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Putin: "Invulnerable" Nuclear Missile Ready to Deploy; Homeland Security Chief to Travel to Border Tomorrow After a Second Migrant Child Died in U.S. Custody; Rudy's Mixed Messages; Trump Talks of Security Fears During Iraq Trip; Interview With New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 27, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: The day after a historic surge, stock prices swing wildly, with the Dow losing more than 600 points, and then ending the day in positive territory. Are investors taking cues from the drama in the nation's capital?

Open or closed? Rudy Giuliani is sending mixed messages on whether Trump will talk in a Mueller interview and whether that is ongoing or not. Is the president's lawyer being canny or confused?

And Putin's new missile. The Russian president says all systems are go for a nuclear weapon that isn't vulnerable to America's defenses. Is the U.S. military feeling threatened?

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.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: We're following breaking news on the shutdown stalemate that shows no sign of ending any time soon.

The House and Senate have adjourned journey until next week, after reconvening for joining just a few minutes without scheduling any votes to restore government funding. And, tonight, President Trump is digging in, the White House indicating a short while ago that he is not backing off his demand for money to build his border wall.

Instead, Mr. Trump has been busy trying to blame and badger his opponents, claiming, without proof, that most federal workers affected by the shutdown are Democrats.

This hour, I will talk with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who serves on the Budget and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by.

But, first, let's go to our CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.

Abby, the president, who said he would proudly own the shutdown, is now trying to shift ownership to the Democrats. Isn't that right?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Jim.

After the president returned from Iraq last night, it's back to business and tweeting as usual. And he's once again blaming Democrats for this government shutdown, saying that their opposition to the wall is simply obstruction.

He added in a late afternoon tweet that while Democrats have 10 votes in the Senate, he has the issue of border security in 2020. The problem is, we are still no closer to finding out what it will take to end this shutdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): With the government still partially shut down and no end in sight, President Trump was back at the White House and tweeting after his surprise trip to Iraq.

After claiming this week that federal employees supported the shutdown...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of those workers have said to me, and communicated, stay out until you get the funding for the wall. These federal workers want the wall.

PHILLIP: ... the president is now taunting Democrats in a tweet, by claiming, without evidence, that most of the 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown are Democrats.

That comment prompted backlash from one of the largest unions representing federal employees. The head of the American Federation of Government Employees writing in a statement: "A government shutdown doesn't hurt any one political party or any one federal employee more than another. It hurts all of them. It hurts their families and it hurts all of our communities."

The president doesn't appear to be budget over his starting position.

TRUMP: Whatever it takes. I mean, we're going to have a wall. We're going to have safety.

PHILLIP: Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders doubled down, saying in a statement: "The president does not want the government to remain shut down. But he will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritize our country's safety and security."

Yet, while in Iraq, Trump repeatedly refused to say if he will compromise and accept less than $5 billion in wall funding.

QUESTION: Mr. President, will you come down from $5 billion to $2 billion for border security in the conversation with the Democrats?

TRUMP: Well, as you know, we have already built a lot of wall. We're building a lot more. QUESTION: But, as a matter of negotiation, sir, have you come down from the $5 billion ask to $2 billion? That's the perception Democrats have.

(CROSSTALK)

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

QUESTION: Will accept $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 walls.

PHILLIP: Even on his first trip as president to a U.S. combat zone, Trump's penchant for politicizing events with the military continued. As soldiers looked on, he once again attacked Democrats and pitched his border wall.

TRUMP: We want to have strong voters in the United States. And Democrats don't want to let us have strong borders, only for one reason. You know why? Because I want it.

PHILLIP: The president also trying criticism for rallying the troops with a lie about their salaries.

TRUMP: You just got one of the biggest pay raises you have ever received. They said, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent, we could make it 2 percent, we could make it 4 percent. I said, no make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent, because it's been a long time. It's been more than 10 years.

PHILLIP: The facts: Military pay has increased every year for three decades. And the Trump era pay raises have each been less than 3 percent, not anywhere near the 10 percent he claims.

Still, the president keeps repeating it over...

TRUMP: In 2019, we want to give you your largest pay raise in over a decade.

[18:05:00]

PHILLIP: ... and over.

TRUMP: That also includes raises for our military, first time in 10 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: The president is also ending this year dealing with a deeply unsettled stock market, as investors worry about both his trade policies and the president's attacks on the Federal Reserve.

And, after yesterday, a major rally in the stock market, up 1,000 points, it came back down to earth. The Dow lost nearly -- more than 600 points today, and then ended on a high, so, clearly stocks really unsettled by what's going on in the economy right now.

And President Trump is not doing much to settle them. He continues to speak up about the Fed. And he continues, according to our reporting, to be irritated with his treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who he blames for some of these problems with the economy -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And we know how closely they watch the stock market over there at the White House. Abby Phillip, up thank you very much.

Now let's get more on the government shutdown from CNN's congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, it looks as though the shutdown will be going on for some time. As Americans ring in the new year, the government will be shut down.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is certainly headed in that direction.

And what's not happening on Capitol Hill tells you everything you need to know about the state of play at these negotiations. The House is not in session. The Senate is not in session. Lawmakers are not here. The hallways are empty.

I'm told from sources involved in these discussions, there are no discussions currently, there's no back-channel talks. There's no flurry of late-night meetings. It is basically frozen. There is a recognition in both the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, that any negotiations that were taking place before now are no longer taking place and any pathway to get out of the shutdown that they're currently in doesn't currently exist.

Now, you heard from Abby the White House has been firing with the president and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at Democrats, blaming their opposition to things. Democrats have now pushed back, saying that it's the president who is unwilling to come to the table and have a real negotiation.

Well, you want to know where the numbers are. Obviously, Jim, the president said $5 billion was his threshold for a border wall. I'm told behind the scenes Vice President Mike Pence threw out the idea of $2.5 billion in border security. Democrats have maintained their same negotiating position now for a number of weeks, $1.3 billion in border security with some stopgap bills.

And a spokesman for Senator Chuck Schumer responded to the White House and the president earlier today, saying in part: "For the White House to try and blame anyone, but the president for this shutdown doesn't pass the last test."

So if you want to know if people are maybe, through back channels, trying to figure something out, trying to put together some type of compromise position, the short answer here is no. What I have been told repeatedly, members of both parties and their staff, is this is not a number of days that we need to be talking about. It's definitely going into the new year, and it could go even longer than that. And that includes after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker-designate, takes

over as the House speaker, Democrats take the majority in the House. They made clear they will immediately pass a clean funding bill and send it over to the Senate. But the baseline there remains the same, Jim.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, already burned once on this, is not willing to move forward on anything the president doesn't explicitly back. They don't want to go through an exercise of having something vetoed. So until the president decides where he wants to be, and where these talks are going to go, everything now is a stalemate on Capitol Hill.

ACOSTA: All right. And we can hear the empty hallways behind you.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Now to the Russia investigation. Tonight, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is sending mixed messages about how much the president will or will not cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller in the new year.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is here.

And, Sara, Rudy Giuliani gave two interviews, two different answers during a 24-hour period. Now, we have seen this happen before for Rudy Giuliani, but this is interesting.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Is it a strategy? Is it Rudy Giuliani just being Rudy Giuliani?

So he does one interview with "The Hill," where he basically says we have submitted these written answers to Mueller's questions and that's it. Over my dead body are we doing anything more.

Here's a snippet of what he had to say to "The Hill":

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's not answering any more questions from these people. Their outrageous activity -- we did enough.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MURRAY: So then he decides to talk to The Daily Beast. And he said: "Negotiations with Mueller's team haven't formally ended yet. They haven't ended because it's not just my opinion that matters. There are other lawyers involved and the president of the United States. Of course, my opinion is, I don't trust them."

And so I think you're seeing a real question here. The president's layers do not want him to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller. But, also, if Rudy Giuliani draws a bright red line and says, we're not doing anything, we're not answering any more questions, you could always face the possibility that Mueller would try to subpoena the president. And that would set off a whole new legal fight.

So that may be why we're seeing some of these verbal gymnastics from Rudy Giuliani.

ACOSTA: And they don't want that just yet, of course.

But Giuliani is also sharing his opinion on what's a crime in terms of the terms of the Russia investigation, telling "The Hill" it's only hacking, in terms of what he sees as a crime.

What is he -- is he trying to set the stage for something here or telegraphing that it's coming?

MURRAY: Wouldn't it just be nice if your lawyer could decide what is or isn't a crime for any client?

ACOSTA: Right.

MURRAY: But, yes, Rudy Giuliani seems to have decided that the only thing that is really a crime that could potentially have any impact on the president is if he somehow knew that material he got was hacked material or was somehow involved in the hacking.

[18:10:09]

Here's what he had to say about that:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GIULIANI: If a campaign gets that material from them, either indirectly, which they did through the media, or directly, even, as long as they're not involved with the hacking, I don't see where those people would be liable.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MURRAY: And I think this is part of the public relations strategy from Rudy Giuliani, is to downplay any other potential crime.

He talks about perjury. He says, that's not a crime. That's a trap. He's talked about campaign finance violations. He says these aren't even a really big deal. John Edwards wasn't able to get in trouble for them, those will never stick.

So I think he's trying to downplay any potential legal exposure his client, President Trump, would have. Of course, it's not up to Rudy Giuliani, if the president does in fact find himself in some legal hot water. That would be up to Mueller's team and then Congress.

ACOSTA: That's right. OK, Sara Murray, all right, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about the Russia investigation and the government shutdown with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who serves on the Budget and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Happy holidays. We appreciate you coming in.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

And let me ask you about what the president has been saying today. He is now saying that Democratic opposition isn't about the wall, but about not letting Donald Trump and the Republicans have a win.

What is your response to that accusation?

JEFFRIES: Well, clearly, Donald Trump is in the middle of another presidential temper tantrum.

Let's just look at the facts here. Repeatedly, Donald Trump has said to the American people that he's going to build the wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it.

So, if Mexico is going to pay for it, go negotiate with Mexico. Instead, what he's done is shut down the government and tried to stick the American taxpayer with a $5 billion ransom note to build a medieval border wall.

It's like a fifth century solution to a 21st century problem, and it's not going anywhere.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I want you to listen to what the House Freedom Caucus chairman, Mark Meadows, told our Dana Bash earlier today. He thinks Democrats -- or he's saying that Democrats were never serious about this negotiation.

Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The Democrats are not willing to put up even $2.5 billion or $2.6 billion. They were never serious about it. They were wanting the amnesty portion, but not the border security portion.

And when you look at that, that's one of the tragedies of today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Your response to the congressman on that?

JEFFRIES: Well, listen, we have a broken immigration system. It clearly deserves to be fixed. We need to do it through comprehensive immigration reform.

And Democrats of course are willing to take steps -- take steps in that regard. I think what Leader Pelosi, soon to be speaker, has clearly said, along with House Democrats, is that we're willing to take a look at enhancing border security through technology, through satellites, through drones, throwing enhanced fencing, through a variety of things that the experts have said will actually enhance border security.

Donald Trump has put forth what is a political ploy in terms of his wall. He fed that misinformation to his base. And now he's trying to save face. And that's why we're in the midst of a government shutdown. And it's unfortunate, Jim.

ACOSTA: And so, at this point, you're saying no wall, the president is not going to get any funding for a wall. You were just saying a moment ago, you can call it border security, you can talk about technology, additional resources at the border, but the president is not going to be receiving funding for his border wall.

Is that what you're saying, Congressman, when we go into the new year, and the Democrats take control of the House?

JEFFRIES: Well, what I'm saying is that we should have a substantive discussion about what is effective in terms of enhancing security on the border.

And the experts have made clear that a border wall is not the solution. This is over 200 mile -- 2,000 miles of terrain that's very different in nature. There are some areas where perhaps enhanced fencing makes sense, other areas where technology in terms of satellites make sense.

There are other areas where you can look at supplementing the personnel. Perhaps that makes sense. But a border wall, again, is just simply something that was a campaign promise. And as a result of the fact that he's failed to deliver on that, you have got some right- wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and others who basically have punked the president of the United States into a shutdown.

Congress was prepared to fund the Department of Homeland Security and do it in a bipartisan way. Vice President Mike Pence had indicated that the administration was prepared to sign a clean funding bill. And then the right-wing hit squad acted up, and Donald Trump was spooked.

And that's why we're in the midst of a government shutdown right now that is costing the taxpayers each and every day that it goes on.

ACOSTA: Aren't you concerned, though, Congressman, that you may start sharing some of the blame once you come into power come January, when Nancy Pelosi is handed that gavel, if you're not coming to the table with some kind of funding that meets the president halfway?

[18:15:12]

It sounds as though you guys are now saying, it's our way or the highway. Do you run the risk of being blamed for some of this when you come into power early next year?

JEFFRIES: Well, first of all, President Trump made clear to the American people and to the world as he sat at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and said he's going to shut down the government. It's his shutdown. Now, I think what we have put on the table is approximately $1.3

billion in security funding. And that is more than sufficient.

As you know, Jim, approximately, that same amount was previously allocated in the last fiscal year, and the Trump administration has spent approximately 6 percent of that money. So, why in the world would Congress, as stewards of taxpayer dollars, allocate an additional $5 billion on top of that, when the Trump administration hasn't even demonstrated the basic competence to spend the money that we have already allocated to them?

It's ridiculous.

ACOSTA: Well, it sounds like the president is not going to get wall money in the new year, is what it sounds like.

JEFFRIES: Well, that would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. And I think, consistent with the Constitution and the Origination Clause, we do in the House have a responsibility to make sure that we allocate money in a manner that benefits the taxpayers.

And I think that's what we intend to do. We'd like to do it in a bipartisan way. But we're not going to function as wholly owned subsidiaries of the Trump administration. That's what our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have done for the last two years, and that ends on January 3. Those days over.

ACOSTA: OK.

Let me move to the Russia investigation, because, as you probably saw earlier today, Congressman, in a pair of interviews, Rudy Giuliani was really offering conflicting information as to whether or not the president would be open to taking more questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

First, he says, not over my dead body. And then he said to "The Hill," we're not going to do that. We're done talking to those folks.

But then he seemed to crack the door open a little bit with The Daily Beast. How do you interpret these remarks? They seem to be all over the place.

JEFFRIES: First of all, does anyone take Rudy Giuliani seriously at this point? I mean, he was a failed mayor. Then he was a failed presidential candidate. Now he's a failed lawyer.

And, clearly, he's just engaged in public relations spin. The bottom line here is that we have to allow the Mueller investigation simply to proceed, so we can get the facts city American people. He's undertaking a very serious investigation.

The allegations here are that the Trump campaign engage in a conspiracy with Russian spies and operatives in order to sell out our democracy and artificially place Donald Trump in the Oval Office. That's a serious thing. The American people deserve answers. And we shouldn't do anything prematurely in the House or Donald Trump's lawyers shouldn't do anything prematurely to short-circuit that investigation.

Let Bob Mueller allow the facts and the evidence to come to light, and then we can figure out what happened here and what the consequences should be thereafter.

ACOSTA: And the president was complaining that Democratic oversight of his administration is going to amount to what he called presidential harassment. What did you make of that when you heard that one?

JEFFRIES: I mean, again, he needs another civic and constitutional lesson.

What he calls presidential harassment, basically, is the fact that the House of Representatives is an Article 1 separate and co-equal branch of government. James Madison and Ben Franklin and the other founding fathers erected a system where the House and the Senate would serve as a check and balance on an out-of-control executive branch.

And to the extent that that is our constitutional obligation and responsibility, we are going to undertake that, not overreach, not overinvestigate, but be stewards of the American taxpayer, expose any wrongdoing or waste of taxpayer dollars or abuse, waste, fraud that may be taking place, and then let the American people make decisions about how to proceed from there.

ACOSTA: OK. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thank you so much for coming in. Happy new year. Happy holidays. We appreciate you coming on.

JEFFRIES: Happy new year. Thanks a lot, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, thank you.

And just ahead, the president is ramping his attacks on Democrats as the shutdown drags on. When and how can the stalemate be broken?

And is it bluster or a serious threat? We will tell you what the Pentagon thinks of Russia's new nuclear missile that Vladimir Putin says he is ready to deploy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:28]

ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight, President Trump is accusing Democrats of obstructing his border wall, as the partial government shutdown now seems certain to drag on into the new year.

The House and Senate reconvened for only a few minutes, with no votes and no breakthrough on the horizon.

Let's bring in our analysts to talk about this.

And, Abby Phillip, let's talk about this, because it doesn't sound very promising. Sarah Sanders and spokespersons for members of Congress on the Democratic side were going back and forth today. The president is accusing Democrats of obstruction.

We can put this tweet up on screen and look at it. It says -- he says: "This isn't about the wall. Everybody knows that a wall will work perfectly. This is only about the Dems and not letting Donald Trump and the Republicans have a win."

[18:25:13]

He is trying to take back what he said earlier this month, when he said he wants to own the shutdown, that he would take that mantle.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: That's right, Jim. It does seem like he's trying to shift the blame from himself to Democrats.

The problem is that, when he said, I would own the shutdown, that was on tape. It was on video. Everyone saw it with their own eyes.

Now the president's in a position where he is aware that he's not very likely to get his border wall. It was interesting to see that when Sarah Sanders put out a very lengthy statement criticizing Democrats, the one thing that wasn't really mentioned in that statement was the border wall.

Even though we're not really making much progress in terms of actual proposals, dollar amounts, I think what we are seeing from the White House and from the president is an attempt to shift the conversation, to change what a wall is, to talk about fences and steel slats, to talk about 500 miles of border wall, instead of 700 miles or 900 miles, to talk about renovations, instead of new walls.

So there's an effort to sort of create some wiggle room for the president so that, at a later date, he can -- he can cave, but there is an acknowledgement that this is all just -- this is all just for show. The president is not making much progress. He's not negotiating, really.

And we're just waiting, frankly, for Nancy Pelosi to take the gavel, so that there is a new political situation for the president to deal with in Washington.

ACOSTA: And, David Swerdlick, as we were talking to two Democratic members of Congress, it was interesting, because they both seemed to bristle at the notion that they would take any kind of ownership of this when they come into power in the House in the new year, and bristling at the notion that they might have to meet the president part -- not halfway, but maybe part of the way when it comes to wall funding.

It sounds as though they have dug in their heels as well. And so it's hard to imagine a scenario where both sides come together on this.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes.

I think, in the short term, Democrats feel like, one, it was just a few days ago or at least a week or two ago that the president on camera took ownership for the shutdown, and they're operating under that umbrella.

The second thing is, is that, yes, if this goes two, three, four weeks, becomes like a Clinton era type of shutdown, then there's political risk for Democrats. But in the short term, they're not worried. If you look at that tweet that you just put up, they're not worried about losing voters who are worried about getting a wall, who think it's worth shutting down the government over a wall, because those are Trump voters already.

Democrats have their own voters that they're looking to, and their voters don't want them to capitulate.

ACOSTA: And, Jeffrey Toobin, I mean, how long can Democrats allow this to drag out?

As David was saying, I mean, during the Clinton years, there were shutdowns that lasted a while. And so I wonder, when we were talking to these congressmen, they just really just pushed back on any notion whatsoever that they could inherit any blame for this when they come into power in January.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, brother Jim, I'm going to say the three words that you're never allowed to say on cable news which is, I don't know.

ACOSTA: Yes.

TOOBIN: I don't know how long this could go on. Neither side shows any interest in modifying their position at all.

The Democrats said, look, we had a deal earlier with the Republicans with no border wall. It looked like it was sailing through . And then the president -- Laura Ingraham got mad at him and Ann Coulter, and he threw all the cards up in the air, so let him solve the problem.

I mean, it just seems like neither side is looking to compromise at all. And, I mean, it does sound like we're looking at weeks here.

ACOSTA: And, John Kirby, let's talk about the president's arrival in Iraq yesterday, his speech yesterday.

It's interesting to look back at what he had to say. We didn't have all the video last night when it was coming in. But we have seen it today. And he talked about his concern about the safety of -- I guess of the mission, of everybody flying into Iraq for this high-profile visit with the troops.

Let's listen to what the president had to say and talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I had concerns for the institution of the presidency, because -- not for myself personally. I had 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 all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever anywhere, pitch black, I have never seen that. I have been in many airplanes, all types and shapes and sizes. I have never seen anything like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: It sounds as if the president is telling his own war story here about visiting the troops in Iraq.

John, I'm just kind of wondering. Obviously, the troops that he visited there on the ground have been in more harrowing situations than what he went through landing in Iraq.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Sure.

ACOSTA: And presidential trips like this have been going on for years. These kinds of security arrangements have been worked out, ironed out for presidents from both parties.

What do you -- what do you have to say about what the president had to say yesterday...

KIRBY: It's...

ACOSTA: ... with respect to the -- the security issue he talked about?

KIRBY: It seems like it jarred him a little bit and got his attention.

I mean, it's probably not an approach that he has ever made

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: -- what the president had to say yesterday, in respect to the security issue he talked about.

[18:30:07] REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It seems like it jarred him a little bit and got his attention. I mean, it's probably not an approach that he has ever made before in any airplane he's ever traveled in. You've made that approach. I've made it many times. You know, the first time, it gets your attention.

But you know, what I would say is welcome to Iraq, Mr. Trump. And welcome to the mission that you're putting these troops through. And try to understand that it is still dangerous territory and this is why his decision to move troops out of Syria, so precipitously, with no announcement, no coordination was so reckless. Because the situation on the ground there is still -- is perilous enough that you have to take those kind of precautions.

Now, there's always precautions when the president travels, but when you go to a place like that, you've got to make sure that you're really covering all the bases.

But it is a reminder of how dangerous Iraq still is. Now the fight against ISIS is still going on there, and how -- and how reckless, I think, his decision was to pull those troops out.

ACOSTA: And David Swerdlick, I mean, one of the things that have stood out to a lot of people when we watched president's remarks is what is essentially, you know, we don't love to use this word here on CNN, but it was a lie, for the president to say to the troops yesterday in Iraq that he's delivering the first military pay increase in -- in a decade.

Let's listen -- if we have that sound, we can play it -- but we can put this up on screen. This is what it shows. Military pay raises have been happening for years in this country, and they've been in that ballpark -- you can see it up on screen -- between 1 and 3 percent every year for the last ten years.

It's kind of baffling for the president to make that false claim in front of the troops and, presumably, some of the troops believed him, believed a falsehood that the president uttered to the troops over there in Iraq.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems baffling. I have two theories about that statement, Jim. One is, is that the president makes so many false and misleading statements day after day after day, that he's banking on the fact that it will just get lost in the shuffle of all the other false and misleading statements.

The other thing, I think in the president's mind, it's that he almost wants to be challenged on that number. Because you can almost hear the rebuttal percolating, which is, "Oh, we only gave the troops 2.4 percent last year? I wanted to give them 10 percent. But it was those Democrats and Nancy Pelosi who didn't give them the 10 percent, that in my mind that I communicated to nobody that they should have." That's how the president operates.

KIRBY: He just didn't need to go there. I mean, they were glad to see him. It's important to have them there over the holidays. He didn't need to go in.

And look, they can look at their leave and earnings statement, as I every month, and you can see exactly how much you're making. They knew about the pay raise and what it was, exactly. They didn't need him to go there at all. Even if he had told the truth about the pay raise, it was immaterial and irrelevant to the visit.

ACOSTA: There's no need to gaslight the soldiers when they're in that kind of situation --

KIRBY: No.

ACOSTA: -- putting their lives on the line and serving their country.

Thanks very much. We'll have more to talk about this.

Just ahead, Rudy Giuliani said Robert Mueller would only interview the president over his dead body. Has that changed or not? We'll read between the lines of his conflicting pronouncements.

And we'll get a legal fact check on Giuliani and his claim that it wouldn't be a crime if the Trump campaign received stolen e-mails from WikiLeaks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:52] ACOSTA: Hey, we're back with our analysts. And there's aa lot of fact-checking. The president's lawyer gave a couple of conflicting and confusing interviews about the Russia investigation.

Let's talk about all of that back with our panel here. Guys, let me go to Abby Phillip first.

You know, Rudy Giuliani said, you know, first "Over my dead body" when the president talked to Mueller's team. And then in this interview with "The Daily Beast," he kind of left the door open, didn't he, Abby, in terms of being able to talk to Mueller? It might -- he kind of said, "OK, maybe it will happen in the future."

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think the back and forth from Giuliani on this issue is just par for the course in terms of what he's been doing as, basically, a spokesperson for the president's legal defense. But it's not clear that we can really take it to the bank at this point. Because as you pointed out, he said basically the opposite not that long ago.

So I think we're kind of back to where we've always been, which is whatever they need to do in order to get the president out of this situation that he's in, they will probably end up having to do that.

But I also can't really see the president speaking with Mueller being something that is in their best interests. I think they have, from the very beginning, been trying to limit that in scope as much as possible.

And so it's not surprising that, on some level, they would want to kind of shut the door to that, if at all, they probably could. The only reason they might do it is if they felt, for some reason, that the president could do it by speaking with Mueller; and just give in everything President Trump has said and done, his inability to keep track of his own statements and things that happened in the past. It's not clear to me that that would be particularly helpful to them.

ACOSTA: And Jeffrey Toobin, Giuliani also doubled down on the legality of receiving hacked information. Let's listen to that, and we'll have your comment on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP (via phone): If a campaign gets that material from them, either indirectly, which they did, through the media, or directly, even, as long as they're not involved in the hacking, I don't see where those people would be liable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Jeffrey, what is Rudy Giuliani doing here? What is he talking about?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's -- he's preparing for news that there was more contact between people affiliated with WikiLeaks and people in the Trump campaign.

[18:40:07] And you know, the evolving position seems to be -- well, it started at, "We had no contact with anyone who knew anything from Russia. No contact with Russia. No collusion, no nothing."

Now is, "Well, there was contact between people from WikiLeaks and people with the campaign, but it's not a crime simply to know that other people were engaged in hacking."

And that's true as far as it goes, but what's -- you need to know a lot more facts to know if any crime took place. Was there encouragement? Was there facilitation? Was there planning of the use of hacked material? Were there false statements made about the -- the hacked material? All of that still needs to be resolved.

But this does seem to be preparing the ground for disclosures that would be, at least, embarrassing for the president, if not actually legal.

ACOSTA: Is that your takeaway, also, David?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Jim, I think Jeffrey set that up exactly right. Mayor Giuliani wants to set up an idea that this is -- just like the Pentagon papers case, right? WikiLeaks is a journalistic outlet. They can publish what they want. Maybe then there's no crime, according to that theory of the case.

The question, though, as Jeffrey said, is what are the other facts? What was the relationship between this communication between Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone, and WikiLeaks? What was the relationship between WikiLeaks and Russia? What was the relationship between all of these people and the Trump campaign? We don't know yet.

ACOSTA: And John Kirby, I mean, putting aside all the legal arguments on all of this, I mean, just getting to the national security implications --

KIRBY: Right.

ACOSTA: -- of a new disclosure that shows that there might have been some kind of conversations going on between Trump associates and WikiLeaks about these e-mails that were hacked out of the DNC and the Clinton campaign and John Podesta and so on. What -- what new could that tell us, if we -- if we do have new revelations in that regard?

KIRBY: Well, it certainly could speak to coordination and cooperation with the Russians to try to affect this election. That's one thing.

No. 2, remember, this is, you call it hacking. Whether it's a crime or not, I'll leave that to the lawyers. But it was the weaponization of information in an election in American politics to benefit one candidate over another by a foreign government; and that's what I don't think we can afford to forget here. That -- the seriousness by the involvement of Russia in this.

And I also think, if I could just jump on something David said, I think the jury should still be out about WikiLeaks as a journalistic institution.

SWERDLICK: Yes, we don't know.

KIRBY: I just don't know that --

ACOSTA: You saw Giuliani kind of slide that in there?

KIRBY: Yes. He just kind of foisted it off and said, yes, like it's "The Washington Post."

ACOSTA: The press.

KIRBY: And it's not. It's not. And I -- I'm totally with David on that.

TOOBIN: And no less a person than Mr. Pompeo, when he was the director of the CIA, said very explicitly that WikiLeaks was not a journalistic outfit; was essentially an organ of the Russian government. So the status, the legal status of WikiLeaks is very much an open question, which -- which may change the First Amendment analysis of WikiLeaks' role in these disclosures, as well.

ACOSTA: And Jeffrey, before you chimed in there, I was going to ask you. Do you think Rudy Giuliani is serving his client well? I mean, just -- it seems not a day goes by or a couple of days go by where he does something that just makes us all scratch our heads, "Well, what is he -- he just contradicted himself. What is he talking about?"

TOOBIN: Well, and you know, I had spoken to him at great lengths. I've written about him. And I always feel a little churlish when, you know, we seek out comment from someone, and then we say, "Boy, they were stupid for talking."

But it is sometimes hard to see what the point of these disclosures are, because just keeping the story in the news, telling a new version of the facts, a new version of the president's legal position, it's hard to know what value that serves.

PHILLIP: But Jim, I do think one role that Giuliani does play in all of this is really putting ideas out there. Just like we were just discussing, the idea that WikiLeaks is a journalistic institution, that these kind of comments are not necessarily just coming out of thin air from Giuliani's head. They're also designed to change the narrative and public opinion about what's going on in this case.

The problem is, it's not going to change the narrative if this ever gets to a court of law. But it certainly does change what we talk about every day and what people who are watching the news are hearing from the president's lawyers about what's going on here.

ACOSTA: That's a very good point.

TOOBIN: And I mean, to be very clear, he sets the party line for FOX News.

PHILLIP: Right.

TOOBIN: That once Giuliani establishes the position -- there was that great exchange about Sean Hannity about the payments to Stormy Daniels, where Hannity says, "No, no, no, that's not the story." I mean, he had a party line, and Giuliani was changing it before his very eyes.

[18:45:02]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Yes.

TOOBIN: That's another purpose that Giuliani statement serves.

ACOSTA: Sometimes it's hard to out who is walking the talking points these days.

All right, guys. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, will Vladimir Putin try to use his new hypersonic nuclear weapon against the United States? He says the missiles are ready to put it into action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:05] ACOSTA: Tonight, Vladimir Putin is boasting about a significant new advance in Russia's nuclear arsenal.

CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us.

And, Barbara, we have been watching this with a lot of interest. Are U.S. military officials worried about this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, concerned enough to start pouring money into a Pentagon program to try and counter the Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): U.S. defense officials say, this is the real deal. Russia test-firing its new high speed hypersonic missile, a missile that the U.S. military currently cannot defend against.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pulling no punches on his intent.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The new Avangard missile system is invincible against today's and future air and missile defense systems of the potential enemy. This is a big success and a great achievement.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If the weapons work as advertised, there is no current defense against them.

STARR: The Russian missile has captured the attention of Patrick Shanahan, the deputy defense secretary, who will take over as acting Pentagon chief when Secretary James Mattis leaves next week.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have a number of options going on with hypersonic missiles.

STARR: Shanahan warns, the U.S. needs to be able to detect the fast flying missile much further away than current radar systems can handle. The U.S. has to detect thousands, if not hundreds of miles away because of its high speed approach. The Pentagon may spend more than $1 billion trying to develop and field its own capabilities.

The Russians are making significant, yet unproven, claims about their missiles saying it's capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. It flies up to 20 times faster than the speed of sound. It can adjust altitude and direction to avoid detection.

Putin says it's invincible.

GENERAL JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: We're going to need a different set of sensors in order to see the hypersonic threats. Our adversaries know that.

STARR: The challenges are also political for President Trump, whose relationship with Russian President Putin has been rocky since July's Helsinki summit.

LEIGHTON: Putin feels incredibly embolden. Putin believes this is the time to press his advantages. He put his forces in Ukraine, in Eastern Ukraine. He has, of course, taken over Crimea. He is now gaining ground in Syria. This is Russia's time in his view.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The Pentagon feels very strongly right now. He has no choice but to start investing heavily in this kind of technology -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Barbara Starr, thank you for that.

Just ahead, we're learning more about the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy in U.S. custody as a top Trump official is headed to the border to investigate for herself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:57:32] ACOSTA: Breaking tonight, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will travel to the southern border tomorrow to get a firsthand look at how detained migrants are being held and screened for medical conditions, this after a second child died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.

CNN's Nick Valencia is at the border.

Nick, what's the latest there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're now hearing a gut wrenching plea from the mother of the child who is pleading with the U.S. government to return her son's body so that he could be laid to rest in his native Guatemala.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA (voice-over): This is 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez who died in border patrol custody on Christmas Eve. He had been brought to the hospital, released and brought to the hospital again.

Felipe's mother inconsolable as she waits to find out how her young son died.

CATALINA ALONZO, MOTHER OF FELIPE ALONZO-GOMEZ (through translator): I want them to bring my son here. I need to see him soon. I'm very sad that he died.

VALENCIA: The family now pleading with the U.S. government to return his body to be laid back home in Guatemala.

MARIA DOMINGO LOPEZ, SISTER OF FELIPE ALONZO-GOMEZ (through translator): They told us they were doing what we can to get him back, but we just want them to hurry.

VALENCIA: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling the case, quote, deeply concerning and heartbreaking, but adding it's been more than ten years since a child died in their custody.

In El Paso, one of the places where Felipe was held, many migrants are being released this week in part because the government can't handle the influx. More than 500 migrants in the last 24 hours sent to a network of nonprofits.

Inside this makeshift shelter huddled around the table, a handful of migrants, some more than just 500 released from Border Patrol custody. Most don't want to talk on camera about what they have been through but one of the migrants agrees only if we don't show his face.

(on camera): You paid to get out. How much of a bond did you pay?

(voice-over): He shows us the paperwork they gave him as a receipt for his $10,000 bond to get out after three months in custody. He says he had to mortgage his home back in Nicaragua to pay for it.

(on camera): What do you say to people that think you're criminals, that you don't have a business being here in this country?

You have values and you have morals and you're not here -- you're not here to do bad, you're not a criminal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: Here at this bus station in El Paso, we continue to see ICE drop off immigrants, migrants that effectively have no resources, no place to go dumped on the streets of El Paso with really nothing at all -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And it seems no government plan to deal with it at all.

Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.