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Trump: Child Border Deaths Strictly the Fault of the Democrats; About 800,000 People Staying Home or Working Without Pay; 800,000 Federal Workers Enter Second Week Without Pay; WH Mum on What They've Offered Dems on Wall Funding; No End in Sight as Partial Shutdown Enters Second Week; Manafort Favors to Russia?; Time: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts During 2016 Presidential Campaign; Putin: Invulnerable Nuclear Missile Ready To Deploy; Hotel Fires Worker Accused of Racism; Democrats Teeing up to Investigate Trump; Employees From Portland Hotel Lobby Incident Fired; Hotel Manager Calls Police on Black Guest on Phone In Lobby; Hotel Apologizes For Making Black Guest Leave Property; Wife Of Justice Thomas Stirs Debate With Far-Right Rhetoric; Trump Threatens To Shutdown Border if he Doesn't Get Wall. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 29, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN HOST, CNN NEWSROOM: You are live in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ryan Nobles in for on Ana Cabrera. President Trump out of sight so far this weekend. He's not at his resort in Florida, he's not taking part in New Year's celebrations and he's certainly not visiting or hosting any federal employees.

Any of the roughly 2 million American men and women who work for the United States government, especially anyone attached to the nine cabinet departments that are shut down for more than a week now.

People working without pay or told to stay home because the President and congressional Democrats can't settle on a dollar amount to earmark for a Wall on the Mexican border.

And now this, quite out of the blue today, President Trump saying in no uncertain terms that it is Democrats to blame when migrant children die on the southern border. These words from the President today, "Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can't. If we had a wall, they wouldn't even try."

CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House now. Sarah, this is the first time that the President has even mentioned those migrant children who tragically died on the border and he made it a political attack. Was there anything before or after that tweet to explain what he was talking about or even give it context?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan President Trump has been fuming about Democrats' refusal to provide any funding for his border wall and he's been searching for different ways to blame Democrats for immigration problems and for the partial government shutdown. Now since politicizing the deaths of those two migrant children, the President has also been going after Senate Democrats for their refusal to vote for any Wall money, recall that a Bill providing $5 billion worth of appropriations for the Wall failed on the Senate and that's the thing that ultimately triggered this government shutdown on Friday.

Now despite the White House trying to pin the blame for this partial shutdown on Democrats, Democratic congressional leaders have not actually been invited to the White House for further negotiations, that's according to acting chief of staff / budget director Mick Mulvaney who said the White House at this point, is pretty much just waiting for a counteroffer from the Democrats even though they haven't been invited here to present that kind of offer.

Mulvaney suggested that Trump might be willing to come down off of that demand for $5 billion in border wall funding but he didn't specify by how much and meanwhile the President is reviving threats to shut down the southern border and to cut off funding to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Both of those things he's threatened to do before and neither of which he's followed up on fully but it's clear that the President is very frustrated at this moment with his inability to get any funding for the wall.

It's also clear this partial government shutdown has no end in sight with the Democrats preparing to retake the House and shake up the dynamics of negotiating power just five days from now, Ryan.

NOBLES: All right, Sarah Westwood, live at the White House. Sarah, thank you for that update. And while both President Trump and congressional Democrats refused to budge over paying for some type of wall on the Mexican border, the U.S. government remains partially shut down, several cabinet level departments and the people who staff them operating with no money.

That means no paychecks until well, who knows? More now from CNN's Kaylee Hartung.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no end in sight to the government shutdown, forcing thousands of federal workers and their families to make tough sacrifices.

ANGELA KABANA, WIFE OF FAA EMPLOYEE: It's pretty scary not knowing when you're going to get paid.

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

KABANA: He's a considered, an essential employee so he has to go to work and 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. 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 parks busiest days of the year.

SETH ZAHAMAS, ROCK CLIMBING GATE: I'm guiding every day and then in my free hour or two in the evening, I'm running to the park and 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 'shutdown stories.'

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

[19:05:00] Loren in Pennsylvania tweets that she depends on child support from a federal corrections officer paycheck. Without it, she says she won't have the funds for after-school care or school lunch.

And Sarah Watterson who describes herself as a Marine Corps veteran on Twitter puts her family struggle into perspective saying, "My children don't care about walls, they do care about having a warm house to live in, 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 policymakers bickering and the longer the shutdown drags on, the more widely the effects will be felt. Kaylee Hartung, CNN.


NOBLES: Kaylee, thank you. Let's discuss this now with U.S. Spectator or Spectator USA contributor, Kelly Jane Torrance and commentary writer and editor for The Washington Examiner, Siraj Hashmi. Thank you both for being here, on a Saturday night, on a holiday, we appreciate it.

Kelly Jane, let's start with you. Lawmakers are at home, some are on vacation, President Trump keeps blaming Democrats for the shutdown saying essentially it's too bad but necessary to keep our country safe. You know at the end of the day, it's easy to forget that there are actual human beings that are hurt by this on many different levels. Do you think that that is lost a little bit with what the President is saying?

KELLY JANE TORRANCE, SPECTATOR USA CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, the optics here in Washington, Ryan, don't look that great. I mean, you do have President Trump who publicly in that meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi a couple weeks ago said, he would be proud to shut down the government for the border wall. I think since then maybe some of his advisors have told him that a

shutdown is not necessarily popular but at the same time you do have Nancy Pelosi right now vacationing in Hawaii. I'm not sure the optics of that were that were - very good. I wouldn't have done that personally.

But I think one of the reasons that lawmakers haven't you know, there's many reasons of course, they haven't been sitting down with each other but part of it is when the shutdown started right before a couple of federal holidays, lot of people have taken time off, this time of year.

So this shutdown wasn't going to be felt as immediately for federal employees but now that the new year is coming and you know a lot of people are worried, how are we going to pay for our bills and a lot of people of course are already tight on cash after the holiday. So I think as we see more of these stories come out, things may change.

Right now actually the shutdown hasn't changed Donald Trump's approval rating by very much. You know, one or two points in a couple of different polls, that's within margins of errors but once we see more of these stories come out, that could change.

NOBLES: Yeah and people may be paying attention to it more once the New Year starts as well. Siraj, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked what President Trump would be willing to accept, this was her response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us any idea what the President would be willing to accept financially for border security, for his border wall where you could reach a deal if Democrats would get there?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we've made that clear to the Democrats, I'm not going to negotiate in the press but the President has been willing to negotiate on this point.


NOBLES: I mean Siraj, isn't this part of the problem that the White House's goals here seem to be a moving target, we don't know definitively what they're looking for. What if they put a number on the table and said we'd accept this, wouldn't that put pressure on the Democrats to accept it and at least move this conversation forward?

SIRAJ HASHMI, COMMENTARY WRITER AND EDITOR, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, right now there's no pressure on the Democrats to even move on a deal so long as Nancy Pelosi isn't yet Speaker of the House and I think people have really acknowledged the politics of the speakership race that you know that once Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker of the House, the Democrats will then have more leverage to negotiate with the Trump White House.

But the Trump White House needs anywhere north of $1.8 billion for funding for the border wall, they're willing to probably accept something less than $5 billion for construction of the border wall but they need to move somewhere because 2020 is on the horizon and President Trump needs a victory here and the Democrats don't want to give it to him even in the slightest.

NOBLES: You know Kelly, there's been a lot made about the President's kind of shifting position on all of this, you know he right now is putting all the blame on the Democrats but we have to remember that he originally said that he'd take responsibility for the shutdown. We also know that the Senate passed a continuing resolution, the Vice- President went to Capitol Hill and told Senate Republicans that the President would sign it.

He then went back on that deal that caused the shutdown. Now he's demanding all this money for a wall on the border with Mexico and he said repeatedly during the campaign that Mexico was going to pay for this, it wouldn't require taxpayer money. How can he credibly blame this on Democrats?

TORRANCE: That's a great question Ryan and you know, it reminds me of some of the supporters of Donald Trump when he was a candidate saying that you have to take him seriously but not literally but you know, he said in almost every campaign event, we're going to build that wall, Mexico is going to pay for it.

And yeah, just - this is why I see you know, part of me thinks well, you know why don't the Democrats compromise a little, well, you know, they come to the table, why don't they move a little. Well they have the upper hand and that's because of Donald Trump and this administration.

You know, as you pointed out just a couple weeks ago, you had the Senate voting unanimously on a continuing resolution that would have funded through February 8th, zero dollars for that border wall.

[19:10:00] NOBLES: It was a voice vote, they didn't even need to have a roll call, it was so unanimous, that's right.

TORRANCE: Exactly and the administration, Donald Trump was going to support that and once that came out, you had prominent conservatives you know, his - part of his base people like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham who were very angry and said, they were you know, some were disappointed, some said it was outrageous and it was only then that he decided, well, wait I got a - this, I promise this, I got to do this.

And keep in mind as you know, some people have mentioned that he hasn't yet - the administration has not yet spent the money that was already passed for building up some of that border wall.

So yeah, there's mixed messages coming out of the administration and you can see in a way, why Democrats are sort of holding firm because they know the Republicans have already voted once for funding with no money for a border wall, why won't they do it again.

NOBLES: You know Siraj, Kelly makes a great point, there's certainly an advantage to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer not doing anything to allow the President to kind of flail here looking for some sort of an offer but isn't there an opportunity here as well?

Couldn't they come to the table and say, okay, we'll give you a pittance of the money that you're looking for, for this border wall but in exchange you give us protection for dreamers, you agree to some sort of a protection for Robert Mueller.

Are they missing an opportunity here to kind of put this back on the White House and in exchange get something that they're looking for, that he likely would not be in agreement to under normal circumstances?

HASHMI: Possibly, I mean the Democrats have wasted plenty of opportunities to try to negotiate with the Trump White House in exchange for something that they want to get done say, doc of reauthorization in the early of 2018 and then we had a government shutdown as well or at least a partial shutdown because of that.

But you also have to look at the fact that the San Diego Union Tribune reported that another migrant caravan is on its way and leaving in January - mid-January and basically President Trump is going to have another immigration crisis on his hands and this particular Caravan is supposed to be somewhere around 15,000 people according to organizers who are rallying these people together.

So President Trump has to act soon and get something done with respect to you know, construction of the border wall. He's talked about shutting down you know, ports of entry or shutting down the border altogether. That might help at least with getting the Democrats to the table but right now it's up in the air, right now.

NOBLES: Okay, all right, we got a very finite amount of time but I want both of you on the record here, we're taping this, we're going to bring it back and play it back. Kelly, who caves first?

TORRANCE: The Republicans.

NOBLES: Republicans, all right, Siraj.

HASHMI: You know Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi caved last time, I can't see them do it again. I think Trump will at least have a partial win, he will get some funding but he won't get $5 billion.

NOBLES: Okay, all right, we've got you both on the record now and this is forever going to mark your career so good or bad, you came on Saturday night and you pay the price for it. All right, thank you guys so much. I really appreciate you being here.

TORRANCE: Thanks Ryan.

HASHMI: Thanks Ryan. Happy New Year.

NOBLES: Happy New Year.

A new report alleges that Donald Trump's former campaign chairman was pressured by a former Russian spy in 2016 - in the 2016 campaign over money that Manafort allegedly owed to a powerful Oligarch. Those details ahead, plus new threats from the Kremlin, Russia claims its new supersonic missile is invulnerable and ready to deploy.

So what does that mean for our national security?


NOBLES: New tonight, a Time magazine report exposing a new tie between a top Trump campaign figure and Russia. It involves former Trump campaign man, Paul Manafort and an alleged Russian Ex by named Victor Boyarkin and Boyarkin's boss, a powerful Russian billionaire named Oleg Deripaska.

Boyarkin tells Time that during the heat of the 2016 Presidential campaign, Manafort was deeply in debt to Deripaska. According to Boyarkin, Manafort began offering ways to pay that money back. Now here's where the twists begin, you may recall the Washington Post previously reported in which Paul Manafort promised to give Deripaska, private briefings on the 2016 campaign.

Now Time reports this may have been one of the ways that Manafort was attempting to pay Deripaska back and remember this isn't the only time that Deripaska has been linked to the Trump campaign. Earlier this year, a Russian model who had spent time with Deripaska offered to give up information about an alleged link between the Trump campaign and Russia in exchange for asylum.

Now a spokesman for Manafort declined to comment to CNN about Times' new report. Now CNN did catch up with Deripaska last year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Manafort owes you millions of dollars ahead of the Trump campaign?



NOBLES: My next guest, he is here to try and help us make sense of all this relatively complicated report. Seth Hettena is the author of Trump/Russia. So Seth, try and help us understand who Oleg Deripaska is and who Victor Boyarkin are.

How powerful are they and is it realistic to think that the connection between them would lead ultimately to the Kremlin and possibly Donald Trump?

SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR, TRUMP/RUSSIA: Definitely, yeah, it is a complex picture but here's - here's how to explain it. Oleg Deripaska is one of a few oligarchs who are extremely close to Putin and the Kremlin. He said on a couple of occasions, he doesn't separate himself from the state and he would basically do anything when asked by Putin to do.

So you know what we have is a Trump's campaign Chairman Paul Manafort in deep debt to a man like Deripaska. Viktor Boyarkin was the bagman. Viktor Boyarkin was the missing link here. We knew that there were these emails, we knew that Deripaska was involved, we didn't know how they were connected and Boyarkin was the go-between.

He was hammering Manafort for money while the campaign was going on and as you mentioned, one of the ways Manafort suggested paying up may have been suggesting paying it off was to offer private briefings on the campaign.

So you know you have a campaign manager in debt to a Russian oligarch, who's connected to Putin who's being pressured for money in the middle of a campaign, he's running on behalf of the Republican nominee for President.

NOBLES: So in the context of everything that we've seen reported about Russia and the investigation up until this point. I mean, where do you rank this in terms of important developments, it seems as though this connection now, drawing Boyarkin into this is a very significant development.

HETTENA: It's one - you know, there's this kind of constant mosaic, the shifting mosaic of puzzle pieces out there and we're - what we're getting is detail that's being filled in here. So we're getting color and Boyarkin is you know, he's an interesting character, he's a former intelligence agent.

[19:20:00] And what his job was, was running special projects for Deripaska in Africa and other places and that may have included you know collecting debts from people like Paul Manafort.

But what's important to see is that this is just one of many pieces out there that are all connecting Trump to the campaign. The interesting question for me is what did Trump know? The best case for Trump here is that he didn't know that Boyarkin - that there was any Boyarkin connection or Deripaska connection with his campaign Chairman.

The worst case scenario, the darker scenario is that he knew and that's why he chose Paul Manafort to be his campaign Chairman.

NOBLES: That's interesting, so now if we're trying to play this situation out and see how this could potentially be impacting the administration in its current form, a few weeks ago the Trump administration lifted sanctions on a company that is tied to Deripaska.

I mean, what do you think the reasoning for that could be?

HETTENA: To me that looks like a sweetheart deal you know. They hammered Deripaska very hard with these sanctions. Deripaska runs one of the world's biggest aluminum companies and those sanctions bit hard and almost as soon as they were implemented, the Trump administration has been trying to soften the blow.

The sanctions were delayed, Deripaska's hired lobbyists. The information I've seen is that Boyarkin came back into Deripaska's inner circle to help get rid of these sanctions, that was part of his role and it looks like a sweetheart deal because Deripaska's charity is now one of the shareholders, he was supposed - Deripaska was supposed to cut his ownership in half.

So now half of the shares are owned by his charity, by a Russian bank and it doesn't look like control has been really given up at all so you know, the another interesting twist of this is that Boyarkin was the spy who was talking to Manafort. He was sanctioned in December so that may have been part of the trade here is that we'll lift sanctions on your companies if we'll - and we'll give sanctions to Boyarkin, there may have been some horse trading going on here.

NOBLES: Well, it's an incredibly complex story. Seth, we appreciate you at least helping us to unpack one thread on this story, thank you so much for your perspective.

HETTENA: Thank you.

NOBLES: And speaking of Russia, a new arms race challenge for Vladimir Putin. He says Russia is ready to deploy a hypersonic nuclear missile that it is impossible to stop. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has the story.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vladimir Putin in command, observing his Armed Forces test what they claim is a hypersonic missile, capable of defeating America's missile defense systems called Avangard.

VLADMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): The new Avangard system is invincible when faced with current and future air defense and missile defenses technology of a potential enemy. This is a great success and a great victory.

PLEITGEN: While some experts doubt whether the Avangard missile is really combat ready and as capable as Moscow says, Russia claims it flies up to 20 times the speed of sound and is capable of evasive maneuvers if confronted by missile defense systems.

PUTIN (through translator): Next year the Avangard system will be put into service, a regimen will be formed which will start combat duty. This is a wonderful, tremendous gift to the country for the New Year.

PLEITGEN: The missile tests came at the same time President Trump was in Iraq standing by his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, giving a massive boost to Russia's influence in the region and amid growing tensions between Moscow and Washington over Trump's decision to pull out of the decades-old intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty.

Vladimir Putin unveiled plans for a variety of nuclear weapons in March including the Avangard and an unmanned underwater drone which the Russians also claim will be invincible.

PUTIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We've achieved major breakthrough in developing new weapons this year, there's nothing in the world like these weapons and I hope that our new systems will make those used to militaristic and aggressive rhetoric think twice.

PLEITGEN: While Moscow says its new generation of nukes are not aimed at threatening anyone, experts fear Russia, China and the U.S. could be on the brink of a new nuclear arms race as tensions between them rise and arms control treaties are scrapped. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


NOBLES: Still to come, a guest is kicked out of a hotel for talking on the phone and the hotel now responding by firing two workers. Plus, Democrats take control the House in just five days and they promise a litany of Presidential investigations so where may they start?


NOBLES: A Double Tree in Portland, Oregon is apologizing for an alleged racist incident in its hotel lobby.

Jermaine Massey says he was racially profiled and discriminated against for taking a phone call in the hotel lobby, last Saturday. The hotel says it has now fired the two employees seen in this viral video asking Massey to leave. CNN's Miguel Marquez has more on this incident.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, this seems to be another case of basically breathing while black, white people calling the police on black people for either small or no offence at all.

In this case it was gentleman by the name of Jermaine Masset, he on December 22nd checked into a Double Tree hotel in Portland, it's part of the Hilton Chain of hotels. He had just gone to a concert, his mother had texted a somewhat urgent text, he walked into the lobby, it was rather crowded.

He went to a secluded part of the lobby and started making a phone call, that's when he was confronted, he put the phone down with his mom, started recording, he posted it to Instagram and we've put together a little highlights list for you.


JERMAINE MASSEY: He's calling the cops on me because I'm taking a phone call at the Doubletree Hotel. Say hi Earl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Portland police will be here in a minute.

MASSEY: Thank you, call them, I'm waiting.


MASSEY: They're coming why? Why are they coming?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Escorting you off the property.

MASSEY: Because what, and I'm staying here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not anymore. MASSEY: How am I loitering in an area that's public?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's said here.

MASSEY: So this area's off-limits after a certain time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only if you're a guest.

MASSEY: I am a guest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't tell me that.

MASSEY: I said that I'm a guest.


MASSEY: I told you that.


MARQUEZ: Mr. Massey was on the Don Lemon Show and Don asked him why do you think this sort of stuff happens?


MASSEY: It's hurtful, it's humiliating and I don't understand why it continues to be an issue. I'm a person at the end of the day just like everyone else and I deserve respect and fair treatment and I did not receive that on Saturday.

[19:30:00] I think that there's a lot of perceptions about black males in particular that we're threats and we're harmful and we're just fearful individuals, and you know that bias, it impacts these situations and it's harmful to us as a people.


MARQUEZ: As far as the Doubletree and the entire Hilton Hotel chain, they've issued a lengthy statement saying they don't condone discrimination, they've apologized and clearly they have fired the two individuals. CNN has reached out to those two individuals, one we could not get a hold of, the other didn't return our messages.

Even the Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler tweeting that all of this is part of the systemic nature of discrimination while Mr. Massey and his lawyer are pleased for the apology and for the firing from Hilton hotels, they do want more, they'd like to hear from them on paper about the policy that led that security guard to confront Mr. Massey in that way at their property? Ryan.

NOBLES: Well, Miguel thank you and Miguel mentioned that statement from Doubletree, it goes on to say, "Our hotel is committed to engaging outside advisers and experts in diversity and inclusion to evaluate our processes, protocols and trainings to ensure something like this does not happen again. We reiterate our sincere apology to Mr. Massey and for his treatment this past weekend and deeply regret the experience he endured."

Coming up, she is a long-time conservative known for pushing the envelope but did the wife of a Supreme Court justice go too far with her latest Facebook posts.


NOBLES: It's not just a divided Congress about to come back to Washington, a more polarized Supreme Court is also a few days away from a new session and the far-right Trump supporting Facebook posts of one of the justice's spouses are raising new questions.

For years Ginni Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas's wife has been a vocal presence in conservative circles. But as CNN's Jessica Schneider reports, her more recent rhetoric is hashtag mega all the way.



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Supreme Court spouse for decades, Virginia Thomas better known as Ginni is well known for speaking out among conservative circles.

VIRGINIA 'GINNI' THOMAS, WIFE OF JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS: The second Reagan Revolution is growing.

SCHNEIDER: But it's her recent rapid succession of Facebook posts blasting Democrats and promoting highly partisan views that are prompting pushback. Earlier this month, Thomas put up this meme, asking where is the wall, portraying California as a war zone where undocumented immigrants attack and carjack Americans.

She reposted this claim of Democratic voter fraud after the midterms with no proof at all. She has even derided Republicans for not going after the Left who she's labeled as liberal fascists, one week after a Nazi sympathizer killed a woman in Charlottesville.

One user responded to her recent post, you're literally married to a sitting Supreme Court justice and you put out this partisan propaganda, you tarnish the people's faith in the court and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ginni Thomas has every right to have whatever opinion she wants. She has every right as an individual to express those opinions publicly. The question is whether by expressing those opinions publicly, she is calling into question, she's providing fodder for those who want to attack the impartiality, the credibility of the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: Ginni Thomas didn't respond to our request for comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clarence Thomas, you're the best man walking the face of the earth.

SCHNEIDER: She did interview her husband in January as a contributor for the conservative site Daily Caller. Their banter offered a window into their close and playful relationship.

CLARENCE THOMAS: I keep a sign on my desk, don't make fun of your wife's choices, you were one of them.

GINNI THOMAS: Thank you, really appreciate that and that's so true. Okay, what do you know - what do you say.

CLARENCE THOMAS: That's why I love my wife so.

SCHNEIDER: But he also seemed to distance himself from her outspoken conservative commentary in that Daily Caller interview.

CLARENCE THOMAS: As a judge, you don't get to be on one team or the other, you have to think independently in order to live up to the oath that you take.

GINNI THOMAS: And the best part of being a justice?

CLARENCE THOMAS: Its first of all, it's - it'd be impossible without you and I have to be honest.


NOBLES: That was Jessica Schneider reporting. One of the messages that Democrats ran on this year was keeping President Trump in check so where could those House investigations start and just what could they uncover? That's next.


NOBLES: In just five days, the Democrats will take control of the House, that means their first chance to demand answers and actually expect to receive them by issuing subpoenas. CNN's Randi Kaye takes a look at one area where they could start, the Trump family business empire.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is the Trump Organization mixed up in money laundering? That's what some members of Congress want to find out. Deutsche bank has a history of illegally laundering Russian money and a relationship with the Trump Organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines to the state of New York because they were laundering Russian money and this apparently was the one bank that was willing to do business with the Trump Organization. Now is that a coincidence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here he comes, here he comes.

KAYE: There's also the Michael Cohen problem, the Trump organization's long-time lawyer pleaded guilty in August to eight counts including campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, which Cohen says included payments designed to silence women who claim they had affairs with Trump, which Trump has denied. MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY: He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.

KAYE: Voters were kept in the dark as they headed to the polls yet Cohen admitted in court filings that in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office, he kept information that would have harmed Trump, from being made public during the 2016 election cycle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what about that proposed Trump Tower in Moscow? Cohen had previously said talks about the Moscow project ended in January 2016 before the Iowa caucuses, turns out that was a lie. According to Rudy Giuliani, the talks continued into November, the month of the election.

In court Cohen admitted he made his false statements consistent with individual one's political messaging and out of loyalty to individual one. Just who is individual one? Donald Trump.

KAYE: All of this matters because if it's true, it could prove Trump was seeking business with Russia while Moscow was secretly working to get him elected and speaking of hotels, Attorneys General for Maryland and D.C. have filed a lawsuit and subpoenaed financial records from the Trump Organization and the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

[19:45:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: This is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington D.C., the best location.

KAYE: The hotel plays host to foreign officials and leaders from around the world. The lawsuit suggests the President breached the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the President from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office.

All said, at least five committees in Congress now poised to probe the Trump Organization on everything Trump's touched, including his yet to be released tax returns. Randi Kaye, CNN New York.


NOBLES: Randi, thank you. Joining me now to discuss this is Richard Painter former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. Richard, you saw what Randi had to say there. I mean, what stands out most to you about the Trump Organization and as a lawyer, what would you be looking at given the opportunity?

RICHARD PAINER, FORMER G.W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, first for 25 years since the end of the George H.W. Bush administration, Donald Trump's credit rating in the United States has been terrible. American banks will not loan him money. Western European banks will not loan him money if they are taking the risk.

Where is he getting his money? Who is taking the risk on these loans that are made to Donald Trump by Deutsche bank or other banks? It is very, very likely that it's not the Americans or the Western Europeans. That's the first thing about Donald Trump. Second, every time Robert Muller wants to get anywhere near the financial records of the Trump Organization, Donald Trump gets very, very upset and starts trying to fire Robert Mueller.

Obviously there is something there. Third, there's a reason he doesn't share his tax returns because that's where a lot of this information likely is. And last, this Emolument Clause litigation is critically important. Well, my work for Citizens for responsibility and ethics in Washington for about a year, we looked very carefully at this issue, filed a lawsuit at the very beginning of the administration.

And there two other lawsuits in the pipeline but now we have an opportunity, the United States House of Representatives as well as the courts to find out where the Trump money is coming from.

NOBLES: So if you were a Democrat and you saw you know the opportunity to start issuing subpoenas, how concerned would you be that the White House would be successful in preventing action on those subpoenas and fighting those subpoenas from going forward?

PAINTER: Well, I'd just go ahead and issue the subpoenas and I would - I would support those subpoenas whether I was a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's shameful that the Republicans have been blocking this investigation for two years and that's one reason I left the Republican Party.

I'm now an independent but this should not be partisan, a foreign power has infiltrated our elections, hacked computers, there was collaboration with the Russians and now we may very well have financial ties between the President of the United States and Russia.

It's critically important that we find this out, we're all Americans, not Democrats or Republicans in this game.

NOBLES: All right, Richard Painter, thank you for your perspective, we appreciate it. And as the partial government shutdown nears its ninth day, President Trump is threatening to shut down the southern border if he doesn't get his wall but is he even legally able to do that? We'll discuss ahead live in the CNN Newsroom.


NOBLES: 2018 was a big year for the Department of Justice. Indictments, investigations and the ouster of the Attorney General. Laura Jarrett looks back the top eight Justice stories of 2018.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: 2018 produced at downpour of news from the Justice Department. Indictments, immigration battles, clashes with Capitol Hill, the departure of an Attorney General and an investigation looming over the presidency. Here are the top eight stories in 2018.

Number eight the rise of hate. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 11 people dead, six people wounded in what one FBI agent calls the most horrific crime he has ever seen. The suspect 46-year old Robert Bowers, his social media accounts littered with anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views.

JARRETT: In October a massacre of Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and in Kentucky, the fatal shooting of two black people at a grocery store, together bringing a disturbing uptick in hate crimes into sharp focus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI says in 2017, hate crimes shot up 17%. The motivation for nearly 60% of those the government says was race, ethnicity or ancestry.

JARRETT: Number seven, Trump's war on the Justice system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump making a strong demand on Twitter just moments ago.

JARRETT: Trump up the ante on the Justice Department and the FBI in 2018, demanding they investigate whether his campaign was spied on for political reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President is on a tweet storm this morning to make unproven claims of something that he is now calling Spygate. Just minutes ago he made this now a thing.

JARRETT: Also going after his political rivals.

TRUMP: There's a lingering stench and we're going to get rid of that too.

JARRETT: In unprecedented ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

[19:55:00] JARRETT: Number six, the Justice Department versus Capitol Hill. As the Special Counsel's Russia investigation marched on, Trump's allies on Capitol Hill pressured the Justice department to turn over highly classified documents about how it all started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they should understand by now, the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.

JARRETT: Then with the backing of the White House, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee produced a highly controversial report, accusing the FBI of misconduct in obtaining a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Whereas others on the Hill who actually reviewed the FISA materials concluded the FBI did nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do. JARRETT: Number five, the immigration battle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We care, we care.

JARRETT: Amid an outcry, a federal judge swiftly blocked the Trump administration from separating parents from their children and the President backed down.

TRUMP: The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country and we will have that, at the same time we have compassion, we want to keep families together.

JARRETT: Then another judge blocked the administration's efforts to limit asylum, saying the President violated "a clear command from Congress."

Number four, when the courts check Trump.

TRUMP: You go to the Ninth Circuit and it's a disgrace and I'm going to put in a major complaint because you cannot win if you're us.

JARRETT: While the President often lashes out at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the west coast, in reality the administration faced a losing streak this year in courts across the country but Trump did score one major victory.

A federal judge in Texas striking down the Affordable Care Act teeing up a fight all but guaranteed to land in the Supreme Court. A court with a new 5-4 conservative majority this as the Justice Department is making a practice of regularly asking justices to weigh in on other controversial issues, aggressively skipping over lower courts.

But Chief Justice John Roberts also issued a rare warning against Trump's criticism of judges saying, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."

Number three, reshaping the federal courts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the ayes are 50, the nays are 48.

JARRETT: The President secured a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for decades to come at the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October, confronted with allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers, something he fiercely denied but caused a nail-biting vote until the very end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional. That process is over. I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness.

JARRETT: Meanwhile Senate Republican leaders made sacking the federal judiciary with young conservative judges, a signature priority. A legacy that will far outlast the Trump presidency.

Number two, justice shake-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news right now the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, he has now resigned.

JARRETT: The long-expected departure of one of Trump's earliest supporters coming after months of blistering attacks all because Jeff Sessions stepped away from overseeing the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: He took the job and then he said I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this?

JARRETT: Trump tat Matt Whitaker, Session's former Chief of Staff to take the reins of the department temporarily, unleashing a series of legal challenges because he wasn't confirmed by the Senate but soon a man who once served as Attorney General under George H.W. Bush emerges as the President's permanent pick.

TRUMP: Bill Barr, one of the most respected jurists in the country, he will be nominated for United States Attorney General.

JARRETT: Number one, the Russia investigation. The Special Counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election ramped up this year with multiple subpoenas, flipped witnesses, dozens of indictments and five guilty pleas including from some high-level members of the Trump campaign.

The head spinning volume of material turned out by Robert Mueller and other federal prosecutors puts Trump's campaign, transition and inaugural committee, now all under active investigation. While Michael Cohen, the President's former attorney and fixer agreed to cooperate with investigators.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The (inaudible) doesn't tell the truth and it's sad. I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

JARRETT: There's no telling what 2019 will bring but the Justice Department delivered a series of blows to Trump this year in his personal business and political life, all with a blast radius that remains to be seen.


NOBLES: And you are live in the CNN Newsroom, I'm Ryan Nobles.