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Democrats Will Be Taking Control of the House; Pacific Gas and Electric Could Face Manslaughter; 2018 a Big Year for the Department of Justice; Colin O'Brady Back Home Safely; Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Saying Just Moments Ago On CNN That President Trump Is Open To A Potential Compromise With Democrats That Would Reopen The Government; Senator Graham Changing His Tune, Now Saying President Trump Made Him Feel Better About Pulling U.S. Troops From The Battlefield In Syria. Aired: 4-5p ET

Aired December 30, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Hello. Thanks for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge in for Fredricka Whitfield. We're following breaking news. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying just moments ago on CNN that President Trump is open to a potential compromise with Democrats that would reopen the government. That agreement could include full funding for the wall, as well as a potential deal on DACA.

Graham saying the President called that quote "interesting." That two-hour long meeting hitting on not only border security, but also a range of other issues, including facing the President - well, other things that he's facing into the New Year. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR, SOUTH CAROLINA, REPUBLICAN: I think we have a chance here to end 2018 or begin 2019 with a breakthrough on immigration, a $5 billion appropriation wisely spent would go a long way to securing our border. It's just not about physical barriers, it's about other things, and if we could 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 are trying to find a way to help them.

So there's a deal to be had. The wall has become a metaphor for border security. And what we're 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's nothing immoral about a physical barrier along the border in places that make sense. So there'll never be a deal, at the end of this year, the beginning of 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're 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 that would be a win/win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Again, that's Senator Lindsey Graham after spending two hours with the President at the White House and there was a lot of what he had to say. And so let's begin to sort of digest this. Sarah Westwood joins us from the White House. And Sarah, Graham saying the President is open minded to a compromise. You may not know that based on what we've heard from the White House so far though, right?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: That's right. Senator Lindsey Graham pitching his idea for a potential deal as something of a breakthrough if it could gain traction. But he said, President Trump didn't commit to the trade of some relief for the DACA population in exchange for some wall funding.

Keep in mind though that there very several attempts to put together support for these kinds of deals in the past. Both times it's fallen apart, it hasn't gotten enough support to get to President Trump's desk. And Senator Graham also blames Democrats for furthering the stalemate by constantly saying what they're not going to fund and not saying enough about what they would support. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: All I can say is that the Democrats have said they're not going to give him a dime for a border wall. The House will change next week. They're going to send over 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 have made it pretty hard to have a discussion. They're telling us what they won't do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Acting Chief of Staff/Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has suggested in the past that President Trump might be willing to come down off that $5 billion demand for wall funding, but he hasn't said by how much.

Now, keep in mind there's also a debate raging right now about what exactly constitutes a wall. Outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly said this administration actually abandoned the idea of a physical border wall early in Trump's presidency. He told "The Los Angeles Times" in an interview, "To be honest, it's not a wall. The President still says wall. Oftentimes, frankly, he'll say barrier or fencing. Now he's tended towards steel slats, but we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."

So, obviously this deal that Senator Graham described out of his lunch with the President today still in the very early preliminary stages. We haven't heard a lot about what Democrats would be willing to consider. Mulvaney said Democratic congressional leaders haven't been invited back to the White House for further talks, Martin. SAVIDGE: All right, Sarah, I also find it notable that the

President's only reaction, at least according to the Senator, was one word, and that word was "interesting." That's after two hours of lunch. Sarah Westwood, thanks very much.

All right. Let's talk about this. And to do that is Wesley Lowery, he is from "The Washington Post" and White House reporter for "The New York Times," Michael Shear. Let me start with Michael and just ask the obvious.

[16:05:04]

SAVIDGE: Do you hear something out of whatever we've learned now from the Senator and apparently this lunch that makes you say, "Hey, we're on the cusp of maybe ending this partial government shutdown?"

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": You know, I'm super skeptical, Martin. I mean, I think, look, this is Senator Graham expressing his own hopes. He's been an advocate for some kind of deal like this for an awful long time, before Trump was even on the scene, and then trying to figure out some deal with Trump.

The problem is on both sides, you have Democrats who are not going to be willing for the kind of limited relief for the DACA population, the so-called Dreamers who have been living in this country illegally since they were very small children, the kind of sort of limited relief that Senator Graham is talking about, the left and the Democrats are not going to be satisfied with that.

And on Trump's right, there are people like Stephen Miller, his very hard core adviser on immigration issues and others in that kind of community who are going to demand other sorts of other restrictionist policies to go along with that that cut back on different kinds of legal immigration.

And so when you get both of these extremes into the mix, these kinds of deals tend to fall apart. And unfortunately, I don't see any reason to think, despite Senator Graham's optimism this morning, I don't see any reason to think that that would change.

SAVIDGE: What about this thing, Wesley, that the wall is not a wall, it's a metaphor? In other words, you know, it's not really this construct. It's talking about all sorts of things, whether it's security, whether it's a fence, or whether it's perhaps legislation of some way?

WESLEY LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, look, I think two things are true. The first is that, you know, there is something to be said for that. The President campaigned and was elected on a platform that was about securing the border broadly, but also a platform that was about authorizing other groups of people, this feeling of who is American? Who belongs here and who does not and who potentially threatens the economy or threatens jobs, right?

So there was some poetic license there. That said, this was one of the chief concrete promises of candidate Trump - that was going to construct a physical wall. I can imagine - in fact, I'm almost surprised we haven't seen Trump tweets already about what John Kelly said about it not really being a wall.

Because, you know, while I think folks around the President may say that and while that's probably true in terms of the administration's policies, many of his supporters are very whetted to this idea of building this physical barrier. So much so, it's one of the reasons that I think the President has backed himself into a corner a bit on this government shutdown.

He said this is about constructing a wall, constructing physical barriers and can he walk away now without actually getting some of that? It's unclear.

SAVIDGE: Well, possibly here, what it was is that you know, immigration, immigration reform, and security. Very complex subjects. Especially when you're around the campaign trail, so you come up with one very simple phrase, a wall. And bam, you use that as your kind of shorthand speak.

I'm wondering though, Wesley, the Democrats may say, all right, look, I've got to give you $5 billion for your border security and in exchange, I'm only getting something that might help these DACA youths. It may not satisfy Democrats. What about the public at large who are already getting very upset with seeing a partial government shutdown drag on?

LOWERY: Well, certainly. And I think that we can't lose sight of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands, almost a million Federal employees whose - their paychecks are in peril and that doesn't even begin to count on the contract employees who are not receiving pay because of this.

As this stretches on, there will be increasing political pressure, but this is a case where the President has said very proudly, he's boasted in the Oval Office about how, "This shutdown is on me. This is about me. I am going to take credit for it."

And so I think, unless the Democrats were to start feeling some type of political pressure, and I'm not sure that they would, it seems like something the President very likely is going to end up having to cave on.

SAVIDGE: Michael, do you think that it's the President that is really in the hot seat here, that Democrats - they can sort of sit back and watch what happens?

SHEAR: Well, I think it's always dangerous for a political party to take for granted that the other side is going to be blamed. Politics is a kind of continually shifting business. But I do think - I agree with Wes.

I mean, if you look at the kind of way that this particular shutdown has played out, the President seems to be more likely to be blamed by a broader sort of subset of the population than the Democrats are for right now. And so I think, one of the ways that he may find is his only way out

of this mess is to sort of declare, is to sort of find a way to declare victory and go move on.

One of those ways might be to simply say we've already built a lot of the wall, we're building more of the wall with money that we've already had appropriated. I'm going to order the military to the border and then say that'll be enough and move on to the next subject, and I think that may be the way that we get out of this.

SAVIDGE: Real quick, Wesley, isn't the danger here that you could have Democrats and Republicans say, "All right, we'll hash out something," and they do. They go to all of that trouble, and then he goes over to the President and he goes, "You know what, no."

LOWERY: Well, certainly that is one of the major dangers here. We've seen Democratic leaders already say essentially, "Look, we're not even going to discuss any possible solutions to this unless we have the President endorsing it publicly himself beforehand."

[16:10:06]

LOWERY: Because what we know - and this would be true of any executive, but probably particularly true of this one, that unless the President himself is backing this, nothing is guaranteed. There's no deal that's guaranteed.

And this particular President very likely could see something hammered out andd hashed out, and then not like the way it's playing out here on CNN or elsewhere and go ahead and change his mind.

And so, until the President himself actually has signed on to a deal, who knows what exactly is going to happen.

SAVIDGE: Michael, last ten seconds. How long does this go on, this partial shutdown?

SHEAR: I mean, it will last at least through the end of this week when the Democrats will take over in the House and then I think that there - folks, I talk to suggest that it could last for you know, at least another week or more as they try to figure out and position themselves for who has - who's going to get the blame and who is going to be able to avoid it.

SAVIDGE: Yes, this could be a lot of pain. All right, Michael Shear and Wes Lowery, thank you very much.

LOWERY: Thanks for having us.

SHEAR: Sure.

SAVIDGE: Well, as lawmakers battle over border wall funding, hundreds of thousands of Federal workers are either on furlough or working without knowing when they'll get their next paycheck.

And joining me now via skype is Justin Tarovisky. He is a correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton, that's in West Virginia. He also serves as the Executive Vice President of the Union that represents the officers that work at that facility.

Justin, thank you very much. Did I pronounce your last name correct?

JUSTIN TAROVISKY, EXECUTIVE VP, AFGE LOCAL 420, WEST VIRGINIA: Yes, sir, Tarovisky.

SAVIDGE: Okay. Let me ask you this. Most Americans probably don't feel significantly impacted by this, if they're not working for the government. But you are.

So what has this done both to your own life and to the morale of those officers you serve with?

TAROVISKY: Well, I mean, just take for instance, you know, the shutdown started on Saturday and I worked nine hours of overtime. That nine hours of pay is currently on leave without pay. And that affects me, you know, if I want to travel during the holidays, buy gifts for my family, or pay off bills, as in your mortgage.

So within that, that could drive morale down, especially if you're an officer. But you go in to a United States Penitentiary every day to protect the community, protect the inmates, to protect staff, and that's going to be on the back of your mind and that can affect you, you know, away from the prison mentally.

Because you're not - you're told you're not going to be paid. That could drive your morale down.

SAVIDGE: Of course. I'm wondering, you know, as a correctional officer, that job is a very tough task. It's also sometimes a very dangerous task. Does all of this weigh into the stress for your family, about your safety but their financial security?

TAROVISKY: Oh, absolutely. I agree with that, yes, sir. I mean, you know, a lot of times when you leave the facility, whether at any prison, sometimes you're supposed to leave that back behind. But sometimes, it could filter into your home life, especially if you're not going to get paid.

That's one thing you've got to try to keep reserve on and keep your head up high and keep pushing and going inside of that prison and do what you can for the safety and security of the civilians of America and also the community.

SAVIDGE: Does it ever make you second guess doing this job at all? In other words, gone and finding some other line of work because when you're relying on the government, it's becoming too unreliable.

TAROVISKY: No, you know, the last shutdown we had was for 16 days. But you know, it kind of makes me put my chin up a little bit higher and say, you know, I want to keep fighting, I want to do what I can for the American public, to do the right thing.

Hopefully both sides, whether you're Democrat, Republican, or the President, they can get this done and hash it out for us, for the voters, for the citizens. I'm going to keep pushing on and do what I can for the public.

SAVIDGE: We do appreciate it. But let me ask you this, and I always ask the same question, which is if you could talk to the President, if you could talk to Congress, and in a way you sort of are, what would you say? What would you encourage them to do?

TAROVISKY: You know, we just - I support what everybody does on both sides, but right now let's just get this government back open as quickly as possible for all of us, whether you're Republican or Democrat. Let's get this going and let's make sure especially during the holidays, you know, for all our Federal employees, for our families, please.

SAVIDGE: Justin Tarovisky, thank you very much. We do appreciate the work you do, and all of those men and women. Thank you.

TAROVISKY: Thank you, sir.

SAVIDGE: Still ahead, more on the breaking news. Senator Graham changing his tune, now saying President Trump made him feel better about pulling U.S. troops from the battlefield in Syria. But what about the fight against ISIS? We'll talk about that after this break.

(COMMERCIAL)

[16:15:00]

SAVIDGE: We're following breaking news on Syria. Moments ago, after a long meeting with President Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham now says quote, "We are in a pause situation." When it comes to the U.S. pulling troops out of Syria.

Graham has said he worries that if the U.S. pulls out of Syria now, it could pave the way for an ISIS comeback and put U.S. allies, such as the Kurds, at Syria's risk and then open the door to other U.S. adversaries to wield power in the region, a.k.a. Iran.

But after a two-hour meeting with the President at the White House, Graham now seems encouraged by the President's decision and says that Trump remains committed to defeating ISIS. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: I think the President has come up with a plan with his generals that makes sense to me. The goal is to make sure ISIS doesn't come back. We left Iraq too soon. We had them on the ropes in Iraq, left too soon. I think the President's very committed to making sure that when we leave Syria that ISIS is completely defeated and we're inside the ten-yard line. And the Iran/Kurd situation has to be dealt with. So I think we're in a pause situation. We're re-evaluating what's the

best way to achieve the President's objective of having people pay more and do more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Right, with me now to discuss is retired Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton and Aaron David Miller, VP and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and thank both for being here.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR TRAINING, TSA: You bet, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Let me start with you, Colonel. I listened to Senator Graham, and I initially thought he went in there to change the President's mind, and I'm not sure whose mind got changed here. So let me ask your professional opinion. Did you like what you heard and did it seem to imply we're staying?

LEIGHTON: You know, I'm very concerned about it, Martin. No, I really didn't like what I heard because I heard somebody who seemed to have been convinced by the President that it was the right thing to do to pull our troops out at this particular point in time.

But then on the other hand, there's this talk about staying the course and defeating ISIS. That part I definitely applaud. And if there's a plan to make that happen, that's wonderful.

[16:25:05]

LEIGHTON: The only problem that you have with it is if you don't have troops on the ground or at least a provision for people to get into Syria in some way or form, then that would become almost an undoable type of plan, and it really wouldn't work in an operational sense.

SAVIDGE: And Aaron, speaking of sort of on the undoable thing, the President's announcement to pull the troops out has already prompted Defense Secretary Mattis to resign. It's forced the Kurds now to apparently go to the Assad regime to ask for some kind of protection. And of course, the Russians seem to be applauding all of this.

I'm wondering, has the damage already been done? Have the dominos in the region already started to fall and you can't put this genie back?

AARON DAVID MILLER, VP AND DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Well, look, I think the process was abysmal. I mean, without consultation, without deliberation, no briefing of Congress, no briefing of allies, delighted adversaries, allies feeling betrayed, and no effort to negotiate conditional withdrawal with the Russians and the Turks in order to do what we could to constrain Turkey and get the Russians involved in trying to broker a deal between the Syrian government and the Kurds.

Look, Martin, the Kurds have maintained their connections to the Syrian regime and have been hedging their bets, I suspect, for months now. So, I mean, I think the process of decision making that led to withdrawal was horrible. But I'm not entirely persuaded that the compelling arguments for keeping 2,200 American forces in Syria with an open-ended mission and with inflated goals that we cannot possibly achieve really is the right course of action.

You want to defeat ISIS, and I think the notion of defeating ISIS - ISIS is not Japan or Germany. You're not going to break their will to fight. They're going to be in Syria because the Syrian humpty dumpty is broken, dysfunctional. The Assad regime adds to that, so do the Russians. It's degrading containing ISIS. I think that's the strategy and that's going to be more difficult without American forces, no doubt.

SAVIDGE: Colonel, what about - you know, we do have forces of course in Western Iraq, which is very close to the border with Syria. So isn't it possible you could pursue the same objectives without U.S. forces on the ground in Syria but just across the way in Western Iraq?

LEIGHTON: From a strictly military standpoint, it is possible to do at least part of that mission, especially when you're looking at, let's say, the part of the Euphrates River Valley that borders the Iraqi border. So yes, you could do it. You could do a lot of things with stand-off weapons.

However, from a political standpoint and also from an allied standpoint, it really becomes important to have some degree of connection with our allies on the ground there.

Wars in the Middle East are generally won by having people on the ground. It is not the kind of place, as we found out in Iraq, where you can go in and do things from the air or do things remotely and achieve permanent success. That's the kind of problem that we run into.

It really depends on the goals that we have and those goals really need to be articulated in a clear fashion, and I really haven't seen that yet.

SAVIDDGE: Aaron, I want to just remind our viewers just how much of a - well, how Senator Graham blasted the President's decision to pull out of Syria a couple weeks ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: It hurt so much to know that everybody that we've talked to in Manbij, many of them are going to get killed. They did the honorable thing to come to our aid to help destroy a common enemy of mankind, ISIS. We have been dishonorable. This is a stain on the honor of the United States. I hope and pray the President will reconsider this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: You know, listening to the Senator, and no disrespect to him, it sounded like he was the one that's done the reconsidering here, Aaron. MILLER: Well, I mean, I think, again, you're talking about a

President that has willfully made a determination to withdraw from the Iran agreement, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy, and he's wanted to get out of Syria.

And I suspect, Martin, within the next year or so, we won't be there anymore, at least with the force deployments that we have right now.

SAVIDGE: And again, Aaron, you know, Graham is talking about the President wanting others in the region help pay for this fight. This is a theme he's used a lot when it comes to military defense. Who's he talking about? Who's going to foot the bill?

MILLER: Well, I think you know the answer to that one. It's his new and best friend, Mohammed Bin Salman. He's already bragged about the fact that the Saudis are prepared to do much more. But frankly, that's a fantasy. The Saudis are not going to throw money into Syria.

Iraq may be a different story, but not into Syria. They're not an ally to the United States. They're not upholding American interests or values.

SAVIDGE: And colonel, what happens to the Assad regime if the U.S. pulls its forces out of that country?

LEIGHTON: I think, Martin, it's going to be strengthened.

[16:25:07]

LEIGHTON: It's already gone past the tipping point that it was at a few months ago where we thought it might be possible for that regime to be changed or at least removed. But that's not going to happen. Assad is strengthened. Assad will stay there as long as the Russians and Iranians want them to.

SAVIDGE: Of course, why would he leave? Colonel Cedric Leighton and Aaron David Miller, thank you both and Happy New Year.

MILLER: Thank you, same to you.

LEIGHTON: Happy New Year, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Still ahead, a new report sheds light on the pressure of a Russian spy put on Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, next. Details on the millions "Time" magazine says Manafort owed the Russian government during the height of Trump's campaign.

(COMMERCIAL)

SAVIDGE: The Russia collusion fabrication is the greatest hoax in the history of American politics. I didn't say that. That's what the President said yesterday on Twitter. He must not be reading "Time" magazine. Because "Time" is reporting that the Chairman of the President's election campaign, Paul Manafort, was in touch with a former Russian intelligence officer who was pressuring him over millions of dollars he allegedly owed to a billionaire with ties to the Kremlin.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joins me now. And Matthew, essentially what is "Time" magazine alleging here? Good to see you, by the way.

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Good to see you, too. Well, it's a complicated thing. What the "Time" magazine have found is a small piece of a much bigger puzzle as to whether or not there was collusion, of course, in any way between Russia and the Trump campaign as it was then.

They've managed to sort of grab a very short ad hoc interview with a character called Victor Boyarkin ...

[16:30:01] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- a former intelligence officer in Russia. He's also a former arms dealer. He was recently named on a list of individuals to be sanctioned by the United States. And it seems that, as Time says, this is the sort of person who was the go between, between allegedly Paul Manafort, who was at the time the campaign chairman for Donald Trump and Oleg Deripaska, who is a very rich Russian businessman, one of the richest people in Russia, who's very close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President.

Now, because of a business deal that went wrong -- and I am sorry this is a bit convoluted -- but because of a business deal that went wrong between Paul Manafort and this billionaire, Deripaska, Manafort was being sued for millions of dollars by Deripaska, who said he owed him that money.

And it seems that Victor Boyarkin was the kind of debt collector. He was sent by Oleg Deripaska to try and put pressure on Paul Manafort during the time, remember that he was the campaign chief for Donald Trump, to repay that debt. And apparently, according to this Time report, Boyarkin said that Manafort was offering ways to pay back the money, which is interesting, because what we already know is that in e-mail exchanges Paul Manafort suggested giving private briefings Oleg Deripaska during that time when he was that campaign chief, in a way to sort of get even or to get whole, I think, is the phrase that he used with Oleg Deripaska.

And it would be interesting, wouldn't it, to hear from this Mr. Boyarkin character, to try and find out exactly what it is that Mr. Manafort was offering. And unfortunately, we're not going to be able to do that, because the Mueller inquiry has already approached Boyarkin. And he's basically responded to them negatively, saying that they can go dig a ditch, according to Time Magazine when he was asked to testify.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN HOST: Do you expect that there will be any other reaction from Russian leadership, perhaps, to this article, or are they just going to ignore it?

CHANCE: I suspect that unless they're specifically asked by someone to react, that they're going to try and ignore it. And if they do react at all, I think we're probably going to hear yet another denial of the kind we've heard time and again, both from the Trump campaign and from the Kremlin when it comes to any suggestion of collusion.

SAVIDGE: Well, it certainly makes for interesting reading. So we appreciate all the insights, Matthew. Thank you very much. In just four days, democrats are going to take control of the House. That means that their first chance to demand answers and actually expect to receive them via issuing subpoenas.

Well, CNN's Randi Kaye takes a look at where they could start. And that's the Trump family business empire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

KAYE: There's also the Michael Cohen problem. The Trump organization's long-time lawyer pleaded guilty in August to eight counts, including campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, which Cohen says included payments designed to silence women who claim they had affairs with Trump, which Trump has denied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.

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

Cohen had previously said talks about the Moscow project ended in January 2016, before the Iowa caucuses. Turns out, that was a lie. According to Rudy Giuliani, the talks continued into November, the month of the election. In court, Cohen admitted he made his false statements consistent with individual ones political messaging and out of loyalty to individual one.

Just who is individual one? Donald Trump. All of this matters because if it's true, it could prove Trump was seeking business with Russia while Moscow was secretly working to get him elected. And speaking of hotels, attorneys general for Maryland and D.C. have filed a lawsuit and subpoenaed financial records from the Trump organization and the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

[16:35:08] DONALD TRUMP (R), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: This is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C., the best location.

KAYE: The hotel plays host to foreign officials and leaders from around the world. The lawsuit suggests the President breached the emoluments clause of the constitution, which prohibits the President from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office. All said, at least five committees in Congress now poised to probe the Trump organization on everything Trump's touched, including his yet to be released tax returns. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Randi. Next up, California's largest utility could face manslaughter, maybe even murder charges for its role in the state's deadliest wildfires. We will tell you what the state attorney general is thinking about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAVIDGE: Pacific Gas and Electric could face murder, even manslaughter charges for its role in California's deadly wildfires. California's Attorney General filed a brief, listing a range of possible criminal charges if the giant utility company is found negligent for any of the 2018 fires. Wildfires, you remember, in California claimed the lives of more than 80 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is following these developments for us. And Miguel, just remind us again, a utility company, what, is thought somehow connected to these fires how?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure, because they have a lot of lines on federal property. And over the years, there have been several fires started by electric companies. But what this relates to is a federal judge overseeing PG&E's probation for an earlier conviction. He's asked for an opinion on possible California charges in the event.

[16:40:03] Recklessness on the company's part is found in this year's camp fire, which killed 86 people. That's the deadliest fire in California's history. The California attorney general recommended a range of possibilities here, everything from misdemeanors if PG&E for example didn't maintain vegetation and power lines in fire-prone areas, or possible felonies or misdemeanors if PG&E actually started a fire.

Finally, there could even be manslaughter or even homicide charges, what they called implied malice murder, not like they meant to do it but it happened with a certain degree of recklessness. That's the question. All this depends on the degree of recklessness on the company's behalf that any possible investigation could find in any of these fires.

The federal judge (Inaudible) oversees PG&E's probation for six felonies. The company was convicted of in the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion, where eight people died. PG&E did not respond directly to the AG's filing, the opinion. But said in a statement, PG&E's most important responsibility is public and workforce safety.

Our focus continues to be on assessing our infrastructure to further enhance safety and helping our customers continue to recover and rebuild. Throughout our service area, we are committed to doing everything we can to help further reduce the risk of wildfire. There are enormous stakes in all of this for PG&E. It's one of the largest gas and electric utility companies in the country.

The company faces a potential $15 billion liability for the 2017 Wine Country fires and could face even much more for this year's fires. PG&E says it has already implemented new and enhanced safety measures, including upgrading its vegetation management efforts, conducting accelerated safety inspections, and in some cases, turning off electric power when extreme fire conditions are forecast.

All this happening against an extraordinarily stark background, as California, PG&E and all utilities across the state are looking at a future of increased and more extreme fire activity as the west becomes hotter, drier, and more combustible, Martin.

SAVIDGE: Hey, real quick, Miguel. These charges, if they came about, would they be filed against the executives or are they filed against maybe a linesman?

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: Yeah. It's so speculative at this point that there would even be charges. The AG was just laying out sort of complete sort of (Inaudible) possibility of all the charges possible. They would have to prove recklessness and knowing recklessness at those levels before they could bring charges at any point.

SAVIDGE: All right, understood. Miguel Marquez thanks very much. We're going to take a break. Be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] SAVIDGE: Two thousand eighteen was a big year for the Department of Justice, indictments, investigations, and of course the departure of the attorney general. Laura Jarrett looks back at the top 8 justice stories of 2018.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Twenty eighteen produced a downpour of news from the Justice Department, indictments, immigration battles, clashes with Capitol Hill, the departure of an attorney general, and an investigation looming over the presidency. Here are the top 8 stories in 2018, number 8, the rise of hate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eleven people dead. Six people wounded in what one FBI agent calls the most horrific crime he has ever seen. The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, his social media accounts littered with anti-semitic and anti-immigrant views.

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

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

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

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

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

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

JARRETT: While also going after his political rivals.

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

JARRETT: In unprecedented ways.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: I've decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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

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

JARRETT: Then with the backing of the White House, republicans on the House Intelligence Committee produced a highly controversial report, accusing the FBI of misconduct in obtaining a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Whereas others on the Hill who actually reviewed the FISA materials concluded the FBI did nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.

JARRETT: Number five, the immigration battle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We care! We care!

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

TRUMP: The Republicans want security and insist on security for our country. And we will have that. At the same time, we have compassion. We want to keep families together. JARRETT: Then another judge blocked the administration's efforts to

limit asylum, saying the President violated quote, a clear command from Congress. Number four, when the courts checked Trump.

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

[16:50:00] JARRETT: While the President often lashes out at the Ninth Circuit court of appeals on the west coast, in reality the administration faced a losing streak across this year in courts across the country. But Trump did score one major victory. A federal judge in Texas striking down the Affordable Care Act, teeing up a fight all but guaranteed to land in the Supreme Court, a court with a new five- four conservative majority.

This as the Justice Department is making a practice of regularly asking justices to weigh in on other controversial issues, aggressively skipping over lower courts. But Chief Justice John Roberts also issued a rare warning against Trump's criticism of judges saying, quote, we do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.

That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for. Number three, reshaping the federal courts.

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

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

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

JARRETT: Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders have made stacking the federal judiciary with young conservative judges a signature priority, a legacy that will far outlast the Trump presidency. Number two, justice shake-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news right now. The attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, he has now resigned.

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

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

JARRETT: Trump tapped Matt Whitaker, Sessions' former chief of staff, to take the reins at the department temporarily, unleashing a series of legal challenges because he wasn't confirmed by the Senate. But soon, a man who once served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush would emerge as the President's permanent pick.

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

JARRETT: Number one, the Russia investigation. The Special Counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election ramped up this year with multiple subpoenas, flipped witnesses, dozens of indictments, and five guilty pleas, including from some high-level members of the Trump campaign. The head-spinning volume of material churned out by Robert Mueller and other federal prosecutors puts Trump's campaign, transition, and inaugural committee now all under active investigation.

While Michael Cohen, the President's former attorney and fixer, agreed to cooperate with investigators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man doesn't tell the truth. And it's sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Now let's talk about what lies ahead. Ring in 2019 with us. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen co-host CNN's New Year's Eve coverage live from Times Square with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon. The party starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. Still to come, an amazing feat, historic really, an Oregon man managed to hike the entire continent of Antarctica without any help at all. How he did it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SAVIDGE: America can count on a new record. An Oregon man, Colin O'Brady, the first American to cross Antarctica solo that means without any help. CNN's Kaylee Hartung takes a look at his amazing journey and what motivated him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN REPORTER: After 54 days and more than 900 miles...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minus 30 degrees out, winds blowing 60-mile-per- hour. Wind chill is like minus 100, something crazy.

HARTUNG: This 33-year-old American became the first person in history to traverse the barren and frigid continent of Antarctica alone without help. Colin O'Brady told NBC News, everyday was a mental battle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every morning I'd wake up and I tell myself my mantra. You're strong. You're capable. You can do this. HARTUNG: Twelve to thirteen hours a day he would ski, he said,

pulling this sled, equipped with everything he needed to survive the duration of the journey. O'Brady says the last 32 hours of the journey were some of the most challenging hours of his life. He sprinted the final 80 miles in one continuous push. After he crossed the invisible finish line on December 26th, at the edge of the ice shelf, he immediately called his wife Jenna.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was an emotional conversation. It was a lot of pride. And we were just all screaming and hooting and hollering and happy that he was there safely.

HARTUNG: They've known pride before. O'Brady had already climbed the tallest mountain on each continent and trekked the last degree of latitude to the north and south poles, shattering a world record for the so-called explorer's grad slam, fantastic accomplishments for anyone, milestones that have extra significance for O'Brady.

Ten years ago he was severely injured in a fire. Burns covered nearly a quarter of his body. Doctors warned him he may never walk again normally. But O'Brady was determined to come back stronger than before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing this for something more than myself, to inspire other people to take on the impossible in their lives.

HARTUNG: Kaylee Hartung, CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: That is a wonderful way to wrap it up. Thanks so much for joining me. I am Martin Savidge. The news continues now with Ryan Nobles, Ryan.