 2018 campaign was, "I'm going to build a wall. I'm going to be tough on immigration". And he lost 40 seats in the House of Representatives. So why are those new legislators afraid of him talking about the wall constantly? It was a failed political effort during the campaign. It's -- and I don't see any political pressure on the Democrats to concede on this issue.

ACOSTA: And Nancy Pelosi apparently said today that, you know, she has taken notice of the fact that the President is retreating back from this wall position, talking about the steel slats and so on. I believe incoming Speaker Pelosi said today that perhaps the President will take a beaded curtain. That he's going back --

BASH: Brady style.

ACOSTA: Yes, he is going back in terms of what he'll actually hold out for. All right, thank you very much, guys. We appreciate it.

During his trip to Iraq, President Trump had plenty to say about the shutdown and his demand for billions for a border wall. But there are also disturbing new questions tonight after an 8-year-old boy caught at the border dies in U.S. custody. Just a terrible, terrible story.

[17:40:05] We'll have update on that, next.


ACOSTA: And we have more ahead on the breaking news about President Trump's visit to Iraq. Also breaking, the Trump administration is asking the courts to delay some immigration cases due to the government shutdown. Today's request comes after an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who was apprehended along the Mexican border died late Christmas Eve while in U.S. custody.

CNN's Nick Valencia in El Paso for us this evening. Nick, what happened to this boy?

[17:45:06] NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I think perhaps the biggest question at this hour is, how does an 8-year-old who was diagnosed with a common cold die within 14 hours of being given that diagnosis? But that's exactly what Customs and Border Protection say happened in their official time line, they say the boy was noticeably sick early Christmas Eve morning. And he was taken to the hospital where he was given medication. He was given generic antibiotics for his fever, he had about 103-degree fever, and ibuprofen, but he was released from the emergency room anyway.

And even though he took medication while he was back in CBP custody, his condition worsened. And by 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, he nauseous, vomiting and he was transferred in the hospital were he lost consciousness. He never regained consciousness, dying shortly before midnight.

Now, the Guatemalan government is asking for the child's medical records. They too want to know how this could happen to a child diagnosed with a common cold. An official autopsy is being conducted as we understand it, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it could take some time for those results to surface.

This has led to some changes by CBP including increased medical screening. They're going to focus on child migrants under the age of 10. All of this, Jim, is happening on the backdrop of where we are here at the Greyhound Bus Station. We were told initially by the federal government that there would be no more release of migrants in their custody. That we shouldn't anticipate what we saw happen earlier this week, hundreds of migrants just dropped off here at the bus station.

Earlier, though, today our CNN crews saw more than a dozen migrants, half of them children, released. I talked to one adult who said he's not applying for asylum, was allowed to leave anyway. That seriously draws into question President Trump's declaration that catch and release is over. Jim?

ACOSTA: And also sounds like the system itself is still overloaded and they don't have the resources to deal with it all, very obviously demonstrated by the death of this little boy. All right. Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

And we have more to come on the breaking news. We're also keeping our eyes on North Korea. How will Kim Jong-un react to President Trump's tweet, claiming the U.S. is making progress and there soon will be another summit meeting?


[17:51:47] ACOSTA: And we're following breaking news. President Trump's whirlwind visit to U.S. troops in Iraq and just before the holiday. The President tweeted, "An optimistic update touting progress in U.S. relations with North Korea." Let's go to CNN's Will Ripley in Hong Kong. We'll soon be hearing from North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un's vision for the future here very shortly, isn't that right, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Next week, Jim, Kim Jong-un is going to make his most important speech of the year, and it could reveal clues into what he is thinking as there is this potential second summit with President Trump.


RIPLEY (voice-over): In a matter of days, Kim Jong-un is expected to make his biggest speech of the year.


RIPLEY (voice-over): A new year address that could reveal new clues into the North Korean leader's mindset as he prepares for what could be a game-changing second round of diplomacy with President Donald Trump.

On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted this photo from the Oval Office, taken during a briefing with his North Korea team. "Looking forward to my next summit with Chairman Kim" he said. But more than six months after Trump and Kim's historic summit in Singapore, many observers fear U.S./North Korea diplomacy is falling apart.

Satellite images show work continuing at North Korean missile sites, weapons factory and its main nuclear reactor.


RIPLEY (voice-over): On Monday North Korean state media continued its increasingly sharp criticism of the U.S. Warning that America must stop provocative and malicious acts. North Korea has expressed growing anger with the U.S. for keeping sanctions in place, sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program and U.N. allegations of widespread human rights abuse.

An issue Pyongyang has repeatedly called non-existent. Within hours of Trump's tweet, a U.S. Federal Judge ordered North Korea to pay more than half a billion dollars to the family of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died last year of severe brain damage just six days after North Korea released him. The family says he was tortured, claims North Korea has denied, the Warmbiers unlikely to collect the full amount of damages. Pyongyang has few assets in the U.S., the parents could make a claim for.

In recent months Pyongyang has not ruled out a possible return to the tensions of more than a year ago when North Korea last test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile. Despite rising tensions with the U.S., a new sign of diplomatic progress this week between North and South Korea, a groundbreaking ceremony to modernize road and railways in the North and connect them with the South. And perhaps more diplomatic maneuvering by Kim Jong-un's government.

North Korean media, while criticizing the U.S., has praised President Trump, blaming Trump's opponents for the breakdown in denuclearization talks. A move experts say, it could be an attempt by Kim to play to the President's ego in hopes of getting a better deal if that second summit ever happens.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.


RIPLEY: And whether it will happen is still very much an open question. There is still no location, no date set for it. And there are a lot of questions about whether the two side will even be able to come together given how far apart they are on this issue of denuclearization. Jim.

ACOSTA: And they are far apart. All right, Will Ripley, thank you very much.

[17:55:02] Breaking news next, new video from President Trump's surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq and his comments defending the U.S. pullout from Syria.


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news, surprise visit. The President and First Lady travel to Iraq, meeting with U.S. troops in a war zone, a first for this Commander-in-Chief. After nearly two years in office, why is Mr. Trump doing this now?

No end in sight as the partial government shutdown drags on for a fifth day. President Trump is vowing to hold out for border wall funding regardless of how long it takes. Will he eventually blink if he's unable to dodge the blame?

[18:00:03] A 1,000-Point Surge after a Christmas Eve debacle for stock rises, the Dow Jones Industrials make a stunning come back for given the extreme volatility on Wall Street. Will the suddenly bullish outlook last?