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President Trump Appears To Be Set On Blaming Democrat To Standoff, Calling It The Hashtag Schumer Shut Down In A Tweet; Senator Lindsey Graham Is Meeting With President Trump; Kim Sent His Younger Sister With The Message To South Korean President Moon Jae-In; Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 30, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there. Thanks for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge in for Fredricka Whitfield. And we are hoping you are having a good Sunday.

As we countdown to the last day of 2018, the partial government shutdown its ninth day and there is no sign of a deal. And President Trump appears to be set on blaming Democrat to standoff, calling it the hashtag Schumer shut down in a tweet.

But the White House does appears to be changing its tune a little bit saying the President wants more money for border security, not a wall. Even the President's outgoing chief of staff John Kelly telling the "L.A. Times" Trump's promise of a wall is quote "not a wall."

The stalemate highlighting the distance at least in language between Democrats and the President who is standing firm that he wants more than $1.3 billion for border security the Democratic leadership has been offering.

Joining me now is CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House for the President as we say has been tweeting. First, he said he blamed himself, then he blame Nancy Pelosi and now he appears to be shifting the blame. Is that right Sarah?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Martin. President Trump has been all over the map when it comes to who bears responsibility for the partial government shutdown. He went from saying he would be proud to own a shutdown if it was in pursuit of money for his border wall to pointing the finger at House minority leader Nancy Pelosi saying that her speakership bid is preventing her from being able to cut a deal. Now he is calling it a Schumer shut down. And he is continuing to hold out for funding for his border wall. Although, it's not actually clear if that's still in fact an actual wall and it is also not clear how much funding trump wants to go to the construction of a wall or a barrier versus how much funding he would like to go to border security in general.

Our Dana Bash asked top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway this morning to clarify. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: He is in the White House. He is in Washington ready to negotiate. This is important in border security in keeping the government open. But if you keep saying wall, wall, wall because you want wall to be a four-letter word and we are not being honest about everything --.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kellyanne, the President is the one who explicitly said in the oval office it's the wall and it is the reason why.

CONWAY: And he said in a tweet, you actually can't cherry pick his tweets. He talked about border security just yesterday.


WESTWOOD: Now the definition of what exactly constitutes a wall still appears to be fluid. Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly said that this administration actually abandoned the idea of a concrete wall early in Trump's presidency. He told the "Los Angeles Times" in an interviews, to be honest, it's not a wall. The President still says wall often times, frankly, he will say barrier or fencing. Now he is tended towards steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration.

Now President Trump has also told aides that he would not be willing to sign a bill that provide a just $1.23 billion in funding for the construction of a border fence. It is not surprising that the offer the Democrats have put on the table before the shutdown begin. The President wasn't entice by it then.

And Mick Mulvaney, budget chief/incoming acting chief of staff said that the President might be willing to back down off the $5 billion number. He didn't specify by how much. So there is not a lot of clarity about what exactly the President would be willing to sign. And although is continuing to point the fingers at Democrats, Martin, we should not that Mulvaney admitted Democrat congressional leaders have not actually been invited back to the White House to present any kind of counteroffer.

SAVIDGE: All right. Sarah Westwood, thanks for the update from the White House.

Joining me now, Nina Turner, she is a former Democratic state senator in Ohio and David Drucker who - he covers politics for the "Washington Examiner." Welcome to you both.



SAVIDGE: So we have this conflicting views on the so-called border wall. We just heard from Kellyanne Conway and John Kelly, both of whom work in the White House. So I'm wondering, David, where is the confusion? What's the source of the confusion? Are we just misreading what the President is saying when he says wall and he means something broader or is it really the fault of the President and maybe even Republicans?

DRUCKER: Look. I think the source of confusion as usually is, is the President of the United States. He is always playing, you know, five sides of every issue. I think sometimes he likes to spit ball and throw things up against the wall and see how it works. And if it doesn't work well, he will change course.

But he has gone sort of around in circles for the past couple of years since he took office, not before. He was pretty clear before he took office it was a wall. And since then, he sometimes talked about border security, other times he has talked about a fence, other times he has talked about a concrete wall.

We saw prototypes rolled out that looked, you know, pretty much like a concrete barrier. And the President occasionally will say our border is being overrun. That's why we need more money for border security. And other times he will say that I fixed the problem. Border - illegal border crossings are way down and the problem is essentially taken care of.

So who knows where the President is on this. It depends on what day it is. We do know that the President wants more money for border security and more money for some barrier of some kind at some point along the southern border and Democrats are likely to want to give him.

Is there a larger deal to work out? Sure. But is the President able to make that deal? I think that that remains a big unknown. One, because it's hard for member of Congress to trust him. I mean, whether they agree with him or not, it's hard for them to trust him because he changes his mind. He had a deal to avoid the shutdown and he didn't.

[15:05:21] SAVIDGE: Hold on. Let me bring in Nina into the conversation (INAUDIBLE).


SAVIDGE: And Nina, the President has at least changed the language somewhat. I believe now he is saying border security. Is this perhaps if we just try to look at it in a positive sense his way of trying to communicate or transmit that OK, I'm talking about border security, not so much about the wall. In other words, Democrats may see him budging a bit.

TURNER: One would hope, Martin, but I guess it depends on what Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter would have to say on him which is why we are in this predicament right now. And the very thing that the President fears which is looking weak. He does looks very weak right now to cave on the deal that he already had just because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and others called him out is ridiculous to put the lives of 800,000 federal employees, you know, in flux because of their paychecks.

And then, Martin, for his administration to advise some of those workers that they can just write a letter to their landlord and ask to be able to do odd jobs instead of dealing with the fact that they have rent and mortgages to pay. They have - they want to eat every day, you know. It's really very selfish of the President to do this at this period of time just for two people or maybe a few people in his base that have loud voices rather than to take the opportunity as you just so mentioned to really show whether or not he is the person that can do the art of the deal. But thus far, it is an epic fail and the President looks weak.

SAVIDGE: Senator Lindsey Graham spoke about Democrats specifically earlier and this vote. First, let's listen and then we will talk about it on the other side.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have been working on this for 10 years. Democrats have voted for 700 miles of secure fencing in 2006. They have voted for $25 billion for the wall in February. In 2013, we voted for $42 billion for border security, including $9 billion for a wall/fence.

The bottom line is they want Trump to lose more than they want the country to win, I fear. At the end of the day, there is a deal to be had, but everyone is changing their position here. And most Americans are pretty tired of it.

So to my Democratic friends, there will never be a deal without wall funding. And many Republicans are going to offer something as an incentive to vote for wall funding that you supported in the past.


SAVIDGE: David, what about that? I mean, he is making the point here that it seem that Democrats were all in favor of some sort of beefed up security along the border. But now they don't like it simply because President Trump is the one who is saying this is what we need.

DRUCKER: Well look, I think that the senator is leaving out an important point of past deals. They were put together with a path to citizenship or a path to legalization for the illegal immigrants living in the United States. And so sure, Democrats voted for a whole host of border security measures including fencing that they haven't yet granted Trump, but Trump has yet to offer the components for illegal immigrants living in the United States that past Democrats were offered under those deals that Lindsey Graham mentioned.

And so, if you don't mention the full deal, it is one disingenuous. And two, it leaves voters with the wrong idea that is somehow it's all about Trump. A lot of it is about Trump and politics is surely a part of that, but I bet if the President offered the comprehensive approach that was a part of the last time Democrats voted for all of that security, I bet they would get to yes.

SAVIDGE: Nina, do you --? Go ahead.

TURNER: And Martin, I see the bottom line differently just to really add to something that David said. The bottom line contrary to what Senator Graham has just said is that the Republicans until January 3rd controlled everything. So this shut down is squarely at their feet.

Republicans in The house, the Senate and the President of the United States of America. So for them to continue to deflect this on Democrats when at this very moment they are still in control makes no sense.

SAVIDGE: Do you think it's possible, Nina, that there can be a grand deal that is struck here, not just something that funds the government or kicks it down the road a bit but deals with DACA as well as deals with border security and whatever form or way we see it?

TURNER: Well, the one should hope and the American people certainly deserve, Martin, better than what we are getting right now. And the finer point to this, what we should ask this Congress to do and this President is to stop budgeting by continuing resolution.

All along we condition as a nation to budget or they continue to budget rather by continue resolution. And that really does not work. And that is part of the problem that we see today.

[15:10:01] SAVIDGE: David, would you agree that we seem to run into this a lot?

DRUCKER: Sure we run into to, you know, a lot. And that's because both of the parties are so at odds with each other and neither sees the political in Senate to compromise. And part of that I think is because they don't believe the voters are going to reward them if the compromise.

And so, for things to change, I think some politicians need to take some rest. They also be willing - they need to be willing on both sides to make a deal that doesn't ask the other side to commit political suicide. You just haven't seen that in the past couple of years. And especially not around immigration.

Trump had a Republican House and Senate as Nina said for two years. Didn't do anything about immigration. President Obama had a Democratic House and Senate for his first two years. First two years didn't do anything about immigration. And this is a problem that will perpetuate itself until both sides get together and are willing to make a deal where they can both claim victory.

SAVIDGE: Nina, how long do you think this is going to go on?

TURNER: Martin, God only knows. I hope not much longer because again, those 800,000 federal employees are dependent on this Congress and this President to really do the right thing for them. They are out there suffering. They are not pawns. They are flesh and blood people and through no fault of their own, they are caught in the crosshairs of politics.

Now, there are times, Martin, certainly where politics can be used for good means. But in this case, the politics are not being used for good means. And it's my hope along with a whole bunch of other folks that the Congress and the President will come to a deal, and not just for the 800,000 employees, but also our economy is in peril right now because of this. And the longer it goes on, the more we will lose economically all across the board whether we know or love one of those 800,000 employees. This will impact every single one of us at some point if it's not already doing so right now.

SAVIDGE: Nina Turner and David Drucker, we really do appreciate both of you coming by. Thank you.

DRUCKER: Thank you.

TURNER: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Still ahead, members of the Senate, they are now promising hearings after the deaths of two migrant children at the U.S. border. This as border officials call the deaths absolutely devastating.

But first, President Trump pledges to pull U.S. forces out of Syria. But what could that do for American influence in the region where the fight against ISIS is still hanging in the balance? We will ask the experts, coming up.


[15:15:25] SAVIDGE: Senator Lindsey Graham is meeting with President Trump today. It is a less ditch effort to try to get the President to change his mind about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.

Earlier on CNN's "STATE OD THE UNION," the South Carolina Republican told Dana Bash that if the U.S. pulls out of Syria now, it can pave the way for an ISIS comeback. Put U.S. ally such as the Kurds, serious risks and then open the door to other U.S. adversaries to will power in the region.


GRAHAM: I'm going to ask the President to do something President Obama would never do. Reconsider. This is being done by President Trump against sound military advice. The President is - went to Iraq. Thank you very much for going. I'm going to ask him to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this.

Slow this down. Make sure that we get it right. Make sure ISIS never comes back. Don't turn Syria over to the Iranians. That is a nightmare for Israel. And at the end of the day, if we leave the Kurds and abandoned them and they get slaughtered, who is going to help in the future.

I want to fight the war in the enemy's backyard, not ours. That's why we need deploy force in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan for war to come. Here is the good news. If we play our cards right, we can reduce our footprint in all three countries. Have more - have people do more and pay more is a goal I will share it with the President.


SAVIDGE: All right. There is a lot there to go over and to just that joining me now lieutenant colonel Rick Francona, a former U.S. military attache to Syria. And he is also a CNN military analyst. And then joining me as well is Samantha Vinograd. She is a former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama. Thank you both for being with us.


SAVIDGE: Colonel, let me go to you first. You saw the reference that was made by the senator there in particular to the Kurds. They are the main U.S. ally against ISIS and Syria and elsewhere. And there is a real at least talk that they could get slaughter and I'm wondering is that hyperbole or reality here?

FRANCONA: Well, let's look at what beyond the President he had a conversation with the President of Turkey. The Turkish President told him that the Turks would be able to finish off ISIS. Well, to do that, they are going to have to go through a lot of territory that is now controlled by the Kurds. I don't see the Kurds letting that happen.

The Kurds are the most effective fighting force on the ground in Syria against ISIS today. If they stop - if the Turks come into northern Syria, the Kurds are going to stop fighting ISIS and they are going to defend themselves. So then ISIS is set up for a rebound.

We are very, very close to eliminating ISIS in Syria territorially. Now is not the time to stop doing that. And what the President is proposing plays right into that.

SAVIDGE: I noticed how you point out territorially. Because ISIS is of course not just militants, it is an idea. It is kind of a philosophy be in work on (ph).

So Sam, what is the possible impact on ISIS if U.S. troops just pull out?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Martin, first on your question about the Kurds being slaughtered, and we actually have a data point here. Several months ago, the Turks tried to move against the Kurds in a separate part of Syria where we didn't have troops and the Kurds had to call the Syrian regime for help.

SAVIDGE: OK. I'm going to hold you there. This is Lindsey Graham speaking to cameras after meeting with the President about Syria.

GRAHAM: We had a two-hour lunch. And I had a very enjoyable lunch. He is eating. He is not a man under siege. The President is firm in his commitment to make sure we get money for border security. And it will never be a 60-vote deal in the Senate that doesn't include money for border security/wall. And I don't see Democrats giving us more moan unless they get something. So the one thing we talked about is making deals.

Now there is a lot of distrust in town and I guess you can blame both sides for that. But after lunch, I never have been more encouraged if we can get people talking. We can find our way out of this mess. And that would include around $5 billion for boarder security/wall/fencing, whatever you want to call it in areas that make sense. And deal with another problem that is looming.

I think the President is eventually going to win his court case regarding DACA. And the President has put on the table several times relief for the DACA population.

Since we are talking about $5 billion for border security, not $25 billion, we probably going to have to scale things back. So I think it's possible if we start talking to each other to have a deal that would provide relief to the DACA population. It is called the bridge act. Senator Durbin and I introduced this three years ago that would give work permits for all DACA eligible recipients, about 700,000, so they could go to school, go to work and not fear having their legal status changed any time soon. The bill says three years, one-time renewable.

The TPS recipients, about 400,000 people came to America for the last 20 or 30 years, fleeing war zones, natural disasters and their legal status is about to run out. There is a lot of sympathy for this population in the Congress. And I think the President is very open minded about this dilemma.

So what I mentioned today is an outline of a potential breakthrough with the $5 billion for wall/border security, the bridge act and TPS reform. I think that's in the realm of possibility. The President didn't commit, but I think he is very open minded. I know there are some Democrats out there who would be willing to provide money for wall and border security if we can deal with the DACA population and TPS people and hopefully we can get serious discussion as soon as income week.

[15:21:27] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Graham, would the President be willing to put pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients on the table or just the one-time?

GRAHAM: Not for $5 billion. I'm not willing to do that. I have done every combination that immigration reform pretty known to mankind. The deal we had in February is not going to be replicated. We are not going to do 25 billion and Dream Act with the pathway to citizenship. But I do think we can do $5 billion for the bridge act which would give the same population, work permits and give them legal status. And the TPS population, they are in a bad way right now. I think we can get on that on the table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After you out lined this to President Trump, what were the first words out of his mouth?

GRAHAM: Interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And his body language?

GRAHAM: We had a great lunch. We talked about Syria. And he told me some things I didn't know that made me feel a lot better about where we headed in Syria. He promised to destroy ISIS. He is going to keep that promise. We are not there yet, but as I said, the day we are inside the 10-yard line and the President understands the need to finish the job. He is worried about Iranian influence and the potential dangers on Israel from having a super highway from Beirut to Tehran in terms of delivering weapons into Lebanon and he will be talking to Turkey about making sure we don't have a war between the Turks and their allies, the Kurds.

So I like what I heard. We still have some differences, but I will tell you that the President is thinking long and hard about Syria and how to withdraw the forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests which are to make sure that ISIS is destroyed. They never come back. That our allies, the Kurds are protected. And that Iran doesn't become the big winner of our leaving. And I feel pretty good about where we are headed. And I told the President his trip to Iraq was much appreciated. I think he learned a lot and I certainly learned a lot from him today.

So on multiple fronts, the President is in a good mood. And feels like he has to deliver on the promise of securing our border. And he is very open minded about combining wall funding with other things to make it a win-win for the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) semantics are so important. Right now, how is the President defining border security? How is he defining the wall?

GRAHAM: Well, he has $5.6 billion dollar appropriation that was sent over from the House. Look at that. I think that appropriation is what he need and what he wants. And $5 billion given that the context of what was sent over from the house. Plus other things I think is in the realm of possibility.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If DACA didn't work in the past, do you think it might work with the house?

GRAHAM: Well, it was never just DACA for the wall. It was a lot of moving parts. Diversity lottery was ended. We are arguing about how to transition to merit based immigration. So the President did put a pathway to citizenship on the table for 1.8 million dreamers but he also wanted to go to a merit-based immigration. That was a bridge too far. No pun intended. I think we have a chance here to end 2018 or begin 2019 with a breakthrough on immigration.

$5 billion appropriation wisely spent would go a long way to securing our border. It's just not about physical barriers, it is about other things. And if we can find a way to make sure that the DACA recipients have a work permit, it certainly makes their lives better.

The TPS population, I think all of us try to find a way to help them. So there is a deal to be had, I think.

[15:25:22] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the President willing to back off from the term wall since Democrats want to talk about technology and other kinds of barriers. Is he prepared to say it doesn't have to be a wall?

GRAHAM: All I can tell you is that Democrats have voted for 700 miles of the secure fence act that had double layered fencing. Call that whatever you would like. In the gang of eight bill, we had $42 billion for border security including $9 billion for physical barriers.

The wall has become a metaphor for border security. And what we are talking about is a physical barrier where it makes sense. In the past, every Democrat has voted for these physical barriers. It can't be just about because Trump wants it, we no longer agree with it.

There is nothing immoral about a physical barrier along the border in places that make sense. So there will never be a deal at the end of this year or the beginning of the next that doesn't have money for the physical barriers that we all have in the past agreed we need.

The President is not asking for too much. And we are going to put on the table some ideas that have been embraced in the past. The question is, can we stop hating each other enough up here to find a way forward to have a win-win.

The President was upbeat. He was in a very good mood. And I think he is receptive to making a deal if it achieves his goals of securing our border. And I think we can get there if everybody will start talking to each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the last week we have seen the President have to high profiled border security lunches. Not that we are not happy to see you, but you are not a Democrat. We are not in a meeting you had the other week. It was just Republican lawmakers. Why aren't democrats coming over here? If we ask them to bring any, should you have brought some with you? When can we see --?

GRAHAM: Well, it is pretty hard to get here from Hawaii, but the phones do work. So all I can say is that the Democrats have said they are not going to give him a dime for a border wall. The House will change next week. They are going to send over to a bill from the House. They won't have any money for a physical barrier, a wall, fence, artistically designed slats. And that's not going to fly.

So the approach the Democrats have taken and made it hard to have a discussion. They are telling us what they won't do. After lunch today, I think the President is telling us what he wants and he is willing to do some things to get what he wants.

And to my Democratic friends, there are some things that you want that can be had if you agree to border security in a reasonable way. The reason we are not talking is because the House Democrats have told us there is no way, no how you are going to get anything you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, did you talk to the President (INAUDIBLE) about slowing down the Syria troop withdrawal and is he reconsidering that.

GRAHAM: I think the President's trip to Iraq was eye-opening. The commanders there told him that ISIS was in a world ever hurt, not completely destroyed, but well on their way. I think operations to completely destroy and decimate ISIS are going to be ongoing and are going to be accelerated. So the President assures me that he is going to make sure he gets the job done. And I assures him that nobody has done more to defeat ISIS than he has. We are inside the 10-yard line. Then you have the Kurds that we need to be concerned about. They

stepped up when nobody else would. And he is very aware of that problem. He is going to be talking to Turkey about assuring Turkey that they will have a buffer zone that they need given their concerns about the YPG Kurds. But the last thing in the world we want is a war between Turkey and the Kurds that takes pressure off ISIS. And the last thing we want in addition to that is Iran to be the big winner here.

So I think the President is going to finish the job when it comes to ISIS. I shared his goal to withdraw our forces from Syria. I just want to do it in a smart way. Make sure that Iran is not the big winner. And after discussions with the President and General (INAUDIBLE), I never felt better about where we are headed. I think we are slowing things down in a smart way, but the goal has always been the same. To be able to leave Syria and make sure ISIS never comes back. Our partners are taken care of and Iran is contained. And I think that's possible. It is going to take a little longer than everybody thought, but hopefully we can get there. Thank you.

[15:30:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want him to reconsider on Syria? After your meeting, do you think that is what he is doing?

GRAHAM: I think the President is come up with a plan with his generals that make sense to me. The goal is to make sure ISIS doesn't come back. We left Iraq too soon. We have them on the ropes in Iraq. Left too soon. I think the President is very committed to making sure that when we leave Syria that ISIS is completely defeated and we are inside the 10-yard line. And the Iran-Kurd situation has to be dealt with.

So I think we are in a polish situation where reevaluating what is the best way to achieve the presence subjected of having people pay more and do more. We have the British and the French still in Syria. God bless them. But the region needs to put some money into Syria.

How do you hold Raqqa completely destroyed without having somebody help rebuild it? I think the President is right that the rebuilding should come from the region. And we will see what happens here in the next few weeks. But I feel better about Syria than I felt before I had lunch. I think the President is taking this really seriously. And the trip to Iraq was well timed. Thanks.

SAVIDGE: All right, you have been listening to South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham who had, as he says, a two-hour sit down lunch with the President today. They went over a lot including the primary issue which seems to be at hand as the partial government shut down. He seems to be optimistic. That is Lindsey Graham.

Now, there can be some sort of Graham deal, not just the deal that works at funding the government on a short-term basis, but one that apparently can deal with the issue of DACA. That is those young people who were brought here by their parents illegally into the U.S. They were under the age of 16. There are many still to be resolved. And then on top of that, the issue of funding of is it a wall or is it a fence or is it just security along the border there? And then there is talk about Syria.

Let med bring back the two people I was just talking to, Samantha Vinograd. She is an expert on national security. And then also Colonel Rick Francona.

I'm going to ask you both, what you took out of what Lindsey Graham was saying about what the President is saying about Syria.

First and foremost, it seems that Graham went there to change the President's mind about withdrawing troops, it didn't work. The President has not change his mind. It appears that he is going fully forward but somehow Graham seem to think he - Graham has a better understands of why the President is doing what he is doing.

Colonel, let me ask you this. What you heard as far as you says we are still going to protect the Kurds, we are still going to pursue ISIS and we are still going to make sure Iran doesn't come out the big winner here. Do you buy all that?

FRANCONA: I like what the senator said and I would believe what he said. I think the President has actually had a bit of reconsideration of what he is doing. I think over the last -- since you made that announcement, everybody has told him this is not the way to do this. And relying on the Turks to go after ISIS is just not going to work. And I think he may be seeing that regardless of what the Turks say.

The Turks are only interested in defeating the YPG. They regard and there is nothing more than an extension of the PKK, the Turkey separatist group that we designated as a terrorist group. We don't hold the same view of the YPG as they do. But I think the President now realizes that he has to give the Turks something. The buffer zone won't work. He has to give the Kurds something. And that is the key to Turks out of there. But I think he is realizing that we have to stay there until ISIS is fully territorial every move from Syria. And the only people that are going to be able to do that on the ground are the Kurds. Once that is done, then you can withdraw U.S. forces and only then.

SAVIDGE: Sam, do you get the sense that the President had some sort of (INAUDIBLE) when it comes to Syria on U.S. troops?

VINOGRAD: Can we just talk reality for a second?


VINOGRAD: The President made a momentary decision on a phone call with Erdogan to withdraw our forces from Syria. His generals advised against it then because logically speaking the intelligence must have showed that there was a reason to keep our troops in Syria, not in Iraq doing operations in Syria but on the ground in Syria.

Since that time his generals and members of the global coalition to defeat ISIS have been playing catch up and trying to figure out how to make the best of his situation that the President inflicted on himself against the advice of generals which again was based on intelligence. Senator Graham coming out of the oval office and saying that the three

hours that President Trump spent on the ground in Iraq, a fraction of which he spent meeting with commanders somehow reassured him that his decision was right is completely nonsensical.

Intelligence doesn't change overnight. Military plans are not made overnight and coalition resources are not reallocated overnight. If the President is willing to talk to his generals about the safest way to withdraw, then I will be reassured. But there is no way in the time that's passed as conversations have happened in a responsible manner.

[15:35:01] SAVIDGE: OK. And Sam, because of sort of your dual hat that you wear here, let me ask you about border security here and what you heard there, again, with Lindsey Graham, sort of saying that they are talking more not just about a wall. In fact, he said the wall was a metaphor for border security. So, what do you make on this conversation?

VINOGRAD: It is not, though. Any security professional will tell you that a barrier - I mean, just cause different things. And we are talking about a wall or we are talking about a fence or talking about technology or we are talking about armed personnel standing on the border, all those things have different costs.

The security professionals would tell you that they should cost out the most efficient way to secure our border. And then there should a procreation that is discussed among lawmakers about what to do.

This is not just a question of semantics. The President asked for a different kind of wall and examples to be built. Those are sitting somewhere, but if Senator Graham is now saying that we are going to extend the 700 miles of fence or so along the remaining 1200 miles of border, then again that costs something different and that should be something that lawmakers should look out in details so that we don't just throw money at an imaginary problem in an inefficient way.

SAVIDGE: All right. Well, there is a lot more we are going to be talking about on this obviously because of what we just heard.

But for now, Colonel Rick Francona, thank you very much. Always have appreciated your insights.

And Samantha Vinograd, same here.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Happy New Year to you both.

From the leader of the hermit kingdom (INAUDIBLE) to stepping on to the world stage. Yes, that's him right there. Kim Jong-un has had a pretty effective year building relationships around the world. What would have believed it? But is the nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula really dying down? We will talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:40:01] SAVIDGE: Same time of year, we are all thinking about New Year's resolutions. And apparently that also includes Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader sent a letter to South Korea's Moon Jae-in today saying that he hope for more dialogue in the new year. It ends 2018 on a hopeful note. Apparently big change from how the year started.

Here is will Ripley.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's surreal year began seemingly on the brink of war, battered by sanctions over his nuclear program, a defiant Kim refused to back down, ordering the mass production of nuclear weapons in his new year's speech, warning, he was not afraid to use them.

The speech came weeks after Kim test fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon believed to be capable of striking the mainland U.S. It was an ominous message to President Donald Trump after months of fire and fury rhetoric and the growing threat of military conflict.

TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself.

RIPLEY: But the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea provided a rare diplomatic opening. Kim sent his younger sister with the message to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, let's talk.

In April, the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, a made for TV meeting and a chance for Kim to project a surprising new image from dangerous dictator to smiling statesman.

Until this year, the 30-something leader had never met another head of state. Almost overnight, a whirlwind of diplomacy from smiling photos to with Chinese President Xi Jinping to this historic summit in Singapore, first ever meeting between a sitting U.S. President and North Korean leader.

TRUMP: I was really being tough and so was he. We were going back and forth and then we fell in love. OK? Really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

RIPLEY: But letters can only go so far. Denuclearization talks have stalled. Tensions with the U.S. are rising and North Korea is believed to be quietly expanding its nuclear program, all of it raising the stakes for a planned second summit with Trump and Kim early next year.

In 12 short months, a surreal transformation for Kim from global pariah to the global spotlight, all without giving up a single nuclear weapon. But he will begin 2019 locked in a diplomatic standoff with the U.S., sanctions still crippling North Korea's economy. Kim Jong- un's biggest test may lie ahead.


SAVIDGE: Yes. When you look back, a pretty amazing year. So the question now is will he pass that test or could we face a return to the very troubled relationship of the past between north and South Korea and the United States?

We got two really smart people to discuss this with. Kimberly Dozier, a CNN global affairs analyst and contributing writer to "the Daily Beast" and Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown, North Korea Takes on the World" and a columnist for "the Daily Beast."

Welcome to you both. Good to see you both again.



SAVIDGE: Kim, what should we make of this letter from Kim to the South Korean leader? Do you think that he is earnest in wanting to see more dialogue? Could we possibly see Kim heading south to Seoul or anything like that?

DOZIER: I think he is earnest about building on every possible pathway around the United States to build a momentum in terms of not just what South Korea sees as possible, but what the South Korean people see as possible in terms of a future relationship between the two.

And as that momentum builds also with China opening up a lot more trade routes quietly with North Korea, that we see it is going to get harder and harder to build that momentum back up, that pressure that makes North Korea want to sacrifice anything.

SAVIDGE: Kimberly brings up a good point, Gordon. If north and south get very tight, where does that leave the U.S.?

CHANG: Well, it leaves us on the outside. But I think that Kim Jong- un has a real problem in that his biggest supporter which is Moon Jae- in is in trouble. His approval ratings have been continually dropping. And they are going to drop a lot more if Kim doesn't make good on his promise to go to Seoul.

Kim promised to go to Seoul this year. He is obviously not going to do that in the next day. And I think he is going to have a problem going to Seoul later on for a number of reasons. That is going to delegitimize this inter-Korean reconciliation process.

So yes, we are on the outside right now, but we still have the high cards. We can change this dynamic if President Trump wants to.

[15:45:02] SAVIDGE: One of the thing that, you know, I think all of us remember is that it always seem to be sort of one step forward and about eight steps backwards when it comes to the actions of North Korea here. We get these moments of what appear to be optimism and then bam. We are back to missiles and threats and all this fiery dialogue.

So Kim, I'm wondering, you know, is it real or is this really just a world leader that is trying to revamp his image?

DOZIER: Well, you still have President Trump saying very positive things about North Korea, not coming out publicly and condemning the lack of progress. And I think that makes it harder for the secretary of state, the special envoy to the Korea issue, to build pressure on Pyongyang to change its behavior.

So I think one of the things that we could be facing in the new year is at some point either President Trump loses patience and then he goes back to some sort of twitter storm that makes Kim Jong-un nervous or we could be facing a situation where negotiators for North Korea simply drawl this out as long as possible because they know Trump because of his ego invested here doesn't want to do and say the hard things to break the deadlock.

SAVIDGE: Do you think it's possible, Gordon, that the U.S. -- I believe General Kelly was referencing this in the article with the "L.A. Times." That at one point the President was actually considering withdrawing the 28,000 U.S. forces there in South Korea. And if he did, what would the impact be?

CHANG: Well, the impact would be enormous. You know, South Korea is our western defense perimeter. And that withdrawal from South Korea would certainly affect our ability to defend Japan.

You know, it's entirely possible. Moon Jae-in who is very pro-North Korean doesn't want us there. His advisors certainly don't want us there. And you know, we now have these negotiations over cost sharing which are not going very well. So of course, there is the risk that President Trump says, look, we are just leaving.

But I don't think he can do that as a practical matter. Remember. President Carter tried to do the same thing. And it was actually further down the road in getting U.S. troops out. That didn't happen. It didn't happen because it's in our U.S. interest to be in South Korea. And I think Trump eventually will realize that if he doesn't already.

SAVIDGE: Kim, real quick. China doesn't want us there either, do they? And they do plan on this.

DOZIER: No, they don't want us here. And I agree with Gordon it would be very hard for President Trump to do this. But right now, North Korea and China, they are all watching Trump's behavior with regards to Syria and Afghanistan. They know his natural drive is to bring the troops home and they are going to use that.

SAVIDGE: Interesting point. Kim Dozier, Gordon Chang, thank you again. Happy New Year to you both.

CHANG: Happy New Year.

SAVIDGE: And we will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:51:04] SAVIDGE: Gilda Radnor was a comedic superstar who has reached (INAUDIBLE) on the world of entertainment. Her iconic "Saturday Night Live" characters made us laugh. Her thought-provoking writing broke boundaries for women and her hard-fought battle with cancer brought attention and support to cancer patients everywhere.

Now the new CNN original film "Love Gilda" uses special access to her Gilda's diaries, letters, her home videos, to tale Gilda's story in her own words. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Gilda Radnor, her voice and her writing.

First and foremost, above everything else, my main priority is that I am a girl. I have never wanted to be anything else. I'm fascinated with boys, but I never wanted to be one. I agree, Gilda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be a girl and be funny means you have to sacrifice a lot of things because of your loud mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being neurotic is the only subject I didn't have to research. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't begin to imagine how I got famous. It seem like I just took the next job and then it turned out that millions of people were watching me do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe you know me and maybe you don't, or maybe you heard of me but never saw me or maybe you used to know me but don't know me anymore or one time in my life I was famous and it seemed like everyone knew me.


SAVIDGE: It's a wonderful way to tell that using the voices and faces of people currently on "Saturday Night Live." Because I'm a person who remembers when there was no "SNL." And then how remarkable it was when "Saturday Night Live" came around and of course, how Gilda Radnor was so instrumental in all of that. I'm sorry.

But joining me now is the director behind "Love, Gilda," Lisa D'Apolito. Thank you very much for being with us. And congratulations on what's a wonderful documentary.


SAVIDGE: I'm wondering, you know, what was it about her story and her life and of course her tragedy that made you want to make this film?

D'APOLITO: Well, I knew who Gilda was in the world of comedy, and I knew her amazing characters of (INAUDIBLE). And you know, her place in the world of comedy. But I started directing videos for Gilda's club, which is a place founded by Gene Wilder and Gilda's friends after Gilda passed away from cancer. And I started reading her book called "It's Always Something." And I was really inspired by her journey with cancer. And I thought her legacy was so unique because it's just not in the world of comedy. It's also in the world of cancer, really helping people, you know, in the current times.

SAVIDGE: I'm a huge fan of storytelling. And you were given, as you just sort of pointed out here, this incredible access to never before seen photos, home videos, the diaries, and it really feels like, you know, it's Gilda that's telling this story. You obviously chose that method to do this. Why that way?

D'APOLITO: Well, my past was I was an actress. So I approached the film as if Gilda was a character. And I really wanted her to tell her story. Once I started listening to her audiotapes and reading her journals, I realized it really had to be in her words. It's very different when other people talk about you. And it's really powerful that she was able to tell her own story.

SAVIDGE: She was, of course, the first woman -- well, she was the first performer chosen, period, for "Saturday Night Live." And she was one of three women in the original cast. She worked alongside some pretty formidable male comedians (INAUDIBLE). What was it that made her such a trailblazer at the time?

D'APOLITO: Well, she was a hundred percent confident of herself as a performer. She loved performing and she loved working with other performers. And I think people like John Belushi and the other cast members and people that she knew from national lampoon and second city, they just loved performing with her. And I think her joy of performing and her camaraderie really broke a lot of barriers.

[15:55:12] SAVIDGE: She was, sadly, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I believe, in 1986. And we see these very poignant moments, these home videos, and of course, the journal entries. She decided to go very public and talk to us and everyone she knew about something that was very not funny. Why?

D'APOLITO: I think Gilda was on a mission from what her friends have told us. And she really wanted people to be open about cancer. Back in 1986 and 1987, it was really the "C" word. And people weren't open about it, and especially celebrities. And I think that was really important to Gilda. And that's why she started her writing her book and that's why in the film you will see a home movie of her ninth chemotherapy. It was important for her to show people what it's like that you are still living your life. You are going through what you are going through, but you are still there and you are making the best of what's going on.

SAVIDGE: And her legacy, what do you see that as?

D'APOLITO: I think her legacy is twofold. I mean, I think her legacy in the world of comedy, you know, with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. Then following Gilda, there's Amy Poehler and Tina Fey and a whole bunch of new women and male performers.

So her role of -- her legacy is really solid in comedy. But through the 18 Gilda's clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada, which are part of the cancer support community which has I don't even know how many dozens and dozens of places for support, Gilda's legacy is twofold. She's really a trailblazer in the world of comedy and really helps people on a daily basis through the Gilda's club and through her book, "It is Always Something."

SAVIDGE: Yes. Lisa D'Apolito, thank you so much. We are so grateful you made this documentary.

And I want to remind you all, be sure to tune in with the CNN original film "Love, Gilda." It premieres News Year's day 9:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN.