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Mueller and the Nude Selfie?; Trump Threatens to Shut Down Entire Southern Border; Government Shutdown Threatens to Drag On Well Into 2019; Interview with Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2018 - 16:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Looks like the president has found himself a theme for the week. Shut it down.

THE LEAD starts right now.

First, the federal government. Now apparently it's time to shut down the border. President Trump's new threat, as Democrats prepare to take over the House with a big "lawyers wanted" sign outside.

Plus, never thought we would ever ask this, but what does a nude selfie have to do with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation? Yes, there is a real answer.

And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife sharing on Facebook much more than their holiday pics. The controversial, highly political post she is promoting and how it could impact the high court.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin this Friday afternoon with the politics lead. And a new year, a new Congress fast approaching, President Trump issues another shutdown threat. This time, the warning is that he may seal off the entire southern border with Mexico and insisting the federal government will not reopen until he gets his billions in wall funding.

Day seven of the partial shutdown, and neither side is giving ground. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling CNN the president has been in the office for the past several hours and making calls all morning.

But it seems much more of his attention has been on his Twitter feed.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins me now from the White House.

Jessica, we learned today that the president will stay in Washington through New Year's, instead of going to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. But that does not signal that there is necessarily a breakthrough imminent, right?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Certainly, that's the case and how it appears right now, Dana. Of

course, we're going to see how things unfold over the next several days, but the president was supposed to spend Christmas at Mar-a-Lago and New Year's. They hold a big New Year's party there. He was planning to attend, but Democrats and Republicans remain very far apart on these negotiations.

Now we know that President Trump will be spending New Year's here as this shutdown drags on.


DEAN (voice-over): As rain poured on Washington Friday, President Trump unleashed a tweetstorm, threatening to close the southern border with Mexico, the president writing: "The United States loses so much money on trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over $75 billion a year," that he would consider closing the southern border -- quote -- "a profit- making operation," repeating: "Either we build, finish the wall or we close the border."

The tweets coming as the partial government shutdown enters its seventh day. The White House has found its strategy, blame Nancy Pelosi.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: This all comes down to Mrs. Pelosi's speakership. She does not have the votes. And if she cuts a deal with the president of any sort before her election January 3, she's at risk of losing her speakership. So we're in this for the long haul.

Nancy Pelosi, in fairness, does not have the votes for the speakership yet. She cannot be seen by her party as being weak on negotiating with Donald Trump.

DEAN: But Pelosi likely does have the votes and is expected to become speaker when the new House convenes on January 3. Her spokesperson issued a statement on Thursday, saying in part -- quote -- "Democrats have offered Republicans three options to reopen the government that include funding for strong, sensible and effective border security, but not the president's immoral, ineffective and expensive wall."

Another part of the White House strategy, keep President Trump in Washington.

MULVANEY: We actually talked about it with him late last night. The president has been here, by the way, all weekend, all Christmas. He's staying in Washington, D.C., over New Year's. He's canceled his plans for Christmas, now has canceled his plans for New Year's.

DEAN: The first lady returned to Florida to spend New Year's with their son at Mar-a-Lago, leaving the president alone in the White House, as he tweeted on Christmas Eve.


DEAN: And we do know that the president has been here having meetings, making phone calls in the Oval Office, Dana, but, again, still no movement from the White House on the partial government shutdown, and nothing moving forward at this point.

BASH: Sure doesn't look that way. Jessica, thanks so much for that report.

Here with my panel. Happy Friday, everybody.

Bill Kristol, do you think shutting the southern border is a real possibility, or is this just Twitter talk?


But the big thing that's happened in the last couple of months, I think, is things that we dismissed as just talk, and at the end of the day, he didn't -- the president didn't follow through on, he started to follow through on, Syria being the most obvious example.

He has said for months to a year, all of his presidency, we have troops too many places, we need to end these wars. And then various people, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, were able to sort of stop him from doing something rash.


He has moved from speaking rationally to acting rationally. So I would normally say, of course he's not really going to close the Southern border. But who knows.


BASH: And those three people you just named are gone.

KRISTOL: Right. And who knows what stunt he will pull next week to try to seize the political initiative on the border or something ridiculous like that.

BASH: What do you think, Alice?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what's shocking to me is, look, I voted for this president. I didn't vote for him on thinking that Mexico was going to pay for this wall.

All the Republicans out there that did vote for him, they have to be scratching their heads right now. They have to be going, what happened to the art of the deal-maker? Look, he's had several opportunities to make this right. He didn't follow through.

Mexico was supposed to pay for this wall. They didn't pay for it. He said -- originally had a DACA deal on the table. He didn't make a deal on that. And he pledged -- wanted to get $5 billion, Democrats 1.3.

I was expecting him to come in the middle. He has had several opportunities to make this thing work. And if I was a Republican, I would certainly be frustrated.

And now the talk about closing the border, and now he's threatening the caravan is coming back in, it doesn't make sense. I had confidence that the deal-maker was going to make a deal on this. It doesn't seem to be happening.

BASH: You voted for him on a deal. A lot of his base voted for him on disrupting and staying the course. And you mentioned the caravan.

This is what he said today in this tweet: "Word is that a new caravan is forming in Honduras, and they're doing nothing about it."

We have seen this movie before, leading up to the election. Then he stopped talking about it. This is a big flashing sign saying, base, base, stay with me, stay with me, right?


But I think, if we remember correctly, it didn't really work in the midterm elections either. The immigration and the scare tactics at the border, the president saying that these migrants are coming into the country, we have to stop them, that didn't work.

Largely, the American people rebuffed that message, and they have now sent -- they will be sending Democrats to the House and in control of the House of Representatives come January 3.

I remember when the president did shut down a piece of the border. He shut down the busiest port of entry between the United States and Mexico earlier this year. Matter of fact, it was in November. It seems like it was so long ago.

So I don't think Donald Trump is -- these are empty or idle threats here. What needs to happen, though, is folks do not need to kowtow to the president's temper tantrum. That's exactly what this is. There are three deals on the table. The Senate passed -- there is something that passed in the Senate the Democrats could take up.

Now, the question becomes, will Mitch McConnell keep his word, so on and so forth. But there are tangible things on the table here that can happen if we want to get the government reopened.

BASH: One of the things that could be on the table is something that "The Washington Post" editorial page talked about. And here's what it is.

"Democrats should let him have funding for the wall in return for a permanent fix to the immigration status of the dreamers, people brought to this country as children without authorization, but who have been living otherwise lawful and productive American lives since then. This would be a grand bargain that would give both sides something to brag about."

This is something that has been on the table in the past. It fell apart. People like Lindsey Graham on the Republican side, Tim Kaine on the Democratic side have said in the past maybe is this something we can do. But the leadership has so far said not now. What do you think?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, I mean, the president cannot be counted on for any type of deal. I mean, he had this before. He rebuffed it.

This is what I believe Democrats must do. They must hold strong on this.

BASH: No deal on dreamers?

TURNER: No. We need a deal on dreamers. Not only do we need a deal on dreamers, but we need real immigration reform.

The Congress continues, and this president included, to continue to kick that down the road. It's not going away. We have to deal with it. But dealing with it, with the shadow of this wall, is really no way to deal with it.

Let's do the things that are necessary to protect our borders, protect them holistically, but not just based on the wall, so that the president will have red meat to throw to his base. And then, furthermore, the attacks on poorer nations like Guatemala, I hope the American people understand, only about 1 percent of our budget is given to that kind of aid to other countries who are in need and are impoverished.

And that is no answer, especially given the deaths that have just happened, you know, at our border of young children. We should put ourselves in their position, too, even if we don't agree with it.

STEWART: And you talk about Trump's base. I think there is another key point in this op-ed and I think this -- putting a little onus on the Democrats in this.

They talk about there is really not a difference on the policy here. Both Republicans and Democrats do want to secure the border. And Democrats have been fine with a secure fence in the past in 2006. But the fact that they don't want this because this is Trump's wall, this is base-pleasing polarization, as they talk about in this piece.

And both sides are doing it. The Democrats could be able to come a little bit closer to this president on this, but they don't want to do it because this is Trump's big...


KRISTOL: But I think the big issue for next week -- and I think this will be interesting to see what happens and you will be reporting on it, I'm sure -- is, what about the Senate Republicans?


Basically, I think Nancy Pelosi has to for now stick with the Democratic position and pass -- re-pass again the C.R. that the Senate voice-voted.

BASH: Which had no money for the wall.

KRISTOL: Which had no money. They may add some disaster relief and some things, but -- which had no money basically for the border wall.

Trump will say unacceptable. The Senate Republicans are in the middle. And so far, over the first two years, the Senate Republicans have basically gone along with Donald Trump.

I really think that's in question now. I just think, if you're a Mitch McConnell, given everything that's happened in the last couple of months, you start to think, I don't know, are we just going to stick with McConnell -- with Trump on a government shutdown here that's unpopular, and that seems -- for a wall?


BASH: Because they got burned.


SANDERS: That nobody wants. But nobody wants this wall.


TURNER: Well, one person does.


SANDERS: Except Donald Trump. You're right. Donald Trump wants...


KRISTOL: Forty percent.


BASH: That's not nothing.


SANDERS: But 57 percent of people polled via an NPR/"PBS "NewsHour" poll two to three weeks ago said they did not support shutting down the government over this border wall.

And so no one wants the government shut down over this wall. So I -- there's no -- I thought this "Washington Post" op-ed was really like I was hooked, OK, because there's no incentive for Democrats to cave to Donald Trump. He is throwing a temper tantrum.

And if you give into the bully, if you give into the temper tantrum, you will have to give in every single time after that. No give.

TURNER: That's the key. It just can't be about the wall. And that's why I want to keep coming back to Congress and president, do your job, comprehensive immigration reform. Let's find a fix for DACA, and let's do the right thing on our border. BASH: Unfortunately, we've been watching that since I started covering Washington.

TURNER: I know.

BASH: OK, everybody, stand by.

Are you a lawyer, lawyer, lawyer? Because -- calling all lawyers. If you have experience in criminal investigation, immigration, constitutional, bankruptcy law, Democrats are looking for you. Their strategy to take on Trump is next.

And have you heard the one about Robert Mueller and the nude selfie in Russia? Except guess what? It's not a joke. We will also explain next.


[16:15:50] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Sticking with our politics lead -- we're days away from Democrats taking control of the House and likely launching a series of investigations into the Trump administration as well as the Trump Organization. And to staff up, Democrats on key committees are on a hiring spree, looking for top investigators and lawyers.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on a very quiet Capitol Hill.

Phil, first let's start with where things stand, if anywhere, on the shutdown talks.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, if you can hear an echo right now when I'm talking to you, Dana, it's because there is a distinct lack of humans on Capitol Hill right now. Lawmakers are gone, staff are not here. In fact, I just walked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, the Friday morning papers still out in front of his office, because it never opened for the day.

The reality is, at the highest levels, there just isn't any progress. Nobody is moving forward, negotiations are not ongoing. There are not proposals being tossed back and forth.

Now, Dana, I know you've been hearing and Jake Tapper has been hearing and I have been hearing, that on the rank and file level, there are discussions about trying to figure out some kind of path forward, whether it'd be some type of broad appropriations deal that packaged all the unpassed spending bills together with maybe a $1 billion fund for immigration priorities or maybe even including DACA. Those things could ripen eventually, but right now, they're not.

And the next thing people are pointing to is when House Democrats take the majority. Nancy Pelosi made very clear that as speaker shortly after everyone is sworn in, she will move quickly to pass perhaps a series of bills to reopen the government, kick them over to the Senate. I don't think the Senate is going to move on them without the president's signoff so where this ends up is anybody's question. But when you look to next week and you look to Democrats taking the majority, you also have to look at those investigations.

Democrats on investigative committees doubling their staff, not only do they get more power and subpoena power when they take the majority, they also get more money. And some of the investigations they're looking into, the president's taxes, his business dealings, his cabinet officials and what they have done. No shortage of targets, no shortage of overlap between those committees. For months, Democratic leaders and colleagues have been meeting to try and map out potential targets.

One thing we know for a fact, they will be hiring and hiring a lot of lawyers. What they come up with, still an open question, Dana.

BASH: Sure is. Phil, hope you find a friend up there. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Back around the table.

Nina, you always give important perspective from the real world, from your home state of Ohio. As a Democrat, hearing that Democrats are getting ready to investigate a whole bunch of things that, you know, Republicans, as they have been in control haven't necessarily done when it comes to their oversight responsibility, do you have any cautionary advice for how far they should go, knowing what you know about how people in the Midwest and elsewhere view Washington and view the Democrats?

NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: Glad you asked me that question. I went to 40 states over the last year. So, it's not just my great state of Ohio. While the Democrats are investigating, certainly the Republicans did abdicate their responsibility to be a check and balance on this president. No doubt about it. But just pure politics, for nobody else's benefit but Republicans.

However, memo to the Democrats. People want to see some implementation, Medicare for all. Hello, the majority of American people support that. We need to do something about it. A green new deal is something else they can do.

So, while they're investigating, I hope to God that they plan to implement some policies that have a benefit to the American people. If there is something there, bring it out. Let's have at it. But at the same time, the fact they're staffing up for that, and I don't hear anything else about what types of policies they want to push and how they want to use their position of power, their newfound position that the American people gave them to help the American people troubles me.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that's a great -- good concern, simply because if the news comes out and it turns out, as the optics of what is being done on their side is more about investigating as opposed to legislating, that's going to be an issue. And the president and Republicans will drive that home.

So as she says, let's see some of what their agenda is, once they take over in the House and make sure that people understand that. Because this president, as he has done with the Mueller probe, which I disagree with his language on this, but as he has done with the Mueller probe, he continues to drive the message home that it is a witch hunt.

[16:20:01] There is nothing there. There is no there there.

And he will try and do the same. Attempt to do the same with the Democrats, if it appears that's their main focus heading into this new session.

BASH: Symone, do you agree with Nina, Democrats have to be careful of overreach?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENATOR: I do think they have to be careful with overreach. But I also think the Democrats, you know, ran on and got elected on putting a check on this president but protecting health care, making sure that there are not -- making sure there is a policy for hard-working Americans in this country and not tax cuts for billionaires, millionaires and companies. And so, I think Democrats very well understand what it is they have to do.

Part of what I think is important in the messaging is that they demonstrate and communicate to the American people that oversight is a necessary part of Congress' job, that I know that the Republican-held Congress for a really long time has abdicated that responsibility, but Congress is a coequal branch of government to the executive, and they have to do oversight.

Yes, they have to legislate, but we cannot just abdicate oversight for fear of what, you know, the president is going to tweet about it.

BASH: And, Bill, the president has taken this line and turned it into something different. He calls it presidential harassment. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, then it's probably presidential harassment. And we know how to handle that. I think I handle that better than anybody.


BILL KRISTOL, FORMER EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The -- whatever that means. The -- look, I think the drama, actually, though -- the focus of attention is going to be on the Senate side actually for the next six to nine months. Once you get over the drama of the turnover in the House, with the new speaker that happens, that's big. But think about it. The Senate confirms, the House doesn't.

We're going to have a Defense Department confirmation, we're going to have a secretary of defense confirmation, an attorney general confirmation, a question of whether the new attorney general commits to protecting the Mueller investigation. We could have a Supreme Court nomination or two. I mean, that's a Senate thing, not a House thing. And, you know, you can tell them they should legislate, but at the end of the day, the Mitch McConnell-led Senate is not going to pass a lot of Nancy Pelosi legislation, anyway.

So I actually think the drama for me for the next six to nine months in Washington is Senate Republicans. Do they -- do they stick with Trump on everything? Do they begin to break? Do you get an almost triangulation with Republicans, Senate Republicans, House Democrats and Trump?

Does Trump try to triangulate against them? That's possible, too, right? He could just sit down with Nancy Pelosi and they could agree on an infrastructure bill that busts the budget, which Trump has no concerns about, apparently and some Republicans in the Senate don't like.

So when you have a split Congress, it's always unpredictable and more interesting in a way because there are more moving parts than when you have sort of two houses of Republican Congress against a Democratic president or something like that.

TURNER: I don't disagree with the points that bill is making. However, Democrats were elected in the House to serve the people. So whether or not senator McConnell is going to pass any of their policies, you have got the power now, show the American people how if you have both chambers, you would legislate on their behalf, while they keep the president in check.

SANDERS: I mean, health care is a really important point here, I think. I just -- look, there has been an assault on health care in this country. And Democrats were elected in part because Republicans were running amok with the American people's health care. So -- I think that's something they have to take care.

BASH: OK, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including whether Democrats should play nice with the president, as Bill suggested possibly could happen or would the resistance approach work best? Well, a red state Democratic senator who tried it both ways will join me with his advice for his party, next.


[16:27:57] BASH: We're back with our politics lead.

And seven days into the government shutdown, President Trump is now threatening to close down the entire southern border if he doesn't get funding for a border wall. Joining me now is outgoing Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Senator, thank you so much for coming on with me. So we are --

SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: Thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

We are in day seven of this partial shutdown. What do you think the end game is here?

DONNELLY: Well, we voted, you know, before Christmas in an agreement with the administration on a $1.3 billion number, and the president changed his mind the next day. And so, the biggest problem is, we need to find out, you know, when the president will say -- will take yes for an answer, has been the problem.

And so, the end game here, it's going to eventually get to a point where the House will be having Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and they'll send over a $1.3 billion bill, I imagine. Something like that. Look, there's a way that we can do this, but the president is not going to get his border wall. Not with the change that's coming.

And so, you know, there are opportunities here, but that's not going to be part of it. The president can talk about changes around the edges as an improvement, as a win, as getting him closer to a border wall. But I think that's the discussion that's coming.

BASH: That's interesting, because you are somebody who looked for areas of a compromise. But you think that this is just not an area where Democrats should or would compromise. He should just forget about the wall?

DONNELLY: Well, I don't think you're going to find that the funding is going to be there for the wall. You know, there are things that can be done where there's additional funding for drug interdictions, for instance. We lost over 70,000 Americans this past year to drug overdoses. Much of it is coming across the border from Mexico.

We know that Southern Command and Northern Command, I've served on the Armed Services Committee, are desperately short of funds to stop the drugs coming in. And so maybe there could be an additional plus to work on stopping those drugs from coming in, on working at the border crossings where those drugs are coming in.