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Trump Threatens to Close Southern U.S. Border as Partial Government Shutdown Enters Second Week; U.S. Senator Calls for Investigation into Boy's Death; U.K. Home Secretary Calls Rise in Migrant Crossings a "Major Incident"; Two-Year-Old Son of Yemeni Mother Granted Visa Dies; U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Syria May Attract Trouble; Mueller Probe Looking at Trump Transition Team; North Korean Defectors' Data Stolen; A Year in Pictures. Aired 5-6a ET
Aired December 29, 2018 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Digging in on his demand for a border wall. The U.S. president fires off with another threat. This time shut down the entire southern border with Mexico.
Plus as American troops in Syria prepare to head home, Russia and Turkey plot their next steps without the U.S. involved. CNN following the story live in Moscow.
Also ahead, we look at the year's top moments in pictures, including this flying around in space.
We are live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta and we welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: At 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast, we start with the partial government shutdown and, yes, it's still a thing and it drags on, heading into its second week now. And for hundreds of thousands of federal workers, it's starting to hurt.
The U.S. president is doubling down, now threatening to close the southern U.S. border if he doesn't get what he wants.
Beyond the threat, the actual concept of closing the entire border would be a major challenge. There are hundreds of ports of entry from Texas to California. A great deal of commerce also moves in both directions. Mr. Trump seems willing and determined to shut it down unless he gets Congress to approve the $5 billion he wants for the border wall.
What is not clear is if he would settle for less. The White House won't say. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us any idea what the president will 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: We made that clear to the Democrats. I'm not going to negotiating the press but the president has been willing to negotiate on this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: And President Trump believes the U.S. government will make money by sealing the border with Mexico.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As rain poured on Washington Friday, President Trump unleashed a tweet storm, threatening to close the southern border with Mexico, the president writing, "The United States loses so much money on trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over $75 billion a year," that he would consider closing the southern border, quote, "a profit-making operation," repeating, "Either we build, finish the wall or we close the border."
The tweets coming as the partial government shutdown enters its seventh day. The White House has found its strategy: blame Nancy Pelosi.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This all comes down to Ms. Pelosi's speakership. She does not have the votes. And if she cuts a deal with the president of any sort before her election January 3, she's at risk of losing her speakership. So we're in this for the long haul.
Nancy Pelosi, in fairness, does not have the votes for the speakership yet. She cannot be seen by her party as being weak on negotiating with Donald Trump.
DEAN: But Pelosi likely does have the votes and is expected to become Speaker when the new House convenes on January 3rd.
Her spokesperson issued a statement on Thursday, saying, in part, quote, "Democrats have offered Republicans three options to reopen the government that include funding for strong, sensible and effective border security but not the president's immoral, ineffective and expensive wall."
Another part of the White House strategy: keep President Trump in Washington.
MULVANEY: We actually talked about it with him late last night. The president has been here, by the way, all weekend, all Christmas. He's staying in Washington, D.C., over New Year's. He's canceled his plans for Christmas, now has canceled his plans for New Year's.
DEAN: The first lady returned to Florida to spend New Year's with their son at Mar-a-Lago, leaving the president alone in the White House, as he tweeted on Christmas Eve -- Jessica Dean, CNN, the White House.
HOWELL: Jessica, thank you.
Now even as the new Congress takes over in January it's still not clear how it will get some 800,000 federal workers back on the government payroll. As we mentioned, it is starting to hurt for people unsure of how they will be paid next. Our Phil Mattingly explains.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the partial government shutdown rolls into its first week of completion, the reality is this -- here on Capitol Hill, down at the White House, there is no solution in sight. Democrats, they firmly stand behind their position. They are not willing to give a dollar for the president's border wall. The president has made clear, a border wall, border fence, border structure of some kind, is basically mandatory for him to sign off on any deal to reopen the government.
So where does that leave things? Well, at this point, lawmakers and aides here on Capitol Hill say they're looking into next week. They're looking into 2019, they're looking into the moment on January 3rd where Democrats retake control of the House for the first action --
MATTINGLY: -- of any kind legislatively to try and reopen the government.
Here's the catch. That action doesn't necessarily portend a reopening of the government. Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker, has made clear she is going to move several funding proposals to reopen the government, basically kick them over to the Senate.
But in the Senate where Senate Republicans still control things, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he is not willing to move forward on anything regardless of what House Democrats send over until he knows the president will sign it.
And the president has made clear, what the Democrats are going to send from the House, $1.3 billion in border security money, no money for a border wall, is not acceptable to him.
So where does that leave things?
It really is an open question and nobody has a great answer right now. On the rank and file level, there are people talking about various proposals that might be able to get lawmakers and the president out of this, but until one or both sides moves off their currently entrenched position, there is no end in sight.
And that matters because this isn't just lawmakers. It isn't just the president. It is also federal workers -- 800,000 workers will be working without pay or they will be furloughed. They will start missing their first paychecks on January 11th.
That is real pain. That is a real bite to people. And that is often what triggers lawmakers to come to the table and make a deal.
That said, everybody that I'm talking to on Capitol Hill says pretty plainly, don't look at this as a days-long shutdown at this point. You might need to consider it a weeks-long shutdown -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, Capitol Hill.
HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Steven Erlanger, the chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe for "The New York Times," live in Brussels, Belgium. Thanks for your time.
STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Hi, George.
HOWELL: Steven, the president now threatening to close the southern border over funding for this barricade he wants and threatening to cut off aid to certain Latin American countries, so effectively upping the ante here.
Do these threats matter to Democrats, who have made it clear they're not going to budge?
ERLANGER: Well, the threats matter. It's just a matter of what he can actually do. He can't shut the southern border. He doesn't have the power to do that and I don't think the courts would actually let him do that. Their businesses wouldn't want him to do it and as I think we know, if his problem is illegal immigration, two-thirds of illegal immigrants, at least in the United States, come legally, mostly by airplane and overstay their visas. They're not coming through the southern border.
But this is a big thing for him. It's a thing for his base. He's been talking about it since the campaign.
And the question is, who's going to bend?
That's really exactly the question that all of your reporters have been asking.
HOWELL: It is important not to forget the president's own words about the possibility of a shutdown before it happened. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: OK, fair enough.
TRUMP: And I am proud -- SCHUMER: We disagree.
TRUMP: -- I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: But now we're seeing the president and his team not take the mantle, instead make a media blitz to blame Nancy Pelosi as the reason for this impasse.
Does this media blitz make a difference in your mind and can the president sidestep the words that came out of his own mouth?
ERLANGER: Well, he does that a lot, I have to say. But this is politics. This is American politics in 2019. It's very divided. Trump is making a symbolic point. He's very eager to check off on his campaign promises.
The Democrats have promised border security, more money. The Democrats don't want to be seen as favoring weak border security. So they will have to compromise. I mean as we know there is quite a lot of fencing bordering, along the border anyway. I'm sure they'll come to some conclusion.
But right now it's just about politics, it's the blame game and lining up Trump's base for the future.
HOWELL: Steven, you talk about compromise. You say the Democrats would do that. Here's the question.
What would it take for Democrats to move forward?
Would it take something like addressing the issue unresolved around DREAMers or DACA?
Could that be a path for both sides to come together here?
ERLANGER: I think there are lots of paths but part of what Trump wants is a symbolic victory. That's what matters to him. That's what always matters to him.
But the Democrats having -- will be running the House as of the 3rd of January. So it's very important that they not look like they're being shoved around. So I think for a while yet we're still going to have --
ERLANGER: -- it's your fault; no, it's your fault, until the pain among employees gets too high.
Then I really do think, perhaps, as you suggest, it will work but my guess is it's a fight over money now, money for border security and how it gets used.
HOWELL: Briefly here, we have about 30 seconds. But we're also seeing this rebranding of the wall. Now it's shifting to build a fence and the president even saying essentially they're the same thing. Though a fence is a sharp departure from a wall just as it was a sharp departure from Mexico paying for this, whatever it will be.
Now taxpayers are going to pay for it.
But what's your take on these exercises in rebranding, will it work?
ERLANGER: Well, that's what we do. A fence is a kind of wall that you can see through. I think Trump likes this idea that you can see through whatever it's going to be. And as I say if the words make the reality go away, that seems fine for everybody. That's what we do in politics.
HOWELL: Steven Erlanger, live for us in Brussels, Belgium. Thank you.
ERLANGER: Thanks, George.
HOWELL: In Indonesia officials are keeping an eye on a major volcano; that's because the Arak Krakatau volcano is still erupting almost a week after it triggered a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
In the past few days alone, officials have evacuated thousands from nearby islands and satellite images show how busy the volcano has been. Here the volcano at the top center. It's erupted so much in the past week it's dramatically increased in size. Experts say it's lost more than 200 meters. That's about 650 feet of height and up to 182 cubic meters or roughly 6,400 cubic feet in volume.
Just north of Indonesia, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific Ocean off the southern Philippine coast. It happened just south of Mindanao island' capital city. Authorities say there's no longer a tsunami threat and no reported injuries.
HOWELL: A day-long manhunt for a suspected cop killer in California has ended with an arrest. It's been an emotional roller coaster for the family of the slain officer. We have the latest on the investigation for you ahead.
Plus this: a spike in migrants, making the dangerous trek across the English Channel. Why the British home secretary calls it a major incident. Stay with us.
(MUSIC PLAYING) HOWELL: More migrants are being dropped off in El Paso, Texas. CNN was there when a group of 15-20, including children, were dropped off by volunteers at the bus station there on Friday in El Paso. In recent days agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, released hundreds of migrants in the city.
The secretary of Homeland Security was also in El Paso Friday. Kirstjen Nielsen was there to check on medical screening conditions at Border Patrol stations.
A U.S. senator is calling for an investigation into the death of an 8- year old migrant boy who died in Border Patrol custody.
HOWELL: Felipe Gomez Alonzo died on Christmas Eve. An autopsy shows he had the flu but the official cause of death is still not determined. Senator Tom Udall says he is beyond alarmed. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, that's an absolutely tragic situation, something nobody ever wants to see happen. It's one of the reasons the president wants to fix our broken immigration system. It's a treacherous journey and we don't want to see people go that route.
We're doing everything in our capacity to make sure when people do come, that they're taken care of so we don't have these types of instances. Many cases, they show up extremely dehydrated without food and they're seeing a doctor for the very first time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: And a sad update to share with you now on a toddler from Yemen, who was in the United States for medical treatment. The 2- year-old boy you see here, 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 the boy to California for treatment for a genetic brain condition. Funeral services set to take place on Saturday.
The devastated family of a California police officer responds after the man suspected of killing him was arrested. Investigators believe this man, Gustavo Arriaga, shot this officer that you see here. They say Arriaga came into the U.S. illegally and was trying to escape to Mexico. CNN's Sara Sidner has more on the investigation.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Less than 48 hours after losing his brother, his hero, his friend, Reggie Singh, stepped to the mike. He had just learned his brother's suspected killer had been caught.
REGGIE SINGH, VICTIM'S BROTHER: He is not coming back but there's a lot of people out there that misses him and a lot of law enforcement people that I don't know that work days and nights to make this happen.
SIDNER: Ronil Singh came to this country as an immigrant from Fiji. He was living his version of the American dream. He wanted to become a police officer and he did just that. He dreamt of a family. Five months ago, he and his wife welcomed their son into the world.
But at 1:00 in the morning, the day after Christmas, Singh's dream abruptly ended.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not know Christmas morning at 4:00 in the morning when I said goodbye to him and sent him off to his family that it would be the last time that I saw him.
SIDNER: Police say Singh was killed by Gustavo Perez Arriaga, who, unlike Singh, had come into the country illegally. Deputies caught up with Arriaga at a home near Bakersfield, California, after a massive manhunt.
SHERIFF ADAM CHRISTIANSON, STANISLAUS COUNTY: This criminal, Mr. Arriaga, crossed our border illegally into Arizona some time ago. He is a criminal. He has two prior arrests for DUI.
SIDNER: Several people were arrested, including Arriaga's brother and a co-worker, who were accused of lying to authorities and impeding their ability to find him faster. While Singh's family wept around him, the Stanislaus County sheriff could not contain his outrage over California's so-called sanctuary law.
CHRISTIANSON: And under SB-54 in California, based on two arrests for DUI and some other active warrants that this criminal has out there, law enforcement would have been prevented, prohibited from sharing any information with ICE about this criminal gang member.
SIDNER: Some law enforcement officials completely disagreed, saying the law actually encourages people to come forward who would otherwise avoid helping law enforcement because of citizenship status.
But the sheriff's sentiment has been embraced by others, including the man with the largest megaphone. President Trump tweeted about the case, using it in his pitched battle to build a border wall to keep illegal immigrants out.
No matter who wins the political battle, there is little that can ease the pain of the Singh family. Their one small solace, Singh's canine partner, Sam, will simply become the family pet. The police department is retiring the dog because, as the chief put it, the Singh family shouldn't have to lose another family member -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.
HOWELL: Sara, thank you.
Over the past few weeks there --
HOWELL: -- have been a spike of migrants crossing the English Channel to get into the United Kingdom. Britain's home secretary calls it, quote, "a major incident." Forty have arrived on Christmas Day, at least 23 on Thursday and 12 more were intercepted off Dover on Friday.
Many of the migrants come from Iran, where they face economic hardship and political persecution. Britain's immigration minister will meet with border force officials in Doer in the coming hours.
Let's get some perspective now with CNN's Samuel Burke, live in our London bureau.
Samuel, it's being called a major incident.
What are authorities saying?
SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, there's a significant uptick right around this time of year, when we're entering winter and cold terms. And even at its most narrow point between France and the U.K., it is more than 33 kilometers, 20-plus miles to get from one country to the other.
There are Syrians, Iraqis and especially Iranians on these small ships.
But why now?
Government officials believe the smugglers are telling the migrants that because it's Christmas time there may be less Border Patrol. And because of Brexit, they're using this as a way to tell the migrants that this might be your last chance to get in, even though that may have no truth to it whatsoever.
But also there's increased security in other ways, other methods they've used in the past, trains, ferries. So that's become a more expensive route. So instead they're taking to these small boats to come across and get into the United Kingdom.
HOWELL: Samuel, you touched on this but can you tell us more what you know about these people?
What happens to them when they are captured when they cross?
And why are they taking the risks?
BURKE: It's interesting; you may assume it would by majority Syrian and Iraqi. But it actually appears it would be more Iranians. We know about the economic and political hardships in that country.
If I can put up what it looks like in term of asylum numbers, if you look back at 2017, 2,500 requests from Iranians to come here to the U.K. and 1,000 granted. That's significantly higher than other groups from different countries.
In terms of what happens, a lot of these folks don't actually make it to the shore. British officials get them and bring them to shores, do a medical assessment and then they're handed off to immigration authorities, where they wait and go through the system.
What U.K. government are saying they want to talk to French authorities to see what they can do to beef up security. They don't know if adding more ships would deter people or encourage them more to come to the United Kingdom from France.
HOWELL: Interesting. Samuel Burke, live for us in London, thank you.
Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, U.S. troops are about to ship out from Syria. We'll take a look at what effect that will have on the war- torn country now that the U.S. is no longer a player.
Plus the Trump transition team's troubling contact with powerful Russian figures in the weeks following the 2016 election. We'll have more as NEWSROOM continues. Stay with us.
HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
HOWELL: Important talks are taking place in Moscow this hour as Turkey's foreign and defense ministers gather in Russia to talk about the future of Syria, specifically what to do when the 2,000 U.S. troops withdraw from Syria.
Turkey has a plan and they want to make sure Russia is on board with that plan. Take a look at the vast areas of the country not under government control. Adding to the confusion, Syria says its troops have arrived in the key northern city of Manbij but U.S. officials tell CNN that may not be true. Our Barbara Starr explains.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Fresh uncertainty for U.S. troops stationed in Northern Syria near the Turkish border. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are on the move, heading to the northern Syrian city of Manbij, where U.S. forces have been on patrol trying to bring stability and keep Turkey and local forces from erupting into all-out war.
Syrian troops are now just outside the city, poised to enter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): They civilians, they are so scared, they are worried about the future for the city, what will happen.
STARR (voice-over): This is one of the contested areas U.S. troops will be pulling out of as part of President Trump's withdrawal order. For now, troops are staying put. But one defense official says the situation could change on a moment's notice.
U.S. troops will be face to face with Assad's Russian-backed forces. And no one can predict what might happen. These images allegedly show the Syrian army already hoisting the country's flag in Northern Syria.
Syrian generals claiming they are inside the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The general command of the army and armed forces announces the entry of units of the Syrian Arab arm to Manbij and raising the Syrian Arab Republic flag in it.
STARR (voice-over): The U.S.-led coalition tweeting that everything is just fine. There is no indication Syrian forces are in Manbij.
The city, once used by ISIS to bring in foreign fighters is now mostly in the hands of locals, allied with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters that booted ISIS out. The Kurds may now be forced to seek protection from an Assad regime that has gassed its own citizens to protect themselves from a Turkish invasion when the U.S. leaves.
It's all putting these American forces at the very center of what could go wrong with President Trump's decision to quickly pull out more than 2,000 U.S. ground troops from Syria.
TRUMP: Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and was never intended to be permanent.
STARR (voice-over): For incoming acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, it could mean a tough decision in the coming days.
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Where the United States has been in place, it's either abandoned and then ISIS takes it over or Assad's forces takes it over or the Turks come in and the United States has got to get out of town or they put themselves at increased risk.
STARR: The Defense Department is adamant that withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria will be orderly and as safe as it can be. But tensions are mounting and adversaries may decide to cause trouble -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
HOWELL: Barbara Starr, thank you.
And now our colleague Matthew Chance, live in Moscow.
Matthew, with these talks happening this day, Barbara touched on this, these talks between Russia and Turkey.
What happens to the Kurdish militia?
It seems there will be a realignment, especially with the Kurds, once ally of the U.S., backing out.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fact that the United States has suddenly announced withdrawal from northeastern Syria has put the thing into even more chaos. It's put the Kurds in a very difficult position. They're faced between the prospect of confronting a Turkish invasion force that desperately wants to cross the border from Turkey and oust the Kurds from that region which borders Turkey and northeastern Syria or to welcome the Syrian army back into the areas they have controlled.
It's that latter option which I think the Kurds believe is the least worst option for them -- there's no love lost between the Kurds and the government of Bashar al-Assad. Assad does not support Kurdish autonomy in that part of Syria.
But nevertheless, the Kurds have calculated, with the departure of the United States, their best option for survival lies with the Syrian government. And so that's what we're seeing now on the ground.
As Barbara was reporting there, Syrian forces are not yet inside Manbij but they're on the outskirts of that strategically important city. And when the United States' forces finally are called out, the expectation is that they will move in rapidly.
HOWELL: And Matthew, the simple fact that these talks are taken place in Moscow, it does show Russia a major player in this equation.
CHANCE: I think it does. Ultimately this has been building up for several years, with Russia playing such an integral part in the Syrian conflict, backing its ally, Bashar al-Assad. But the fact that this very high-profile delegation from Turkey, we're talking about its foreign minister, its defense minister, a presidential aide, the head of its intelligence, beating a path to the Kremlin to discuss what their options are in that part of northeastern Syria, underlines how much of a power broker Russia has become.
It controls the airspace. It's the primary military force in many ways on the ground inside Syria. And the fact the United States has now said it's throwing in and leaving the theater, that accentuates Russia's power.
And the fact that the Turks are visiting Moscow today and having these high-level discussions is an illustration of that.
It's also a very dangerous period because, even though there's been a lot of effort put in between Moscow and Ankara in forging a close diplomatic relationship, they're on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria. And there's always that chance of confrontation.
We've seen it in the past; we could see it again in the coming days and weeks.
HOWELL: Matthew Chance, following this in Moscow and of course we'll stay in touch to see what comes out of these talks between Russia and Turkey. Thank you for the reporting.
Now to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference. It's now --
HOWELL: -- evolved to include every aspect of the Trump presidency and business. That includes the transition period between the 2016 election and the 2017 inauguration, when numerous questionable contacts were made with powerful Russians. Our Randi Kaye looks into this.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robert Mueller has his hands on tens of thousands of private e-mails between Trump transition team members. Part of the ongoing criminal investigation into the weeks following the election.
Under particular scrutiny, a meeting during the transition on December 1st, 2016, puts Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner and General Michael Flynn, his soon to be national security adviser, together in a room at Trump Tower with a Russian ambassador who has long been considered a spy.
Kushner asked then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about establishing secure lines of communication with Moscow, what some have called a back channel.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The records and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.
KAYE: Kushner told a congressional committee that he asked if they had an existing communication channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.
Later in December, Jared Kushner and another questionable meeting, this time with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov who had ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. What was discussed remains a mystery.
But at the time, Kushner was still CEO of Kushner Companies, which was trying to attract financing for a building project in Manhattan. Still, the White House says there was no discussion at the meeting about Kushner's company or sanctions.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: My dashboard warning light was clearly on. And I think that was the case with all of us in the Intelligence Committee.
KAYE: In a statement about the Gorkov meeting, Kushner said there were no specific policies discussed.
"We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate project, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind."
Around Christmas in 2016, General Flynn spoke again with Ambassador Kislyak by phone, a call the White House did not acknowledge until a month later, saying Flynn was only offering his condolences after the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Christmas Day, General Flynn reached out to the ambassador, sent him a text. And it said, you know, I want to wish you and -- a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
KAYE: Flynn was fired in early 2017 after misleading the vice president and others about the substance of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador. Turns out Flynn discussed sanctions, a potential violation of federal law.
Flynn later wrote this letter of resignation, explaining he'd inadvertently briefed the vice president and others with incomplete information. Perhaps Robert Mueller will find more answers in all those transition team emails now in his possession -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
HOWELL: Randi, thank you.
Defectors from North Korea still live in fear and now hackers just gave them one more thing to be concerned about. We'll explain, ahead.
HOWELL: North Korean defectors have already escaped a harsh life of intimidation. But now they have something new to fear. The personal information of nearly 1,000 North Korean defectors has been stolen by hackers. Will Ripley reports.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you can imagine, the news of this hack is extremely disturbing for the nearly 1,000 North Korean defectors who have had their information stolen. This is everything from where they live, where they work, maybe their phone number. All of that in the hands of someone we don't know who it is. We don't know if North Korea is behind this.
But the defectors certainly suspect that Pyongyang hacked into this computer, trying to get as much information as they can about these people who ran away from the North and set up new lives in the South.
What was targeted here, a computer, a nonprofit that helps defectors resettle once they arrive in South Korea. This center is operated by the Hana Foundation, set up by the South Korean unification ministry in 2010.
There are a lot of things North Koreans need to learn and adjust to when they go from a socialist society to a capitalist society. But all of their information, especially where they're living, where they're working, that is supposed to be kept confidential.
And these defectors are now living in fear. They're worried somebody in North Korea has all of this information, could potentially find them or track down and then step up monitoring on their families, family members who remain in the North. They worry about what could happen to them.
One man even said he believes that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- un, while he's all smiles, putting on this diplomatic front, that would secretly like to kill him and others like him.
And I can tell you, from numerous trips to North Korea, they consider people who escape from that country just about the lowest human beings that there could be. They actually call them the scum of the Earth. This could be potentially a way for North Korea to intimidate them, if, indeed, they are behind this. But again, that is not confirmed.
What we do know from the South Korean unification ministry, a spokesperson telling CNN, so far, they say, no harm has been observed due to this leak.
But that is little consolation to nearly 1,000 people who used to live in North Korea; now they're living in the South, wondering, who has their personal information and what are they going to do with it? -- Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.
HOWELL: Will, thank you.
In the world of news, some remarkable things have certainly been seen. A look at some of the biggest photo moments of 2018. Stay with us.
HOWELL: Welcome back.
There are only a few days until the new year, 2019. And, of course, we've been left with some of the remarkable images to mark this year. From unity to tragedy and everything in between. My colleague, Cyril Vanier, brings you the year in pictures 2018.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: 2018 kicked off with the Winter Olympics in South Korea. No, not because of the barechested Tongan flag bearer in the opening ceremony, although clearly he did get some covering.
All eyes were on the unified hockey team, South and North Korean players together, the sign of a possible diplomatic detente. And it worked. Just months later Donald Trump met his nemesis, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
A promise of denuclearization was vague but the picture still makes it into the history books.
And here's another one for the archives, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, meeting, despite the shadows cast by the Russia investigation.
What was actually said during their face-to-face meeting behind closed doors?
We still don't know that.
2018 also gave us the wedding watched the world over. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the British royal family's new It Couple.
And the year provided a win for the women of Saudi Arabia, finally allowed to drive.
So had Saudi Arabia been transformed?
Well, for a while the world fawned over crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young, ambitious modern face of the kingdom. But that narrative was later obliterated by this face, Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist murdered in cold blood inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
I want to warn you about the next picture. You may find it disturbing. Yemen, now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, also bears the Saudi footprint. This is what severe malnutrition looks like. Amal Hussein, 7 years old, died a few days after this picture was taken.
In the U.S., yet another mass shooting, 17 people killed this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
[05:55:00] VANIER: The children, survivors, cried, marched, demanded change. They got little for their trouble.
Donald Trump's disruptive presidency turned out colorful headlines almost daily. Stormy Daniels, adult film actress, became a household name. Melania's jacket became a national conversation. If you're trying to read it, it says, "I really don't care. Do you?" Make of that what you will.
And the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, became his worst enemy, sharing all his Trump secrets with investigators.
And at Sotheby's auction, one of street artist Banksy's most famous works shredded itself partially. Its value may actually have gone up.
In France, anti-government Yellow Vest protesters forced the president to take notice and the minimum wage will be going up.
And somewhere in space, this dummy astronaut is floating in a Tesla roadster for reasons I can't totally wrap my head around. Back to you.
HOWELL: Cyril Vanier, thank you so much, the year in pictures 2018.
And finally, in London a familiar sound will echo through the city this weekend. An electric mechanism is being tested to help Big Ben ring in the new year. The great bell has mostly been silent except for a few special occasions since a four-year restoration project started last year.
Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For our viewers around the world, "DESTINATION BUDAPEST" is ahead. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.