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Trump Cancels Pay Raise to Government Workers, Blames Dems for Shutdown; Bangladeshi Prime Minister Expected to Win Third Consecutive Term; Congo Polls Open in Historic Transfer of Power; Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort over Debts during 2016 Presidential Election; Top Political Stories in 2018; Nearly 15-Pound Baby Born to Texas Family. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 30, 2018 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The partial U.S. government shutdown, yes, it's still thing, still a stalemate. The nation's president not only flip-flops to blame Democrats, also blaming them for the deaths of two migrant children at the border in Mexico. We'll talk about it.

Plus, democracy in action. Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo cast their ballots in a long-delayed presidential election there.

Also ahead this hour, allegations of new ties between former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort and a suspected Russian ex-spy.

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


HOWELL: At 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast, thanks for being with us.

We start with the latest ripple in the partial government shutdown, the shutdown showdown. It's now affecting the pay raise of U.S. government workers that they've been expecting in January. That raise, not happening.

The U.S. president has canceled the 2.1 percent wage increase and, as we head into the second week of this shutdown, it adds insult to injury for the more than 800,000 federal employees who are affected, people who will be living without paychecks indefinitely as this thing continues to drag on.

As for the president himself, he is sitting in the White House, waiting for Democrats, he says, to come over to work out a deal. Though he's been out of sight, he's still tweeting. Our Sarah Westwood has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is alone in the White House and fuming about Democrats' refusal to provide any funding for his promised border wall.

And he's been trying to blame them for everything from the deaths of two migrant children at the southern border earlier this month to the partial government shutdown that he once said he'd be proud to own.

Now the president is alone here at the White House because he canceled plans to travel down to his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-lago, amid the partial government shutdown that he's continued to blame on the inaction of congressional Democrats.

The president taking to Twitter on Saturday, writing, "I am in the White House, waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on border security. From what I hear, they are spending so much time on presidential harassment that they have little time left for things like stopping crime and our military."

Now acting chief of staff/budget director Mick Mulvaney said those Democratic congressional leaders haven't actually been invited back to the White House for further talks. Mulvaney said that the White House at this point is essentially just waiting for a counteroffer from the Democrats.

Mulvaney has suggested that the president might be willing to back down off that demand for $5 billion in wall funding, although he didn't specify by how much. That's in line with CNN's reporting that vice president Mike Pence went to Capitol Hill last weekend with an offer of support for a bill worth $2.5 billion. That's a deal that the Democrats rejected.

So talks are still at a standstill. There's not a lot of clarity at this point still about what kind of deal the president might support. But it is clear that Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with his inability to get funding for his signature campaign promise.

It's also clear that the partial government shutdown has no end in sight, with Democrats preparing to retake the House and, therefore, shake up the dynamics of negotiating power in a little less than a week -- Sarah Westwood, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Sarah, thank you.

Now caught up in the middle of all of this, again, hundreds of thousands of federal workers. They're very concerned about what happens next, especially those people living paycheck to paycheck. How long this goes, it's anyone's guess. Our Kaylee Hartung has more.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's no end in sight to the government shutdown, forcing thousands of federal workers and their families to make tough sacrifices. ANGELA KABANA, WIFE OF FEDERAL WORKER: It's pretty scary not knowing when you're going to get paid.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Angela Kabana's husband is an air traffic control for the Federal Aviation Administration.

KABANA: He's considered an essential employee so he has to go to work. And I can't go to work, because I just had a baby.

HARTUNG (voice-over): With no income, they're slashing expenses, focusing on the mortgage and feeding their family; 420,000 federal workers like Angela's husband are entering a second work of week without pay.

Another 380,000 federal employees are on furlough, effectively put on a leave of absence without pay. That's why the trash is piling up at some national parks around the country, where they're unstaffed with no one to supervise the land and facilities.

At Joshua Tree National Park, volunteers from the local community, like these rock climbing guides, are stepping in to do the dirty work during the park's busiest days of the year.

SETH ZAHARIAS, ROCK CLIMBING GUIDE: I'm guiding every day and, in my free hour or two in the evening, I'm running to the park and cleaning toilets --


ZAHARIAS: -- not to mention we're about $400 out on cash buying toilet paper.

HARTUNG (voice-over): The impact of the partial government shutdown spans the country. Americans are talking about the tough financial challenges they face on Twitter, using #shutdownstories.

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

Lauren in Pennsylvania tweets that she depends on child support from a federal corrections officer paycheck. Without it, she says she won't have the funds for after-school scare or school lunch.

And Sarah Waterson, who describes herself as a Marine Corps veteran on Twitter, puts her family struggle into perspective, saying, "My children don't care about walls. They do care about having a warm house to live in, a car to ride in, clothes to wear and food in their bellies, none of which is possible if their mom can't go to work."

Candid thoughts from Americans about the toll of policymakers bickering. And the longer the shutdown drags on, the more widely the effects will be felt -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOWELL: Kaylee, thank you. Let's get some context now with Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham in England, also the founder and editor of "EA WorldView," live from Birmingham, England.

A pleasure to have you.


HOWELL: Scott, we've seen the president blame Democrats for the deaths of two migrant children due to immigration policies, also blaming Nancy Pelosi as the reason for this impasse. But as we keep our eye on the ball of this blame game, it is important to recall the president's own words right from the start. Let's listen.


TRUMP: And I am proud -- and I'll tell you what.


TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.


HOWELL: So now government employees bearing the brunt here. And now their pay raise has been canceled as this drags on and seems to get more dire for them.

Does it put more pressure on the president or on Democrats or, Scott, on both?

LUCAS: No, I mean, bottom line here is that Donald Trump is in a corner. He is in a corner because of that clip you just played, that he would own this shutdown.

And he's in a corner, because almost everybody, except Donald Trump and some Republicans in the House of Representatives, realize that the wall just a vanity project, that it has no use.

There's a deal which is already on the table. And that is Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have offered a continuing resolution to fund the government, which includes $1.3 billion more in border security.

The White House reportedly wants $2.5 billion more in border security but it appears they're still clinging to the idea that Trump, to save face, has to get something for, quote, "the wall."

Well, Democrats aren't going to give him something for the wall, because it's useless money, it's a useless measure. And so as a result, because Trump, one, said he would take credit for the shutdown but, two, has no way out without giving up the wall, what he's doing now -- and I need to be very clear here, George -- he's now lying. He not only said that Democrats were responsible for the deaths of two

migrant children, he said that those children, in fact, the father of one of those children actually said that it was his fault, that it was his problem that she died.

The father said no such thing. The father said there were problems when they were taken into custody.

Trump will continue to use Twitter now rather than discussions with Democrats, rather than discussions with his own Republicans, because, let's be honest here, George, it's ego. If he backs off the wall, his ego is the priority here, it's damaged and he's not going to have that.

HOWELL: Hmm. Let's put politics aside for a moment. Let's talk about the people, Scott, who are affected. About 25 percent of government workers, some 800,000 workers, many of whom may be living paycheck to paycheck, it is starting to hurt for them, because it means not being able to pay bills on time.

People are proud to pay their bills on time, not able to do that in this case or even keep up with a mortgage, possibly even coming down to putting food on the table. This is real for a lot of people.

LUCAS: Yes. This is very real in the holiday season. It's been buffered a bit because you pay federal workers before Christmas, so they were paid through December 21st, thank goodness.

But if this goes through January, if the Democrats aren't able to get the continuing resolution through because of Trump's resistance early in the month and the workers aren't paid by the end of January, then they do face evictions or they do face having to cut back on essentials for their homes, which is why you have the extraordinary position where the government is advising its own workers, oh, go to your landlords and ask them to let you off part of your rent or go to your creditors and ask them to let you off, say, maybe your car repayments or part of your mortgage repayment.

That's not the way this is supposed to work. And let me add one thing, George, that may have been missed. This Trump veto now on a 2.1 percent pay increase for government workers isn't just because of the shutdown. What has --


LUCAS: -- happened is that, because of the spiraling government deficit, because of the $1.5 trillion tax cuts of December 2017, the government is now short of money. And what we have now is the extraordinary situation, the government workers, who are already being punished by this closure, are now being said, well, you've really got to have give up your pay increase because we gave all these tax cuts.

And a lot of them went to people who are far wealthier than those who are now being affected.

HOWELL: Scott, as this thing continues to drag on and seems to head into the new year, how much pressure is on Democrats to meet the president at some point?

Are they obliged to do so?

Or do they have a stronger hand here?

LUCAS: What the Democrats are going to do, George, let's just bring it down to what we expect, when Congress reconvenes on Thursday, is the Democrats will reintroduce the measure in the House of Representatives for a $1.3 billion increase in border security as part of the continuing resolution.

Now that measure was agreed between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, just before the shutdown. So when Democrats go to the House, having the majority, and they probably push this through, the Senate is likely to concur.

And at that point, Donald Trump faces, I think, the biggest choice of what has been a series of choices that he has sort of pushed to the side so far.

Does he veto a continuing resolution that keeps the government open and gives him more money for border security but doesn't give him money for a 30-foot wall that serves no purpose?

And at that point, if Donald Trump vetoes that measure, then he does well and truly own this shutdown.

HOWELL: Scott Lucas, with us in Birmingham, England. Scott, thank you for the context and perspective.

LUCAS: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: As we mentioned a moment ago, President Trump blaming Democrats for the deaths of two U.S. migrant children while in U.S. custody. The head of Homeland Security just spent two days on the U.S. border to see circumstances there for herself. One place she visited, El Paso, Texas, where our Nick Valencia was there and filed this report.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the 16th trip to the southern border for DHS Secretary Nielsen and part of her visit was intended to check on conditions at border patrol stations in El Paso.

On Friday, she was here visiting at least two stations and did the same thing in Yuma, Arizona, on Saturday. Another part of her visit was to check up on health screenings. It was part of series of extraordinary protective measures which she implemented after the death of 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo Gomez, who was the second child migrant to die in U.S. custody in less than three weeks.

After her visit in El Paso on Friday, she released a statement, which read in part, "The system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis and protect vulnerable populations." She went on to say, "We know that if Congress were to act or the courts were to enforce the law as written, we could address this crisis tomorrow. Instead, we continue to do more with less. As I've said before, I ask Congress to please put politics aside and recognize this for the growing security and humanitarian crisis it is."

Her visit comes against the renewed scrutiny of health care given to migrants after they're brought into U.S. custody. And it's also happening while migrants continue to be dropped off here at the Greyhound bus station in El Paso, sometimes with no resources at all and, in some cases, nowhere to go.

The charities here that are helping out and volunteering to give shelter and food to these migrants say they're stretched thin and that's what we're hearing as well from a Customs and Border Protection official, who is very familiar with these types of facilities along the border.

He says they are bursting at the seams. They're not intended to hold so many people. Originally, they were built to house single adult males but with the influx of family units, they're really struggling to keep their head above water -- reporting in El Paso, Texas, I'm Nick Valencia.


HOWELL: And the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, says as many as 2 million people are expected to ring in the new year in Times Square there in New York. And as the city celebrates, the world celebrates.

Counter snipers from the city's emergency service unit will be protecting the crowds there. That's not the only way New York plans to keep revelers safe. Listen.


BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: The ability of the NYPD to prepare for such a thing is legendary.

JOHN MILLER, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, NYPD: What's different this year is the counter-drone technology and the drone factor, which is, we'll be deploying NYPD drones for overwatch. We haven't done that before.


HOWELL: And while New York is doing everything it can do to keep people safe, the one thing city officials won't be able to do is keep people dry. May be a little wet there in Times Square.



HOWELL: Around the world and in the United States, you are watching NEWSROOM. And still ahead, an historic election to tell you about. Almost 60 years in the making but not everyone is eligible -- or rather, not everyone eligible to vote, I should say, is being allowed to vote. We'll dive into that for you.

Plus, voting also underway in Bangladesh. Why the general election there is so controversial. Stay with us.






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

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the polls are open for an historic election there. For the first time in almost 60 years, voters there are casting ballots in a democratic transfer of power. But there are concerns of vote rigging. And more than a million people who will have to wait until March to vote because of two things, because of the Ebola crisis and fears of terrorism.

Let's bring in our own Leone Lakhani, following this story in London.

Thanks for your time today. We want to understand, so this certainly an historic transfer of power, this election. But there are red flags that have been raised. Some areas not allowed to vote, outside observers not allowed in.

What are people saying about the perception of this election as free and fair?

LEONE LAKHANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, absolutely. There are many questions about the credibility of this vote exactly for those reasons that you mentioned. So indeed, if election were to take place quite peacefully without many incidents, it would be historic. It would be the first time since the country's independence in 1960 that we would see a transfer of democratic power.

However, it's been marred by violence. We've seen weeks of protest. This election itself was supposed to be held in 2016. It was delayed because the government said there were concerns about violence, rebel militia violence, the Ebola outbreak. Those were all reasons given by the government.

The opposition says the government has just tried to cling onto power for all these years.

On top of that, as you mentioned, there's no independent observers. The E.U. and United Nations have offered the help but they were both banned by the government, saying they don't want any outside interference in this.

And as you mentioned, as well, there were three cities on Wednesday in the eastern part of the country that are seen as opposition strongholds, in which voters were told they couldn't vote until March. But the results of these elections are expected in January.

So in effect, we've canceled those million-plus votes out of about 40 million voters. So lots and lots of questions about the credibility of this vote.

And we've seen people getting out on the streets. So if they are not happy with the way things are going today, if they feel like they've been robbed at the ballot box, people will get out on the streets and we can expect more protests to come.

HOWELL: And the latest indications, Leone, that the two major opposition candidates are ahead, at this point, of the government candidate but, as you pointed out, that they could split the vote, correct?

So we'll have to continue to see how this plays out. Leone Lakhani, thank you for your time.

Now to Bangladesh, voting right now in its general election, prime minister Sheikh Hasina, cast her vote a short time ago. She appears set to win a record third consecutive term, even as she faces allegations of vote rigging and human rights abuses.

Let's get the very latest right now from CNN's Nikhil Kumar following the story for us in New Delhi.

What is the latest about the perception of this particular vote?

The key question, will this be perceived as fair?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, George. Human rights organizations in the run-up to the vote have raised concerns about the repressive political atmosphere, as Human Rights Watch called it in a recent report, and a climate of fear, as people went out to vote today. Voting ends later today.

Sheikh Hasina is widely expected to win. This would be her third term if she does indeed win. But there are these questions about her growing authoritarianism and how that will play into the vote. In the run-up, we've seen --


KUMAR: -- heavy security after concerns about violence. The opposition says that many of their activists have been arrested, that have been stopped from campaigning. The government denies this.

The opposition itself, the BNP, the main opposition party, when it was in power before Sheikh Hasina, was itself accused of many human rights abuses. So voters face a really a tough choice. There's also something else about Sheikh Hasina, which is worth

highlighting as we wait for the results to come through later today. Over her past two terms, these concerns about human rights, they have gradually, gradually come to the center, climbed up the agenda, whilst, at the same time, Bangladesh's economy has done really, really well.

So there's two stories, one is a booming economy, where Sheikh Hasina's government has succeeded in cutting poverty and making progress on many developments but, on the other hand, concerns about them clamping down on dissenting voices. So now she's expected to win, people are going to be watching out for, well, what happens afterward?

If she does, indeed win, will that authoritarian streak, will that become more pronounced if she, does, indeed, win a third term as many expect?

HOWELL: It's important to point out the history there, the cloud of controversy around her leadership. But at the same time, seems to be in line to win at this point. Thank you so much for the reporting. We'll keep in touch with you.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, the Trump Organization under scrutiny. Coming up, why Democrats may start looking into the Trump family businesses when they take control of the U.S. House next week.

Plus, a new report alleges former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort was pressured to pay back debts to a Russian oligarch. Find out what Manafort reportedly offered.





HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and we thank you for it. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: In a few days, the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. It will be their first chance armed with subpoena powers to demand answers from the Trump administration on a range of troubling issues. Our Randi Kaye takes a look now at one area where they could start, the Trump family business empire.



RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CALIF.), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: 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?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here he comes! Here he comes!

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

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.

KAYE (voice-over): 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.

KAYE: 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-1's political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual-1.

Just who is Individual-1?

Donald Trump.

KAYE (voice-over): All of this matters because, if it's true, it could prove that 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.

TRUMP: This is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C., the best location.

KAYE (voice-over): 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.


HOWELL: Randi, thank you.

"Time" magazine is reporting on an alleged tie between a top Trump campaign figure and a Russian ex-spy. Here are the players: Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman; Victor Boyarkin, the Russian ex-spy, and the powerful Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska. Boyarkin tells "Time" that during the --


HOWELL: -- 2016 presidential campaign, Manafort was deeply in debt to Deripaska. According to Boyarkin, Manafort began looking for ways to pay that money back. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment to CNN about "Time's" new report.

CNN NEWSROOM caught up with Deripaska last year about reports in "The Washington Post" and "The Atlantic" that Manafort offered to brief Deripaska on the race.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Did Manafort owe you millions of dollars when he was head of the Trump campaign?


HOWELL: Our Matthew Chance there now tracking the story down.

But who is Oleg Deripaska?

The author of "Trump/Russia," Seth Hettena, spoke to CNN's Ryan Nobles about it. Listen.


SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR: Oleg Deripaska is one of a few oligarchs who are extremely close to Putin and the Kremlin. He's said on a couple of occasions, he doesn't separate himself from the state and he would basically do anything when asked by Putin to do.

So, you know, what we have is a Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in deep debt to a man like Deripaska.

Victor Boyarkin was the bag man. Victor Boyarkin was the missing link here. We knew there were these emails. We knew that Deripaska was involved. We didn't know how they were connected. And Boyarkin was the go-between. He was hammering Manafort for money while the campaign was going on.


HETTENA: One of the ways Manafort suggested paying it off -- may have been suggesting paying it off was to offer private briefings on the campaign. So you have a campaign manager in debt to a Russian oligarch, who's connected to Putin, who's being pressured for money in the middle of a campaign he's running on behalf of the Republican nominee for president.


HOWELL: Seth Hettena there, speaking with our Ryan Nobles. Paul Manafort is facing his first of several sentencing hearings in February for financial crimes. And he's also accused of lying to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate with them.

2018 was a big year for U.S. politics, to say the least. And with President Trump in the White House, let's just say it was never boring. We take a look back at the biggest U.S. political stories to hit the headlines as CNN NEWSROOM pushes ahead. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM.

Here in the United States, there is no question, political headlines dominated 2018, from a contentious confirmation battle for a Supreme Court seat to the deaths of two political giants. CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash looks back at a tumultuous year.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You would think 2018 being a midterm election year, that would be the defining political story. It was big but, with Donald Trump in the White House, there was so much more.

BASH (voice-over): When a former student opened fire, murdering 17 people, including 14 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Emma Gonzalez and others channeled their sorrow into action.

EMMA GONZALEZ, SURVIVOR, PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING: Every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you!

BASH: Across the country, thousands of students heard the cry coming from Parkland, Florida and staged a 17-minute walkout, one minimum for each victim of the shooting.

DEMONSTRATORS: Enough is enough! BASH: Then their demand for a stricter gun laws went global with "March For Our Lives."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can and we will change the world!

BASH (on camera): Washington felt the weight of several icons passing away in 2018.

(voice-over): Senator John Sidney McCain died in August after a 13- month battle with brain cancer. The naval fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war was known for bucking his party and reaching across the aisle to get things done. In classic McCain style, he asked the two men who defeated him for president to eulogize them.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: What a better way to get a last laugh and have George and I say nice things about him to a national audience.

BASH: His final maverick move, not inviting the president he tangled with and worried about as America's leader to his funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We honor our 41st president.

BASH: The country also mourned the death of former President George H.W. Bush, described as decent, honorable and gracious. The 41st president who managed the end of the Cold War without a shot fired was eulogized by the 43rd president, his son.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have.

BASH: A family grieving for not one parent but two, with the passing of the 41's wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush just seven months earlier and an American icon who was remembered by another famous son.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning.

BASH: President Trump continued to put immigration front and center in 2018, imposing a controversial family separation policy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you prosecute the parent force coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.

BASH: Images of children in cages sparked an outcry from both sides of the aisle, along with revelations that at the height of the policy, more than 2,600 children were separated from their parents after entering the U.S. illegally. Bowing to political pressure, the president reversed himself and signed an executive order to end the separation.

A few months later, in a raw political move to motivate his base, he warned against a caravan of immigrants headed to the southern border.

TRUMP: We're not letting these people invade our country.

BASH: After Election Day, the president largely stopped talking about the caravan after Election Day but not about immigration. He ended the year, threatening a government shutdown if he did not get funding for his signature campaign promise, the border wall.

The president stunned the world in Helsinki this year when he stood next to Vladimir Putin and not only failed to admonish the Russian president for meddling in American elections, he accepted Putin's denial.

TRUMP: So, I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

BASH: Angry Democrats and Republicans lashed out in disapproval. Senator McCain called it one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.

But that wasn't the only 2018 Trump shocker on the world stage. After months of rhetorical fire and fury with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, President Trump broke precedent by agreeing to a summit in June in Singapore. After a nearly five-hour Trump-Kim meeting, they announced --


BASH: -- what they called a denuclearization agreement.

TRUMP: We have developed a very special bond.

BASH: Despite the warm embrace, 2018 come comes to an end with reports that the hermit kingdom is still operating secret missile bases.

REP.-ELECT ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We have made victory tonight.

BASH: It was the year of the woman with record numbers of women running for and winning races on a local and national level, especially Congress. Fourteen women elected in the Senate, bringing it to a total of 25; 102 women will serve in the House next year, breaking the previous record of 85. Women from all walks of life are flooding the Hill, with one exception. Republicans. Only 13 GOP women will be in the House next year, the lowest number in a quarter century.

Supreme Court fights are always high stakes but President Trump never imagined what would happen when nominating Brett Kavanaugh, someone he thought was a rather safe pick. Several women came forward, accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, leading to a day of public testimony for the ages, starting with Christine Blasey Ford.

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. BASH: Kavanaugh followed with a fiery defense.

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH: I'm not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time, but I have never done this.

BASH: Ford's story touched a nerve among women across the country, who had been sexually assaulted and afraid to come forward or not believed. A new front in the #MeToo movement. Republican Jeff Flake had just announced he was a yes vote and this happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're telling me that my story doesn't matter.

BASH: A rattled Flake worked with Democrat Chris Coons to delay the vote for a week while the FBI investigated. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed to the high court's swing seat, Trump's second Supreme Court win in just two years.

A Kavanaugh no vote would cause trouble for some red state Democrats up for re-election in places like Missouri where that state's now GOP senator-elect Josh Hawley predicted it would be a game changer and he was right.

(on camera): Big deal?


BASH: That could make the difference?

HAWLEY: Yes, I do.

BASH (voice-over): GOP backlash against the Kavanaugh fight energized their base and helped Republicans maintain their majority in the Senate.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And CNN predicts Democrats will reclaim control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

BASH: On the House side, a very different story. Democrats found that blue wave and rode it back into the majority, winning 40 seats, almost twice the 23 needed to take back the house.

TRUMP: There was no collusion whatsoever.

BASH: It's been over a year since special counsel Robert Mueller was given the mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with Trump aides or associates.

The president spent the year trying to undermine it.

TRUMP: It's a terrible witch hunt.

BASH: The Mueller investigation has revealed that many in Trump's orbit had contacts with Russians, 16 to be exact. But the most stunning revelation? Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, sentenced to three years in prison and turned on the president, cooperating with federal investigators. The president now calls Cohen a liar and a rat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Selling America out to the Russians. Traitor.

BASH (voice-over): And after months of claiming his innocence, the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort pled guilty to several crimes not associated with the Trump campaign. He cut a deal with Mueller which, by year's end, fell apart. Manafort is now looking at the possibility of more charges from the special counsel.

2018 ended with the president nominating a new attorney general, William Barr, to oversee the investigation after he fired Jeff Sessions. And Mueller's team bringing charges against 32 entities and individuals, five people pleading guilty and four sentenced to prison.

BASH: What a 2018!

What's in store next year?

Buckle up.


HOWELL: Dana Bash, thank you.

Investigators are trying to figure out why a jetway collapsed at Baltimore's International Airport. We're talking about those extendible hallways that stretch from the terminal to the plane.

Airport officials say the incident sent six people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Other passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight got off the plane safely, thankfully.

After the break, a story from my home state. We always take pride saying things are bigger in Texas. And baby Ali can attest to that. This little bundle of joy is just a newborn and already breaking records. We'll tell you about it.






HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM.

The best gifts can come in small packages. And one Texas family that struggled to have children were given the biggest gift of all, a nearly 15-pound baby boy. Gilma Avalos from our affiliate KTVT has this story from Dallas.




GILMA AVALOS, KTVT (voice-over): Right now, baby Ali is nearly twice the size of an average newborn. But this baby boy is anything but average.

J. MEDLOCK: He's my special baby.

AVALOS (voice-over): He came into the world just shy of 15 pounds, weighing in at 14 pounds and 13 ounces, breaking a record at Arlington Memorial Hospital.

J. MEDLOCK: I was like, oh, my God, really?

AVALOS (voice-over): Jennifer and Eric Medlock say they were anticipating a bigger than average baby. After all, big sister, Annabelle, weighed 9 pounds, 10 ounces at birth.

J. MEDLOCK: We heard an, "Oh, my," behind the curtain.

And I was like, "Oh, my, what?"

AVALOS (voice-over): Ali was born via C-section. Mom says she had a very healthy pregnancy. Ali, though, did spend a week in the NICU because his blood sugar and platelets were low.

J. MEDLOCK: It doesn't matter how big he is, I'm so blessed to have him.

AVALOS (voice-over): For this couple --


AVALOS (voice-over): Ali is a blessing in many ways. Jennifer has severe polycystic ovarian syndrome. Doctors told them having a family would be a long shot.

J. MEDLOCK: We tried anyway and prayed.

AVALOS: Annabelle was born through the help of fertility treatments.

J. MEDLOCK: Our last treatment they said that my follicle would turn into a cyst. They were wrong; it turned into her.

AVALOS: The family was getting ready to start the process again when they learned they were expecting Ali.

J. MEDLOCK: I love proving people wrong.

AVALOS: Many are already planning his future based on his size.

J. MEDLOCK: He is meant for something big. Maybe not football; everyone keeps saying that.

AVALOS: But it's music that runs in the family. Both Jennifer and Eric are music teachers. Whatever he chooses...

ERIC MEDLOCK, ALI'S DAD: He's loved and that he can do whatever makes him happy.

AVALOS: Mom and Dad say right now, this is music to their ears. Their family is now complete.


HOWELL: That baby is due for something big in the future. Very, very happy for that family back in Texas.

One of the most watched movies of the holiday season was not even shown in theaters. We're talking about "Bird Box," the psychological thriller starring Sandra Bullock on Netflix. We're not giving away any spoiler on this. Netflix says the movie was streamed by more than 45 million accounts, the best first seven days ever for a Netflix film.

Thank you for watching this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's do it again. More news right after the break. Stay with us.