Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Defends Syria Withdrawal Plan To U.S. Troops; Trump Misleads Troops In Iraq About Their Pay; Top Dem: NC Republican Won't Be Seated In New Congress; Law Enforcement Preps For New Year's Eve Celebration; Top 8 Health Stories of 2018. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired December 29, 2018 - 12:00   ET



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: Hello. Thank you for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge, in for Fredricka Whitfield. Part of the federal government is closed, and it's an open question as to when this partial government shutdown, now dragging into its eighth day, will end.

President Trump tweeting in the last hour that he's waiting on Democrats to make a deal. As the stalemate drags on, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are either sitting at home wondering when they'll be paid or they're working without pay, like TSA agents.

And now the president is threatening a shutdown of another kind - a full one at the southern border if he doesn't get funding for his wall. Let's bring is CNN White House Correspondent, Boris Sanchez. And Boris, what was the president tweeting about and saying this morning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Martin. Yes, he's certainly not in a festive mood. I should note that the wreaths - the Christmas wreaths that are installed here at the White House were removed this morning.

He is inside alone and angry, taking aim on Twitter. The president not joining the first lady, Melania, and the rest of his family at Mar-a-Lago for New Year's Eve. Officials confirming he is planning to spend the holiday here until the shutdown is resolved.

Now, the president, as you noted, was on Twitter earlier aiming at Democrats. He writes, quote, "I'm in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on border security. From what I hear, they're spending so much time on presidential harassment, but they have little time left for things like stopping crime and our military."

Two notes on that, Martin. First, Mick Mulvaney, the incoming acting Chief of Staff, told reporters here on the north lawn of the White House yesterday that no invitation had been extended to Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi and the Minority Leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. So it's unclear if there was an invitation extended from the White House since then. Further, he made the case that Nancy Pelosi wanted to keep the

government shut down because this would guarantee here the votes necessary in the House to become Speaker. According to our reporting at CNN, she had the votes to become Speaker well before the government shutdown. Despite that, the president and other Republicans are taking aim at Democrats.

Meantime on the other side, Democrats have vowed that as soon as they take power at the start of next year in the House, they're going to vote on one of three potential measures to reopen the federal government. None of them contain any funding for the president's border wall. That certainly likely will not make it past the Senate and especially unlikely that the president would sign off on that if it ever reaches his desk.

The other note about the tweet here on presidential harassment, the president already preparing himself for a number of investigations that House Democrats have promised that they will open into the president, his business dealings, those closest to him and their business dealings as well. As CNN reported just yesterday, a number of attorneys have been hired by Democrats in the House to prepare for those investigations.

So obviously a lot on the president's mind this weekend. From what we understand, both sides still very far apart. And in the words of Mick Mulvaney, talks have broken down. There's no indication that any discussion is being had this weekend over how to reopen the federal government, Martin.

SAVIDGE: All right, Boris Sanchez. Unfortunately not good news there. Thank you.

And while the lawmakers argue over border wall funding, many federal workers are wondering when they're going to be paid next. And that includes Lila Johnson. She works as a janitor for the Department of Agriculture, but because she works on a contract basis, she likely won't get back pay even when this shutdown is over.

And Lila, thank you for joining us this morning. I am sorry for what you're going through. Give us a kind of personal look at how this is impacting you and your family.

LILA JOHNSON, FEDERAL CONTRACT EMPLOYEE: Thank you for having me. It is affecting me and my family because I'm head of household. I have two great grands that I -- raising (ph) from babies. One soon be 15, the other one soon be six. Those boys count on me for putting food on the table, clothes on their back, other things that I, you know, have to do for them.

It's hard. You know, it's hard to be out of work not knowing even when you go back to work, you know, I'm going to have to work a month or so, maybe more before I even get a decent check. Now, my bills and everything is steady going up. They're not going anywhere. I'm going to have to double up and they're still going to put me in the hole. So it is very hard to, you know, being head of household, only income coming in. [12:05:00]


JOHNSON: That's the reason why I work a part-time job. I was working at - I'm working at U.S. Department of Agriculture for a contractor, and I don't have the leave, none of vacation time to pay me until the government decides to open back up.

SAVIDGE: Well let me just interrupt you for just a second, Lila, and I apologize for doing that. But if you could, you have the opportunity right now to speak directly to lawmakers, what would you say to them?

JOHNSON: I would say that they should come to some kind of decision because people like me is struggling, working. It's hard on us, and for President Trump to be throwing temper (ph) about a wall, the American people, I didn't ask for it. That's something that he promised the people when he was elected. Why should we have to pay for it?

And they should come to some kind of agreement to open the government back up so people like me, my co-peers, everybody else can go back to work. We are working people. We don't need to be standing on a line for them up on the Hill, in the White House, wherever, fighting over when is they going to open the government back up?

SAVIDGE: Can I ask you just how much longer can you get by with this shutdown? I mean, or is it already to the point of where it's almost desperate?

JOHNSON: Yes, it's to the point now. You know, it's not about how much longer. It's to the point now that I need to be working to pay my bills and take care of my family.

SAVIDGE: Lila Johnson, thank you very much for coming in this morning and explaining -

JOHNSON: Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

SAVIDGE: And we appreciate you. Thank you.

Let's bring our panel in and start talking in a conversation sense about this. Alison Stewart is a Republican Strategist and the former Communication - I'm sorry, Alice - Communications Director for Ted Cruz, and then we have Robert Zimmerman. He's a Democrat Strategist and served on the Democratic National Committee.

Let me start with you, Alice. After listening to Lila's story, and I'm sure she's not alone here, do you think it's enough to convince the president to change his stance on the border wall to get a deal done?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Unfortunately, I don't, and hearing her story is heartbreaking. I had a chance to visit with her a little bit before her segment, and it's devastating for people like her and there are many others like that. Look, the bad thing is I really expected a deal to be made prior to having to shut this government down, and unfortunately that's not the case. And who's to blame here? Look, this president promised constituents that he wanted to build a wall that Mexico would pay for. Mexico's not paying for it. Now, people like Ms. Johnson are the ones holding the bag, and that shouldn't happen.

He needs to come together - my recommendation - with Democrats. He needs to come down off the $5 billion number, Democrats need to come up on the $1.3 billion, and they need to have an agreement on not just this wall but overall border security, which includes personnel and infrastructure as well as technology. And let's close this deal, let's secure the border, and let's open the government.

SAVIDGE: Robert, you know, Alice lines a kind of a path perhaps to some sort of solution. How do you think Democrats should play their cards in this shutdown? Because there is a danger, of course, for them especially as they come in and take over power of the House.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I think if the president brought smart people like Alice into the White House, there might be an opportunity for an intelligent, constructive dialogue. You know, Ms. Johnson's story is so compelling because she speaks for 420,000 federal workers going without pay. And on Monday, our Coast Guard - 40,000 members of our Coast Guard are going to go without pay and that's a branch of our military.

And so, it's imperative for our national security and for the viability of our nation for President Trump to back down from bragging about and taking credit for shutting down the government. It's important to remember this wall is supported in most polls by 30 percent of the people - 33, 35 percent of the people and, of course, the premise of it was that Mexico was paying for it was a lie. And so, I think it's really imperative that President Trump respect the bipartisan agreement the House and Senate made.

Before the Christmas break, both the House and Senate voted unanimously to, in fact, keep the government open. And in fact, the Senate voted for it, the House was going to, and then, of course, President Trump got pressure from the extreme right and backed off.

So I think what's really going to happen ultimately is the Republican Senate has got to show leadership. They've got to stand up and say to President Trump that our national security has got to come first. Border security has to come first.


And somehow we leave out the Republican leadership in the discussion, but they've got to stand up and be held accountable and stand up to the extreme right-wing fringe and put our country first.

SAVIDGE: Alice, the strategy, it seems, coming from the White House now is to shift responsibility. We all remember that conversation in which the president proudly said that he would take responsibility, but now it appears that they're trying to sort of push it off on either Nancy Pelosi, what we anticipate will be the Speaker of the House. You think that strategy works for Democrats?

STEWART: I don't see it working, really for either side at the end of the day. I don't see it matter much who accepts the blame. At the end of the day, we have the government shutdown. The president not only said he would be proud of a shutdown, he said he will carry the mantel. And he said he specifically looked at Chuck Schumer in the face and said, "I will not blame you."

So look, he needs to come across the aisle a little bit and have an agreement. But at the same time, Democrats need to realize that in 2006, they supported a Secure Fence Act. They supported the idea of security along the border. So in my view, a lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a wall with Donald Trump's name on it and that is a sticking point for them.

I would like to think that they can get over that and have a broader conversation on securing the border, which is a critical issue for them, and also DACA is something that Democrats are strongly in favor of and many Republicans and a large percentage, almost 7 in 10 Americans, want to see some type of protections for Dreamers. Let's bring that into the conversation.

ZIMMERMAN: But Alice I think it's bigger than that. I think we've got to expand the discussion. Of course Democrats voted bipartisanly to put a secure border fence in place, repairing it, restoring it, is not even in question. The bigger issue is now we've got to look at DACA, a pathway to citizenship for the 8 to 10 million who are here undocumented and we've got to do something - we've got to take care of our 14 -- 14,000 children now being held in detention camps and facilities under the Trump Administration's policies.

These are intolerable situations. Two deaths the past month, which are inexcusable tragedies. And that means we've got to have a universal agreement, immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue and, in fact, President Trump has got to step up and recognize he's got a responsibility to lead our nation, not just represent the 35 percent that -- the 35 percent that voted -- that support the border wall or the extreme right-wing.

SAVIDGE: Alright, Robert, let me get Alison -- Alice to give us the final word on this because what I want to know, Alice, is that -- essentially what Robert's outlining there is some sort of grand deal. In other words, not just a funding deal here, but some sort of major overarching plan that would include funding and also legislation. Do you think that the White House and Republican leadership would go for that?

STEWART: Not right now. Look, the president, in my view, from a strategic standpoint in pacifying and satisfying his base, many of them did vote for him on this issue that he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it. He needs to certainly stand strong on that.

But the bigger issue on comprehensive immigration reform, absolutely, we need to have this conversation. And I think this president is in a good position to do so. He's made his case with the base, now it's time to work across the aisle and get something done on this. But the immediate concern is opening up the federal government.

Passing out continuing resolution that will get the government open and then opening up these conversations because the president, unfortunately, I hate to say this, he missed his window of opportunity with Republicans in control of the House and Senate for two years.

Now when Nancy Pelosi comes over, it's going to be even more of an uphill battle to get this done. So hopefully something can happen in the next few days. I'm very -- not very optimistic about that. But when the Democrats take control, it's going to be an even more challenging conversation but it's certainly one that needs to be had.

SAVIDGE: It definitely is. Alice Stewart and Robert Zimmerman, thank you both. Happy New Year to you both.

STEWART: Happy New Year.

SAVIDGE: Still ahead, Secretary of State - Secretary of Homeland Security, sorry, Kirstjen Nielsen, she's stopping by the U.S. border with Mexico. This after two deaths of migrant children in U.S. custody. So what is she hoping to learn with a visit? And then later, President Trump's surprise visit to troops in Iraq facing criticism now. Why some feel he may have done a disservice.


SAVIDGE: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is in Yuma, Arizona, today. It is the second part of her visit to the southern border. Nielsen stopped in El Paso, Texas, yesterday reviewing medical screening processes and the conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.

The trip, of course, prompted by the recent deaths of two Guatemalan immigrant children in U.S. custody. We've learned that one of those children, 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, was suffering from the flu.

CNN Correspondent Nick Valencia is in El Paso today. Nick, Nielsen spoke with local officials there about their immigration concerns. What are they hoping that she learned from this visit?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, likely just how spread thin they are. This is an agency, Customs and Border Protection, which was struggling at full capacity and now they're dealing with furloughs.

They're being impacted by this partial government shutdown and Martin, I think the irony in all of this is that President Trump has made illegal immigration and stopping illegal immigration one of his top priorities for his administration and yet he's taking away resources from the very administration, the Customs and Border Protection Agency that's tasked with securing our borders.

It's no doubt that on Nielsen's visit she'll be hearing about that as well as learning more about these medical screenings. If you remember earlier this week, it was a series of protective measures, extraordinary measures she says, that were meant to focus on healthcare of migrants. There is renewed scrutiny of that process after migrants are taken into U.S. custody in light of the deaths of two Guatemalan migrants, 8 years old and 7 years old respectively, the latest to die on Christmas Eve.

It's brought renewed attention on just how they're treated after they're brought into U.S. custody. We know that Nielson was looking at the conditions of border patrol stations here in the El Paso area and she's going to be doing the very same thing in Yuma, Arizona, today. Martin.

SAVIDGE: Nick, I know you've also been talking to people who are treating migrants at these facilities. I'm wondering, how are they describing this situation?

VALENCIA: Chaotic, surreal, something that they've never seen before. The situation described here on Christmas Day is just absolutely heartbreaking. Nearly 200 migrants were dropped off here by the government, by I.C.E., with no plan, no resources. And that's not how typically it's been conducted. Usually I.C.E. coordinates with these charities, these local facilities, volunteers that are helping house migrants and refugees, and that's not what happened this week.

And it's been incredibly frustrating. I talked to one of the program directors from a nearby church who said they had reached out to I.C.E. and told them that he had the resources available to handle as many migrants as possible, but they were dumped on the streets of El Paso with no plan anyway.


One of the volunteers that was here on Christmas Day, seeing what happened with his own eyes, talked to me earlier.


ZEB GREEN, PREPRESENTATIVE OF SACRED MISSION: They had been inside the Greyhound station but I heard the manager was kicking them out into the cold and there were so many just incredibly sick children

VALENCIA: So you saw a lot of sick people, I mean, children among adults? How young?

GREEN: Babies. Like infants who were incredibly ill to elderly folks who were also just so sick. And we began passing out cold medicine and I've never seen in my life people so desperate for cold medicine.


VALENCIA: Zeb Green went on to tell me that he saw babies infected with pink eye, others with upper respiratory infections. We should mention, to Nielsen's credit, we understand from a Customs and Border Protections spokesman that she has met with and talked to officials at the CDC as well as the Coast Guard to try to figure out how to give better medical care to these migrants after they're taken into U.S. custody but this is a crisis, we're being told, with no end in sight. Martin? SAVIDGE: Nick Valencia, thank you very much for your reporting there. And the heartbreaking case of the 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died from the flu is now raising more questions about medical care at the border. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen explains.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Martin, what we're learning is that an autopsy showed that this little boy had the flu. However, when he was alive and went to go get medical help, he had symptoms of the flu, that's according to the government's own account, yet he wasn't tested for the flu. Doctors say that was a great missed opportunity. If he'd been tested, he could have been treated and potentially his life could have been saved.

Now let's take a look at what happened the day that he died. At 1:20 in the afternoon, Customs and Border Protection found that he had possible influenza symptoms so they took him into the hospital where he was found to have 103 degree fever. But there's no mention of a flu test ever being given to him. And then at the hospital, he was diagnosed with the common cold and released. He went back into detention. At 11:00 he was brought back to the hospital because he was even sicker and he was pronounced dead at 11:48 p.m.

The infectious disease experts I talked to had another question. They said why would you send a child, who had a 103 degree fever, back into detention? They said it wasn't good for him and it wasn't good for the other people at that detention facility. They said a child with that level of a fever should not have been sent back. Back to you.

SAVIDGE: Elizabeth, thank you.

Now for more on the situation at the border, let's bring in former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Sandweg. Mr. Sandweg, thanks for joining us today.


SAVIDGE: A border protection official describes these facilities as overcrowded and understaffed and I'm wondering, do they have the tools to deal with this influx? And what I'm really wondering is that we've seen influxes before, so what is different this time?

SANDWEG: You know, Martin, what's happened here is that beginning of about 2014, late 2014-2015, we saw a massive shift in what we come across at the border. Historically, we saw people, majority from Mexico, largely adult males, very few families. That all changed around 2015 when you saw this massive influx of Central American families.

Now net migration at the border is actually down. The total number of apprehensions are at their lowest levels ever. Border patrol resources are at their highest levels ever. What's changed, though, is the composition of who's coming, primarily these families, and we're not resourced to deal with this and we haven't resourced in the four years since this has been going on. SAVIDGE: Okay, so that gives us an idea of what is different this time. We also know that two children have now died in U.S. custody and we've now learned that one of those children had the flu. So how do you handle something like medical care and illnesses when you also have to deal with people who are detained?

SANDWEG: Well it's incredibly difficult. First of all you're dealing with our facilities that were not built for children -- not built for families. These were built for adult males and designed to be very short-term lockup facilities. They're built, like I said, with the Mexican population in mind who's typically detained only for a few hours.

Now we're housing families in there. You have border patrol agents whose job it is to get bad guys. They're now having to serve as caretakers for children. Quite frankly, a lot of this is unnecessary. We have this fixation on detention. It doesn't serve as a deterrent. There's no real adequate reason for it. We can still deport these individuals. We can be just as tough at the border by releasing them, just expediting their court dates so we process their cases more quickly. But unfortunately, when you're detaining children, things like this are probably, sadly, and tragically, inevitable.

SAVIDGE: And -- and, you know, as Nick was describing for us there, we had this release of immigrants that took place apparently without notice from I.C.E. and I'm wondering, does that seem to be an indication of this whole overcrowding and a system that's overstressed here and why would there not be at least some communication to nonprofit groups?

SANDWEG: Honesty, I think really, look, the folks at I.C.E. and the folks at Border Patrol care deeply. They care deeply about protecting the health and safety. And I've been at the agency when we've had deaths and people take it hard over there.


The problem here is we are just overwhelmed and under resourced. We're looking for short-term fixes to a problem that's incredibly complex and rather than providing the resources necessary to deal with the shifting threat, we're trying to kind of apply -- you know, deal with existing resources in a way that just overwhelmed the agency. I really wish that we weren't looking at things like shutdowns over the wall and rather we're really just trying to deal with the - take the politics out of it and deal with the real issues here, which is the resource problem, and fix this once and for all.

SAVIDGE: We know the DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, is sort of doing this tour to look at the facilities both in Texas and in Arizona. What do you hope she walks away thinking about when she leaves?

SANDWEG: You know, sadly I think the problem here is that her boss is committed to the approach she's taking, which is trying to detain people, but as you just - you know, your reporter just mentioned, they're still releasing everybody because we don't have the resources to detain this many families.

I wish the secretary would come away looking at this saying, hey, detaining people for two weeks just puts people in harm's way, distracts our border patrol agents from doing what they should be doing, which is going out there and getting bad guys, and puts - you know, creates a high likelihood that additional kids are going to die.

Let's go ahead and revert to a system where we plus up the immigration judges. I'm not saying anybody gets a free pass. Nobody gets a free pass. What I'm saying here is we expedite the hearings so that we can move these cases along quickly but not detain these people, save the taxpayers billions of dollars, and at the same time diminish greatly the risks that we're presenting to children.

SAVIDGE: Sounds like a good plan. John Sandweg, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

SANDWEG: My pleasure.

SAVIDGE: Up next, President Trump facing criticism back home for his visit with our troops overseas, but what do veterans think of these surprise kind of trips? We'll ask next.


SAVIDGE: President Trump is back at the White House days after making a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq and Germany.


The president making good on his promise to travel to a war zone, and he used the visit to mingle with soldiers and defend his controversial decision to pull troops out of Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other reason I'm here today is to personally thank you and every service member throughout this region for the near elimination of the ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and in Syria.


SAVIDGE: I want to bring in Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN Military Analyst. Colonel, good to see you.


SAVIDGE: The President is justifying his pullout of Syria by declaring victory over ISIS although it's interesting to know that once you got in country there in Iraq it's sort of the hedge on them, he said almost complete victory.

Does that match up with what you know of the situations in Syria? LEIGHTON: Well Martin it's a -- it's certainly true that ISIS has been attacked and has lost a lot of territory. But ISIS is far more than just a territorial effort. It is hearts and minds kind of situation we're dealing with a whole philosophy that these people have. And to come -- be victorious over that is really something that you can't see and we're not there yet.

And so, the bottom line is that we have not achieved complete victory over ISIS. We've done a great deal of advantage to them, but there is no complete victory over them right now.

SAVIDGE: And the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, this civil war is not just about Syria, there are a number of other nations that are involved here. So i'm wondering with the U.S. pulling out, how will that impact that war?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think it will have a negative impact because all of a sudden you have the opportunity if you're one of those other warring parties. You have the opportunity to go in and take over territory that might have either been controlled by the U.S. or been protected and shielded by the U.S.

So if you were, let's say, Bashar al-Assad's regime, one of his military members, you're looking forward to taking over a territory that the United States kind of screened from you. You're also doing that if you're Turkey or if you're ISIS, you know, potentially you have the capability of going into areas that you once held that the U.S. has taken from you and now you can go back and take those territories again. So there is a huge vacuum that's going to be developing here, even though we had a pretty small footprint in Syria.

SAVIDGE: And while the President was on his trip there, he also incorrectly told troops that he gave them their first pay raise in 10 years. When in fact military pay has increased every year for more than three decades. And I'm wondering just, you know, what's your reaction to the President saying what appeared to be misleading things to our troops?

LEIGHTON: Well, I don't like it when anybody misleads the troops. You know, rule number one in command is to always tell the truth to the people that are working for you and that you are commanding. And as a Commander in Chief, the President has an obligation to make sure that he communicates clearly, directly and honestly with the people under his command. And that's the entire U.S. military.

So I have to say I was disappointed to hear these statements that the President made because, like you said, they were not accurate. The truth is, is that soldiers, sailors, airman and marines have gotten increases in their pay for most of the past three decades and that should be something that should be latter on a Bipartisan fashion and is not credit that is due just one individual.

SAVIDGE: These young men and women and their families make tremendous sacrifice on behalf of our own security. But at the same time and the President is there to thank them. He also turned it politically and began criticizing Democrats, talking about this whole funding currently going on issue. What did you think of that?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's the wrong place and the wrong time for any Partisan politician to bring up domestic political issues and to also try to turn the constituency of the military against a particular political group. You know, we are all united when it comes to -- or should all be united when it comes to the military. And that is something that the Commander in Chief should actually strived for, he shouldn't seek to divide people from each other in this particular fashion.

So the military should be considered apolitical. It should also be a military that is designed not to be in -- beholden to one particular political group or another. What it is there for is for the nation. And it is there so that we can defend ourselves and anything that takes away from that of course is a big negative.

SAVIDGE: It is indeed. I've spent a lot of time in that part of the world with U.S. forces and they deserve of course a visit from their Commander in Chief.


SAVIDGE: If only and not for (ph) that just thanking them. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank very much for joining us this morning.

LEIGHTON: You bet Martin, my pleasure.

SAVIDGE: It has been nearly two months since the midterm elections. Now an election board in one North Carolina district is dissolving before the results are certified.

[12:35:05] What does it mean for the district and for Congress? We'll talk about that straight ahead.


SAVIDGE: Major developments in North Carolina that could impact the future of a Congressional seat there. The North Carolina state board of elections dissolved Friday without certifying results from the 9nth Congressional District, which shows Republican Mark Harris ahead by just 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.

The prospects for a new election are pretty much in doubt now for a race that was tainted by allegations of ballot fraud by a Republican operative. Adding to the uncertainty, the incoming House majority leader says House Democrats will not allow the Republican candidate to be sworn in next week because of the ongoing investigation. For more on all of this, let's bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes.

And Kristen, what happens now?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Martin that is the million dollar question. And the answer is pretty messy. So as you said yesterday, the board of elections dissolved and this was ordered by a panel of state judges who deemed it unconstitutional. Now, it's not related to this investigation of 2018. This is part of an ongoing legal battle back from 2016. But the implications are huge as to what's going on in the state right now. That board of elections was not only investigating the ballot fraud, they also had a hearing set up for January 11th where they were going to present all of their findings and determine ultimately if there needed to be another election.

And lastly, as you said, the board never certified Harris as the winner even after a last ditch attempt by Harris on Friday to try to get certified before they dissolved.

So the big question is what's next? Well, there's two paths here. One is what's next when it comes to Congress and one is what's next when it comes to the investigation. Well, Congress is set to be sworn in on January 3rd and Harris doesn't really have a legal leg to stand on, unless he gets a court order without certification.

[12:40:07] There's no legal authority to give him the seat, but even if he was to show up, Democrats have said there's no way we're going to let him be sworn in. Take a listen.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: His election has not been certified. And in light of that and in light of the fact that so many Republicans in North Carolina admit and observed that there was fraud obviously conducted in the general election in North Carolina in that district, that he should not be seated unless the cloud is lifted.

My own view is we probably ought to redo the general election.


HOLMES: Again, something we're not going to know about until the new board of elections is in place, and when it comes to that investigation, another mess. So according to a new state law in North Carolina, the Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is required to appoint a new election board but not until January 31st.

So he has said that he will appoint an interim board, but not so fast, Republicans now say he doesn't have the authority to do that and they're willing to take him to court over it. So this could be tied up for quite some time, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Wow, Kristen Holmes just as you said, very messy, thanks so much.

Well, as far as the biggest parties of the year but for law enforcement it is also one of the biggest headaches and the most stressful. How do you protect all of us during New Year's Eve events across the country? More on that in a little bit.


[12:45:18] SAVIDGE: There are a lot of people getting ready to ring in the New Year with celebrations all across the country being planned. The largest and most high-profile is of course New York City's Times Square celebrations. Well, Mayor Bill de Blasio expects as many as 2 million people to gather and ring in 2019.

Police say that there are no credible security threats but they're always on the lookout.


COMMISIONER JAMES P. O'NEILL, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: We always have the world's best intelligence analysts and investigators monitoring the threat stream every day and night. And I'm always confident in the work of our nation's first and best joint terrorist task force comprised of about 300 officers and agents from the FBI and the NYPD and 54 other agencies.


SAVIDGE: So what does it take to protect that many people in such a confined space? Let's bring in Jonathan Wackrow, he is a former Secret Service Agent under President Obama who has coordinated special security events like this. Mr. Wackrow, thanks for being with us.


SAVIDGE: So can I ask you the commissioner, you just heard him say there's no credible threats.


SAVIDGE: And I'm wondering, it's not like some group is going to publicly come out and say, yes, I'm going to go out and hit that time and, you know, New York's Time Square or would they? How do you know if there's a credible threat or not?

WACKROW: Well listen, what law enforcement is doing right now is they're super mindful of the global threat environment. So, the police commissioner and law enforcement agencies across the country are correct in saying that there are no credible direct threats to specific events for the holiday.

But the global threat environment is extremely dynamic right now. The threats are changing, attack dynamics are changing and law enforcement is very mindful of that. They identify vulnerabilities that, you know, are present around, you know, key locations in cities throughout the United States and then mitigate those vulnerabilities.

Remember, not too long ago, we're only talking 13,14 months ago, New York City itself, just blocks away from Times Square had two attacks. One on the west side highway with the vehicle ramming attack and the second one was a homicide bomber at port authority. So even though there's no credible threats, it doesn't mean that these events are absent of risk.

SAVIDGE: And so perhaps maybe not the grand attack, but the lone wolf. And we've heard this spoken of many times. How did law enforcement even begin to look out for something like that?

WACKROW: Listen this is a -- and first of all, its months of planning. It is looking at all the different threats that possibly could effect in event like this. And you have to look at past attacks and the changing attack dynamics.

You know, October 1st in Las Vegas was a game changer for outdoor events. You know, someone shooting from an elevated position, you know, NYPD is very mindful of that. So we've seen reports lately of, you know, aerial drone surveillance being put forth by the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies around the United States, aerial snipers, individuals up on rooftops looking at those windows, again, trying to identify where there are vulnerabilities and how they can mitigate it.

But this is, you know, law enforcement can't do it by itself. It does take, you know, a concentrated effort by the private sector and public sectors to, you know, provide safe environments over the holiday.

SAVIDGE: Well do we have a role, I mean, those of us who are attending? Is there something we should be doing to help?

WACKROW: Well absolutely. Listen, at the end of the day Martin, this is a shared fate by all of us. It's not a responsibility just that falls upon law enforcement.

So what people can do is, you know, really create a culture of security awareness where they understand the environment that they're going into. There's a big difference between being in a fortified section of Times Square and being at another location where, you know, a potential threat, you know, could cause harm.

You know, the public needs to, you know, see something, say something. It's something that all of us have heard. Identify anomalous behavior. How do you provide a pathway for that and then in the event of a crisis, in the event if something happens, you need a personal protection plan. You need to have a plan in place of what am I going to do? Where am I going to go? How am I going to get help? Who am I going to call? All of those things go into effect where the public then, you know, is working collaboratively with law enforcement as a force multiplier of eyes and ears on the street to prevent these horrific attacks that could potentially happen.

SAVIDGE: Jonathan Wackrow, thanks very much for the advice and, of course, we hope it is a safe New Year's Eve for everyone.

WACKROW: Absolutely, thank you very much.

SAVIDGE: Watching our back but also those out celebrating. Thank you.

And you can of course join CNN New Year's Eve as we ring in 2019. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, co-host CNN's New Year's Eve Coverage live from Times Square with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon. And all the fun starts at 8:00 PM Eastern Time.


[12:53:43] SAVIDGE: From deadly outbreaks and food to new illnesses even some medical first, 2018 has been quite a year for our health. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta takes a look back at the top stories.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on screen): Without question, 2018 will be remembered as the year of the outbreak. The CDC investigated more than two dozen Multi-State food outbreaks this year.

(voice-over): E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella in precut melon, Cyclospora in fresh vegetables, all in all, more than 28,000 people got sick. At least 10 died.

Truth is one in six Americans get some sort of food borne illness every year. Growing, packing, transporting, storing and serving, it's a lot of places where your food can get contaminated.

It's been more than five years since I reported weed, about marijuana as medicine. Not only can it work, sometimes it's the only thing that works. Like it did for Charlotte Figi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I measured it with syringe and squirted it under her tongue. She didn't have seizures that day. And then she didn't have a seizure that night. I just thought this is insane.

[12:55:01] GUPTA: This year for the first time a medication derived from cannabis called Epidiolex became available by prescription in the United States, approved by the FDA to treat two rare seizure disorders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the first time we had an EEG recording Tony (ph) that shows she was having over a hundred seizures a day, the last EEG we did with NYU showed one seizure over a 24 hour period.

GUPTA (on screen): Last month, the medical world had its collective mind blown when a Chinese scientist said his lab had facilitated the birth of the world's first babies whose genes were edited using a technology you may have heard of called CRISPR.

HE JIANKUI, BIOPHYSICS RESEARCHER: When Lulu (ph) and the last plant was just a single cell. This surgery removed the doorway through which HIV enter to infect people.

GUPTA: The hospital where the babies were born denied any involvement and the Chinese government called for an immediate investigation. But the ethical question surrounding so called designer babies are nearly endless and will likely make this list again in the years to come.

Parents across the country were on edge this fall as a polio-like illness called Acute Flaccid Myelitis or AFM, paralyzed their children. AFM is usually preceded by a respiratory illness or a fever, but the underlying cause may be a virus. It attacks the spinal cord, affecting strength and balance. Now the CDC has been tracking AFM since 2014, but there were a record number of cases this year.

In November, the FDA fast tracked and approved two new cancer treatments. Vitrakvi and Xospata, they represent a whole new way of looking at cancer and its treatment. Targeting tumors based on their gene mutations as opposed to their location in the body.

The FDA has declared E-cigarette use among America's youth an epidemic. Nearly 40 percent of high school seniors now admit to Vaping, a substantial and significant increase from last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these trends continue, the viability of the E- cigarettes and the Vaping products as an alternative for adult smokers could be lost.

GUPTA (on screen): Yes, E-cigarettes are "safer" than traditional combustible cigarettes. But contrary to what most kids believe, e- cigs contain more than just flavorings. They contain nicotine, a chemical called diacetyl, and sometimes toxic heavy metals. And nearly of 30 kids who vape, then go on to smoke traditional cigarettes within six months.

Life expectancy in the United States has decreased for a third year in a row. Driving the drop, record high drug overdose deaths, mostly opioids and suicide rates, which have increased 40 percent since 1999. Collectively, they're called the deaths of despair. Two high-profile deaths underscored the issue this year. Fashion designer Kate Spade, and here at CNN, we're still mourning the death of our good friend and colleague Anthony Bourdain who took his own life at age 61.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, AMERICAN CELEBRITY CHEF: It's amazing. That's good. I missed you. Now i missed you bad.

GUPTA: Rest in peace, Tony.

In November, a U.S. government report found climate change will result in the premature death of thousands of Americans, startling conclusion. And you don't have to look far to see what they mean, from the wildfires in the west to the tick and mosquito borne infections in the northeast to the droughts in the south. But there are climate change skeptics who dismiss the report.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it.

GUPTA: Look, seeing is believing. This is the Elephant Butte Reservoir for the Rio Grande. It used to be brimming to the top, now it's only three percent full. Less and less snow melt is feeding the river which is forcing some Texans to implement some drastic measures, including recycling sewage water into drinking water, toilet to tap.

But with climate change affecting the future of clean water everywhere, I decided to give it a try. All right, moment of truth, I'm just remembering how this whole process started. This clearly looks very different, smells very different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smells like water.

GUPTA: Smells like water. Cheers.

Cheers to 2018.


SAVIDGE: Hello there, thanks for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge, in for Fredricka Whitfield.

We are now eight days into the partial government shutdown and by all accounts, not a single day closer to a deal. And as President Trump and leading Congressional Democrats trade blame, more Federal workers are sitting at home wondering when they're going to be paid next.

The EPA is the latest agency to run out of money 14,000 of those employees now joining the more than 380,000 people already for load.