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Sen. Mark Warner to Trump: "Don't Fire Robert Mueller"; Another North Korean Soldier Defects Across DMZ; Trump Speaks to Media Ahead of Walter Reed Visit; Control of Virginia State House Boils Down to Luck; Republicans Scramble to Avoid Government Shutdown. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So the concerns, the risks, this has all been swirling, as we all know the White House legal team is getting ready to meet with Bob Mueller himself in the next couple of days. Asha, what will happen? What are your expectations?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, well, I think the White House has given the president a lot of assurances that this investigation might be over by Christmas time, that Mueller is going to clear him. So I think if that's what they are expecting, they'll be disappointed. Mueller is still clearly in the middle of an investigation, and he's not going to give this kind of information, he's not going to give a grand theory of the case and tell them who is being investigated and clear the president.

The reason why is we need to look back to the big misstep that Comey made that he announced he had closed the investigation on Hillary Clinton. That creates a huge burden that if you give someone that information, even if it's true at that moment, in ha ongoing investigation, things can change at any time. And it will complicate everything. So, you know, they are clearly in communication. He's been asking the White House for documents and such. But I don't think that Mueller is going to give them a lot of the information that they may want from him.

BALDWIN: OK. Be curious to see how the president reacts to that. But I digress.

You have Republicans now who are taking this a step further. In a powerful exchange with my colleague, John Berman, Congressman Jim Jordan says, during the campaign, he believes there was a plot within the FBI to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Watch this.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You say you believe there was a plot in the FBI to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.


BERMAN: If that's true, if that's true, was this not the worst plot ever? The FBI director, days before the election, reopened the investigation into the Hillary Clinton e-mails. REP JIM JORDAN, (R), OHIO: Yes, but you have to remember the context

at that time. Mr. Comey reopened it after he had done the exoneration letter, after he went public with something that had been done, after he made the decision, not Loretta Lynch, after Peter Strzok ran the entire investigation and changed the exoneration from criminal standard "gross negligence" to a noncriminal standard "extreme carelessness." After all that -- remember the context, when Mr. Comey does that. Everybody thought Clinton was going to win. Oh, no big deal, he can do this, Abedin and Weiner messaging back and forth those e-mails -


JORDAN: -- because he thought she was going to win.

BERMAN: Let's do this. Strzok was on his team that changed it. We don't know if he was the one who actually one who changed it. Again, I say to you, you are suggesting part of this plot to keep Donald Trump from becoming president included James Comey reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton?


JORDAN: I'm just saying, I'm just saying he reopened it a few weeks before the election when everyone thought --


BERMAN: Wouldn't that be a lousy way to plot defeating Donald Trump?


JORDAN: Well, so, back in October, before the election you guys didn't like James Comey, now you like him.


JORDAN: I don't get the point. What I'm talking about is --

BERMAN: It's not whether I like him or not.


JORDAN: I want to focus on the text messages last week. Was James Comey part of a plot to keep Donald Trump from becoming president? We'll find out. We'll find out. All I know the text messages from Peter Strzok to Lisa Page points to that being -- being what took the place.


BERMAN: You think James Comey was part of an effort. It went all the way to the top of the FBI to keep Donald Trump from becoming president? Why then --

(CROSSTALK) JORDAN: We'll find out.

BERMAN: If that's true, if that's true, why then did he come out again, and reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and never tell us before the election about the investigation into alleged Trump collusion? If he was trying to keep Donald Trump from getting elected, don't you think he might tell voters that?

JORDAN: We'll have to find out. We'll have to find out.


BALDWIN: Shawn, you get all of that?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Brooke, on so many levels, that discussion is both insulting and disrespectful to men and women of the FBI. You know what I think is really interesting there is talk of misinformation and Russian's attempts to do that. I don't think there was a coordinated plot or conspiracy on the part of government officials to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.

But what he does know by putting something out there, by saying things like, we'll see, he does know for some people they'll hear that. And they'll say to themselves, well, I guess it's possible. And that is just kind of this irresponsible use of information or misinformation that continues to fuel this kind of circus atmosphere. That's why --


BALDWIN: Just like it's possible like I could wake up tomorrow and look up at the sky and it's green, you know, it's possible, but, come on now.

Asha, close this out. You are former FBI.


[14:35:02] RANGAPPA: Well, you know, if there were a conspiracy in the FBI, it would require about 50 forms, five levels of approval, you know, three different back and forth between the FBI and DOJ. This is how a bureaucracy works. And people in the government know that better than anyone. And as John Berman said, I think he nailed it yesterday, if this was the plot at the highest levels of government, then clearly, they failed, and it didn't go anywhere.

BALDWIN: Didn't work out so well.

RANGAPPA: Yes. I think the question we need to ask, what are they afraid of that is going to come out of this investigation that they go to such extremes to distract from it.

BALDWIN: Asha and Shawn, thank you so much.

Yes, John Berman is excellent. John Berman is my hero many of a day.

Thank you both so much. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Coming up, we'll talk about the defection from the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, the line, the border between North and South Korea. Another North Korean soldier makes a dash across the most heavily militarized borders on the earth. How did he do it? And what might this mean for tensions on the Korean peninsula?

Also ahead, a single vote puts the balance of power in Virginia's State House in limbo. What's next? It actually involves a couple of film canisters and picking a name out of a bowl. Not making this up.


[14:40:45] BALDWIN: In the world's most reclusive nation, a young soldier in his late teens or early 20s gambles with his life to escape North Korea. He crossed across the dangerous DMZ, the second defection across the heavily guarded in less than two months.

CNN international correspondent, Paula Hancocks, reports from Seoul.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was last month. A North Korean soldier ran for his life across the border between North and South Korea. Shot several times by his former comrades, critically injured, but he survived.

Thursday, another North Korean soldier making the once very rare dash against the DMZ, one of the most heavily militarized borders on earth. This one is young, late teens or early 20s, low ranking, and in custody being questioned according to South Korea's military.

An hour and a half later, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots as soldiers from the North approached the military demarcation line looking for the defector. Shots from the North heard shortly after.

Not direct military engagement but worrying on such a tense border.

Jan Youn-gin (ph) defected across the DMZ in 1997. As a soldier, he had served along the border. He wrote a book on his experience describing the escape as gambling with his life.

Looking back at his defection, Thursday, he described eight guard posts he had to get by before even reaching the border.

"At the fourth guard post," he tells me, "not even an ant can pass by. A cliff on one side, the sea on the other, I was caught but I managed to escape. When I reached the first of three fences, I was electrocuted." He said, "I later learned it was 10,000 volts. I was lucky to survive."

(on camera): Despite the risks, four North Korean soldiers have defected through the DMZ this year alone. Compare that to four over the past five years before that. Experts say, for those soldiers who didn't prevent the defection, they would be punished and replaced. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


BALDWIN: Paula, thank you.

This North Korea soldier, defected soldier will now likely be questioned, evaluated. Authorities may investigate his reasons for defecting and gather information about his life in North Korea.

So with me now, Barbara Demick, a former Beijing bureau chief for the "Los Angeles Times" and the author of "Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea."

Barbara, so nice to meet you.


BALDWIN: I cannot get over the fact that in less than, what's it been, two months, talking about these two defections. Prior to that time there had been four in five years. What's going on?

DEMICK: Well, it's really crazy. We have never seen this kind of action across the DMZ before. And I would just guess it's a sign of how desperate these soldiers are, because they are, as your last interviewee said, gambling with their lives, a very high risk of being shot.

BALDWIN: I was recently in South Korea, and we took this Black Hawk helicopter and I was watching the sunset over from above. The beautiful mountains that are in North Korea. And I couldn't help but think of the gulags and the hell that lies be night. What is life like for North Koreans and these soldiers?

DEMICK: It's very hungry. We keep hearing about how much they are investing in their military. But that is going into nuclear mass destruction, the nuclear program, the missiles. The rank-and-file soldiers are not well-fed. And that's what's apparent in this case. I've spoken to many North Koreans, like North Korean moms who --

BALDWIN: Who say what?

DEMICK: They are terrified when their sons go into the military. Because they are in for 10 years and often come out half starving, if they don't die. They have tuberculosis, hepatis. And this soldier that defected in November has been subject --


BALDWIN: Pictures of the parasites that have been found within his belly. And you would think these soldiers would be the stronger of maybe the bunch in North Korea. And clearly, that's not necessarily the case. What happens with this North Korea now that he has defeated to South Korea? Medical evacuations. Welcome to 2017.


What is that?

[14:45:00] DEMICK: Exactly. South Korea has a whole program in place for North Korean defectors. First, they are interrogated for, in this case, probably several months.

BALDWIN: What kinds of questions?

DEMICK: Where are you from? What was your unit? Everything from food to military. I think a lot of questions about what the conditions are like in the military. And also a lot of questions to determine if they are real. They are always worried about infiltrators posing as defectors. Your home town, names of streets, accents. There have been some. And they have a program called Hanawan (ph) where they teach them how to use a cell phone, bank account. And these people are like modern-day Rip Van Winkles. They have a lot of reeducation to do.

BALDWIN: Two defections in two months. Do you think somehow, two defections in two months, somehow, despite the propaganda, word travels back that someone tried this and pulled it off and I want to escape this as well?

DEMICK: Definitely. Because even though North Korean television and radio is totally controlled, people listen illegally. They get broadcasts from South Korea. And there is word of mouth. North Koreans are smart people, they talk to each other and know what's going on.

BALDWIN: How risky.

Barbara Demick, a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much.

DEMICK: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up here, a tied race in the state of Virginia creates this unbelievable scenario where the winner will be decided by picking a name out of a bowl. And listen to this, that may not be the end of the story. We'll explain next.


[14:51:11] BALDWIN: All right. So we wanted to stop and pause and listen to the president here leaving the White House, momentarily, to go say hello to our men and women at Walter Reed. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm heading over right now to Walter Reed Medical Center to say hello to some of the bravest people anywhere in the world. They're great people. I'll be coming back after that. We'll be there for a while. But we are going to wish them a merry Christmas and happy New Year. We love those people.

Thank you. (SHOUTIG)


BALDWIN: We love Walter Reed for everything they do for our wounded servicemen and women.

But to Jeff Zeleny we go, our senior White House correspondent.

You can hear them shouting questions, the press, a big day, and still C.R. tomorrow. Pretty short and sweet.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was, Brooke. We tried to ask questions about the U.N., about so many things this White House is facing, and the president heard them all, of course, but he makes the decision when he answers them and does not.

One thing we are still waiting to hear is there's a year-end news conference as must presidents have done. Time is it running out before he heads to Florida for holiday vacation. So if that will happen, that likely happens tomorrow.

But he is visiting Walter Reed right now which, of course, is on the Northern side of Washington, just a couple miles from here at the White House. He'll be visiting the wounded warriors there. A visit that many presidents make, of course, and he is making this as well. He'll be back here in the White House in a couple of hours. And, again, we'll see if he answers some of those questions in the hours and days to come before heading off to sunny Florida -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Keep shouting them out, Jeff Zeleny.

Thanks so much.

Meantime, control of the Virginia State House is, in the end, turns out coming down to sheer luck. Just as it seemed the Democrat, Shelly Simonds, won by a single vote against opponent, Republican Incumbent David Yancy, this one ballot has thrown the race into question. This is it. A three-judge panel tossed out the win after a recount, declaring the vote on the ballot really belonged to the Republican, not the Democrat. That left the race tied. So now it will be decided by a random draw next Wednesday.

Ryan Nobles is here with us to discuss this.

You mean to tell me in 2017, this is like pulling a name out of a hat or coin toss to figure out the House in Virginia?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's actually going to come down to one of these, Brooke. This is a film canister, if you haven't seen one of these in a while, what we haven't used in ha couple of decades. It's what the state of Virginia Board of Elections will take the two names of the candidates, cut them up, then put one piece of paper with the name in one of these film canisters and put in another one, then they'll drop both of the canisters into a bowel, then with everybody watching, the media will be invited, they'll pull one of these canisters out, open up the top, and whoever names emerge, that candidate will be the next member of the House of delegates from the 94th district, which is in Newport News, Virginia Beach.

Brooke, this is more about than this one particular seat in the House of delegates. Right now, there's only a one-seat split after the election in November. So if the Republican is the name that's pulled out, they'll continue to hold on to control of the House of delegates. If it's the Democrats name that's pulled out, it will mean a 50/50 split. Both sides are going to have to share power. It will really change the landscape of the Virginia government in a very big way.

We should also point out, right now, Brooke, Democrats are not happy with the decision by the three-judge panel. They believe it was too late in the game to make this decision. They are currently mulling a legal challenge. But I talked to a lot of election experts in Virginia over the past 24 hours, they believe that this three-judge panel had the ultimate authority. And actually Virginia law states specifically this decision cannot be appealed. So everyone is planning for that draw that will take place next Wednesday in Richmond -- Brooke?

[14:55:19] BALDWIN: First of all, point to whoever in the D.C. bureau found you a film canister in the year 2017 to use as a prop in your live shot. So kudos to them.


Number two, whenever they pull a name out of this canister and you have a winner and loser, can the loser challenge this?

NOBLES: They can't challenge it, Brooke, but the law does state that they could ask for another recount. So there is that possibility that if either the Democrat name or Republicans name that's pulled out, the other side could say, let's count all these ballots again and go through the whole process all over again. Theoretically, it could end in a tie once again. Then they draw the names once again, and it would come down to a 50/50 split. But neither the Republicans or Democrats are saying whether or not they will employ that option if it comes down to it, so we'll have to see what happens next Wednesday.

BALDWIN: I feel for both of them.

Ryan Nobles, thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, the Republican lovefest, shall we call it, over taxes. Shortly, they shift to a more immediate issue, the huge deadline looming. Funding for almost every government function on the line. Can they avert a government shutdown before midnight tomorrow? That's the deadline. We'll take you back to Washington and get a live report, next.


BALDWIN: Here we go. Hour two. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news from Capitol Hill. One day after this major success of sweeping tax reform here, Republicans are at risk of an embarrassing failure of a government shutdown. If that happens, we are also getting word of a possible short-term solution. The House is expected to vote this afternoon on stop-gap measure to let the parties have time to hash out the sticking points. This coming before the deadline of midnight tomorrow.

As lawmakers scramble in the final 33 hours, the president is tweeting this, "House Democrats want a shutdown over the holidays in order to detract from very popular tax cuts. House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the C.R. today" -- continuing resolution -- "and keep our government open."

So let's go to Sunlen Serfaty, who is up on the Hill for us.

How close is this House vote right now and what needs to happen?

[14:59:35] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a couple of hours away, Brooke, from the House voting on short term C.R., and that's certainly a big sign that the Republican leadership in the House is confident that they have the votes they need to get this passed through today. Then of course, it would go over to the Senate, where they would potentially vote on it, maybe as early as today. We don't have a timeline for that yet. But the signs are certainly there that all of this is starting to come together. We have talked about in recent days how behind the scenes you had a lot of House Republicans disagreeing go over what exactly was going to be included in this bill. A lot of competing priorities of what would be included.