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AT THIS HOUR

Rain Expected to Drench New Year's Celebrations in New York; Rain Expected Across U.S. on New Year's Eve; Day 10 of Government Shutdown with No End in Sight; Russia Detains U.S. Citizen Accused of Spying; Elizabeth Warren Forms Presidential Exploratory Committee; Kelly on Border Wall: "To Be Honest, It's Not a Wall". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:04] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan. Welcome to a special edition of AT THIS HOUR. We're counting down to midnight and the start of 2019 here on the east coast, which is now just under 13 hours away.

But around the world, celebrations are already under way. Huge fireworks displays happening right now across some of Asia's biggest cities.

Now, depending on where you are tonight, it could be a sopping wet start to the New Year. New York City officials are still expecting people to pack Times Square and watch the ball drop. That's despite forecasts of rain rolling into the area this afternoon and continuing through midnight.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in Times Square where all the action is going to take place.

It looks dry now, Miguel, but it's probably not going to stay that way for very long. How are people preparing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I keep looking at my app. I'm seeing that rain just from the afternoon all the way solidly through the New Year. People are starting to show up already with all of their rain gear.

This is what they're all focused on, that area right there where the world-famous ball will drop at midnight. And the cages here, in some cases, they're already starting to get people into these places. Amazingly enough. They'll be in there for 12 hours or more because once you are in, you cannot get out. It's kind of like "Hotel California" in reverse. An enormous security apparatus as well. Hundreds of police officers and agents from agencies across the federal government, state, and local agencies. They'll have police officers embedded in hotels. They have drones. They'll be tethered to the building so they can't fall down on the crowd if there's a technical fault. They'll also have anti-drone technology in the event someone tries to fly their drone here. They're going to mitigate it somehow. That's an interesting bit. There are no backpacks, no umbrellas, no alcohol, no big cases. No umbrellas. No coolers either. Doesn't sound much like a party, but when things get going here, it will be insane, I'm sure.

I'm not sure how people who get into these confined areas are going to survive for 12 hours, but I'm sure they will have their plan. Plan B for something ready at the ready or a very, very strong bladder, because it is insane they're already lining -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Yes, Miguel, they do it every year. A million people in Times Square. Don't know how they do it, but they do it.

Miguel, thank you for that report.

New York is not the only place expected to see rain tonight. It could be a wet night for millions of people up and down the east coast.

Let's bring in CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, what does the forecast look like right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, all the way from Iowa to Boston, and then down south toward Atlanta as well. This is a warm storm, that's the good news compared to last year where the windchill at midnight in New York City was 5 below zero. Tonight, it's going to feel like 50. A big change from there.

It is raining in some spots it will be thunder-storming in other spots if you're standing outside, there may be lightning in your future, in your forecast. Here, even toward Atlanta, there could be thunder and lightning around.

Now, this is the future radar. This is what it should look like for the rest of the day. At 4:00, it's raining in New York. At 9:00, it looks like it's going to break, but more rain comes in from Pennsylvania. Then it looks like it's going to break again and it doesn't. One wave of rain after another, and thunder showers and storms down to the deep south. Farther to the west, a different story. It isn't a warm storm. It's a cold storm. The high today in Las Vegas will be 44. And there will be rain, snow, in flagstaff, rain to Phoenix. It looks like by midnight, Phoenix, your rain should be over, and then maybe by 1:00 or 2:00 moving well off to the east. It's still going to be a cool night in Phoenix, Arizona, today. And 46 will be the high by midnight. Somewhere closer to 39. And 36 in Chicago. How could it be 10 degrees warmer in New York City than Phoenix on New Year's Eve? But that is the forecast.

So the rain is going to keep things moist and damp and all that kind of stuff. But for some of those on, what did he say, plan B, or did he say plan P, I'm not sure what that was, that may be a good thing.

NOBLES: Might have been by design. Interpret it as you wish.

MYERS: Yes.

NOBLES: Chad, all right, could be an ugly night throughout the country.

Chad, thank you for that report. Appreciate it.

MYERS: You're welcome.

NOBLES: It is day 10 of the partial government shutdown with no end in sight. Some 800,000 federal workers with no idea when they will get their next paycheck. President Trump holed up at the White House, firing off tweets again this morning, including calls for what he describes as a, quote, "strong and powerful wall."

The president not budging on his demand for $5 billion to build that wall. Democrats, of course, do not appear ready to budge either, as they get set to take control of the House of Representatives on Thursday.

CNN's Sarah Westwood joins us now from the White House.

Sarah, the president busy this morning on Twitter. What exactly is he saying?

[11:05:21] SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ryan. President Trump is still holding firm on his demand for $5 billion for a border wall, and the deal looks increasingly far off. Even as aides and allies try to muddy the waters around what actually qualifies as a wall, whether that's a fence, whether it's steel slats. The president has told aides he would not support a bill that funds border security and a fence at $1.3 billion. That's the offer Democrats had on the table before the shutdown began. He hasn't really specified what kind of deal he would accept. How much less than the $5 billion demand he would be willing to take.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, said yesterday after a two- hour lunch with the president, that Trump was open minded about a deal that would involve him sticking with that $5 billion demand but also supporting a temporary renewal of DACA protections for young undocumented immigrants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:: The president didn't commit, but I think he's very open minded. I know there's some Democrats out there who would be willing to provide money for wall border security if we could deal with the DACA population and TPS people. And hopefully, we can get some serious discussions started maybe as soon as next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, Democratic leaders have not yet indicated whether they would support that kind of proposal, but similar proposals have failed on Capitol Hill in the past.

Now, the president this morning was also goading Democrats about their past votes on border security, tweeting, "I'm in the Oval Office. Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for border security, including the wall. You voted yes in 2006 and 2013. One more yes, but with me in office, I'll get it built and fast".

So Ryan, President Trump is still keeping the pressure up, but it's clear that there's really no end in sight still for the partial government shutdown.

NOBLES: All right, Sarah Westwood, thank you for that update live from the White House.

Now to a big developing story in Russia. The government says it has detained a U.S. citizen on suspicion of spying. In a statement, the Federal Security Service says that Paul Whelan was arrested Friday in Moscow while, quote, "carrying out an act of espionage."

CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, joins me now.

Matthew, what more are you hearing about this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a lot more. In fact, details about this Paul Whelan, as he's been identified by the Russian authorities, are very sketchy. We had a statement, as you may know, from the U.S. State Department saying they're aware a U.S. citizen has been taken into custody and they have asked for access. It's not clear yet whether that access has been granted. But it was just a few hours ago that the FSB, which is the Federal Security Services, the lead agency in Russia responsible for counter espionage, announced that it had taken into custody this U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan. That's the only statement they made. There's been no further reaction to it.

It is interesting that a relationship that has been dogged by allegations of espionage and spying over the past couple years should end 2018 in this way. It was just a couple weeks ago that Maria Butina, who is a Russian gun activist in the United States, pleaded guilty to being an agent of the Russian government and attempting to infiltrate and influence conservative groups like National Rifle Association in the U.S. She faces a six-month prison sentence. This character, Paul Nicholas Whelan, as he's been named by the Russian foreign ministry, faces up to 20 years if he's found guilty of espionage. It's regarded as a much more serious incident here -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Ryan, does this happen often? When was the last time something like this happened in Russia?

CHANCE: Well, it doesn't happen that often, but it does occasionally punctuate the relationship. Back in 2013, we last saw an American citizen that was detained in this way. I think he was a diplomat. He was injured, sustained injuries after he fought with a security guard outside the U.S. embassy, presumably, in a bid to avoid being arrested for espionage activities. A few years before that, there was an American citizen, a diplomat, who was arrested on espionage charges while wearing a very bizarre -- I remember it well because it was on state television -- a very bizarre blond wig. And there were images of him broadcast on state television in that way. It is something that occasionally happens, but when it does, it is a

big thing. This is a very powerful message being sent by the Kremlin to the United States at this sensitive time at the end of 2018.

[11:10:08] NOBLES: Especially at a time where Vladimir Putin says he's open to more dialogue. There's been conversations with him and President Trump. Very provocative move by the Russian government.

Matthew Chance, live in Moscow, we appreciate that report.

We have a lot more news ahead this hour. Before we go to break, let's take a look at some of the places around the world already starting to ring in 2019. This is what it looks like in North Korea. And in New Zealand, a spectacular fireworks scene taking place there. And check out the celebration that already took place in Australia at the beautiful Sydney harbor.

We'll be right back.

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[11:15:20] NOBLES: The end of 2018 setting in motion the race for 2020. Just a short time ago, one of the top contenders to challenge President Trump announced the first step toward mounting a White House bid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No matter where you live in America, and no matter where your family came from in the world, you deserve a path to opportunity. Because no matter what our differences, most of us want the same thing. To be able to work hard, play by the same set of rules, and take care of the people we love. That's the America I'm fighting for. And that's why today I'm launching an exploratory committee for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: That, of course, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, jumping in early.

Let's get the details from M.J. Lee. She's joining us live from Boston.

M.J., what is the significance of the timing of this announcement? And of course, the decision to do it today on New Year's Eve of all days -- M.J.?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Ryan, I am hearing that the decision to launch the exploratory committee today, that was a decision that was made actually weeks ago. And the source that I spoke to earlier says that the decision was not really about other potential Democrats who could get in the field. But you can't imagine that was not at least part of their thinking. And a part of this decision really reflecting their eager desire to get the work started on building out an operation, building out an apparatus and really starting to make the important hires they'll need to make to start this presidential campaign.

Now, the video that the Warren folks released earlier today, all 4.5 minutes of it, providing a pretty good blueprint of what kind of a campaign we expect Senator Warren to run. She talked about some of the very themes we have seen her talk about very many times over the years that we have seen her in public life, like fighting corruption, holding government accountable, and fighting economic inequality.

There was also a moment in the video where she had a pointed message about what she said is an echo chamber of hatred and bigotry around the country. Take a listen to that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Our government is supposed to work for all of us, but instead, it has become a tool for the wealthy and well connected. The whole scam is propped up by an echo chamber of fear and hate designed to distract and divide us. People who will do or say anything to hang on to power point the finger at anyone who looks, thinks, prays, or loves differently than they do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, not surprising that in that piece of the video, we saw images of President Trump, just another reminder that Senator Warren has been such an outspoken critic of the president, and we expect that to be a big part of her message going forward.

If you look at the recent polling, we do know that she's generally well liked and generally well known among primary voters. But that does not guarantee that those data points will necessary translate into votes. And so much of that, as you know very well, will be very dependent on who else decides to get in and when and Senator Warren will have to make a lot of decisions depending on what the field looks like -- Ryan?

NOBLES: M.J., no doubt about that. Elizabeth Warren formidable but there could be a number of formidable candidates and that could determine who the eventual nominee will be.

M.J. Lee, live in Boston. M.J., thank you for that.

Let's talk about this now. Chris Lu, former White House cabinet secretary under President Obama, also was on President Obama's Senate staff when he announced his presidential run in 2007. And Alice Stewart, who is a CNN political commentator, who has worked on several campaigns including Ted Cruz's in 2016.

Chris, let's start with you.

I'm curious about the timing for Elizabeth Warren. It happens on New Year's Eve of all days, during the middle of a government shutdown. We should point out that really the point of an exploratory committee is basically giving you the mechanism by which to raise money. What do you think of the timing of all of this based on the fact we're in the holiday and in the middle of a government shutdown? CHRIS LU, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CABINET SECRETARY: This makes a lot of

sense politically for Elizabeth Warren, even if many of us aren't quite psychologically ready to begin the presidential race. There are only a limited number of operatives who know how to win an early state like Iowa or New Hampshire. Only a limited number of campaign bundlers to help you raise the money. Being the first out of the box, you can start hiring people, build the organization, raise money. I go back to 2007 when Obama ran. He had this big splashy announcement in Springfield, Illinois. People forget, he raised $25 million in the first quarter of 2007. More than any other candidate. That's really the key to this, raising money.

[11:20:10] NOBLES: OK, so Alice, what do you think about the roll- out, to Chris's point, is it smart for her to get out ahead of some of the big Democrats we expect to jump in the field?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: From the logistical boring aspect of presidential campaigns, it is. Chris was exactly right. Knowing there are more than a dozen people that are looking at throwing their hat in the ring, now is a good time to get in, make it official, help to start raising money. Find an office, hire staff. And as he said, there's not too many people who know exactly how to go about doing this. Now that it's official, people will be willing to sign onboard. The fear with this is getting out there and being the lead car. You have the bull's eye on your back now. And she's free game for attacks and criticism. That's the challenge here. Generally, when you're this far out from a presidential election, you really don't want to be the lead car. You want to be in the pack drafting off other and wait and slowly, slow and steady wins the race. From a logistical and financial standpoint, it's a smart thing to do.

In the recent CNN poll we had, she's like the fourth person on the Democratic side behind key Democrat officials. We have certainly Joe Biden, Sanders, and Beto O'Rourke, and she's got to get out there and get her name out more and really define her message. I think the video she put out softens her, makes her a lot more personable. This is a good start.

NOBLES: Alice, it's not as if Elizabeth Warren hasn't received her fair share of criticism over her time as a Senator.

Chris, I want to point out this editorial written by the "Boston Globe" about Elizabeth Warren earlier this month. It says, "Warren missed her moment in 2016. And there's reason to be skeptical of her perspective candidacy in 20. She has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs right now, after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump."

Is the "Boston Globe" right, Chris?

LU: I don't think they're right. I think this is a moment when we're going to have as many as 20 different Democratic -- 20 different Democrats running for office. I don't think ultimately that many will make it to Iowa and New Hampshire, but this is a moment with an open primary that wasn't the case in 2016 with Hillary Clinton as a fund- raiser. The advantage that Elizabeth Warren has is she not only has the strong populist anti-Wall Street message. She has a record of accomplishment she can put behind it, whether it's helping to start the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or a lot of others, Dodd/Frank, her efforts on that as well. The challenges, she has the right message. Is she the right messenger? She has higher negatives than some of the other candidates, and it's a question as to whether she can broaden her appeal beyond her base.

NOBLES: OK. All right.

Alice and Chris, terrific perspective. I can't believe we're talking about 2020. It's not even 2019 yet. We still have a few hours yet, but your perspectives are always appreciated.

STEWART: Thank you.

NOBLES: Still to come, President Trump fights with his outgoing chief of staff about his signature campaign promise. Why did John Kelly say the idea of a concrete wall was abandoned early in the administration? We'll talk to the reporter who got that exclusive interview when we come back.

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[11:28:03] NOBLES: The border wall, it is the president's signature campaign promise. But depending on who you ask within his administration, it may not be a wall at all. In an interview with the "Los Angeles Times," the outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, seemed to have a different interpretation, saying, quote, "To be honest, it's not a wall. We left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration when we asked people what they need and where they needed it."

That statement flying in the face of what President Trump tweeted this morning, tweeting, quote, "An all-concrete wall was never abandoned as has been reported by some in the media. Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at the border prefer a wall that is see- through."

Well, to help us sort out all of this, the writer behind that interview with General Kelly, "Los Angeles Times" reporter, Molly O'Toole.

Molly, congratulations on the interview.

The president was up early responding to your reporting. You heard what the president tweeted this morning. He's basically saying that General Kelly doesn't seem to have this right. Is this just another example of their disconnect, which you appear to really reveal, not just on the wall but on a number of issues with your interview with General Kelly.

MOLLY O'TOOLE, REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I think it's an example of not just the disconnect between John Kelly and President Trump on this issue and others, but perhaps the disconnect between rhetoric and reality here. I think we had Senator Lindsey Graham saying, oh, the wall is symbolic. Lindsey Graham emerging as one of the president's key allies.

Even if you look at the president's tweet, in a way he seems to be contradicting himself. He said, oh, the idea of the wall was never abandoned. In the next Twitter breath, he says, well, we'll have steel slats in some areas so people can see through.

I think what was really illuminating about what John Kelly said about the wall is that beyond a campaign promise early on in Kelly's tenure at Homeland Security, he asked the people on the ground who are really on the front lines, on the borderer every day, what they needed, and what they said they needed was a barrier in some areas.