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Suspect In Murder of 7-Year-Old Girl To Be Formally Charged; Police Hold News Conference On Arrest In Jazmine Barnes Killing; Trump May Declare National Emergency Soon To Build Wall; Elizabeth Warren Wrapping Up Swing Through Iowa; Trump Looking Into Paul Whelan Arrest. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 6, 2019 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITEFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- with Eric Black Jr. in handcuffs facing a charge of capital murder. But the arrest has raised questions since Black's appearance doesn't match a police sketch or eyewitness accounts that a white man fired the shots that killed little Jazmine Barnes while she was riding in the car with her mother and sisters.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaylee Hartung in Houston. Still a lot of unanswered questions in this investigation. Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are, Fred. And we hope that many of them will be addressed in this press conference that to start any minute. The tip that came in to the sheriff's office via an email from an anonymous source was incredibly detailed. It named Eric Black Jr. and another man as being involved in Jazmine Barnes murder.

It said, they actually shot at her car by mistake thinking someone else was inside. It wasn't until they saw the coverage of her murder on the news that they realized they had attacked the wrong car. With that information in hand, authorities actually pulled over Eric Black in a traffic stop yesterday.

He had changed lanes without signaling. They brought him in on a charge of possession of marijuana. But as the questioning began, Eric Black admitted to driving the car that another man sat in the passenger seat of and fired his gun at that car that Jazmine Barnes was in.

Now, through the course of his probable cause hearing this morning, we learned that the man with Eric Black is only by the name of the initials L.W. because Eric Black is the only man who's been arrested and charged with capital murder in connection with Jazmine Barnes' killing. Authorities have not yet named him.

But we know overnight, another man with the initials L.W. was brought in to police custody, also arrested on charges of possession of marijuana and other controlled substances. And through his probable cause hearing, it was said by the state as they made the case for his bond to be greater than the $5,000 it would normally be for a possession charge of that sort, that he's also a suspect in a homicide and murder investigation. And so, that man is being held with a bond of $100,000.

Now, more to the confessions of Eric Black Jr., he actually led police to recover the gun that was used, the shell casings similar to those that were recovered from the scene of Jazmine Barnes' murder. Again, so many questions to be asked in this press conference, Fred, to that discrepancy. Why was that sketch so detailed of a white man in a red pickup truck?

Legal counsel for Jazmine Barnes' family saying there were four other independent witnesses who also described that red pickup truck, a white male driving last Sunday morning near the scene of Jazmine Barnes' murder. But the attorney points out in the chaos of that moment, it could have been easy for someone to confuse a fleeing bystander with the actual shooter.

Fred, questions will be coming for Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. But at this time, it is our understanding that two black men are in custody in connection with this murder. And we hope some of those details and logistics will be fleshed out for us.

WHITFIELD: So Kaylee, you mentioned talking to the attorney representing the family, but has the family said anything about these arrests?

HARTUNG: The family has spoken with our affiliate KTRK saying they're grateful that arrests have been made. And they say the detectives called the family last night to let them know that these two men were taken into custody. But they, too, were surprised to learn of their identities, to learn that they didn't match the man that they themselves had described to one of the best forensic arts illustrators in the world to come up with that composite sketch of this man, this white man in his 30s or 40s with the 5:00 shadow that we've seen flashed on TVs across this country.

But again, the family is grateful that arrests have been made. We're not expecting any members of the family to be here for this press conference today, Fred. But we do know their attorney has been by the sheriff's department this afternoon.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much. Again, we await the start of this Harris County sheriff press conference to get underway. And when it does, we'll go to it live. In the meantime, there are a lot of details and a lot of questions coming out of this case.

Let's discuss now with retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano. So, James, after hearing, you know, some of these details that Kaylee is reporting on, what stands out to you?

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIALIST AGENT: Well, first and foremost, Fred, I got to say that outstanding work by the law enforcement community in Houston to bring this thing to a relatively quick resolution. Nothing is going to bring Jazmine back. And this is a seven-year-old girl. And I can tell you from 25 years in law enforcement, nothing impacts law enforcement officers more than the deaths of children. So, good news but still a lot of work ahead. Now, we know that the sheriff stated that there are number of things that they're still looking at. All the evidence is not in yet.

[15:05:00] We know that the suspect, Mr. Black, is cooperating with authorities. That's a good sign. We know that there were other individuals involved in this conspiracy. Obviously, it's first-degree murder, a drive-by shooting that took the life of a seven-year-old.

It looks like a case of mistaken identity. And last week on the air, I said the same thing. A lot of times because people are asking why was the description apparently so off?

And a lot of times in extreme situations, meaning situations at point of death, right, where you confronted with something. You go through this where you get auditory exclusion. You see something that wasn't there. You don't see something right in front of you. This is natural. This is normal. And obviously, it was obviously a young girl that provided a description in a very harrowing situation.

Police are right to follow that led and they did that. And they enlisted the media's help and the public's help which ultimately lead to the tip that obviously resulted in Mr. Black's arrest. But police can never get so narrowly focused on one piece of evidence to the exclusion of everything else, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, you said it really does, you know, you praise that there is, you know, some resolution here but just underscoring even what Kaylee was saying. There were eyewitness accounts and descriptions coming from four people.


WHITFIELD: And the descriptions are very different, you know, from the suspect that we're seeing now. To what extent do you see a good part of this press conference is going to be to help justify the arrest or help paint the picture about, you know --


WHITFIELD: -- these discrepancies or even speak to some of these discrepancies?

GAGLIANO: So, you raise a very good issue. And let's unpack that for the viewer here, Fred. People are asking, if there were other additional witnesses that saw this red vehicle, this truck, and supported the description of a white male, gaunt face, blue eyes. How could this be possible?

Well, first of all, in a critical incident like this, the first thing that people do is duck and cover or run or they go through shock. When people stop and look up, the next thing that they see might be something or somebody that had nothing to do with the incident itself. That is a common factor in a lot of these when you're attempting to interview witnesses. It's why police are so careful to separate witnesses to the same event because if you allow them to talk about it or you allow them in the same room, somebody hears something somebody else says. And all of a sudden they think that's the case. So, I hoping that a little bit of that gets relayed during this press conference. I also think the number one purpose of this press conference as I read the investigative tea leaves, is this. The police are trying to track down other people that were involved in this conspiracy.

They have one person in custody right now. That person is cooperating. That person is basically admitted that they drove the vehicle and were involved. But we want to get the shooter. We want to get anybody that provided material support or was involved in this in any way. So, I think that's what's going to come out of this press conference, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, you know, this was -- this has become a very highly publicized, you know, case. Do you find that the sheriff's, you know, press conference here, you know, will speak to and answer a lot of questions or do you see that it might provoke even more questions?

GAGLIAN: Yes. That's a difficult piece. And like I said last week, you know, this terrific shooting took place on December 30th. So we're only a few days out from it. And I know it's basically grief the entire country because any time there's a loss of a child in something like this where it is a brazen crime, shooting into a car, you don't know who is in that car, and you kill a seven-year-old child.

Even if it's a case of mistaken identity, the bottom line is we lost Jazmine. So, that is huge. Now, as we talked about a few minutes ago, police have to be very, very careful. And there is a reason why racial profiling has been debunked because we don't want to look at things and say, we're going to exclude everything else just because we have this one line of evidence or this one pre-supposition.

So, when that happens in the public, that's one thing. If police do it, it's something entirely different. Police have to follow the evidence. And that description was one small piece of the evidence. I'm glad that they stayed on this. I hope we get some more answers in this press conference.

And again, bringing closure to the family, it will never bring Jazmine back, but at least holding the people responsible for this doing this to account. That's what law enforcement is there for.

WHITFEILD: The other description coming from eyewitnesses that there was this red vehicle but we haven't heard at least not on Kaylee's reporting whether, you know, police even say that vehicle description was correct, either. So many questions. Of course, we're all looking forward to this press conference, live pictures. And when it gets underway, we'll go to it. James Gagliano, thanks so much.

GALIANO: Thanks. WHITFIELD: All right. Up next, day 16 approaching of the government shutdown and still no signs of ending. President Trump now saying he could claim a state of emergency to -- let's call it what it is. He calls it a national emergency. Might he call upon that?

[15:10:00] And later, a potential Trump challenger making her first stop speeches in the race for the White House, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren hitting the campaign trail in Iowa. So, how did she do?


WHITFIELD: Right now to Harris County, Texas, this is Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.


SHERIFF ED GONZALES, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Today, I'm here to provide an update to our community, a status on the investigation of the murder of Jazmine Barnes. Just one week ago today, Jazmine, her mother and her siblings were fired upon as they drove along Beltway 8, the feeder road, between Wallisville and Woodforest in East Harris County.

From the very beginning of the investigation, we all had been touched by the death of Jazmine. Immediately, my team, the Harris County Sheriff's Office investigators, and some of our top leadership responded to that scene to make sure we did everything possible to solve this crime involving a precious child.

We want to thank our community, our local community, for the outpouring of support and toward Jazmine and her family. I also want to thank key leaders such as Shaun King, Attorney Lee Merritt, Deandre Hopkins, Shaquille O'Neal and countless others that have helped raise awareness to a national level.

I also couldn't be more prouder of the work of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, especially our homicide investigators or squad for their tenacity and their steadfast commitment to resolving this crime.

I also want to thank the many other partners that have helped us within the sheriff's office, including law enforcement and civilian personnel and the amazing work of the Texas Department of Public Safety that have stood with us shoulder to shoulder working on this case, and we couldn't have a more valuable and effective partner. Being able to get to this point would not be possible without their help.

[15:15:12] We've also received the help of countless others here in local law enforcement, including constables such as precinct 3, as well as HPD, as well as federal partners such as NASA and ATF. Well, again, I want to thank them very much.

Through this process, we have received countless tips from many different sources. On Saturday, January 5th, the Harris County Sheriff's Office homicide investigators formally charged Eric Black Jr. with capital murder in the death of Jazmine Barnes. He became a target in our investigation based on a tip that initially went to journalist and activist Shaun King.

Mr. King then passed that tip to me personally. I myself became involved, working closely with our homicide team, making sure I was there to assist either through vetting tips, giving a pat on their back or just being present in helping them as needed.

We were able to begin to corroborate the information that I was provided and learn even more. This provided a little bit of a different angle or a much different angle to what we were initially looking at, so we want to make sure that we're very thorough. And so, this started to unfold just yesterday.

Mr. Black has acknowledged his role in Jazmine's murder and we've also received information that this involves a second individual as well. We are still trying to verify some information and this investigation is ongoing. So, there's still some work that needs to be done. We have been able, again, to verify some information, and so there is still some work to be done.

I want to speak a little bit about some questions that I know I've been circulating. One is, well, why the change? We were focused on, first, a description of an Anglo male, a pickup truck, and then eventually the composite that came up.

We do know that there was a red truck involved. We know that they had come to a traffic signal near the Walmart, both, this red truck, the driver and La'Porsha and the family. At some point as the red truck -- the traffic signal turned, they start going. We now believe that that red truck probably entered the freeway and continued on in another direction. But we believe now that that red truck and the driver is most likely just a witness, either by sight or sound, to what actually transpired. We still want that individual to come forward because perhaps they could now shed some light. And so, that is one question.

We do not believe in any way that the family -- again, we have said from the beginning that they've been involved in anything nefarious or anything. We feel that were truthful. This just went down very quickly when the gunfire erupted. You're talking about small children. They witnessed something very traumatic, and it's very likely that the last thing they did see was that indeed that red truck and that driver that was in that truck and that's what they remembered last.

But, again, now we've been able to receive additional information to corroborate that it was other individuals involved. It appears to us, based on the information that we've received, this was likely a case of mistaken identity, where the intended targets were likely someone else, but instead they fired upon La'Porsha, Jazmine and her siblings in this case.

I want to say as well that this death of Jazmine has sparked a lot of discussion on many different levels. And I think that it is good that going forward we continue to have positive dialogue on a number of issues. We know that there is important discussion that does need to take place about race, about the real fears and concerns that hate crimes are in an up tick in this country.

We also need to talk about gun violence, and I'm very proud to serve on Mayor Sylvester Turner's commission against gun violence. So we've done a lot of work through the course of all of last year under the chairmanship of Hayley Carter as well. So, I've been very involved in that process as well to see how we could diminish the gun violence.

We also need to see what's going on in our urban communities as well where many are gunned down and children are gunned down. There's a number of children that have been shot down in this region over this past year. Some were able survive their injuries, others were not. And so I think going forward, it's good for us to have those positive dialogue.

[15:20:00] There's a number of children that have been shot down in this region over this past year. Some were able to survive their injuries, others were not. And so I think going forward, it's good for us to have those positive dialogues.

You know, for those out there committing violence upon anyone that would use guns to commit violence on anyone, put the guns down. Stop. Just stop. We do not need any senseless killings. We don't want anymore families to have to suffer like this family is suffer -- suffering. And so just put the guns down. And I want to say briefly in Spanish.



WHITFIELD: All right. So you're hearing from the Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez there, who said one suspect is in custody. His name is Eric Black and he is charged with capital murder. The sheriff there addressing, yes, it is clear that Eric Black does not fit the description of the composite that was earlier distributed but he did say that he believes this was a case of mistaken identity that seven- year old Jazmine was not the intended target.

But still no clarity on the sequence of events, perhaps there is going to be a Q&A that will come after Mr. Gonzalez, you know, continues with his statement or, you know, ends his statement and then opens up questions for reporters.

But I want to bring back now, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano. And so, James, based on what you're hearing, does this only provoke more questions? Because we didn't hear a timeline, we didn't hear a sequence of events, what led to the arrest of Eric Black while Mr. Gonzalez did address that there's a real discrepancy of, you know, the physical description in the composite and the man that was arrested. There are a lot of holes here.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Fred. I mean, I don't fault the sheriff for kind of just sticking to giving out basic parcels of information. The public has a right to know. Obviously this case has been followed nationally, if not internationally. So I think he did the appropriate thing there.

Until they iron everything out, they check every detail, they corroborate everything that the suspect in custody has said, I don't think it's appropriate for him to, you know, put out the things that they're not absolutely certain about.

I think my two takeaways in this press conference, Fred, the two things that jumped out of me. Were, number one, the tip. So we know that the tip came from activist Shaun King, but the sheriff also made certain to stay. They were able to corroborate what they got from that tip. So there was independent evidence that helped lead them to Mr. Black and apparently this conspiracy that drive by shooting into the car that killed Jazmine. That's number one.

Number two, I think going forward in this, you talked about the timeline. Police are going to work through this, they're going to follow the evidence, they're going to do all the appropriate things here, but they're not certain that they have everybody in custody just yet. There could be other people involved, other people that knew about it.

So I think in that sense, they're handling this appropriately. When there's more information that they've got lock solid evidence to support or they feel a need to solicit the public again to the media to say, help us out with this. We believe there are some other folks here.

The second and last takeaway was this. The sheriff was adamant. He didn't believe the family was involved in any type of skullduggery. He didn't believe that they were being deceptive and it kind of goes to the conversation that you and I just shared right prior to this press conference, which was in situations like this, any extreme situations, those of us that have been involved in life and death encounters, everything gets clouded. The chaos, the fog of wars, we say.

And for a young girl to give a description, I think that's entirely within the realm of possibility. And that's why as I stated up front, police have to be very, very careful to make sure they follow all the evidence and not get hyperfocus on just one piece.

WHITFIELD: And so, James, you believe that it might jeopardize the case or jeopardize any other potential arrest if the sheriff were to go into detail about what kind of information was corroborated after receiving this tip about the identity of the man that they arrested and how they were able to corroborate that and how that was in sync with placing that individual at the scene of the crime.

GAGLIANO: Well, there's a lot of reason. The two that just jumped out of me are this. First of all, you don't want to potentially poison a witness pool or a potential jury pool. So, if you put information out there that is not needed to track somebody down and then you talk to a witness they may not be explaining things as they saw then in real time, they may be parroting back something they heard on the news. So, they want to be very, very, very careful about that.

The second piece is, there's just -- and I think the sheriff alluded to this in the police statement that came out last night. They're in the process right now of corroborating things that's very important in this type of cases. You can't take one piece of evidence in a vacuum. You have to look at it with everything.

[15:25:00] And to collect things coming off social media platforms, potential easy patch statements, traffic cameras, licensed plate scanners, digital exhaust from cell phones that the suspects may have used.

The police have got a big, big, big job going forward harvesting all of that forensic evidence to make sure it matches up with what Mr. Brown and the tipster who phoned this in, what they've said happened.

WHITFIELD: All right. The suspect, the person charged here, Eric Black, and the little girl seven-year old Jazmine Barnes, the images that you're seeing. All right, James Gagliano, thank you so much.

GAGLIANO: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Hi, welcome back. The US government now shutdown for 16 days so far, and what we've seen, plenty of rhetoric, political bluster and finger-pointing. What we haven't seen, any signs of real progress.

Now, President Trump is warning he will consider declaring a national emergency to build the border wall based on what's happened over the next few days.

Vice President Mike Pence just wrapped up another meeting with Capitol Hill staffers after talks yesterday went nowhere. But the President himself says no progress was expected at that meeting. And Trump has made it clear he will not back down on his demands for wall funding.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a very important battle to win, from the standpoint of safety, number one, defining our country and who we are, also from the standpoint of dollars. This wall will pay for itself many times during the course of a year. The money we're talking about is very small compared to the return. Do you think I like doing this? I don't like doing this. But we have no choice, we have to have it.


[15:30:11] WHITFIELD: Let's check in with CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez. So, Boris, tell us about where negotiations are. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. Well, yes, that meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Building just wrapped up a short time ago and almost at the same time the President was returning from Camp David and he spoke to reporters yet again making news on multiple fronts. So for one, the President suggesting that he no longer wants a concrete barrier between the United States and Mexico.

Now, he is calling for a steel barrier impart because he says that Democrats don't like concrete. The President suggesting that a steel barrier would be stronger and less intrusive, though he did acknowledge it could be more expensive than a concrete barrier.

I also got a chance to ask the President specifically what it would take for him to declare a national emergency to use his emergency powers to secure money for border wall funding. Listen to his response.


TRUMP: We're looking at a national emergency because we have national emergency, just read the papers. We have a crisis at the border of drugs, of human beings being trafficked all over the world, they're coming through, and we have an absolute crisis and of criminals and gang members coming through. It is national security. It's a national emergency.


SANCHEZ: So we asked the President then if he had a deadline for declaring a national emergency. Ultimately what would it take during these negotiations, during these ongoing talks to make him use that option that potentially a huge option that would set off enormous ramifications and not to mention a series of illegal battles, he didn't really give an answer. He said that he would let us know soon.

The President was also asked about the potential for striking a deal with Democrats that would give legal status to DREAMers, a DACA for a border funding deal. The President seemed to open to it but ultimately a bit dismissive saying that there -- the current legal case that may wind up in the Supreme Court could potentially resolve the legal status of Dreamers and that he would rather wait and see how that ended up before striking a deal with Democrats on that issue, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House, thanks so much.

All right, let's talk further on this. Joining right now, Columnist and CNN Political Commentator Sally Kohn and host of the Ben Ferguson Show and CNN Political Commentator Ben Ferguson. Good to see both of you. Happy New Year!



WHITFIELD: All right. So, Ben, is declaring a national emergency to get the funding for this wall the right answer for all of this to get government back up and running?

FERGUSON: Look, when government is not functioning the proper way and you do have an issue at the border that deals with national security, I do think it's appropriate for the President to do this. And I'm not even talking about immigration issues, I'm talking about articles that came out this week talking about heroin as a top killer in this country when more than 90 percent of all heroin comes in the United States of America, it's coming across our southern borders.

So, this is a very complex issue that's much bigger than just the issue of immigration which people like to fight over and talk over. It is a national security issue. It's a national security issue from the standpoint that we have millions of people and we don't know who they are, that are coming across the border and we cannot understand who they are, where they came from, when they're leaving, and we have no way to track them.

So, it's a multiple-part issue here and the President I think is right to say it's a national emergency. And, look, no one wins with Washington being shutdown here. I want to make that clear. But I do think that the President of the United States of America understands this is an issue of security and you have to move on it and we can't wait any longer.

WHITFIELD: So, Sally, the President, the White House would have to argue, would have to establish national emergency. How will it do that? Can it do that?

KOHN: Will all due respect, this is fear mongering of the worst order. And let's just be careful because this is not true.

FERGUSON: It's not.

KOHN: Like ginning up, excuse me Ben, ginning up fear, resentment, hate, all of this in order to get what you want because by the way for two years when your party controlled both Houses of Congress, you couldn't get it done. Put that aside for a second, it's not true. Look, it's now happening.

FERGUSON: You have to have a vote in the Senate, you know that, Sally.

KOHN: Ben, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was on another network this morning lying, lie. Let's just call it what it is, lying about saying that there were 4,000 terrorists, some of whom came across the southern border --

WHITFIELD: Actually we might have that tape. We might have that tape. Do we have that? OK. We're going to try and pull that up. I know exactly what you're talking about, Sally. Go ahead.

KOHN: OK. She -- but the point that she was saying, just as Ben is suggesting, that there are all these nefarious things happening across the border. And so heroin is walking across the border. No, it's coming through a checkpoint when you talk to border patrol agents, they don't want to walk (ph). When you talk to conservative think tanks (ph) --

FERGUSON: It's coming across the border illegally too with mules.

KOHN: When you talk to conservative (INAUDIBLE), they don't want a wall.

WHITFIELD: OK, all right.


WHITFIELD: In fact, this was Sarah Sanders earlier today. This is 10 amounts of the kind of argument that the White House would have to make about the national emergency. Here you go.


[15:35:01] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally. And we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well, wait, because I know this statistic. I didn't know if you're going to use it but I studied up on this. Do you know where those 4,000 people come or where they're captured? Airports.

SANDERS: Not always.

WALLACE: On airports.

SANDERS: Then certainly a lot of these numbers --

WALLACE: The State Department says there hasn't been any terrorist that they found coming across the southern border of Mexico.

SANDERS: It's by air, it's by land and it's by sea. It's all of the above.


WHITFIELD: So essentially with that establishes as, you know, you've got to have your facts right, but go ahead, Sally.

KOHN: Well, I mean, this is a classic example where there you have Sarah Huckabee Sanders still insisting she makes her case even though the facts are just wrong. That the Trump administration's own State Department says, that's just not the case. So, listen, I understand you want to gin up fear and scare everyone about always nefarious things happening --

FERGUSON: Its not --

KOHN: -- at our southern border, but they're not true.


KOHN: Certainly not to the level --


KOHN: -- of a national emergency --


KOHN: -- don't start.

FERGUSON: Let me -- all right --

KOHN: Stop scaring the American people to get what you want.

FERGUSON: I'm not --

WHITFIELD: All right, Ben?

FERGUSON: OK. Let's see -- I deal with facts here and not this whole you saying I'm fear mongering when I said nothing about those issues. You have a police officer who was an immigrant to came into this country legally who was killed in California the day after Christmas. That's not fear mongering. That's reality at the hands of an illegal immigrant. So if you want to yell about --

KOHN: Who's got --

FERGUSON: -- fear mongering --

KOHN: Who came to this country how then?

FERGUSON: Why don't you -- let me finish. Let me finish. Let me -- he came to this country illegally across the border illegally, and they even tried to escape from the Mexico.

There's multiple people that been arrested trying to help him flee to Mexico.


FERGUSON: That is the fact to the matter here.

WHITFIELD: So, Ben, one of the arguments --

FERGUSON: And you act like the (inaudible). It's not fear mongering.

WHITFIELD: So Ben one of the arguments being made --

FERGUSON: I don't know. Let me -- Fredricka, I'm in Texas right now. There are people here where I am in Houston right now who have been killed by illegal immigrants that come across the border illegally, and you say its fear mongering --

WHITFIELD: So most of the polling is showing that immigration --

FERGUSON: -- most to their family then its fear mongering.

WHITFIELD: OK. Ben, but most of the polling is showing that immigration is top of mind, but when you talk about shutting down the government, that's where you see the great divide. And now you hear from Senator Lindsey Graham who earlier today said, either priority is no longer getting government back up and running again, it is the wall. So listen to what Lindsey Graham said earlier today.



MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS HOST: What about those people who work for homeland security who are carrying out the policies you're talking about and who are not --


BRENNAN: -- going to get paid?


BRENNAN: What about the coast guard who are not being paid?

GRAHAM: They're -- Yes, they're being held hostage by people who say you need one dollar to secure the border. They're being held hostage by people --

BRENNAN: So you don't want to open their government and then continue talking --

GRAHAM: -- I do want to open up the government but the goal is not to open up the government. The goal is to fix a broken immigration system, to bring reality to this table that ICE is not the problem it is the solution. The goal is to repair a damaged, broken immigration system.


WHITFIELD: So, Sally, the spending bill, many thought the goal was to keep government up and running, but now we're hearing from Lindsey Graham that the goal is getting the wall built.

KOHN: I mean, I get this, they're just doubling down on Trump's agenda. You know look, I mean, I have a kid, and like a lot of kids, when my kid doesn't get what she wants, she throws a tantrum. And she tries to blame everybody else, and it's the job of the adults in the room to, you know, not take the bait, not play into her tantrum, but she's a mature kid. So when she's done with her tantrum, she apologizes for her mistake and she cleans up her mess.

Now the problem is, look, we never expected Donald Trump to act like a grown-up, but the fact is she's throwing a tantrum here because he didn't get what he wanted under our public control for two years, and now he's decided to throw a tantrum and try to pin it on anyone but himself.

FERGUSON: Fredricka --

KOPHN: This is his mess. He's got to clean it up.

WHITFIELD: So Representative Adam Smith the face --

FERGUSON: And its --

WHITFIELD: -- you know, Ben --

FERGUSON: Let me --

WHITFIELD: -- you know, a wall of a childish response to national security. What's your response to that?

FERGUSON: Yes. I would say the Democrats are the ones are being childish here. The first day they take over the House, they refer to the President as an mf-er and they're going to impeach him. They say, they introduce articles and impeachment. They want to get rid of the electoral college. That's just some of the highlights in the first 24 hours and you want to lecture people about not being a child? Sally, I'd say --

WHITFIELD: Well should the priority --

FERGUSON: -- go to Democrats in Capitol Hill and say, grow up you're in the government.

WHITFIELD: should the priority be getting government up and running and finding another time in place in which to debate argue over the money for a wall?

FERGUSON: Here's what I know. I know there's an issue at the border and I know that you have to have Democrats to fix this problem. And Democrats have made this personal. They hate Donald Trump and they want to destroy him and he want around him --

WHITFIELD: Is that he's talking about 800,000 --


WHITFIELD: -- federal worker people without a paycheck. I mean, think of that first.

FERGUSON: Again, and the fact of the matter is Democrats are making sure that they hold the 800,000 hostage while they're fighting over the fact that we're talking about a couple billion dollars here the President is asking for, which is nothing compared to Port Bell spending come in front of Democrats and I'll even say the Republicans here.

This is about destroying Donald Trump. This is not about and yet they say, oh, we care about the 800,000 workers. If you did, you'd open the government back up and give the money for border security, but you're not going to do that because you hate Donald Trump. [15:40:01] And you showed at day one, we took over the House calling him an mf-er, saying we're going to impeach him, get rid the electoral colleagues. And I would say to them, you're talking about being a child, grow up actually governing the country.

WHITFIELD: Sally, last word.

KOHN: I mean, the Democrats passed before -- by the way before, let's be clear about this. Democrats on the first day passed a resolution to re-open the government of resolution that had --

FERGUSON: Yes, it was non-issue. You knew it was non-issue.

KOHN: -- bipartisan. Excuse me Ben I'll let you talk, a resolution that had bipartisan support before from both parties but Donald Trump backed away from. This is his mess, he's making and by the way instead of throwing toys, he's throwing around the livelihood of 800,000 hardworking --

FERGUSON: He's trying to protect people's lives.

KOHN: -- Americans as pathetic.


FERGUSON: He's trying to protect the lives.

WHITFIELD: Sally Kohn and Ben Ferguson thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Senator Elizabeth Warren crisscrossing Iowa, testing the waters ahead of a potential 2020 presidential run. Well., at an event earlier this weekend, the Massachusetts Democrat tried to make it clear to those in attendance she believes this country is in trouble.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: These are dangerous times for our country. And the direction we go will in part be set right here in Iowa. I am grateful to all of you who take this seriously, who are in this fight all the way and who are going to help us make a better country.


WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now, Natasha Korecki, National Correspondent for POLITICO and Jess Bidgood, reporter for the Boston Globe. Good to see both of you and Happy New Year. All right.

So Natasha, you first, you know, so how do you think this experiment, if you want to call it that went for Senator Warren? NATASHA KORECKI, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: I think it couldn't have gone much more smoothly for Senator Warren. I think what we ended up seeing was a group of Iowa Democrats who are really excited and dying to get 2020 going, and they packed every single event she had across Iowa. And they were excited.

[15:45:07] These weren't necessarily Warren supporters per se, but they were people who came out because they want to start seeing all the different candidates what they have to offer and, you know, she by -- I think one of the big takeaways is that Warren couldn't have times this better. She was out first and she had the whole place to herself. It's going to get really busy really soon and she's out ahead. She had her message out. They go to that person for it.

WHITFIELD: So, Jess, you see that too as being very clever getting out there first, you know, being in the forefront. Even though it's so early ahead of 2020?

JESS BIDGOOD, REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: Yes, it is so early but I think the campaign was smart to announce her -- to announce its exploratory bid on New Year's Eve. They really had the whole week to themselves and the whole weekend to themselves. They know things are going to change soon. They know it before we know it. They're will be two, three, four more candidates in the race.

But Warren largely had Iowa to herself this weekend and that allowed her to capitalize on that excitement from Democrats and that energy. It allowed her to have lines around the block and filling every event space that she had without having yet to share the spotlight with the other Democrats who will soon be descending here.

WHITFIELD: And then Natasha, you know, Warren, you know, guess she felt compelled and she was asked directly, you know, to address, you know, the controversy over her Native American Heritage, the whole DNA testing, all of that and this is what she had to say.


WARREN: I am not a person of color. I am not a citizen of a tribe. When I first ran for public office, the first time was in 2012 and the Republicans honed in on this part of my history and thought they could make a lot of hay out of it. A lot of racial slurs and a lot of ugly stuff that went on and so my decision was, I was going to put it all out there.


WHITFIELD: So Natasha by addressing it in that fashion, you know, has she put it to rest? Did she have the last word on this or will it keep coming up?

KORECKI: Well, it could keep coming up. I think the interesting takeaway here is, one, she was taking questions from the crowd. I mean she's trying to -- she's trying to show there's a different Elizabeth Warren here. She's going to be very transparent and she did answer the question. This was kind of I think at least recently, the most forthcoming she has been and straightforward with it. And I think she knew going in the Iowa, she was going to get this question and she had to have a response to it and she did.

WHITFIELD: And, Jess, maybe this is a page from, you know, Hillary Clinton because she seemed to really shine when she did something like this, this kind of open forum-town hall esq kind of format.

BIDGOOD: Yes. Warren really wants to take questions while she's here and she's been using this interesting system where they pass around tickets and people kind of pull a number and they get to ask a question. In my sense is that she's committed to continuing to ask questions from voters as she campaigns.

That question that you just played was the only time anyone answered or anyone asked the question specifically about DNA. And it also, it was one of the rare times here that she actually mentioned President Trump by name. Most of her time here, she's not been talking about him directly certainly not by name.

WHITFIELD: And so, Natasha, you know, President Trump, you know, won Iowa in 2016. So what does a, you know, potential candidate Warren need to do to pick up Republican support there?

KORECKI: Well, you know, it's really interesting. She does something different than what most democrats do when they come to the state which is she started on the west side which is really a Republican stronghold. She started out there and she packed all the places. She got -- she drew people out. There's a lot of Trump-Obama voters in some of those areas. I mean, it is very Republican but there's also these swing voters and what she was doing was sort of tapping into this economic populism, her message of inequity in the system. She talked about government corruption.

So she's trying to reach out to these vote potential caucus goers in that sense. Talk to them about the inequities in government, you know, she talks about that the corporations and the billionaires and how -- and then juxtaposed that to the middle class and, you know, lot of things that the average voter could kind of relate to. So I think it was really tapping into that economic message.

WHITFIELD: All right, quickly, Jess?

BIDGOOD: I think her hope is that these economic issues will transcend party lines. She is viewed as a pretty partisan figure. I mean, she gets featured in Republican attack ads and things like that but her hope, I think, is that by driving this economic message, you know, about corruption in Washington and the way the economy works for people she will be able to pick up support from both sides and from moderate voters.

[15:50:09] WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much Jess Bidgood and Natasha Korecki. Good to see you both.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump is speaking for the first time about Paul Whelan, a US citizen detained in Russia for allegedly being a spy. Whelan's family has said from the start he was in Russia for a wedding but President Trump has been silent until today.

Just a few hours ago, the President told the press "We're looking into it." Whelan has met with US ambassador to Russia, John Huntsman in recent days. But experts can't help but notice his arrest comes just one month after alleged spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a US court for engaging in a conspiracy against the US.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Matthew Chance joins me now. So Matthew, the Russian Foreign Minister said this weekend that it isn't the time to discuss a prisoner swap, so is it likely there, you know, that is the direction we'll eventually be headed?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's still a possibility, I'd say. Not at least because within the next few weeks or so, Maria Butina he mentioned there has been pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the United States and is being held there will be sentenced very soon as well. And so there will be someone for them to swap with but you're right. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister made a statement over the course of today that saying that it's far too early at this stage to talk about the possibility of a prisoner swap. Of course, any deal that's done is probably going to be done behind closed doors.

[15:55:09] You mentioned President Trump's first statement on this issue. He was asked about the plight of Paul Whelan, that former US Marine, who has been held on suspicion of espionage in Russia since December 28th and he said we're looking into that. So hardly a sort of, you know, heartfelt appeal for this American citizen's release.

But of course, it comes in the aftermath of remarks had been made by Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State and of course by John Huntsman, who is the U.S. Ambassador to Russia who personally went to visit Mr. Whelan in then the ford of prisoner in a suburb of Moscow to give him his support. So that's been some support from other areas for Paul Whelan. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much and we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, a couple stories we're following for you. Kevin Sweeney, the Pentagon Chief of Staff has resigned after two years. A source tells CNN that he was forced out by the White House. Sweeney was a retired Rear Admiral who served under former Defense Secretary James Mattis. Mattis, you may recall, retired and left his post last week. Sweeney says he is returning to the private sector.

National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Israel right now trying to reassure the Israelis over President Trump's plan to pull U.S. troops out of neighboring Syria and to talk about Iran's presence in the Middle East. In a news conference with Israel's Prime Minister just hours ago, Bolton seemed optimistic.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're going to be discussing the President's decision to withdraw but to do so from Northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again. And to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is