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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Threatens to Close Southern U.S. Border as Partial Government Shutdown Enters Second Week; U.K. Home Secretary Calls Rise in Migrant Crossings a "Major Incident"; U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Syria May Attract Trouble; U.S. House Investigation into Clinton Email Probe Ends; The Early Life of Special Counsel Robert Mueller; Former President George H.W. Bush's Penpal of 10 Years Revealed. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 29, 2018 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president's new threat: Donald Trump warning he may shut down the entire southern border if he doesn't get the wall that he wants.

Sounding the alarm, the British home secretary declares the fast growing number of migrants crossing the English Channel as a major incident.

Also ahead this hour, one of the most private-public figures in Washington, D.C. Robert Mueller: we'll take an in-depth look at the special counsel at the Department of Justice.

We are live at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta and we welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

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HOWELL: At 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast, we start with the latest lines on the partial U.S. government shutdown, it is now into week one. And for some 800,000 federal workers, unpaid or furloughed, it is starting to hurt.

The U.S. president is digging in, he is demanding his money for his border wall, even threatening to close the southern border with Mexico if he doesn't get what he wants. Abby Phillip picks up the reporting from here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the government shutdown entered its seventh day on Friday, the blame game is in full force. The White House unveiled a new strategy of blaming Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House, for the shutdown. And while President Trump remained largely out of sight, he did issue

a series of tweets on Twitter and threats at the Democrats aiming to up the pressure to end the shutdown.

PHILLIP (voice-over): In a bid to gain the upper hand in negotiations over the government shutdown, President Trump is resorting to old threats, insisting he will close the southern border until he gets this border wall and cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, countries he says have been taking advantage of the U.S. for years.

The president also resurrecting talk of a new migrant caravan forming in Honduras, tweeting: "Word is that a new caravan is forming in Honduras. And they are doing nothing about it" -- though there's no evidence that one is heading for the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump had ramped up talk of the migrant caravans coming from Central America just before the midterm elections, hoping to energize his base.

TRUMP: They got a lot of rough people in those caravans.

PHILLIP: But after the election, mentions of the caravan nearly disappeared. And as recently as this week, the president said the problem had been solved.

TRUMP: The military built some very effective walls for me over the last four weeks on the southern border. And we have held them. We had caravans and people coming up. You have been seeing it. And we stopped them. We stopped them cold.

PHILLIP: The president's threat to pull foreign aid for Central American countries also apparently contradicting his own administration's policy. Just last week, the State Department said the U.S. would continue with strategy of aiding Central American countries through $5.8 billion in public and private investments.

Meantime, as the president's tone on Twitter ratchets up, the White House is dramatically ratcheting down expectations for Trump's biggest campaign promise, turning build the wall...

TRUMP: And we will build the wall. It's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.

PHILLIP: ... into build the fence.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: The president is not willing to give up on the southern barrier. Keep in mind that steel slat fence that he sent the picture, that is the ideal border barrier. It's what CBP wants. It's what everybody says will actually do the job best. So we're not giving up on that. It's why the government is closed.

PHILLIP: White House aides taking their lead from the president, who has been eager to rebrand his wall. TRUMP: I can tell you, it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they'd like to call it. I will call it whatever they want. But it's all the same thing.

PHILLIP: All of this as the White House seeks to drive a wedge between House and Senate Democrats, fixating on Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's bid to be House speaker, which Trump aides now say is at risk if she strikes a deal with Trump over the border wall.

MULVANEY: The vice president and I met with Leader Schumer last Saturday, the last time we sat down face to face. And my gut was that he was really interested in doing a deal, in coming to some sort of compromise. But the more we're hearing this week is that it's Nancy Pelosi preventing that from happening.

PHILLIP: But as the blame game gets hotter in Washington, a new crisis is unfolding, two migrant children now dying in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveling to the border Friday to meet with health officials and Border Patrol agents, the visit coming as CNN has learned an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas in CBP custody had contracted the flu.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump made phone --

[04:05:00]

PHILLIP: -- calls from the office Friday and he also canceled his plans to travel to Florida where the rest of his family has spent the Christmas holiday. That means for federal workers, this shutdown is likely to last a lot longer -- Abby Phillip, CNN, the White House.

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HOWELL: Abby, thank you.

A lot to put into context this day. To do so, we bring in Inderjeet Parmar, a professor of international politics at City University of London, live in our London bureau.

Thank you for your time.

INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Thank you.

HOWELL: The facts first. Let's start this conversation with the president's own words because it is important to remember what he said when the phrase government shutdown was only a possibility. Let's listen.

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TRUMP: If we don't get what we want one way through the other, whether through, through military, whatever you want to call, I'll shut down the government. And I'll --

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We disagree.

TRUMP: I'm proud to shut down the government. I'll take the mantle. I won't blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, if didn't work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: And now the president threatening to shut down the southern border and to cut off some funding to several countries if he doesn't get his way and stridently blaming Democrats for it, focusing in now on the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, as the reason for this impasse.

Does this new media blitz that we're seeing from the president and top officials and the new threats that are being made, does it make any difference here to Democrats, who are dug in?

PARMAR: Well, I think you put your finger right on it there, I think that there is two sides which are dug in. Each side really is -- at the heart of this is a human problem. And the human problem is what you outlined in your package.

There are two children who died in custody, there are 16,000 beds holding children in detention facilities and there are people suffering from not being paid during this government shutdown.

At the same time, this is being abstracted into a party political football. And neither side really looks like they want to compromise at this particular point. And each one is basically saying, well, we're going to dig in. We're going to try to retain our mass political base as far as we possibly can until we see some damage coming to it.

And I think that is what President Trump is doing. And we know President Trump hardly ever forgets what he wants, which is really galvanizing his base and keep it galvanized. And I think he's doing that. He did that in Iraq with the soldiers as well, saying the Dems wouldn't defend their own borders and so on.

So each side is basically protecting its base. But at the heart of it is a human problem and that is continuing. And if he closes down the border, which he can only do if there is a national security threat and there really isn't any grounds for that, the impact of that would be very great economically; $2 billion of trade crosses the border on a daily basis.

And that would threaten a lot of workers and companies in several states on the border of U.S. and Mexico.

HOWELL: As far as how long this could take, here is one Republican's assessment on it. Let's listen.

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REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R): Only a part of 25 percent and because we keep seeing people losing their lives without one, you do it -- (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long, January, February?

GOHMERT: Until hell freezes over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until hell freezes over?

GOHMERT: Because we owe to our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Very strong words there from Representative Louie Gohmert in that clip, downplaying the shutdown as only affecting 25 percent of government. I'm sure people affected don't want to hear that.

But the president also recently tweeting without any evidence or proof, important to say that, that the shutdown is mainly affecting Democrats, he says, with Republicans seemingly unsympathetic about this thing dragging on, also Democrats digging in on their side.

What do you make of this bet for no additional funding or no deal?

PARMAR: Well, it is a war of words. They are trying of abstract it from the human problem. People are not getting paid. Government workers are having to return Christmas presents in order to pay their rent and other bills.

They are getting letters from the Office of Personnel Management about how to deal with their mortgage lenders there, the people to get the money to buy their homes and whose repayments they can't now make adequately.

And I think each side is playing a big game. "The Washington Post" had an editorial or an opinion piece yesterday, which said this has nothing to do with principle, this is about base polarization and protection of political bases. And both parties are playing that same game.

And it really is going to damage somebody. And I suspect that it will damage --

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PARMAR: -- President Trump in the longer run much more deeply. But he doesn't appear to care too much as long as his base remains intact.

And unfortunately, that could all go very badly, even for his own quite dedicated voters. If you look at the other impact going on, the tariff war with China and with Mexico and with Canada, the impact on the agricultural sector in that society, all of that is impacting a lot on Republican voters.

He doesn't seem to be caring much about that; they seem to be happy with him to an extent because of the other things about identity politics. But I wonder how long that may continue. And I think this government shutdown will bring it to a finer point as

it wears on as well. Especially as the House becomes dominated by Democrats after the end of January.

HOWELL: People are starting to feel this, people, as you point out, concerned about when their next paychecks will be coming, unsure when that will happen. It is a lot. Inderjeet Parmar, thank you again for your time.

PARMAR: Thank you.

HOWELL: And we are following, of course, the deaths of these two migrant children. A senior Trump official now touring the southern U.S.-Mexico border, the most recent death, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died unexpectedly in U.S. custody.

Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went to Texas to see for herself how U.S. border agents are conducting medical screenings of migrants. Our Nick Valencia has this report from El Paso, Texas.

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NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The details about Secretary Nielsen's visit were very limited but what we know is that she visited a variety of Border Patrol stations here in El Paso and she will do the same Saturday in Yuma, Arizona.

We understood that she was focusing on medical screenings, which were a part of a series of protection measures that she announced after the death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo.

She said these measures, she hoped, would keep another child from dying in U.S. custody. The screenings will focus on children that are in U.S. custody, specifically those 10 years and younger.

And her visit happened while migrants continue to be dropped off here at the Greyhound station here in El Paso. We have heard declarations from President Trump that catch and release is over but that is not what we're witnessing with our own eyes.

It was earlier today we saw a group of no less than 20 migrants, with five to six children included in that group, one of them just a baby, being held in their mother's arms. And what is deeply frustrating to the charities and the volunteers that are helping out these migrants who have no resources is that they try to coordinate with ICE.

We saw this earlier this week nearly 200 migrants dropped off on Christmas Eve. What one program director I spoke with from a church in Las Cruces, which is a nearby town in New Mexico, he said he tried to reach out to ICE to tell them that he had the manpower and resources to help out as many migrants as he needed to.

But even still, ICE dumped off migrants here with no plan, no resources.

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

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VALENCIA: Meanwhile, we're getting more investigation about the 8- year old who died in U.S. custody on Christmas Eve, Felipe Gomez Alonzo. According to the Office of the Medical Examiner in New Mexico, who conducted lung swabs and nasal swabs, the 8-year old tested positive for influenza B.

They say the official cause of death will have to come after further evaluation and perhaps up to 12 weeks before that official autopsy is released -- Nick Valencia, CNN, El Paso, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Nick, thank you.

Migration also making headlines in the United Kingdom. More than 200 migrants have tried to cross the English Channel to reach the U.K. since the start of November. At least 75 of those just in the past few days alone.

Now Britain's home secretary calls it a, quote, "major incident." Let's put it into perspective with Samuel Burke on the story, live in our London bureau.

Samuel, with this being called a major incident, what exactly are authorities saying?

Because it is easy to see how this could play into sensitivity around politics and Brexit in that country.

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, the U.K. officials are saying there has been a significant uptick in just the past few days of Syrians, Iraqis and especially Iranians, crossing the stretch of water which is one of the busiest shipping strips in the entire world.

The U.K. authorities are saying this would be like somebody running across a freeway during rush hour on foot.

Now why is this happening right now specifically?

They say that there are a confluence of factors. Number one, smugglers may be saying, because it is Christmas time, there are less Border Patrol officials, is what they are assuming.

Also because there has been increased security around trains and other types of transportation between France and the U.K., it has become much more expensive to use those methods. So now they are resorting to small boats.

But also it could be because of Brexit. [04:15:00]

BURKE: Smugglers taking advantage, telling these migrants that this could be their last chance to come and seek asylum in the United Kingdom.

HOWELL: And you touched on this a bit but can you tell us a bit more about what we know about these people?

What happens to them when they cross?

And also tell us more about why they are taking these risks.

BURKE: When they get close to shore a lot of times, it is British officials who actually bring them on shore. They are given a medical assessment and then they are handed over to immigration officials.

You might assume that this would be majority Syrian and Iraqi. But actually a boat that came just yesterday, two different boats rather, 11 of the 12 people were Iranian. So I want to put up some numbers to give perspective on this.

If you look back to 2017, the number of Iranians seeking asylum in U.K. was 2,500; 1,000 were granted. That's a lot more than any people coming from any other countries, more than Iraq, for example.

So because of the political and economic situation in Iran, you are seeing an uptick in those numbers as people come here. Before Brexit of course, there is no official saying that the treatment of these immigrants would be any different after Brexit. But the smugglers take advantage wherever they can.

HOWELL: Samuel Burke, live for us in London. Thank you.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, the U.S. plans to pull its troops from Syria just as Turkey sends its troops into Syria. And now Russia and Turkey are discussing what to do next. CNN following the story live from Moscow ahead.

Plus this --

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LOREEN TARGOS, AFGE LOCAL 704 UNION MEMBER & STEWARD: I have two mortgages to pay, so I haven't even looked at how my checking account is going to balance out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: It is starting to hurt. The government employees suddenly laid off were compelled to work without pay. People caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war between the White House and Congress. The showdown over the shutdown over the border wall. We'll talk about it. Stay with us as NEWSROOM pushes on.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HOWELL: Taking place in Moscow this day, Russian officials set to hear Turkey's plans for its forces in Syria, given that the United States is now backing out. The Turkish foreign and defense ministers are in Moscow discussing how they plan to fight terrorists in Syria.

But no doubt that will lead to a discussion of exactly who terrorists are. In Moscow, our Matthew Chance is following the story.

Matthew, as Turkey and Russia coalesce around a plan with the U.S. now out, what happens to the Kurdish militia, a group the U.S. once supported, a group Turkey calls terrorists?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the YPG. It is a good question. And the answer to that is just now starting to emerge. They have been left in a difficult position with the sudden, unexpected withdrawal by President Trump of U.S. forces from Syria, where they have been working alongside the United States and control much territory up there.

And it seems that they are inviting back in the Assad army, the military of the Syrian government, to take over positions around the strategic town of Manbij that has been held by the Kurdish militia for some time now.

And they face a very stark choice. They will either do a deal with the Assad government or face the threat of a Turkish invasion, which is something that they probably would not be able to withstand.

And so in the interests of their own survival, it seems, the Kurds, who have been essentially abandoned by the United States by this decision to withdraw from Northeast Syria, have decided to throw their lot in --

[04:25:00]

CHANCE: -- with the Syrian government. Of course that is great news for the Russians, who back Syria, great news for their allies, Iran, as well. And both those countries have welcomed that decision by the Kurds and the recent announcement by the Syrian government that they have started to reoccupy areas around that strategic town of Manbij.

HOWELL: And this is also an important point of context but given the fact that the Turks are headed to Moscow for these talks, the United States again not really a factor, not really a player in this anymore, what does it say about Moscow's just establishing itself as a real force in this equation? CHANCE: Well, you're right, the United States have taken themselves out of the mix by this decision by President Trump to withdraw from Syria. And, of course, the fact that Turkey, which, of course, controls the second biggest army in NATO, is now beating a path to the door of the Kremlin, basically to ask permission of the Kremlin of what they can and can't do in that part of northeastern Syria.

That underlines just how powerful Moscow has become. It is the pre- imminent military force in Syria now. It controls the airspace to its air force and to its anti-aircraft missile systems, which are deployed in great force on the ground in Syria.

And basically this is something that this withdrawal of Trump of American forces have emphasized how powerful Russia has become.

HOWELL: It is interesting. You point out that NATO aspect as well of Turkey. Matthew Chance, live for us in Moscow. Thank you for the reporting.

Well, 800,000 government workers suddenly without paychecks in the U.S. all because the U.S. president insists he wants money for this border wall that he said Mexico would pay for.

Plus the Russia investigation in the U.S. consumed headlines this year. We'll tell you about the man leading that charge, from his time in school to his time leading the FBI.

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HOWELL: From coast to coast in the United States, good morning to you and to our viewers around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell. The headlines this hour:

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HOWELL: Returning to our top story this day, a partial U.S. government shutdown is now in its second week and no solution in sight at this point. Some 800,000 federal workers filled with dread about the immediate future, not sure when they will be paid next. Our Ryan Nobles has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: With President Trump unable to secure funding for his border wall...

TRUMP: I can tell you, it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they would like to call it. If you don't have that, then we're just not opening. NOBLES: -- the government shutdown will likely continue into the New Year, affecting an estimated 25 percent of the federal workforce; 380,000 employees are furloughed and another 420,000 are still working without pay, including the TSA and the Coast Guard.

The Smithsonian Museum and National Zoo will be closing its doors beginning January 2nd. And even the panda livestream cameras are going dark.

TRUMP: The federal workers want the wall.

NOBLES: The president said on Christmas that federal workers support the shutdown. But the shutdown is causing families we spoke to, many who live paycheck to paycheck, to worry about when they may see their next one and they're fed up.

TARGOS: I have two mortgages to pay. And so I haven't looked at how my checking account is going to balance out. I don't even have children.

For people who have kids in school, you know, extracurricular activities, putting food on the plate to their kids, those are things that, you know, make it even more disgusting what's happening with the federal government.

NOBLES: Loreen Targos is a local steward in a public sector union and a physical scientist with the EPA, which will shut down at midnight tonight. She, like other EPA employees, received this email, referring employees to the Office of Personnel Management for additional guidance.

The OPM Thursday tweeting suggestions for workers to send to creditors, landlords and banks if they can't make their payment on time, like trading maintenance work, like painting and carpentry, for rent payments.

TARGOS: That's absolutely unrealistic. Federal workers are going to be penalized for not paying bills their on time, when we just want to go back to work and do the jobs we were hired to do.

NOBLES: Thursday, the president tweeting, without evidence, that most federal employees are Democrats. But workers say their politics shouldn't even matter.

TARGOS: We are civil servants. We are hired to do our work at the EPA. Workers are hired to protect human health and the environment. If he wants to imagine that we are Democrats instead of human beings and civil servants, that's his problem. I hope Congress steps up and is able to be the adult in the room -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Days before they officially lose control of the House of Representatives, Republicans wrapped up their review of how the FBI handled two key investigations, specifically they are looking at the Justice Department's handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal and the beginning stages of the Russia probe.

Republicans say investigators went easy on Hillary Clinton and hard on Donald Trump. Their report says that their aim was to improve trust in Robert Mueller's current Russia probe.

[04:35:00]

HOWELL: The Russia investigation has consumed U.S. politics since May of 2017. That is when the special counsel Robert Mueller was appointment to investigate whether the Trump campaign worked with Russians on the 2016 presidential election.

And so far four people have been sent to prison. One person convicted at trial, seven have pleaded guilty and 36 people or entities have been charged. But as more information comes to light, Robert Mueller is also under the microscope. CNN's Gloria Borger has this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Special counsel Robert Mueller is a mystery man, perhaps the most private public figure in Washington.

But as the leader of the Russia investigation, he and his team have become a political pinata after squeezing indictments, jail time and plea deals from former Trump advisers, including the president's ex- fixer, now singing and facing prison and his ex-campaign chair now indicted and accused of lying.

TRUMP: There should have never been any Mueller investigation because there was never anything done wrong. There was no collusion. There never has been.

BORGER (voice-over): It's been a frame job, says one of his lawyers.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: They are a group of 13 highly partisan Democrats that make up the Mueller team, excluding him, are trying very, very hard to frame him.

BORGER: An angry president fired his attorney general and hired someone more to his liking on the investigation and now delights in calling Mueller a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue. It's hard to remember that, at the start...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's the right guy at the right time.

BORGER: -- Mueller was a bipartisan favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have been on anybody's list of, let's say, the top five people in the country to have, you know, taken on this kind of a responsibility.

BORGER: The resume is long. At 74, he's been involved for decades in some of the Justice Department's most celebrated cases: mobster John Gotti, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the Pan Am 103 bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, a case that still remains personal. ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'll never forget the visit I made to Lockerbie, where I saw the small wooden warehouse in which were stored the various affects of your loved ones -- a white sneaker, a Syracuse sweatshirt, Christmas presents and photographs.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX": He's been effectively the same Bob Mueller in every place he has ever worked, whether that was the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco in the 1970s, whether that was the George H.W. Bush administration in the 1980s, whether that was the D.C homicide prosecutor's office in the 1990s or the FBI in the 2000s.

He is hard driving, he's tenacious, he is incredibly thorough and has a very strong sense of right or wrong.

BORGER: A registered Republican but it's hard to tell.

PHILL MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENECE ADVISER: Four and a half years or whatever, 2000 meetings, I didn't say hear him say anything political.

BORGER (on-camera): Really? In Washington?

MUDD: Yes, I know that sounds weird. He might have said, "That guy's a jerk." I didn't see it as a partisan issue.

BORGER: How would you describe his politics?

LISA MONACO, FORMER MUELLER CHIEF OF STAFF: Not --

BORGER: As in there are none?

MONACO: -- he's apolitical. He's nonpartisan. He is, I -- sorry, I think he's become quite clear, a pretty law and order guy. But he doesn't speak of things in political terms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

BORGER (voice-over): Which is partly why President Bush picked him to run the FBI in 2001.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The FBI must remain independent of politics and uncompromising in its mission.

BORGER (voice-over): Mueller arrived at the FBI just seven days before 9/11. He served most of his term under Bush. And when President Obama asked him to stay for two more years, it required an act of Congress the Senate approved 100-0. His M.O.: a by-the-book guy, even after hours.

MUDD: People told me after that Christmas party, while we're going to the director's house, the guy who never really interacts with us, that, at the end of the party, that he would flick the lights. So, it's going 7:00 to 9:00. At 9:03, it's like, well, on the invitation, that's kind of a signal. BORGER: Married for 50 years to a former teacher, the father of two daughters. There still wasn't much small talk about family at work -- a literally buttoned-up and buttoned-down boss.

MUDD: I remember telling him, Director, you wear a white button-down shirt every day.

Can you wear like tattersall or something?

GRAFF: I asked him finally years after he had been director, you know, what was the deal with the white shirts when you were at the FBI?

He said, "I understood I was leading --

[04:40:00]

GRAFF: -- "the FBI through a wrenching period of change. I wanted to wear the white shirt because I wanted the other FBI agents to be able to know that this was still the agency that they had signed up to join."

BORGER: His dress code as unforgiving as his work ethic.

MONACO: He was in the office between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning and he would always plop his briefcase down on the chair, opposite my desk, not to sit down and kibitz or shoot the breeze.

Immediately, "What's happening, what's going on?"

MUDD: There's not a lot of back and forth. Very quickly you're going to go through the details of the case.

BORGER (on-camera): Would you assume that he is managing the special counsel investigation the same way?

MUDD: Oh, heck, yes. I wouldn't assume it. That is his -- it's not like a professional twist, that's his DNA.

What's going on today?

What do you got?

What do you got?

What do you got?

I don't want to hear a lot of noise. I want to hear what the facts are. Let's talk about it.

What's your judgment?

What do you think?

OK. Next. There's the decision, let's move on. Let's go.

I never saw any curiousness or nervousness ever, ever, ever.

BORGER: Ever, never?

MUDD: Never.

BORGER (voice-over): Mueller grew up in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs and attended an elite boarding school, a classmate of John Kerry, then to Princeton. But the combat death of classmate David Hackett in Vietnam inspired Mueller to join the Marines.

GRAFF: He was wounded in combat, shot through the leg, received a Bronze Star with valor, Purple Heart and, you know, goes right back into the fight a couple of weeks later.

MUELLER: In some sense you feel that you have been given a second lease on life and you want to make the most of it to contribute in some way.

BORGER: After graduating the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller soon found his way to the Department of Justice and remained there for most of the next four decades...

MUELLER: My colleagues here at the Department of Justice --

BORGER: -- with two short breaks to give private practice a try.

GRAFF: Bob Mueller has been notoriously unhappy every time he has tried to be in private practice. He just can't defend guilty people. They'll meet with a client, they'll explain his problem and he'll say, well, it sounds like you should go to jail then. You know, that --

BORGER (on camera): So he'll tell his client --

GRAFF: It sounds like you're guilty. Bob Mueller is someone who sees the world in very black and white terms.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And more on special counsel Robert Mueller ahead. Hisser to with former FBI director James Comey and the confrontation that occurred in a Washington hospital. Part two of Gloria Borger's report just ahead.

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HOWELL: We're back now with more on special counsel Robert Mueller. It is no secret that the U.S. president isn't a fan of Mueller nor is he a fan of the former FBI director, James Comey, whom he fired. Gloria Borger explains Mueller and Comey's relationship, it goes back several years.

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BORGER (voice-over): By 2004, Mueller was running the FBI when his phone rang. It was James Comey, then deputy attorney general. It was the first time Mueller and Comey would find themselves in a very controversial legal drama.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was very upset. I was angry.

BORGER: Comey was worried the Bush administration was determined to keep a warrantless eavesdropping program that Mueller, Comey and their boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, thought was illegal. But Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery, leaving Comey in charge.

COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. Called Director Mueller, who had been a great help to me over that week and told him what was happening.

He said, "I'll meet you at the hospital right now."

BORGER: They had to literally race administration officials to Ashcroft's bedside.

COMEY: Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.

BORGER: In the end, Ashcroft backed Comey and Mueller.

GRAFF: He enlisted Bob Mueller because he knew that Bob Mueller had this incredible nonpartisan reputation in Washington. While Comey might be able to be personally blamed for having political motives or thinking politics, no one was going to be able to attach that label to Bob Mueller.

BORGER: That was then. Now Trump compares Mueller to Joe McCarthy and a Trump ally warns there's trouble ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the report is going to be devastating to the president.

BORGER: After months of haggling, team Trump has provided written answers to Mueller's questions on collusion and is convinced Trump's problems will be more political than legal.

GIULIANI: Eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury, as it should be, is the American people.

BORGER: Now that jury awaits Mueller, who is already letting his work speaks for itself as his office wrote to the court recently, senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards.

GRAFF: Bob Mueller believes in American institutions. So I think he wants to set the institutions up to make the best decisions that they can.

BORGER: Lately we've been getting a glimpse of the world through the court filings but there is a lot to be learned -- Gloria Borger, CNN, Washington.

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HOWELL: It will be an interesting year ahead. Gloria Borger, thank you.

We have a sad update to share with you now on a toddler from Yemen, who was in the U.S. for medical treatment. This 2-year-old boy, Abdullah Hassan, has died. This according to the Council of American Islamic relations.

His Yemeni mother had been barred from the U.S. under the White House travel ban. She was granted a U.S. visa to say goodbye to her son just last week. Her husband, who is an American citizen, brought his son to California for treatment for a genetic brain condition. The funeral service is set to take place Saturday.

We'll be right back.

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HOWELL: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

The United Kingdom is honoring four British divers for their role in a rescue that captivated the entire world, helping to save the youth football team who was trapped in a cave in Thailand. Richard Stanton and John Volanthen are receiving the U.K.'s second highest civilian award for gallantry.

They were the first to reach the 12 Thai boys and their coach after they got trapped during the summer in that mine. Two other divers are also getting awards. You see the boys there in that cave. The awards in the Queen's annual honors list.

Following the death of the former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, a surprise came to light. It was revealed that he had a secret pen pal. Our Kaylee Hartung has this report for you.

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KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even in death, the legacy of former President George H.W. Bush lives on through the lives he touched in America and abroad. Compassion International, a global nonprofit organization that uses local churches to help children in poor communities released letters shared between the former president and a young Filipino boy named Timothy.

"Dear Timothy, I want to be your new pen pal. I'm an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids and though we have not met, I love you already."

And so began a decade-long friendship between Timothy and the former president.

"Dear Mr. and Ms. Walker, how are you? I hope you're in good condition. I would like to thank you for not forgetting me. You're so nice and good. God is so good to us."

Bush wrote his letters under the alias of George Walker to protect his identity because the Secret Service was concerned for Timothy's safety if it were revealed he was friends and in contact with the former president.

Wes Stafford, the former president of Compassion International, served --

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HARTUNG (voice-over): -- as an intermediary between the two new pen pals. And he says that although former President Bush used an alias, he became worried when the former president sent this letter with a picture of his dog.

Stafford also tells CNN the letters from the former president were some of the most sweet and spirited letters he has read from any sponsor. But Bush's habit of revealing hints of who he could be in his letters made the job of keeping the former president's identity a secret harder.

"Timothy, have you ever heard of the White House? That's where the President of the USA lives. I got to go to the White House at Christmastime."

Included with most of the letters from former President Bush was a gift and a challenge.

"Be sure to say your prayers. I do every day. This birthday present will show you the time all around the world."

Timothy never caught on to the hints about Bush's identity in his letters and only found out the real identity of his pen pal after he graduated from the program. When he did find out, Stafford says he was surprised to have been pen pals with someone who had been president of a nation.

Although Compassion International and Timothy have since lost contact, the bond he shared with the former president half a world away is not forgotten -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: The countdown is on around the world to New Year's Eve. And in the case in New York's Times Square, many people preparing for the big party there. Workers are putting the finishing touches on that giant ball that drops at midnight Tuesday here in the United States on the East Coast, marking the start of 2019.

This year, as every year, dozens of the Waterford crystals that cover the ball were replaced with new handmade triangles from Ireland. More than 1 million people are expected in Times Square and more than 1 billion people around the world will be watching the festivities from New York. We're getting close to the new year.

Thank you for spending this day with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's do it again, more news right after the break. Stay with us.