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President Trump Threatens to Close Mexico Border Over Shutdown; Interview with Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona; Trump Transition Team's Contacts With Russia Under The Microscope Of Special Counsel; Russian Company Claims Nude Photo Is Part Of Data Collected In Mueller Investigation. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired December 28, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Fighting a shutdown battle by threatening a trade war.

John Berman here in for Anderson.

That's just one new threat President Trump is making in his effort to win funding for his border wall. If it doesn't seem like a logical argument, well, this might not help. So, the threat is to end our current trade agreement with Mexico if Democrats won't agree to pay for the wall. The one he once said Mexico would pay for, then later said it would pay for only indirectly.

The president also threatened to close the southern border completely and shut off aid to Honduras and Guatemala for not preventing migrants from making their way north. His statement this morning reads: We will be forced to close the southern border entirely if the obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the wall and also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our country is saddled with. He went on to threaten to, quote, go back to pre-NAFTA before so many of our companies and jobs were sent foolishly to Mexico.

Now, keeping them honest, whatever your stand on the wall, whether House Democrats are obstructionist or not, whatever your view on trade maybe, this kind of seems like an apple solution to an orange problem. The president, for better or worse, appears to be hoping to influence Democrats by at best threatening Mexico and at worst, by holding a gun to the U.S. economy's head, threatening to go back before NAFTA, yes, and before the trade agreement that replaced it, the one that just a few weeks ago he was proud to have signed.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The USMCA is the largest, most significant modern and balanced trade agreement in history. All of our countries will benefit greatly. In short, this is a model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever. And this is an agreement that first and foremost benefits working people, something of great importance to all three of us here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: The president barely a month ago signing a trade deal to replace the other trade deal he blew up, now threatening to blow up that deal and threatening more besides. Does it make sense? That's one question. Should it be taken seriously as a policy matter? That's another.

The White House did tell us early on to consider presidential tweets official statements, which means even when they're not fully cogent or cooked. Is that the case this time? Misbegotten or not, ill-advised or not, are these real threats or is this just a case of a guy home alone venting to the walls?

For more on all of this, let's go to CNN's Abby Philip at the White House. Abby, what more do we know about how the president spent his day dealing or I guess not dealing with the shutdown?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, until a few minutes ago, the president had been rarely seen but plenty heard on Twitter, sending all of those tweets that you just mentioned but staying out of sight here at the White House. Sarah Sanders said he came to the office today. He made some calls. It's not clear to whom.

But then a few minutes ago, the president left the White House and went to the Naval Observatory, that's the vice president's residence, where he's now having dinner with Vice President Mike Pence, and his acting chief of staff Mike Mulvaney, and his senior adviser and son- in-law Jared Kushner. That would be the trio most responsible for the president's side of negotiations in this government shutdown.

That being said, we still don't know where things stand, and it seems like they don't stand much of anyplace at all. That there has been a lot of blaming going on today from the White House, but not much in terms of specifics about where the compromise is going to be.

Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was asked about how this would all end. And she spent most of her time blaming Nancy Pelosi. Listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a question you have to ask Nancy Pelosi. She's more willing to protect that than she has to protect our borders and protect American lives. And we hope we'll see that change over the next couple of days.


PHILLIP: And the key question remains, will President Trump accept less than $5 billion for his border wall? Sarah Sanders declined to answer that question. I think, John, we are left where we have been all week, which is no answers on the specifics and no end to the shutdown.

BERMAN: Abby, it's interesting, you said the president is dining with Jared Kushner, among others at the Naval Observatory. Kushner, until today, was down in Florida vacationing at Mar-a-Lago where today we learned the president will not go, at least for now. He is staying in Washington for New Year's, correct?

PHILLIP: It seems Jared Kushner was summoned back to Washington to perhaps help deal with this government shutdown. But, yes, he was down in Florida with the rest of the Trump family where they go nearly every year to celebrate New Year's Eve. President Trump and the White House announced today, pretty definitively, he's not going before January 1st.

[20:05:05] That seems to signal the shutdown is going to last at least that long. And that the president will not go to the New Year's Eve Party that he typically hosts at his Mar-a-Lago resort where we know guests have paid $1,000 per head to party with President Trump. But he is not going to be there this year. He will be here.

What happens after that is anyone's guess. It seems that the White House has been teeing up to Nancy Pelosi's speakership election, which is likely to happen on January 3rd. And that may be the moment at which we have some progress on this front.

Until then, President Trump will be here. The rest of his family down in Florida. Melania already went to go back down there yesterday. He is home alone again in the White House.

BERMAN: Although he has Jared to talk to when he wants.

Abby Philip, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

So, with the president blaming the shutdown on what he calls obstructionist Democrats, we thought it might be useful to actually speak to a Democrat.

Joining us now is Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us this evening.


BERMAN: I know you said you are against any funding for the wall. You have urged fellow Democrats not to negotiate. Does that mean you would vote against anything $1 more than the $1.3 billion that's already on the table for border security?

GALLEGO: Look, the party is not an obstructionist party, to be clear. We are the party that actually passed through consensus, both the House Democrats and house -- and Senate Republicans a bill that got 100 percent of the vote in the Senate, 99 percent vote in the House. The only obstruction is happening with this president.

Another thing to note is that we actually gave this president close to $2 billion last year in terms of border money for border security and he has not used 96 percent of it. So, the idea that we're going to throw more money at a campaign promise that he said Mexico would pay for I think is just not a proper use of government funds.

Will we continue to negotiate? Of course. You know, we are here to keep government open. But the biggest sticking point you have is a president that cares more of what Fox News pundits say than what the government actually needs. And that's actually how a functional government that he is not leading.

BERMAN: So, Sarah Sanders did say the president is willing to negotiate. We're not entirely sure what that means or how much. When Democrats take over, when Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker, which we assume will happen January 3rd, are you suggesting there might be some room to budge at least a little off that $1.3 billion?

GALLEGO: Look, we're here to talk. Obviously, I can't speak for Pelosi. I know Democrats have always been the adults in the room. Unfortunately, President Trump has been hard to negotiate with.

If he listened to us and actually negotiated with us two years ago, he would have had $25 billion for a wall and we would have had the DREAM Act. Instead, he ended up listening to the worst elements of his cabinet, as well as some pundits that basically guide his decisions.

BERMAN: I do want to ask you, his threat to close the southern border, his threat to withdraw foreign aid to those central American countries, do you take that seriously when he writes stuff like that?

GALLEGO: No. I think that's a bigger danger of the fact that no one takes this president serious. He is the boy that cries wolf a little too much. But also, I think it's disturbing the president of the United States is holding the American economy hostage.

Look, there are problems with NAFTA. I think we have to renegotiate a lot of aspects of it. But if you do such an abrupt action as closing down the border, you're going to affect a good one-third to one-fourth of the economy of this country. For people that do rely on paychecks.

So, if he really wants to make America first and great or anything else like that, don't threaten the economy in the process of trying to fulfill your campaign promise, which you said, again, that Mexico was going to pay for.

BERMAN: Now he says Mexico will pay for it but indirectly.

Lastly, I do want to ask you about a letter sent by two Republican committee chairs today, Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy. They are both retiring. They sent the letter to the Department of Justice.

And among other things they said, quote: There has been no effort to discredit the work of the special counsel. No effort to discredit the work of the special counsel.

What do you make of that given the president, the Republican president, goes after the special counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation every week, if not practically every day?

GALLEGO: Well, it's not just the president. There have been plenty of Republicans and leadership positions that have undermined the investigation, by their public statements as well as basically running some shoddy investigations. If you look at the House Intelligence Committee and their investigation, it was basically an effort to cover up whatever this presidency did. They didn't call the proper witnesses. They didn't subpoena the proper documents. They didn't put people under oath.

So, this whole thing is for them to try to, I would say, recast their part in basically allowing this presidency and the Republican administration led by Paul Ryan to undermine this investigation the whole way.

[20:10:05] BERMAN: And on their way out the door, as part of this six-page letter, one of the main points is they think there should be an additional special counsel brought on to investigate James Comey's investigation of Hillary Clinton. What's your reaction?

GALLEGO: This is just pure obsession by, you know, these Republicans. Hillary Clinton is no longer a presidential candidate. The president is Donald Trump. He has clearly done some levels of violation that should be investigated. They need to get over it. Hillary Clinton is not your president. She's not the person that should be investigated. The collusion, the crimes that have occurred have occurred under this administration. It's time to look into and see what happened instead of trying to dodge it and distract by throwing Hillary Clinton out there.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, the investigation is in collusion. There's been no conclusion on collusion just yet. But I appreciate your point.

Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you so much for joining us. Have a very happy New Year.

GALLEGO: Thank you. Happy New Year.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

Joining us now, "USA Today" columnist, Kirsten Powers, former Republican Party chief of staff, Mike Shields, and "New York Times" White House correspondent Michael Shear. He and Kirsten were CNN political analyst, and Mike is a CNN political commentator.

And, Kirsten, I want start with you. This is a question I asked Congressman Gallego.

What do you make of the president's threats to close the southern border and cut off aid to the Central American countries? Are these things that he can do? Are these threats that we should take seriously? Is this just as we suggested at the top, just venting at the wall?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, he is the president. When he says something, I think we should take it seriously. I think there's been plenty of things that people have shrugged off that he ends up following through on.

So, I think he is making some pretty dangerous threats, in particular in terms of shutting down the border, which would have the potential of throwing us into a recession. It would have a very serious impact on businesses. It could drive people out of business.

You know, these are very serious issues. We have a shutdown in the middle of the holiday season. People aren't getting paychecks. These are real ramifications for his decision to go forward and insist on the Democrats funding this wall, which let's remember, I bring this up every time I'm on, his campaign promise was not just to build a wall, it was that Mexico was going to pay for it.

So, this temper tantrum is because he hasn't been able to get his campaign promise done the way he said he would.

BERMAN: The $5 billion is an appropriation from the U.S. government, not from Mexico to be clear what he is asking for right now.

Mike Shields, the number two House Democrat, who will be the majority leader, he told CBS news that the president's threats are a tantrum and the president needs to come to grips with the fact he is not a dictator. Your reaction to that?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: Look, the president is a negotiator. Hi he is most comfortable when he is in negotiations. If you read "The Art of the Deal", you learned a lot about President Trump, that's how he sees himself. That's the place he always wants to be.

And shutdowns are really messaging wars about a negotiation, right? So, you need to negotiate with Congress. The government shuts down, and it's all about winning a public communication fight. I used to work for Newt Gingrich in the '90s. The government shut down for a month in 1995. The Congress passed a funding bill. The president didn't think it paid for enough for his priorities. He said he wouldn't sign it and the government shut down.

We have the exact same thing happening. The Congress is going to pass something. The president wants more funding. He is messaging.

So, he's going to be -- tomorrow, he will say something else. He will threaten something else. It's part of the negotiation.

BERMAN: It's only a negotiating tactic if people take your threat seriously. I bring up that because the NAFTA thing, which is really just apples and oranges, bringing up NAFTA and trade with Mexico, and the idea of funding for the border wall, so when he says something like that, I don't see how it brings him closer to making a deal. I also wonder, if he may land Nancy Pelosi an early win when she takes over the speakership on January 3rd.

SHEILDS: Well, some people may not realize, the Trump administration actually just sent $10 billion of aid down to Central America and Southern Mexico. So, when he is saying we cut off aid, I'm going to stop the aid I just promised, he is now talking about shutting the border, tomorrow he will say something else, he is trying to win a public war.

And I think in the end, the end game for him is, he wants his base to understand that the Democrats -- he wanted do this and the Democrats wouldn't let him do it. It's their fault.

BERMAN: Michael, I want to ask you, where do you think Nancy Pelosi is on this today? Do you think she has any incentive to budge before Thursday when she takes over and even after Thursday when she takes over?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: No. Not at all. I mean, I think certainly between now and January 3rd, there's absolutely no incentive for the Democrats to budge at all. There's no daylight between the Democrats in the Senate and House, regardless of the fact that the president and the White House want to make it seem that way.

Look, I think Mike is right.

[20:15:01] This at the end of the day is a public relations effort. And both sides are trying to spin the ultimate outcome of who gets blamed for this. I think one of the things that's characterized this White House, Mike talked about President Trump is a negotiator. One of the problems that lawmakers on both sides have had with this president and this White House is not knowing who speaks for the White House and what the message is on the other side.

You have an example of that the last couple of days where yesterday you had Sarah Sanders putting out a statement that admittedly was tough and saying, you know, we're not going to budge on border security. The whole statement didn't even mention the wall. It literally never mentioned the word wall. You could imagine that you could read that as saying, maybe there's some wiggle room there. Maybe the president is moving off the demand for the wall.

And then moments later, he tweets about the wall. So, you just -- you don't know. And Nancy Pelosi and the Republicans in the Congress don't know where the president is, where the White House is. That's making everything more difficult.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to pick this up in just a minute. We're going to take a quick break. We want an update from Capitol Hill, and on that note that Michael just made about Nancy Pelosi, about where lawmakers stand tonight.

And, later, as part of a special report on the Mueller investigation, a closer look at how some of the people closest to the president are now facing intense scrutiny over their roles in the presidential transition.


[20:20:24] BERMAN: We are talking about President Trump's threat to shut down the U.S. southern border if he doesn't get funding for his wall and legislation to end the government shutdown. The ball, says one Senate Democrat, is in his, meaning the president's, court. This is a shutdown, remember, that he once seemed eager for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I will tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.

I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work. I will take the mantle for shutting down. And I'm going to shut it down for border security.


BERMAN: So, lately, as you have seen, he has been trying to bestow the mantle on Democrats. This evening, on "THE SITUATION ROOM", outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake was asked whether he thought the president was still, in fact, responsible.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Any time that you stand and say, I own the shutdown, then you own it. I mean, politics, shutdown 101 tells you, shift the blame if you can. When the president immediately said, I will take the blame, then he's got it. That's why the Democrats have felt no need to really come to the negotiating table. So, I think the president -- he said he would own it and he does.


BERMAN: Senator Flake also said he thinks the shutdown could stretch into the middle of next month.

More now in the negotiations and the politics surrounding it from CNN's Phil Mattingly. He was at the Capitol for us.

So, Phil, I'm almost hesitant to ask, because I can actually see and not for first time this week how empty it is where you are. But what's the latest on any potential progress?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not a lot going on up here, John. Look, the reality is this. Both sides remain entrenched in their position. Democrats have made clear they will accept no more than $1.3 billion in border security funding. No money for the wall, and all the president has made clear he wants money for the wall.

John, to take you behind the scenes, there's nothing happening behind the scenes. I'm told there have been no proposals traded over the last couple days. There have been limited communications. A lot of staff who are known to be talented and people who can thread the needle out of these types of situations, they didn't come to work today because they recognize, A, their bosses were out of town and, B, it's going to take a while to figure this out.

At this point, John, everybody is really not just looking forward to 2019, but looking forward to the point where Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the house. That's where you will see the next legislative action. That's where House Democrats will move immediately to send bills to reopen the government over to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already burned once by the president when the Senate passed a bill to reopen the government, has made clear he's not going to move forward on anything until the president signs off on it. That means whatever Nancy Pelosi sends over doesn't mean the end to this, it just means the next step in a battle that could actually last, at this point, John, weeks.

BERMAN: I love going behind the scenes only to find out there's nothing happening behind the scenes.

As you have been speaking to staffers, who are they pointing to as potential triggers that might be able to break the stalemate?

MATTINGLY: I think it's an important point. What gets people off of their current positions? And often, to be frank, in shutdown, it's pain. It's pain that their constituents feel. It's pain that organizations that they care deeply about, that are in the states or in the districts feel. And those are the things that kind of severely that haven't necessarily taken affect yet because of the holidays, because of the change in Congress, because of the current paycheck schedule.

Here's where that's going to start to change. On January 11, that will be the first time the 800,000 federal workers who either furloughed or not working or working without pay will not receive their paychecks. That's real impact on real people and it's not just in Washington, D.C. or northern Virginia. It's around the country. So, there's one.

Another one to keep a very close eye on, while the Pentagon is funded, the Coast Guard is actually under the Department of Homeland Security. That's 40,000 Coast Guard employees, a branch of the military that are currently working without pay. That matters to lawmakers.

You have issues like that throughout the course of the real live effects, the real live impact of this. John, you could look earlier today at the office of personnel management putting out form letters for federal workers to try to negotiate down their rent payments, negotiate down their mortgage payments. This will have a real live impact. And that spills over into lawmakers.

Will that change the primary dynamic where the president stands? That's an open question. But those are the types of things that could contribute to something coming together. It's just a matter of when and frankly how deep that pain is going to get, John.

BERMAN: We are waiting. Eight hundred thousand federal workers waiting as well.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. If anyone deserves a peaceful weekend, it's probably you.


BERMAN: Back now with Kirsten Powers, Mike Shields and Michael Shear. Mike, I want to start with you. You say this is a negotiation that

the president is in the middle of now.

[20:25:03] In this negotiation, does he need to give the Democrats something they want? And what would that be?

SHIELDS: Well, first of all, I want to go back to the Chuck Schumer thing that you showed on there. It's an important point. Jeff Flake saying the president owns the shutdown.

Again, going back to my example, I worked for Newt Gingrich in the '90s. By all accounts, Newt lost the shutdown fight with Bill Clinton, so he lost the battle. But he won the war. Long term, President Bill Clinton was forced to sign a balanced budget. Republicans won the messaging war with the people and he had to come to the table and eventually in the second term signed the balanced budget.

I think what President Trump is negotiating for here is a long-term win. He's not going to win the short term battle. The government is eventually going to open and he's not going to get everything he wants. But he is trying to go into 2020 having shown Democrats are not serious about border security. Every day that the two sides message on this, that gets further and further implanted in American's minds.

And we just heard the tragic news tonight that a California highway patrolman was murdered by an illegal immigrant. And those types of things are what are going to impact 2020. And so, President Trump is playing the long game with this negotiation.

I don't know what he can give or how they can come to the table. Democrats -- the base of the Democratic Party won't let them do anything with President Trump I think at this point.

BERMAN: Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton who won the war here, Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996.

SHIELDS: The policy war -- Republicans won the policy war.


BERMAN: Many people look back to the shutdown, that's something that gave him a boost in that.

Kirsten, another aspect of this, Mike just brought up Chuck Schumer. I'm fascinated by why the White House is so aggressively

pushing the narrative that maybe Chuck is willing to deal here, but not Nancy Pelosi. She is the one holding this up right now. What do you think the White House gets out of that very aggressive spin?

POWERS: Well, it's not true, first of all. The reason that they're doing that -- I don't want to call it spin. They're making up things. They're lying.

So, I think that they're doing this because they are still holding on to this idea that by demonizing Nancy Pelosi, this powerful woman in the Democratic Party, and in the country, that that will help them. I guess it makes their base happy, but they did this during the last midterm election and it didn't work out very well for them.

I think that this is something that's just an old trick that they keep coming back to that they think they can try and demonize her and make her the person who is the problem, that's not willing to deal, when that's just not what happened. The Democrats are completely united in opposition to the wall, because it's a stupid idea and it's too expensive. It doesn't have that much support.

So, I think that, yes, they're trying to spin. I want to address this idea that the president is negotiating, as we keep hearing. Negotiations involve a give and take and a back and forth between people. They typically involve giving up something.

That's not what he is doing. He is just flailing and throwing a temper tantrum and making outlandish threats. That's not negotiating, because it's not getting anybody any closer --

SHIELDS: No, you have to create a position to negotiate.

BERMAN: Hang on, Mike Shields. I want to let Michael Shear jump in here.

Michael, how long do you think this goes on at this point? Give us the final word on, is this just destined to be President Trump's shutdown, given he took credit for it?

SHEAR: Look, I think it's clear that it could go on for weeks. There's no easy way that it ends. One possibility is that President Trump could simply declare that the wall is being built and declare that he doesn't need the money in the first place and sort of move on. That would be sort of a declare victory and you can get out of the situation.

But I don't -- look, I think that it's also possible that both sides continue to dig in. There's no obvious negotiation that's going on, as Kirsten just said, and we could be here in mid-January heading in February, heading towards the State of the Union speech with no resolution.

BERMAN: Yes, from New Year's to Valentine's Day.

All right, guys. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it so much. Kirsten Powers, Mike Shields, Michael Shear, thank you.

Secrets, lies and thousands of e-mails. Donald Trump waited to become president. Will his transition team's dealing with Russia face new heat from the Mueller probe? A long time Republican White House insider joins me next.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's one-time point man on national security is now simply hoping to get permission to travel to Rhode Island. Asking a judge for basic freedom is part of Michael Flynn's new life as he awaits sentencing in the Russia probe after taking a plea deal.

Meanwhile, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is not charged with any crime. So he was free to travel to Mar-a-Lago for Christmas. But as we head into 2018, both men remain on Robert Mueller's radar. Tonight, Randi Kaye continues a special series exploring the controversy that surrounds the White House, including the presidential transition.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robert Mueller has his hands on tens of thousands of private e-mails between Trump transition team members. Part of the ongoing criminal investigation into the weeks following the election.

Under particular scrutiny, a meeting during the transition on December 1st, 2016, puts Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and General Michael Flynn, his soon to be national security adviser, together in a room at Trump Tower with a Russian ambassador who has long been considered a spy. Kushner asked then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about establishing secure lines of communication with Moscow, what some have called a back channel.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.

KAYE: Kushner told a congressional committee that he asked if they had an existing communication channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.

Later in December, Jared Kushner and another questionable meeting, this time with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov who had ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. What was discussed remains a mystery. But at the time, Kushner was still CEO of Kushner Companies, which was trying to attract financing for a building project in Manhattan. Still, the White House says there was no discussion at the meeting about Kushner's company or sanctions.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: My dashboard warning light was clearly on. And I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence committee.

KAYE: In a statement about the Gorkov meeting, Kushner said there were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate project, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.

[20:35:04] Around Christmas in 2016, General Flynn spoke again with Ambassador Kislyak by phone. A call the White House did not acknowledge until a month later, saying Flynn was only offering his condolences after the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Christmas Day, General Flynn reached out to the ambassador, sent him a text. And it said, you know, I want to wish you and -- a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

KAYE: Flynn was fired in early 2017 after misleading the vice- president and others about the substance of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador. Turns out, Flynn discussed sanctions, a potential violation of federal law. Flynn later wrote this letter of resignation, explaining he'd inadvertently briefed the vice-president and others with incomplete information. Perhaps Robert Mueller will find more answers in all those transition team e-mails now in his possession.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: So if you're a Kushner considered it a very unique campaign, how unique was the transition team's behavior? I spoke earlier with Anita McBride, a former chief of staff to then first lady Laura Bush. She also served under the last three Republican presidents.


BERMAN: So, Anita, you've served on three different presidential transition teams.


BERMAN: What's the normal amount of contact between the transition and representatives from other countries?

MCBRIDE: Well, you know, typically the golden rule that applies during presidential transitions is there's one president at any time. And particularly when it does come to relationships with foreign countries or foreign delegations that there is, you know, a procedure or process, you know, that is followed.

Now, it's not difficult to imagine and to expect that a presidential candidate or people from their team would encounter a foreign ambassador to this country. I mean they all come to the conventions, both conventions. And so they do hear from representatives of campaigns and later from transitions. But it's in a very general sense. And it's certainly not making decisions or any promises on any future policies.

BERMAN: So the meetings that take place in a transition between representatives of foreign countries and people within that transition, they're supposed to be general, congratulations, hey, how are you doing, not supposed to be making policy?

MCBRIDE: Correct. I mean yes, that's absolutely true. And also, you know, it's well-known what the policy positions are of a candidate. And certainly, foreign countries are following that very closely. The most important thing is they're eager to at least establish a contact, a relationship, just even a meeting face to face. But really the context of the conversations are very general or should be.

BERMAN: And any meetings that get beyond general would have to be run by the current or outgoing administration?

MCBRIDE: Absolutely. I mean there is -- the rule of thumb honestly -- now the gold standard for transitions now is the one in 2008 between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I mean that really set the standard for relationships, conversations between an outgoing administration and an incoming.

There always were, obviously, presidential transition processes before that, John. But honestly, the first post-911 transition in 2009 set a different standard on how the outgoing and incoming administrations have regular contact with each other and work very closely with each other so there is a seamless transition on day one.

BERMAN: So we've heard this on many different subjects. But people associated with Donald Trump, many of them not professional politicians. They didn't have a lot of experience in government. Is that enough of an excuse here? Maybe ignorance. They didn't know better.

MCBRIDE: Well, listen, it may be an explanation. But I wouldn't say it's an excuse. I think at the end of the day, what we're talking about is the -- our government and how our government operates and the very serious discussions that a president has to make at like 12:01 after they are, you know, sworn in. And it's serious business.

And I understand there are new people in the process. But there also were people working on the Trump transition who had been involved in other transitions. So I think that it's an explanation, but not an excuse.

BERMAN: Anita McBride, always great to see you. Thanks so much.

MCBRIDE: Thank you, John.


BERMAN: Up next, what a naked selfie has to do with the Mueller investigation. Plus, new insight on the special counsel from some folks who have known him for decades.

[20:40:03] And a reminder, this New Year's Day at 9:00 p.m. on CNN, don't miss the incredible story of comedy great Gilda Radner. Here's a preview of the CNN films, "Love Gilda".


GILDA RADNER, COMEDIAN & ACTRESS: Hi. I'm Gilda Radner. And -- OK. Now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People want to know what made you funny. RADNER: From the time I was a kid, I loved to pretend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the very first performer chosen for the cast of "Saturday Night Live."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They loved her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I basically stole all of my characters from Gilda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can do almost anything if people are laughing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda was just not quite herself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One morning she just said, I don't know what's wrong with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The comedian gets the most unfunny thing in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She felt that she could be of help. And that's exactly what she did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How often do we get to know exactly how brave we are?

RADNER: I always felt that my comedy was just to make things be all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Love Gilda," New Year's Day, at 9:00 p.m.


BERMAN: The news tonight that House Republicans want further investigation of the early Russia probe probably comes as no surprise to Robert Mueller, not that we would know because the special counsel's office doesn't say much and leaks even less.

[20:45:05] We only learn about his efforts in court filings. And this one is a doozy. It's from lawyers for a Russian company. And one item at the center of it is a selfie. A nude selfie. The company accused of taking part in efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential election claims the risky photo was confiscated by the Mueller team along with a lot of other data. But it won't reveal who is in the photo.

This is just the latest court drama for Mueller who first took control of the Russia probe back in May of 2017. So far, four people have been sentenced to prison, one person was convicted at trial, seven had pleaded guilty and 36 people or entities have been charged. And one man, Robert Mueller, is under the microscope himself. Here is CNN's Gloria Borger.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Special counsel Robert Mueller is a mystery man. Perhaps the most private public figure in Washington. But as the leader of the Russia investigation, he and his team have become a political pinata after squeezing indictments, jail time and plea deals from former Trump advisers, including the president's ex-fixer now singing and facing prison and his ex-campaign chair now indicted and accused of lying.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There should have never been any Mueller investigation because there was never anything done wrong. There was no collusion. There never has been.

BORGER: It's been a frame job says one of his lawyers.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRES. TRUMP: They are a group of 13 highly partisan Democrats that make up the Mueller team, excluding him, are trying very, very hard to frame him.

BORGER: An angry president fired his attorney general and hired someone more to his liking on the investigation. And now delights in calling Mueller a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue. It's hard to remember that at the start --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's the right guy at the right time.

BORGER: Mueller was a bipartisan favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have been on anybody's list of let's say the top five people in the country to have, you know, taken on this kind of a responsibility.

BORGER: The resume is long. At 74, he's been involved for decades in some of the Justice Department's most celebrated cases. Mobster John Gotti, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and the Pan Am 103 bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. A case that still remains personal.

ROBERT MULLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'll never forget the visit I made to Lockerbie where I saw the small wooden warehouse in which were stored the various affects of your loved ones. A white sneaker. A syracuse sweatshirt. Christmas presents and photographs.

GARETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, THE TREATH MATRIX: He's been effectively the same Bob Mueller in every place he has ever worked. Whether that was the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco in the 1970s, whether that was the George H.W. Bush administration in the 1980s, whether that was the D.C homicide prosecutor's office in the 1990s or the FBI in the 2000s.

He is a hard driving, he's tenacious, he is incredibly thorough and has a very strong sense of right or wrong.

BORGER: A registered Republican but it's hard to tell.

PHILL MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENECE ADVISER: Four and a half years or whatever, 2000 meetings, I didn't say hear him say anything political.

BORGER (on-camera): Really in Washington? MUDD: Yes, I know that sounds weird. He might have said that guy's a jerk. I didn't see it as a partisan issue.

BORGER: How would you describe his politics?


BORGER: As in there are none?

MONACO: He's apolitical. He's nonpartisan. He is, I -- sorry, I think he's become quite clear, a pretty law and order guy. But he doesn't speak of things in political terms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

BORGER (voice-over): Which is partly why President Bush picked him to run the FBI in 2001.

GEORGE BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The FBI must remain independent of politics and uncompromising in its mission.

BORGER (voice-over): Mueller arrived at the FBI just seven days before 9/11. He served most of his term under Bush. And when President Obama asked him to stay for two more years, it required an act of Congress the Senate approved 100-0. His M.O., abide the book's guide even after hours.

MUDD: People told me after that Christmas party, while we're going to the director's house, the guy who never really interacts with us, that at the end of the party that he would flick the lights. So, it's going to 7:09, at 9:03, it's like, well, on the invitation, 7:09 it's 9:03 lights on, that's kind of a signal.

BORGER: Married for 50 years to a former teacher, the father of two daughters. There still wasn't much small talk about family at work -- a literally buttoned-up and buttoned-down boss.

MUDD: I remember telling him, director you wear a white button-down shirt every day. Can you wear like tattered or something?

[20:50:02] GRAFF: I asked him finally years after he had been director, you know, what was the deal with the white shirts when you were at the FBI? He said, I understood I was leading the FBI through a wrenching period of change.

I wanted to wear the white shirt because I wanted the other FBI agents to be able to know that this was still the agency that they had signed up to join.

BORGER: His dress code as unforgiving as his work ethic.

MONACO: He was in the office between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning, and he would always plop his briefcase down on the chair, opposite my desk, not to sit down and keep a tour or a shoot the breeze. Immediately what's happening, what's going on? MUDD: There's not a lot of back and forth. Very quickly you're going to go through the details of the case.

BORGER (on-camera): Would you assume that he is managing the special counsel investigation the same way?

MUDD: No, heck yes. I wouldn't assume it. That is his -- it's not like a professional twist, that's his DNA. What's going on today? What do you got? What do you got? What do you got?

I don't want to hear a lot of noise. I want to hear what the facts are. Let's talk about it. What's your judgment? What do you think? OK. Next, there's the decision, let's move on. Let's go. I never saw any curiousness or nervousness ever, ever, ever.

BORGER: Ever, never?

MUDD: Never.

BORGER (voice-over): Mueller grew up in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs and attended an elite boarding school, a classmate of John Kerry, then to Princeton. But the combat death of classmate David Hackett in Vietnam inspired Mueller to join the marines.

GRAFF: He was wounded in combat, shot through the leg, received bronze star with valor, Purple Heart and, you know, goes right back in the fight a couple of weeks later.

MUELLER: In some sense you feel that you have been given a second lease on life and you want to make the most of it to contribute in some way.

BORGER: After graduating the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller soon found his way to the Department of Justice and remained there for most of the next four decades.

MUELLER: My colleagues here at the Department of Justice passed --

BORGER: With two short breaks to give private practice a try.

GRAFF: Bob Mueller has been notoriously unhappy every time he has tried to be in private practice. He just can't defend guilty people. They'll meet with a client, they'll explain his problem, and he'll say, well, it sounds like you should go to jail then. You know, that --

BORGER (on camera): So he'll tell his client --

GRAFF: It sounds like you're guilty. Bob Mueller is someone who sees the world in very black and white terms.


BERMAN: Robert Mueller also has a history with James Comey, both are former FBI directors and both have connections to a confrontation in a Washington hospital. The details in more insight on special counsel Mueller in part two of Gloria's report when "360" continues.


[20:57:02] BERMAN: More now on special counsel Robert Mueller. When the Democrats take control of the House next week, they plan to pursue a bill to protect him from interference and are seeking lawyers and staffers for their own investigations in the Trump administration.

The president as you well know is no fan of Robert Mueller's, nor of James Comey whom he fired. What you might not know is the history and national drama that Mueller and Comey share. With that and more on the special counsel, here again is Gloria Borger.


BORGER (voice-over): By 2004 Mueller was running the FBI when his phone rang. It was James Comey, then Deputy Attorney General. It was the first time Mueller and Comey would find themselves in a very controversial legal drama.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was very upset. I was angry.

BORGER: Comey was worried the Bush administration was determined to keep a warrant less eavesdropping program that Mueller, Comey and their boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft thought was illegal. But Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery leaving Comey in charge.

COMEY: I was concerned that given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. Called Director Mueller, had been a great help to me over that week, and told him what was happening. He said, Ill meet you at the hospital right now.

BORGER: They had to literally race administration officials to Ashcroft's bedside.

COMEY: Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.

BORGER: In the end, Ashcroft backed Comey and Mueller.

GRAFF: He enlisted Bob Mueller because he knew that Bob Mueller had this incredible nonpartisan reputation in Washington, while Comey might be able to be personally blamed for having political motives or thinking politics, no one was going to be able to attach that label to Bob Mueller.

BORGER: That was then. Now Trump compares Mueller to Joe McCarthy and a Trump ally wars there's trouble ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the report is going to be devastating to the president.

BORGER: After months of haggling, team Trump has provided written answers to Mueller's questions on collusion and is convinced Trump's problems will be more political than legal.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury, as it should be, is the American people.

BORGER: Now that jury awaits Mueller, who is already letting his work speaks for itself as his office wrote to the court recently, senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards.

GRAFF: Bob Mueller believes in American institutions. So I think he wants to set the institutions up to make the best decisions that they can.


BERMAN: Stay with CNN for all the latest developments in the Mueller investigation. We have a big night ahead. A CNN Special Report "All the Best, All the Worst 2018," it's a good one, I make a cambio, it starts right now.