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Trump: Child Border Deaths "Strictly the Fault of the Democrats"; About 800,000 People Staying Home or Working Without Pay During Shutdown; Trump Administration Suggests Federal Workers Perform Carpentry in Exchange for Partial Rent Payments; McConnell Says It's Up to Trump, Democrats to Make a Deal; NYT: 4 Key Democratic Senators Ramping Up Presidential Planning; 2019 to Start with Big Foreign Policy Challenges; Trump Inauguration Committee Under Investigation; Top-8 Weather Events of 2018. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 29, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: And we will see if the president makes good on that threat.

Thank you for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge.

The news now continues with Ryan Nobles.


You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Ana Cabrera.

President Trump blaming the deaths of migrant children at the U.S./Mexico border on Democrats in Congress. One more time. The president says, "Democrats are to blame when children die at the border." And that's not reading between the lines or interpreting something out of context. Those are his words directly. This is his tweet, from the president inside the White House just a short time ago, he says, "Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can't. And if we had a wall, they wouldn't even try."

That wall the president is referring to, and arguing about, the dollar amount he wants to build it is the reason the federal government remains partially shut down right now with hundreds of thousands of American federal workers wondering when they are going to see their next paycheck. It's been eight days. The New Year is about to start. But there's no realistic end to the shutdown in view. And the president of the United States right now is out of sight inside the White House tweeting that Democrats are to blame when kids at the border die.

Let's go to CNN's Sarah Westwood. She is at the White House.

Sarah, the president, his political opponents, they pointed fingers a lot back and forth. But we've never heard anyone -- we've never heard the president specifically blame anyone directly for the deaths of children. This appears to be new territory for this president.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ryan. President Trump appears to be weighing in for the first time on the deaths of these two migrant children in Border Patrol custody in the past month. And his first comment on their deaths is to blame Democrats who haven't voted in the past for his immigration priorities.

Now this tweet comes as the president is alone at the White House, and increasingly frustrated at his inability to get funding for his promised border wall. He's canceled plans to travel down to his estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, over the New Year as the shutdown rages on. And he is continuously blaming Democrats for allowing the government to remain partially shuttered despite saying a few weeks ago he would be proud to own any government shutdown.

This comes as acting chief of staff/budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has said congressional Democrats have not been invited to the White House to continue those talks. And Mulvaney said the White House is simply waiting for a counter-offer from Democrats at this point.

Recall that Vice President Mike Pence went to Capitol Hill a week ago with an offer of support for a $2.5 billion border security package plus wall funding, an offer the Democrats rejected. And talks do appear to still be at a standstill.

The White House is also adopting a new tactic, which is to try to create distance between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the likely next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. They've been saying that Schumer might be willing to cut a deal that could end the shutdown but Pelosi, because she has yet to have her speakership race, is not willing to accept a compromise, and that's why they say the government remains closed. But, Ryan, the Democrats have very little incentive to negotiate on Trump's terms given, in just five days, they'll control the House and the landscape will tilt significantly towards them.

NOBLES: And, Sarah, we should point out that the White House is saying Chuck Schumer is willing to make a deal, but we have not heard that from Chuck Schumer, who would be the person who would be an important part of that equation.

Sarah Westwood, live from the White House. Sarah, thank you for that.

And while the president and congressional Democrats refuse to budge over paying for some type of wall on the Mexican border, the U.S. government remains partially shutdown. Nine cabinet-level departments and the people who staff them operating with no money.

I want to get now to Kaylee Hartung. She's here now.

And, Kaylee, this is more than just an enormous inconvenience to parts of the government affected. We're actually talking about a lot of people here dealing with a lot of uncertainty in their lives this weekend. KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ryan, uncertainty is right.

Some 800,000 federal employees are seeing their bank accounts directly impacted by this partial government shutdown. Stories of their struggles are starting to pour in. As we get to know the faces, directly impacted by this political bickering, you recognize that no two stories are the same.


HARTUNG (voice-over): There's no end in sight to the government shutdown, forcing thousands of federal workers and their, families to make tough sacrifices.

ANGELA KABANA, HUSBAND IS FAA EMPLOYEE: It is scary not knowing when you will get paid.

HARTUNG: Angela's Kabana's husband is an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.

KABANA: He is considered an essential work and he has to go to work. I can't go to work because I just had a baby.

HARTUNG: With no income, they're slashing expenses, focusing on the mortgage and feeding their family.

[15:05:04] And 420,000 federal workers, like Angela's husband, are entering a second week of work without pay. Another 380,000 federal employees are on furlough, effectively put on a leave of absence without pay.

That's why the trash is piling up at some national parks around the country where they're unstaffed with no one to supervise the land and facilities.

At Joshua Tree National Park, volunteers from the local community, like these rock-climbing guides, are stepping in to do the dirty work during the park's busiest days of the year.

SETH ZANAMAS (ph), ROCK CLIMBING GUIDE: I'm guiding every day. And in the evening, we're cleaning toilets, not to mention we're about $400 out on cash buying toilet paper.

HARTUNG: The impact of the partial government shutdown spans the country. Americans are talking about the tough financial challenges they face on Twitter, using the hashtag, #shutdownstories.

In Wyoming, Ernie Johnson says thankfully his auto loan payment will be deferred until January, but if he doesn't receive back pay, he will be likely evicted February 1.

Lauren, in Pennsylvania, tweets that she depends on child support from a federal corrections officer's paycheck. Without it, she says she won't have the funds for after-school care or school lunch.

And Sarah Waterson, who describes herself as a Marine Corps veteran on Twitter, puts her family's struggle in perspective, saying, "My children don't care about walls. They do care about a warm house to live and a car to ride in, clothes to wear, and food in their bellies, none of which is possible if their mom can't go to work."

Candid thoughts from Americans about the toll of policy maker's bickering. And the longer the shutdown drags on, the more widely the effects will be felt.


HARTUNG: There was concern for the pay checks that active-duty military would or would not be receiving, in light of this government shutdown. And, Ryan, we've learned that the Coast Guard, in particular, has announced that active-duty military members serving in the month of December will receive paychecks on December 31.

NOBLES: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you for that report and putting it in perspective for us.

Let's give you some of the advice that federal workers are getting from the Trump administration. They're being told to contact their personal attorney or send sample letters to their creditors, mortgage lenders or landlords. In the sample letter, federal employees are encouraged to perform odd jobs like carpentry or painting for their landlord in lieu of rent payments.

With us now to talk about this, "Daily Beast" senior columnist, Matt Lewis, "New York Times" political editor, Patrick Healy, and former Republican lawmaker, Congressman Charlie Dent.

I rolled my eyes there a little bit, Patrick, if you noticed, and that sample letter seems a little bit too hard to believe. They've actually removed it now. I wonder why.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, the sensitivity wasn't very strong in that letter. And the notion that people who have been hired based on their skills and expertise in, you know, federal jobs, are now being told by the government to offer to bang some nails into wood or do odd jobs around the apartment really wasn't sensitive.

But it gets at a larger thing, Ryan, which is that a lot of workers are now looking at leaning even deeper onto credit, dipping into their savings. That this isn't just the shutdowns that we've seen in the past of just, you know, a couple of days, but it's more like the 27- day shutdown, that, you know, in the '90s, left thousands of workers really pretty strung out sort of financially. And you haven't seen President Trump yet try to bring together the notion of feeling the pain that a lot of Americans, a lot of federal workers are going through, and saying, you know, look, we've got to come to some kind of a deal. I'm willing to negotiate. I'm willing to bargain. He is instead just sort of calling federal worker, Democrats, saying these Democrats --



HEALY: Yes. And now talking about Democrats being to blame for the death of children on the border.

NOBLES: Let's talk about that.

Congressman Dent, I want to ask you about this new line of blame from the president, saying that it's Democrats responsible for the two children who recently died at the border. He said a wall would prevent this. From your perspective, would a wall prevent something like this? And wouldn't people still be able to go to the border and claim asylum, even if there was a wall in place?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. Look, I think it is really unfair for the president to make that kind of a statement. It's frankly, it's reckless. And what is shocking to me about this shutdown is I dealt with the shutdown in 2013, I believe that was a 17-day shutdown. We were working around the clock to rectify the situation. There doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency right now. Nobody is there in Congress. A lot of retiring members are defeated. And many don't have offices down. There are some who live in their offices, so they're homeless, too. The point is, there's no sense of urgency until January 3 when the new House comes in and they'll likely pass a funding bill and send it over to the Senate.

[15:09:55] NOBLES: Matt, I will bring you in on that. I was on Capitol Hill the week of the shutdown and it started to look like a ghost town. It is a ghost town right now. Many of the lawmakers aren't there. There doesn't seem to be any type of conversation happening. Has President Trump missed opportunities to really put lawmakers on blast, maybe go to the empty capitol, hold a meeting with empty chairs, kind of demonstrate the fact that there appears to be no one talking? I mean, you remember, the president really is basically the only person in Washington now.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's a good point. You know, Donald Trump is pretty good at staging theatrics and reality TV, gimmickry, and this time, I think it was a missed opportunity. He's tweeting. He obviously visited the troops. But I think it is otherwise a missed opportunity. Was it Nancy Pelosi, who is in Hawaii, I'm told? Trump could have made a bigger splash, I think, about this, and pointed out -- I guess, you know, part of the problem may be, though, that it really -- Trump would have to go against the establishment in general. A lot of Republicans are not in town as well. So maybe that's part of the calculus.

NOBLES: If there's nobody in town, there can't be too much negotiating happening.

Patrick, some of the president's closest advisers haven't been around either. We're talking about his closest adviser, his son-in-law, his daughter. They were in Florida for a little bit. And Steve Mnuchin was in Cabo, the treasury secretary, at the center of all of this. I mean, is that part of why the president hasn't been able to cut a deal, because the people around him aren't even in town?

HEALY: Yes. And the optics are bad. But the optics are bad in that the president's advisers -- I mean, Mnuchin tried to, from Cabo, sort of calm the markets, and that certainly didn't work out. I mean, but the problem is I don't think the president knows what kind of deal he wants to get. I mean, he continues to talk about the wall, the wall, the wall. Democrats seem. at least in the House, and I think a good number in the Senate, you know, are opposed on political and moral and ideological grounds to anything that smacks of a wall. The president has boxed himself in. He needs to deliver a wall for the base. He keeps tweeting about the wall and border security as if they're synonymous. But the reality is that the border security is a much stronger argument, historically, for Republicans, when you're talking about a comprehensive package, and the president seems to only be talking about getting those billions for a wall. So even if he is in, he is the only guy in Washington, you know, advisers there or not, Hill people or not, he still doesn't know what his own end game is. Is he willing to settle for some kind of compromise? His polling right now suggests that he can wait it out a bit. Voters are not turning on him. They simply want some kind of a compromise eventually.

NOBLES: Congressman, I want to ask you what you think about Mitch McConnell's role in all of this. He, of course, the leader of the Senate. He will be the leader of the Senate, even when the new Congress comes in. He is also not in Washington. This is the "Washington Post's" take on this. They write, "McConnell is home in Kentucky. The Senator's spokesman, Don Stewart, said it is up to President Trump and Democrats to come up with the deal to end the stalemate over funding for Trump's border wall."

In other words, in McConnell's view, it is not on him.

Congressman, he was initially was in favor of this continuing resolution. The Senate did pass it before it went to a quick death in the House. Should the majority leader be a little bit more involved in this process and be a little bit more proactive in helping to find a solution?

DENT: Let me first say this. I think if anybody owns this shutdown, it's the president. The party making the demand, the policy demand, is the one that usually owns the shutdown. So I think, to a certain extent, Mitch McConnell has, more or less -- he did his job over a week ago, when he and Schumer, they came up with a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through February 8. They did what they needed to do. Then the House, of course, gutted it and sent it back with the $5 billion in it. So at this point, there needs to be a negotiation. It needs to be -- frankly, it needs to be a four- corner negotiation, McConnell, Schumer, Pelosi and Ryan. Although, of course, that's transitioning. But it needs to be a four-corner discussion. Ultimately, it is about the president. He needs to make up his mind. I suspect Mitch McConnell will be prepared to just keep the government funded as he did with that bill. He's happy to do that. The question is, the president has shifted his position. He supported the initial bill only to reverse himself later.

NOBLES: Right.

DENT: So the president has to make a decision. Congress could simply pass a bill and send it to the president and force the president to decide.

NOBLES: That has been the big problem. Even when they think they have a deal with the president, he ends up changing his mind.

You guys were all so brilliant. I want to keep you around for another conversation here in just a minute. So stand by. We have much more to discuss.

[15:14:47] Still ahead, new signals that several high-profile Senators may be closer to announcing a 2020 bid. We are going to talk all about that when we come back.


NOBLES: We're nearing the end of the holiday season, and you know what that means, a number of Democrats talking to their families about whether to run for president in 2020. And in some cases, they are doing a lot more than just talking about it. And the "New York Times" reporting this morning that four high-profile Democratic Senators have shifted their presidential planning in high gear. Here's a list: Kamala Harris, scouting locations for a campaign headquarters maybe in Atlanta or Baltimore. Elizabeth Warren, from Massachusetts, studying her vulnerabilities and her political record. And Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand interviewing and recruiting people to come work for their campaigns.

Patrick Healy, Matt Lewis and former Congressman Charlie Dent are back with me to talk about all of this.

Patrick, how soon do you think it is going to be before we see one or more of these candidates jump in?

HEALY: I think it could be a matter of days, Ryan. I mean, the imperative to get in right now, there are a few. Some of these candidates very much want to answer kind of the yearning in the Democratic Party for a new leader in what is going to be like a crowded field of candidate. I mean, there could be as many as 20 by March, conceivably, Democrats either with exploratory committees or formal announcements.

NOBLES: That seems actually kind of low.

HEALY: You know, compared to last time on the Democratic side, it would be high. But the Republicans, as we remember, it was a busy field. Look, it is also a reminder that there's no real breakout candidate right now. There's no Jeb Bush, who had, you know, tens of millions of dollars fairly quickly. Donald Trump, who had a lot of celebrity appeal and was able to get a lot of attention. It is very wide open right now. And you're seeing, with Harris, with Warren, with Gillibrand, with Booker, a real desire to sort of shake off what can be some baggage in the Senate, one of 100, and become certainly better known, stand out. And for a lot of these people, they need to raise money. They want to

get staff in place. They don't have necessarily access from past campaigns like Bernie Sanders or Beto O'Rourke, small-dollar list. They don't have access to a lot of money right out of the gate. So I think there's an imperative to really get going quickly.

[15:20:14] NOBLES: Let's talk about Bernie Sanders, Matt. Bill Press, a talk show host, an early backer of Bernie Sanders back in 2016, this is what he told the "New York Times." He said, quote, "Ironically, Bernie's agenda for working families will the Democratic Party's message in 2020, but he may not be the one leading the parade. What I hear from a lot of friends is that a younger Bernie is what we need."

I mean, it is a bit kind of a difficult position for Bernie Sanders in that he was seen almost seen as a radical when he got into the race against Hillary Clinton and the party has shifted in his direction. Do you think the party has moved on to a younger candidate or does Sanders have a lane here, Matt?

LEWIS: It used to be, at least on the Republican side, that you run once and that makes you the guy for the next time. And you know, sort of like Reagan runs in '76, but becomes the nominee in '80. I feel like that's no longer the case. I think you have one shot at this now and then you're kind of a loser. And then you're also old news. I think that is part of the problem with Bernie Sanders.

Look, the Democrats need to find a way to beat Donald Trump and to run against him. You can't out-tough him. You can't out-dirty fight him in the mud. What you can do, I think, is run a generation -- a generational campaign, a generational-change campaign. I think someone like a Beto O'Rourke would be positioned to do that. We're the bridge to the future. He's the bridge to the past. Well, it's kind of hard for Bernie Sanders to make that argument.

NOBLES: Interesting.

Congressman Dent, a piece from "Vanity Fair," CNN political analyst, David Drucker, asked several political insiders which Democrat at the top of the opposition ticket would most reassure them about 2020, and without exception, it was Elizabeth Warren that topped that list. In fact, there was one operative saying, quote, "There's a lot of Hillary Clinton in her. She is elitist and doesn't appear very nimble. It would be hard for her to expand her base or reach directly into Trump's base."

That is the president has also echoed in a speech last October. Take a list to what the president had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope she's running for president. Because I think she would be very easy. I hope that she is running. I do not think she would be difficult at all. She will destroy the country. She will make our country into Venezuela. With that being said, I don't want to say bad things about her, because I hope she would be one of the people that would get through the process. It is going to be a long process for the Democrats.



NOBLES: So, Congressman Dent, how you would respond to that? And what do you think Elizabeth Warren's prospects are?

DENT: Well, I tend to agree with that assessment. Look, the president, there are a lot of Republicans who supported Donald Trump in 2016 with reservations, serious reservations, and are open to supporting a Democrat. But the Democrats nominate somebody, say, like Elizabeth Warren, a lot of the Republicans say, hey, but I can't do that. I really think what the others have said in the panel is that the Democrats are actually looking for a new generation of leadership. I'm not sure it is about ethnicity or about race or religion or gender. I think it is about the next generation. So Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Beto O'Rourke, somebody like. A septuagenarian, you look at all these lanes, and, you know, you have the septuagenarian lane, the ethnic minority lane, the women's lane, the governor's lane. Some are going to be in multiple lanes. But at the end of the day, it is a new face, a fresh face. It seems to me Democrats want to fall in love with somebody. And also I think they are probably trying to pay more attention to who is most electable in this cycle. And so I really do think that next generation checks most of the boxes.

NOBLES: And we got through this conversation without talking all that much about Beto O'Rourke but he seems to fit many of those boxes that you're talking about, Congressman, and this video that he posted yesterday, 24 hours, almost four million views on Twitter. So that shows that groundswell of support there.

Gentlemen, thank you for that conversation. I certainly appreciate it.

[15:24:10] Up next, President Trump and his Chinese counterpart speaking today by phone. Are they closer to ending the trade war that's costing both countries billions?


NOBLES: The New Year starts Tuesday and with it a plateful of issues, some of them very pressing, for America's relationship with other countries. They are President Trump's foreign policy changes for 2019.

Admiral John Kirby joining us now from Washington. He's a former State Department and Pentagon spokesperson and a retired U.S. Navy two-star admiral.

Admiral Kirby, a lot of what you are about to list as foreign policy challenges are not new. A lot of the same people the president will have to deal with but what makes them a bit more urgent in 2019?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALSSYT: Let's take that one by one, Ryan, and I think that answer will come out real specifically.

Let's talk about Vladimir Putin first. The Pentagon -- I'm sorry, John Bolton, the national security adviser, saying that we could expect a Putin visit to Washington, D.C., in the White House, early in 2019. They are still working out the details of that. It would be the first visit by Putin to the White House since 2008. He last visited with George W. Bush. There's an awful lot to talk about clearly. Syria, what's going on there. Ukraine, which is still an active fight. And of course, Russian cyber meddling. And not to mention the continued negotiations with North Korea over trying to get that peninsula denuclearized. It will be a controversial visit just because it's Vladimir Putin and the summit in Helsinki didn't do well.

Let's talk about North Korea, where I left off there. We do expect that Trump will want to visit with Kim Jong-Un sometime again in 2019. There hasn't been a lot of tangible progress on denuclearization of the peninsula. But there hasn't been any testing of missiles or nuclear weapons in about a year. So it is kind of at a standoff. We will have to see where this goes. But I think clearly the North Korea trajectory will be important to watch coming into this year.

As well as China and tensions with the Chinese over the South China Sea, just to name one thing. There's obviously trade disputes that haven't been settled. The president and President Xi talked just today, and both sides gave a readout. It was more of a "Happy New Year" kind of a message. But clearly, there's trade issues to work out.

And of course, NATO will turn 70 years old in 2019. And there will be a big summit there. It will be interesting to see how President Trump handles that.

NOBLES: You mentioned many parts of the world that are hot spots. Let's discuss one more, and that is the Middle East. The dynamic there seems to change almost every day. What would you say is the most pressing concern in that region?

KIRBY: Clearly, I think it is going to be -- it is actually two, I don't know if I can say one -- Syria and Afghanistan.


The president's decision to withdraw troops precipitously out of Syria has certainly now created a vacuum that all of the regional players are trying to fill. Bashar al Assad sees this now as the last step to him completing the civil war, winning it with Russia's help. And Russia will have the permanent foothold in the Middle East and they are definitely in the driver's seat about the future of Syria. I don't think it is in our national security interest, quite frankly.

Then there's Afghanistan, a war that has been going on for 17 years. The president has ordered the Pentagon to begin planning for cutting our troop presence in half with no understanding of how this affects the strategy that he himself signed into place just last year. So it is going to be really interesting to see where that goes. Because we are also involved with NATO in Afghanistan. And of course, our NATO allies will be wanting to follow our lead as well. And the Taliban now may or may not be wanting to be inclined to want to negotiate a peace deal.

I don't want to forget Yemen. Just briefly, there's been a positive development in Yemen just this weekend, where the Houthi-backed rebels have relinquished their control over the Hodeida Port, the first real confidence-building measure as a result of a U.N.-sponsored peace truce signed this month. So it is a good step forward. But because the United States is likely going to be wanting to hold Saudi Arabia more accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, I think that is going to have an effect. It already has in terms of our no longer refueling Saudi aircraft over Yemen. But I think there's going to be more after effects of that by the Senate and now a Democratically controlled House in terms of holding Saudi Arabia more accountable.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about a volatile situation much closer to home, and that's Central America and our southern neighbor Mexico. What do you foresee as the big challenges for the president in that region?

KIRBY: Well, he's up and tweeting about the border wall just today as you've seen, and we have been reporting, Ryan. I think what we can expect is that the conditions that are creating the refugees, the people who are seeking asylum in the northern triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, that's not going to change in 2019 and certainly not going to change if Trump carries through his threat to cut off all of the foreign aid. Just to remind people, Ryan, the aid that we give those three countries is about $550 million. I know that sounds like a lot but it is really not when you look at global foreign aid. It is about 0.1 percent about what we spend on foreign aid. And even the State Department will tell you that that money is spent on alleviating the kinds of conditions that are forcing these people to flee, governance, security, poverty, agriculture, energy. All of those things are important. So I think 2019, we are going to see continued tensions coming out of Central America and toward our border.

NOBLES: Admiral Kirby, we are so lucky to have your expertise on these issues. Obviously, it will be a major challenge for the administration in 2019.

Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

KIRBY: Thank you, Ryan.

NOBLES: Coming up, another controversy following the White House into the New Year. And this one goes all the way back to the inauguration and the record-breaking price tag. Did donors expect more than just a good time?

But first, on New Year's Day, CNN will premiere a new film about the life and work of comedienne, Gilda Radner. Tune in to "Love Gilda" on Tuesday. Here's a preview.


GILDA RADNER, COMEDIENNE: Hi, I'm Gilda Radner. And -- OK, now.


RADNER: People want to know what made you funny. From the time I was a kid, I loved to pretend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the very first performer chosen for the cast of "Saturday Night Live."

RADNER: Rosanne Roseannadanna.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They loved her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I basically stole all my characters from Gilda.

RADNER: I can do almost anything if people are laughing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda was just not quite herself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One morning, she just said, I don't know what's wrong with me.

RADNER: For a comedian, it's the most unfunny thing in the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She felt that she could be of help. And that's exactly what she did.

RADNER: How often do we get to know exactly how brave we are?

I always felt that my comedy was just to make things be all right.

[15:34:06] ANNOUNCER: "Love, Gilda," New Year's Day at 9:00 p.m.



NOBLES: We certainly remember the controversy over the size of President Trump's inauguration crowd. But the event did make history in another area, the cost. The bill came in at more than double the money spent to salute his two predecessors on each of their big days. The money trail is yet another area of the president's universe under investigation, as we head into the New Year.

CNN's Randi Kaye reports.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Starting right now, and right here.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: $107 million, that's how much Donald Trump's Inaugural Committee raised in donations for the event. Now federal prosecutors want to know if any of that money was misspent. And perhaps, more importantly, did top donors pay big money in exchange for access and influence in the Trump White House?

The "Wall Street Journal" first broke the story.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): Part of this is certainly looking at what these donors gave and what they expected or what they referred, but it is also partly about what happened with the Inaugural Committee's expenditures.

KAYE: This all apparently stems from the raid on former Trump attorney Michael Cohen's office. According to the "Wall Street Journal," investigators seized a recording of a conversation between Cohen and a woman named Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, and one of the key planners for Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration. Wolkoff reportedly expressed concern during that conversation about how the Inaugural Committee was spending money.


KAYE: Real estate developer, Tom Barrack, who ran the Inaugural Committee, denied there was a new investigation. Adding, he had been questioned about it in 2017.

The White House is distancing itself from the probe.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That doesn't have anything to do with the president or the first lady. The biggest thing the president did in his engagement in the inauguration was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office.

KAYE (on camera): Meanwhile, an investigation by "ProPublica" found the inauguration paid the Trump Organization for room, meals, and event space at Trump's Washington Hotel. And that Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and a senior executive at the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the prices at above-market value for venue rentals by the Inaugural Committee. A spokesman for Ivanka's lawyer told "ProPublica" that Ivanka said discussions should be at a fair- market rate.


(voice-over): And it isn't just about the money. The "Washington Post" reports that certain attendees at the inauguration also reportedly caught the attention of counter-intelligence officials at the FBI, though it's unclear which attendees.

The paper reported that Viktor Vekselberg, a tycoon closely aligned with Putin's government, attended inaugural events, along with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer whose meeting with Donald Trump Jr at Trump Tower in June 2016 is now under scrutiny.

[15:40:15] JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Congratulations, Mr. President. KAYE: It is all just part of why federal prosecutors are zeroing on the day Donald Trump officially became the 45th president of the United States.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


NOBLES: Let's talk about this now. Joining me conservative commentator and national editor for "Accuracy in Media, Carrie Sheffield, and Simone Sanders, the former press secretary for Bernie Sander's presidential campaign. She is now a CNN political commentator.

Carrie, let me start with you.

The figure there, $107 million raised for Trump's inauguration. That is double what George W. Bush and Barack Obama raised for their inaugurations, even though they both held more events than President Trump does. Does it in any way raise a red flag for you?

CARRIE SHEFFIELD, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR & NATIONAL EDITOR, ACURACY IN MEDIA: As in dating and many things in life, we know that quality is more important than quantity, and that is not an important metric, Ryan, with all due respect. The reporting that Randi mentioned, this all started from a "Wall Street Journal" article. It you look at that article -- I love the "Wall Street Journal, but this was a hatchet job in terms of the big key facts that were missing. This recording that was mentioned, the recording, we don't know where it took place, why it took place. We don't even know what was said in the recording. I think it is another cloud of suspicion around this president because people despise him. Because he fought the establishment. That's what it comes down at the end of the day. And I believe in responsible, respectful journalism that understands the facts of who, what, when, where, why. They matter. And they are missing from this story.

NOBLES: Simone, what is your take on this? Is there something to be said about the fact that if someone is going to invest in inaugurations, especially at this level, that they should expect something in return, and couldn't the same be said for President Obama and for President Bush?

SIMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it is necessarily true that folks expect something in return. There are a number of companies and entities, packets that, year after year after year, every time there's a presidential inauguration, they give to the Inaugural Committee. I think what the southern district attorney of New York is investigating is whether foreign entities, one, gave dollars, two, if anyone who gave money to the inauguration then received favors such as priority jobs or contracts with the United States government, or various governmental entities. And that, those questions remain to be answered. I think that's why the southern district attorney's office is looking into it. And we'll know more once they file additional paperwork. But I definitely think that if there were any foreign contributions, if there's a question, I think the fact that there's a question means that there was something in Michael Cohen's office, during that raid, that led investigators to believe this. What was that something? We don't know. But I don't think this came out of thin air, Ryan.

NOBLES: So, Carrie, John Berman spoke to the executive director of George W. Bush's second inauguration and he raised this point, and I want you to respond.


GREG JENKINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GEORGE W. BUSH INAUGURATION COMMITTEE: Things don't change that much in inauguration to another. And it is roughly the same buildings in D.C. It's roughly the same venues, the same buildings, it's fairly the same, pretty much the same. If you're looking at this from a business perspective, to spend -- to raise $107 million without a budget, or if they had a budget, to ignore the budget, is one of the worst business moves I can think of.


NOBLES: So he is suggesting that he didn't need $107 million to pull off an inauguration. But you disagree with that?

SHEFFIELD: Well, given that no one expected this president to win, you could understand why so many people were so enthusiastic when he defeated all of the odds. This, and for him to say that precedent -- look at precedent, the Obama campaign was fined $375,000. To be bipartisan, Bob Dole was fined $100,000. So sometimes in the heat of the moment, there are things that happen in which fines are paid. There have been no fines levied as it relates to this inauguration committee. And I think it is very reckless and irresponsible again to put up these clouds of suspicion without any evidence, if we believe in facts. Facts matter. We are missing some very key facts here.

And, Simone, I want to mention that you worked for Bernie Sanders. The fact that Bernie Sanders supporters moved over and supported President Trump, that's why he won. And so --


SANDERS: Hold on. Hold on.

SHEFFIELD: And people are bringing these unsubstantiated claims, they are insulting Trump voters, who formally were Bernie voters. And so --


SANDERS: Let's be clear.


SANDERS: Let me be really clear. Because I -- let me be really clear.


SANDERS: In 2016 --


SHEFFIELD: The more you put a cloud of suspicion around this president, the more in 2020 he will continue to rise.

NOBLES: Let me just -- Simone, I will give you a chance to respond.

But first, Carrie, we should point out that "the Wall Street Journal" did the reporting but there's an investigation that is under way --

SANDERS: Exactly.

NOBLES: -- by the southern district of New York.

SHEFFIELD: Which has not been confirmed.

NOBLES: Right.

SHEFFIELD: And there are no facts. Anonymous sourcing throughout this reporting, as well as the "New York Times."

NOBLES: Well --

SHEFFIELD: It's a major --

[15:45:04] NOBLES: -- anonymous sourcing from the "Wall Street Journal," which is a credible news outlet, which deserves the right for us to at least put some trust behind their reporting. I think we should allow that to happen.

But, Simone, I want you to have the opportunity to respond to this claim that, all of a sudden, Bernie Sanders supporters became Donald Trump supporters. You were there --


SHEFFIELD: We know. We know. They were blue collar --


SANDERS: Apparently, all of the Bernie supporters.

SHEFFIELD: Did I say all? No, I didn't.


SANDERS: OK, I let you have your moment. Give me mine.

I would like folks to know that there is something called Obama/Trump voters. These are white working-class voters that are often referred to. Obama/Trump voters accounted for about 8 percent of the electorate in 2016. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when 56 million people voted for Donald Trump, those are a lot of people. A number of the Obama/Trump voters, some of them accounted as Bernie Sanders voters. So while, yes, there's a subset of the Bernie Sanders coalition that either cast their ballots for Donald Trump, declined to cast their ballot at all, cast their ballot for a third party, and there's a subset of the coalition that did cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton. But to suggest that any, any criticism of this president -- any criticism of this president and his business practices, business practices that had -- that have been -- that are under scrutiny in many more ways than one -- and where there's smoke, there's fire, I have always said -- is disingenuous or trying to, quote, unquote, "take him down," is just intellectually dishonest. That's absolutely not true.


NOBLES: Carrie --


NOBLES: Simone --


NOBLES: Simone, Carrie, I appreciate both of you being here. We have a finite amount of time to do this segment. We are going to have to leave it there. I appreciate both of your enthusiasm --

SANDERS: Thanks, Ryan.

NOBLES: -- and energy, but we've got to move on. Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.


[15:50:37] NOBLES: Spewing lava, bomb cyclones, historic hurricanes, and once-in-a-thousand-year floods. CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers counts down the top eight weather events of the past year.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: 2018 brought another year of extreme weather and natural disasters to the U.S. The impacts of manmade climate change evident in every region of the country even as the U.S. takes a step backward in fighting the global crisis.

Here are the top eight stories for 2018.

(voice-over): Number eight, the Hawaii volcano. Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, lived up to its reputation. In early May, it came to light once again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This really does look like hell on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is as impressive, as mesmerizing and as terrifying as it gets.

MYERS: The lava, which reached temperatures topping 2100 degrees, destroyed 700 homes. Number seven, the Alaska earthquake. On November 30th, a 7.0

magnitude quake struck Alaska. It hit very near the populated city of Anchorage, causing roads to buckle, knocking out power to 10,000 people.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This was the worst, most-violent quake they had ever felt.


MYERS: The quake was considered the most-significant for Anchorage since 1964. Fortunately, no serious injuries or deaths were reported.

Number six, Florida red tide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an epic event of Biblical proportions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's the worst toxic algae event in recent memory. Wiping out dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life by the thousands.

MYERS: While the process that creates Florida's red tide and green slime are natural, many scientists say the increased agricultural runoff and pollution from the early season Subtropical Storm Alberto made the problem even worse.

Number five, the Maryland flood. On May 27th, storms pounded the Baltimore area.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Flashing flooding has turned this Maryland town's main street into a raging river. Cars have been swept up by the roaring muddy water rushing through Ellicott City, Maryland.

MYERS: Many there were still rebuilding from the flash flood of 2016. It was considered a once-in-a-thousand-year event. And it took only two years for history to repeat itself.

(on camera): Number four, it's a term known to meteorologists, but this year two storms had everyone talking about it.





MYERS: What is a bomb cyclone? It's not just a nor'easter. It's a big storm that develops rapidly. There's warm air over the ocean and very cold air over the land and a jet stream in between. That allows the storm to rapidly intensify, develop into a nor'easter, but a big one, a one that loses 24 millibars of pressure in 24 hours. That's the technical term. Not every nor'easter is a bomb cyclone.

(voice-over): Two of these nor 'esters struck this year. The first, in early January, left 19 dead and caused over a billion dollars in damage. As the storm worked up the coast, it brought the first snow since 1989 in Tallahassee, Florida, and ice and snow to Charleston, South Carolina. The storm hit the northeast very hard with nearly nine inches of snow in New York City and a tide over 15 feet in Boston Harbor, big enough to break the record from the benchmark blizzard of 1978.

(on camera): In March, another coastal bomb left nine dead and did $2.2 billion in damage, knocking out power to over a million at the peak of the storm.

(voice-over): Number three on our list is Hurricane Michael. Michael made landfall on October 10th as the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. since Hurricane Andrew. The category four hurricane was one mile per hour short of being a cat five. It claimed 46 lives. Most of those killed were in Florida where the panhandle was devastated. The small town of Mexico Beach was ground zero.

BALDWIN: We have just flown over Mexico Beach and it's gone. It's obliterated. It's awful to look at. I have never seen anything like this.

MYERS: Number two is Hurricane Florence. The storm made landfall on September 14th along the North Carolina coast.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As we notice that inner eyewall -- there it goes. There goes the lights.

[15:55:07] MYERS: Much like Harvey in Houston the year before, the hurricane stalled for days, bringing historic rains. Nearly three feet of rain impacted some areas of North Carolina. The storm dumped as much as 10 trillion gallons of water. As much as eight-months- worth of rain fell in just a few days. Many rivers in both North and South Carolina saw their all-time record crest. More than 50 people perished in the storm.

Increasingly, scientists are concerned that hurricanes like Michael and Florence could be the new normal. Increased heat, especially in the oceans, can potentially lead to stronger and wetter storms.

(on camera): Perhaps no place in the U.S. has begun to see the consequences of climate change more than California.

(voice-over): Years of record drought were replaced by historic flooding in late 2017. That yo-yo effect laid the foundation for wildfires and deadly mudslides.

(on camera): California is number one on our list with floods and fires.

(voice-over): In January of this year, heavy rains fell over the Thomas Fire burn scar, bringing a wall of debris and mud to communities below. Areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties were the hardest hit.

This year's fires were the most destructive and devastating in California history.


MYERS: They burned in almost every month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The term we hear it's new normal. It's not new. It's not normal. It's not a season. It's year around.

MYERS: And the Mendocino Complex Fire that started in July became the largest ever recorded for the state.

But the worst came in November when strong winds pushed the Camp Fire into the town of Paradise.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is nothing like what we have had before.

MYERS: There was such panic, some drivers abandoned their cars as they tried to flee on foot.

Some 40,000 people resided in the path of the fire. In the end, 85 died. And nearly the entire town of 14,000 homes burned to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our whole town was wiped off the face of the earth.

MYERS: Chad Myers, CNN, Atlanta.