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Suspect Captured in California Manhunt; Kurds Turn to Syria for Help; Trump Threatens to Shut Down Entire Southern Border. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Some have picked up nearly a foot of rain. That's why you have a lot of these flood and flash flood watches in effect.

And, Ryan, unfortunately, that means that travel is still likely going to be an issue for the remainder of the night for a lot of these cities.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: A very busy time of the year too, Allison, for travel. We appreciate you.

Thank you for that report.

Top of the hour. I'm Ryan Nobles, in for Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN.

The third and longest government shutdown of the Trump presidency is expected to go into the new year, with no sign that either side is ready to relent. But there are new signs of a more focused White House strategy, to blame the likely speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Watch.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: She's unwilling to actually do anything until she gets her speakership.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: This all comes down to Mrs. Pelosi's speakership. I think left to his own devices that Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats probably would cut a deal, but they're protecting Mrs. Pelosi. 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots, not Chuck. And Chuck wants to have this done. I really believe that. He wants to have this done, but she's calling the shots and she's calling them because she wants the votes. And, probably, if they do something, she's not going to get the votes and she's not going to be speaker of the House. And that would be not so good for her.


NOBLES: What's more, on day seven of the partial shutdown, the president is threatening a shutdown of another kind, a full one at the border, tweeting, it will happen -- quote -- "if the obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the wall and also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our country is saddled with."

Let's turn now to CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

Abby, the White House says the president is not doing his normal New Year's plans because of this shutdown. Tell us what that's all about.


Well, President Trump is remaining here at the White House. The White House confirmed this morning that he's not going to go ahead and travel to Florida, as he had originally planned. Now, New Year's Eve in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago resort is usually kind of a big deal. They charge now, this year, $1,000 per head for a party in the Donald J. Trump Ballroom that President Trump is now not going to attend.

And that's because of the government shutdown. But the White House is also trying to do something else ahead of the new year, which is change the blame game, really reassigning blame, as you pointed out, to Nancy Pelosi, also the president raising the stakes, saying that if he doesn't get his border wall, he's going to shut down the border between the U.S. and Mexico. He's going to cut off aid to three Central American countries where many of these migrants are coming from.

And he's threatening that there might be a new caravan on its way, even though we have seen no evidence that that caravan is headed for the southern border with the U.S. and Mexico. So there's a lot that we're hearing from the president on Twitter while he's here on a rainy day in the White House, more or less alone, since the first lady has returned to Florida, but not much in the way of negotiating is happening.

White House AIDS also saying the president hasn't reached out to Democratic leaders, asked them to come to the White House to negotiate, because they say the last offer was made last Saturday by Mike Pence to Chuck Schumer directly on the Hill.

Basically, Ryan, we are stuck right where we have been all week, which is no progress on this government shutdown, but a president increasingly cloistered here at the White House tweeting and trying to really change the dynamic of -- the power dynamic in the struggle with Democrats, trying to gain the upper hand, even though it does seem that, when January 3 rolls around, Nancy Pelosi is likely to be the Democratic speaker and the whole politics of the situation will change dramatically for both the president and for Democrats as well, Ryan.

NOBLES: Yes, it seems pretty hard to cut a deal when you are not talking to the person you're supposed to be negotiating with. All right, Abby Phillip live from the White House, Abby, thank you for that report.

The border is also front and center today for the secretary of homeland security. Kirstjen Nielsen expected to visit there today after she imposed new guidelines in the wake of the deaths of two young migrant children.

They have been detained at the border by Customs and Border Protection. A short time ago, more than a dozen migrants, including some children, arrived in El Paso, Texas, where Nielsen is visiting.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in El Paso.

Now, Nick, what specifically will the secretary be doing while she's there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, we have been given very limited details, but we do know and expect her to focus on medical screenings, part of a series of what she called extraordinary protective measures focusing on the health care of migrants after they're taken into U.S. custody, specifically, children migrants, children under the age of 10 years old.

We know that she's going to be here in this area, in the El Paso area, checking on the conditions at Border Patrol stations. And then tomorrow she's expected to be in Yuma, Arizona.


And her visit, as you noted, Ryan, is happening as migrants continue to be dumped off here at the Greyhound bus station in El Paso. We have heard declarations from President Trump that catch and release is over.

That's just simply not the case. It's not what we're witnessing here with our own eyes. It was a short time ago that I saw 15 to 20 migrants dropped off here by volunteers, among them, five children, one of them just a baby being held in their mother's arms.

It is deeply frustrating for charities here in this area that say that they tried to coordinate with ICE. In fact, earlier, I spoke to a program director for a local church who says that over the weekend, before we saw hundreds of migrants dropped off here, he had reached out to ICE saying that they had the resources and manpower available, but those migrants were dropped off the streets of El Paso with no plan anyway.


ANSELMO DELGADO-MARTINEZ, EL CALVARIO METHODIST CHURCH: We were ready. We had staff all ready to take in refugees on the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And the next thing we know, we're watching the news and watching them as they're dropping them in the streets.


VALENCIA: And really quick here, Ryan, an update about the 8-year-old boy, the Guatemalan migrant, who died in U.S. custody on Christmas Eve.

New Mexico Office of Medical Examiner's released some new information saying that he tested positive for influenza B after they conducted some lung swabs and nasal swabs. They say, officially, though, his cause of death won't be released for perhaps up to 12 weeks.

They have to conduct some other evaluations. And it just leaves the family of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who's waiting for his body to lay him to rest in Guatemala, it leaves them waiting for an extraordinary long period of time before they're able to see the body of their child -- Ryan.

NOBLES: Heartbreaking, no matter what side you sit on this current debate. Nick Valencia near the border of El Paso, Texas, Nick, thank you very much.

All right. Let's open up the conversation now.

Joining me now, Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," and CNN political analyst Catherine Rampell, who's an opinion columnist for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political commentator.

Catherine, let's start about you -- or let's start with you, I should say, and let's talk about this item that you wrote in "The Post." And, basically, you sum it up by saying the only way to deal with Donald Trump is not to deal with Donald Trump.

So how should Democrats approach the shutdown situation?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think basically what they need to do is to ignore him and assume that anything he says, he may as well change his mind on, maybe he will claim to -- he will commit to vetoing something, maybe he won't, but you just can't trust him.

He's totally inconsistent. He reverses himself all the time. So they should just power ahead, try to develop a veto-proof majority for whatever the -- whether this is the stopgap funding bill or whether we're talking about some sort of longer-term bill or really any legislation that they might be interested in passing, and just leave Trump out of it.

I think there's basically no point in expecting Trump to keep his word on anything, because he changes his mind so frequently.

NOBLES: So, when you say veto-proof majority, that would be bringing congressional Republicans into the fold as well.

RAMPELL: Yes. And I think that really nobody wants a shutdown, right? A shutdown is embarrassing. It's really only useful if you want to extract something from the other side. And it's not clear that there is another side in this situation.

We want government up and running. We want the some 800,000 federal workers who are affected by it, either because they're on unpaid furloughs or they're having to work without pay, we want them to be able to go back to work. And we want to look like a functional democracy again.

NOBLES: All right, Karoun, let's bring you in the conversation now.

And blaming Nancy Pelosi, that appears to be the new White House strategy here. Democrats, really, all they have to do is refer back to the president's December 11 comments, right, where he said he would -- quote -- "be proud" to shut down the government for border security.

How does this work out? I mean, do the American people remember what he said there? Does it matter? How does pushing it back on Nancy Pelosi work for the president?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think pushing things back on Nancy Pelosi and painting her out to be the enemy has been a strategy of certain parts of the GOP for a very long time, and that's going to pick up again when she becomes -- likely become speaker and is in a position where she's going to be taking a lot of that sort of blame.

But, look, the president's comments, as we know, they change frequently. The president has kind of backtracked on saying he would own the shutdown, to blame it on the Democrats since then. I think that once we get into the new Congress, though, there's going to be -- everybody's going to be open to some sort of blame, depending on how these negotiations go.

Democrats definitely do have more leverage to be able to push the president to take perhaps a deal that he doesn't want to take at this juncture right now, but they don't have absolute leverage. And while they may not want to listen to him, what the Senate Republicans decide they're going to do or not do depends in large part on whether they think Trump is going to sell them out at the end of the day or if they think that they can actually influence him.

And in the past, they have not been that successful on influencing him when it comes to them taking a move and being sure that the president will have their back. So there's so many different elements right now and you're going to probably see a lining up of the Senate and the president against the House Democrats, because that's what you're going to have not just on budget issues, but on everything else.

And Pelosi is the kind of the natural person that people who support the president are going to blame for when things run aground. I'm sure that the Democrats are then also -- the Democrats in this country are going to turn and put equal, if not more measured blame on the president.


But this is what we're looking at for the next two years. This is going to be the finger-pointing game and, at times, the mudslinging game too across the aisle. It's just got much more visible places to land now, because you have divided government on Capitol Hill. NOBLES: The next two years, Karoun, that sounds so lovely, that this is what we're going to be dealing with...

DEMIRJIAN: Isn't it great? It's so optimistic, yes.

NOBLES: ... for the next two years.

RAMPELL: Yes. And it was this dysfunctional when we had unified control of government, and they still couldn't get a budget through, I mean, I can't even imagine the next couple of years.

NOBLES: Well, to that point, though, Catherine, there does seem to be a White House strategy here, where they're attempting to separate Chuck Schumer from Nancy Pelosi, in some ways, the president playing a good cop/bad cop, saying, listen, Chuck wants to make a deal, Nancy's the real problem.

I was there last week on Capitol Hill when all this shutdown drama was kind of playing itself out. It was pretty clear that Schumer and Pelosi were on the same page. Could this be successful for the president? Is there any daylight between these two leaders?

RAMPELL: I think Pelosi, as you mentioned, has -- or somebody mentioned earlier, has been a very useful foil for Republicans basically for decades at this point, and that may be part of it. It's that they want to coalesce around, like, an evil woman in power.

And maybe that's part of it. I can't imagine that he's actually going to be successful in separating whatever bond Schumer and Pelosi have forged at this point. But Pelosi's office said earlier today that the last time Trump or the White House reached out to her was December 11.

NOBLES: Right.

RAMPELL: So it's not as if she's actually the one who's being intransigent here.

NOBLES: Being left out.

RAMPELL: It's that, yes, she's being left out. The White House has not really made any overtures to her, whatever they're saying about her being the stick in the mud here.

NOBLES: Well, let's talk about Nancy Pelosi's strategy current, Karoun, because is there an opportunity for her here? I know that she has no interest in helping fund a border wall.

But there are a lot of other things that she wants. She wants protection for the dreamers. She perhaps wants a bill that would protect Robert Mueller's investigation. Is there some semblance of a deal that they could craft that would give Trump a level of funding that maybe isn't specifically about the wall, but he could ultimately use it for that reason, and then she get these other things that she was looking for?

Is there any way that Nancy Pelosi goes down that road? DEMIRJIAN: Perhaps.

But, remember, we're not talking about that much money here. We're talking about a few billion dollars and in the single digits of billion dollars, which, against the backdrop of an over $4 trillion budget, not that much. So how much they can demand in exchange for an extra billion here or there, it's not clear how much the Republicans are going to give.

And you just mentioned two topics that have caused real, real tension within the GOP of how far they want to go in terms of passing a Mueller protection bill that would have legal implications and set a precedent that some people are uncomfortable with the party, even if they think Mueller should be able to operate freely.

And then when we were -- last time, we were talking about immigration tradeoffs, we were talking about $25 billion in exchange for the DACA program. We're not talking about those numbers right now. So you could maybe try to open this up and start a much broader conversation. But then you run the risk of having things run aground again, and having negotiations go back to the square one and have to start up again.

Then we're maybe talking about a much more protracted shut down. The question for Nancy Pelosi is, though, if she wants to go with the clean extension budget extension that the Senate Republicans, the Senate -- excuse me -- Republican-led Senate already passed once this year.

Is Mitch McConnell still in the same place as he was before? Does he feel like the president is going to sell him out if Congress says, hey, look, we all wanted this in the first place, and now we have got Democrats in the House willing to pass it again, and we will call your bluff to the president?

It's not clear that the Senate Republicans are in a position where they want to take that political risk. So there's a risk on both sides here. And getting any sort of major wins on policy in exchange for few billion dollars, maybe, but it doesn't seem like the president's in that kind of a negotiating mood.

So that's additionally a risk.

NOBLES: And there's always the possibility that he says, yes, I will cut that deal. And then a conservative radio talk show host says that they don't like that idea.


RAMPELL: That's what happened in January. I don't know if there was a conservative radio host who was involved at the time, but you may recall there was a deal on the table, I think, in January involving the dreamers, involving some funding for a border wall.

And Trump said he was going to be on board and then changed his mind.

NOBLES: Right. Exactly. That's why we are where we are right now.

All right, Karoun, Catherine, thank you guys so much for being here. We appreciate it.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

NOBLES: Turning the to the former enemy for help, Syrian Kurds asking Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for protection after President Trump ordered a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.

And North Korean hackers stealing the personal information of almost 1,000 defectors living in South Korea. We have details on how the hackers got that information next.

And just in, a man suspected of killing a sheriff's deputy this week has been captured after a manhunt. The brother of that officer reacting to the news moments ago. We will have a live report.



NOBLES: Now to Syria, where there are conflicting reports about who is in control of the border city of Manbij.

Syria's military commander claims its troops had raised the Syrian flag there after Kurdish troops called on Syrian forces to protect the area from the threat of a Turkish attack. The U.S. military rejects that claim.

One U.S. official tells CNN there are no Syrian regime forces in the city, but there are indications the Syrian troops are moving closer. The Kurds are America's main partner on the ground in the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The development comes just days after President Trump blindsided American allies in the region by announcing that U.S. troops were withdrawing from Syria.

Former Pentagon spokesman and CNN military analyst and diplomatic analyst the retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins me now.


Admiral, why would a U.S. ally like the Kurds ask the Syrian regime, of all people -- they are an enemy of the U.S. -- to come to its defense?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's really very simple, Ryan. It's all about Turkey.

The Kurds are much more fearful of Turkey and Turkey's ambitions inside Syria than they are of the Assad regime. Now, they are no big partners of the Assad regime. That's for sure. But they see the Russians and Assad as a hedge against Turkey. That's really their main enemy. And that's what they want to avoid happening is, the Turks and the Turkish-backed forces that are north of Manbij coming in there and taking over Manbij. And the citizens of Manbij, those that are left, they would prefer -- although they would prefer neither the regime or the Turks in Manbij, of the two, they also would prefer the Syrian regime come in and take over, rather than see the Turks be there.

NOBLES: And I suppose they would also prefer ISIS not to take over that region as well.

KIRBY: Of course. Of course.


Well, how does the president's announcement to pull troops from Syria impact what's going on in Syria right now? I mean, this must be the most obvious example.

KIRBY: Yes, I mean, what you're seeing is the repercussions of his decision playing out in real time, Ryan.

I mean, what's happening now is, we have created -- although we're still on the ground, we're very soon going to create a vacuum that everybody else is now going to try to fill. And everybody is going to try to fill that vacuum in accordance with their own interests.

So the Kurds are now casting about for new partners, because they're not going to have us anymore. They have asked the French to come in on their behalf. They're now asking the Russians to help them get Assad to help them more.

I mean -- and the Turks are also now trying to figure out how they're going to manage this. The Turks -- I mean, Erdogan is kind of the dog that finally caught the car. He didn't want us to cooperate with the Kurds, but he didn't want the United States to leave. So now he's trying to figure out who we can partner with to try to keep the Kurds from creating this independent region in Northern Syria that they have been wanting for so long.

So, actually, what -- we're going to be seeing this play out over the next weeks and months, as all of these players inside Syria try to deal with the United States moving out.

NOBLES: Of course, it seems like these stories somehow always track back to Russia in some way, shape or form.

KIRBY: Absolutely, yes.

NOBLES: Russia remains a key ally of Bashar al-Assad.


NOBLES: Where do they come into play in all of this?

KIRBY: It's really important, when you talk about Russia and Syria, to remember what the -- what the foundation here is. Syria and the two bases that they have there are the only -- it's the

only footprint, really, foothold, that they have in the Middle East. And they don't want to give it up. The whole impetus for why they have been propping up Assad is to make sure they can keep that presence and that influence in the Middle East. That's what they want more than anything.

And so everything that they have done to date has been really driving to keeping that foothold, propping up Assad, not really being serious about going after ISIS, certainly trying to crush the rebellion. And they see now a terrific opportunity, with the Kurds wanting their help, to supplant the United States and our presence inside Northeastern and Eastern Syria.

And I think we can expect them to fully want to exploit that.

NOBLES: All right, big development there in that part of the world.

Admiral Kirby, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

KIRBY: Happy to help. You bet.

NOBLES: Next, investigators in California say they have arrested the man accused of killing a police officer. The officer's brother reacted to the arrest moments ago.


REGGIE SINGH, BROTHER OF KILLED OFFICER: He's not coming back, but there's a lot of people out there that misses him and a lot of law enforcement people.




NOBLES: This just in. In the manhunt for a suspected cop killer in Northern California, investigators say they have caught the man they believe gunned down a police officer during a traffic stop in the small town of Newman.

They say the suspect is in the country illegally. Corporal Ronil Singh was shot and killed Wednesday after he pulled over the suspect. His violent death entered the political fray when the president used it as a talking point in his border wall fight.

CNN national correspondent Sara Sidner, you have been tracking this story.

Sara, a very emotional news conference just moments ago. What can you tell us about it?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So emotional, not only from law enforcement, who has lost one of their own, but specifically from Ronil Singh's brother Reggie Singh.

He took to the podium. And we rarely see this kind of raw, devastating emotion in a press conference like this. He took the podium to simply thank those who spent their days and nights trying to arrest the man who was responsible, according to authorities for killing his brother. Let's take a listen.


SINGH: Please bear with me. This is what -- Ronil Singh was my older brother.

Yes, he's not coming back, but there's a lot of people out there that misses him and a lot of law enforcement people that I don't know who worked days and nights to make this happen.

I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart to make this happen. I wish I could thank all the law enforcement agencies, Homeland Security in San Francisco, everyone. (INAUDIBLE)

I was waiting for this to happen. I'd like to thank you, working day and night to make this happen. Thank you.