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Romney Blasts President Trump For Not Rising To The "Mantle Of The Office," Doubles Down In New Interview; Source: President Trump Told Schumer He Would "Look Foolish" If He Accepted Dems' Proposal To End Government Shutdown; President Trump Will Keep Government Shutdown For "As Long As It Takes," No Breakthrough In New Talks With Congressional Leaders; President Trump Has Six Top Positions To Fill In Administration; Michigan Man Jailed In Russia On Spying Charges; Trash And Other Concerns At National Parks, Museums Closed. Aired 9- 10p ET

Aired January 2, 2019 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mitt Romney is the incoming freshman senator now from Utah. He heralded his arrival with a critical op-ed in "The Washington Post" saying that President Trump, I'm quoting, "conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the President has not risen to the mantle of the office." Here's what the President said about it in his Cabinet meeting today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish Mitt could be more of a team player, you know? I'm surprised he did it this quickly. I was expecting something, but I'm surprised he did it this quickly.


COOPER: A short time later, Senator-elect Romney spoke with "THE LEAD'S" Jake Tapper who wanted to know just how far he would take any opposition to the sitting President because there's a lot to talk about later. We're first playing an extended portion of the interview. It's about three minutes. Take a look.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Is there any chance that you might emerge as an alternative to President Trump and run against him for president in the primaries in 2020?

MITT ROMNEY (R), SENATOR-ELECT, UTAH: No, you may have heard I ran before. I've had that experience. And, by the way, I acknowledge that President was successful and I was not. He did something I couldn't do. He won. And I recognize that and appreciate that. But, no, I'm not running again. And we'll see whether someone else does in a Republican primary or not, but time will tell.

TAPPER: You said in March of 2016 -- because there was a whole big thing in 2012, kids out there might not remember this, but when you ran for president, Donald Trump wanted to endorse you, you wanted him to endorse you and there was an event in Las Vegas and you accepted his endorsement.

And then in March 2016 you wrote in the tweet, "If Trump had said four years ago the things he says about the Klan, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would not have accepted his endorsement."

Now, some people point out, OK, he hadn't said those things, but he was the nation's leading birther pushing the lie that Barack Obama, the first African-American president, was born in Africa, again, a lie. And you accepted his endorsement even though that was his political claim to fame. Was that a mistake?

ROMNEY: You know, I'm sure I've made a lot of mistakes --

TAPPER: Is that one of them?

ROMNEY: -- and I'll let the people make the assessment of which things were mistakes and not. But when the President of the United States, frankly of either party, were to say, I'm endorsing your candidacy, I think you'd say thank you very much. But I pointed out I think pretty consistently throughout the years the places where I disagreed with candidate Donald Trump and now President Trump and I'll continue to do so.

TAPPER: If there is a moment, if you want the Mueller protection bill to be voted on, if you want sanctions against Russia passed --

ROMNEY: Well, you look at items that you actually think are right as opposed to things that are just symbolic or punitive to the President. There's no reason to poke anybody, Republican or Democrat, in the eye just to make a statement.

We're in Washington, after all, to try to make a difference for the American people and just doing things symbolically that will hurt someone that you're opposed to doesn't make any sense in my opinion. I can express my viewpoints. But if there are places that the President wants one thing and I think that's wrong, I'll vote with my conscience, not with his.

TAPPER: We're in the middle of a government shutdown right now. President Trump is insisting on $5.6 billion for a border wall, Democrats are refusing to give it to him. Tomorrow Democrats in the House are going to offer a clean government funding bill, $1.3 billion for border security, not for the wall. The shutdown is now in the 12th day, nearly a million federal workers going without pay. Do you want the House bill to go to the floor of the Senate so you can vote on it? What's the path out of this?

ROMNEY: Well, there's the substance and then there's the symbolism. And clearly if the President were able to get a $5 billion check to build the wall, that would look like a huge win for Republicans and a big loss for Democrats. And it's very hard to get Democrats to vote for something like that.

So there has to be some kind of deal done where the Democrats get something and the Republicans get something. That's the way things are done in Washington, at least that's what I have read.


COOPER: Mr. Romney goes to Washington. It's just the latest in the complicated recent history that he and the President share. More on that right now from our Gary Tuchman.


TRUMP: It's my honor, real honor, and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump back in 2012, pledging his support for then presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also had praise for Trump.

ROMNEY: Being in Donald Trump's magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight.

TUCHMAN: But the alliance did not last long. After Romney lost the election to President Barack Obama, Trump blamed Romney for not using him more during the campaign and said Romney never connected with the people. And the Romney bashing continued as Trump considered his own presidential run.

TRUMP: The Republicans cannot be so stupid as to give him a second crack, because honestly, he choked.

TUCHMAN: When Donald Trump entered the race, Romney was quick to criticize Trump's comments on Mexicans, illegal immigration, John McCain, and his unreleased tax returns. Trump fired right back, calling Romney on Twitter, one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.

ROMNEY: Dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark.

TUCHMAN: In March 2016, Romney unleashed his strongest words yet on Trump's candidacy.

[21:05:02] ROMNEY: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.

TUCHMAN: Romney said publicly he'd vote for Senator Ted Cruz in the primary and later revealed he didn't vote for Donald Trump in the general election either. But Romney did offer an olive branch, tweeting best wishes to Trump after the election.

That same month as Trump began shaping his Cabinet, Romney was spotted at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you foresee a Cabinet position for the Governor, Mr. President-elect?

TUCHMAN: And later seen at a private dinner with Trump and his incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in New York City.

ROMNEY: These discussions with that -- with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I've enjoyed them very, very much. It's not easy when I know that myself. He did something I tried to do and was unsuccessful in accomplishing. He won the general election.

TUCHMAN: Trump was considering Romney for Secretary of State, but later gave that job to Rex Tillerson.

In February 2018, Romney announced he would run for the open Utah Senate seat. Despite their history, President Trump again endorsed Romney, who tweeted back a thank you. And true to their history, the same thaw in the relationship would not last for long.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Houston.


COOPER: Well, as we said, plenty to talk about. Joining us is former Romney Campaign Spokesman, Kevin Madden, and also CNN Political Commentator Ryan Lizza, Chief Political Correspondent for Esquire magazine.

So, Kevin, you worked for then presidential-candidate Romney. Are you surprised that he chose to take such a public preemptive stand against the President before he even takes a seat in the Senate?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not surprised in what was in the actual op-ed. I think if you look at -- when I was reading parts of it, it felt like some of it was from a stump speech in 2008 campaign and his 2012 campaign, and then the parts about that were attacking the President's character seemed to be lifted almost from the 2016 speech that he gave to the Hinckley school out in Utah.

But I was surprised by the timing here on the eve of being sworn in that he would begin to define his Senate tenure through the lens of his opposition to President Trump given that he spent the last six months of this -- of the campaign running in Utah talking about -- to Utahns about why he should be their ambassador to Washington, why he should be their senator.

So, I think when you want -- try to focus on local issues, try not to define his candidacy and his Senate tenure through opposition to Trump and then on day one sort of started this entire news cycle dedicate today that.

COOPER: So why do it now? I mean, you said the timing surprises you.

MADDEN: You know, I was -- I had that question mark as well when I first read the op-ed. And then when I watched the Jake Tapper interview, I think he laid it out pretty clearly and pretty succinctly, which is that we're starting this new job.

He wanted people to know exactly where he stands given there will be flash points on policy and I think on just stylistic approach that the President has where he's going to differ with him and he's going to need to criticize them and to sort of frame it on his terms from the very beginning.

COOPER: Ryan, does that make sense to you? I mean, why -- I understand what Kevin is saying. He could have also waited until there was an issue in which he had a particular disagreement with and then made a public stand. Why do you think he did it?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, because Kevin laid it out very well. He did a complete 180 here. If you followed his campaign out in Utah, all of us in Washington and on the he East Coast, we were seeing Romney as the anti-Trump candidate calling him the guy who is going to come to Washington and lead the never-Trump resistance.

In Utah, that is not how Romney was running his campaign. He was resisting that label to a certain extent. He was talking about local Utah issues. Day before he gets sworn in, in Washington, he goes to "The Washington Post," does an interview on CNN, he is now defining himself in the capital as the leader of what's left of the Never Trump movement.

And so why? Why is he making a big splashy debut with this as his identity?

I think, one, he believes it. He has watched the last two years and been disappointed and he thinks that character does matter and moral leadership matters from the White House and he has big disagreements on the recent moves in the Middle East that Trump has made. But I think that one other thing going on here is he's placing a bet that either with the Mueller investigation or the House investigations coming from Democrats, that Trump may be not the leader of the Republican Party in the near to medium term.

And if that happens, I think he wants to set himself up as the person who takes advantage of that fall. I think he's thinking about impeachment. I think he's thinking about possible resignation, all of those kinds of, you know, scenarios that we've talked about as these investigations have swirled around the White House.

[21:10:05] COOPER: Kevin, what about that? I mean, it's kind of -- you could say it's a win/win for Romney. I mean, what has he got to lose? It's not as if, you know, he's standing -- he seems to be standing by his principles or his believes about the President's character. He's got, you know, he's an elected senator.

He's got six years in office who should be, you know, and he's got all the money he will every need to have, so why not just speak his mind? And if it turns out the President implodes somehow or, you know, doesn't seek reelection, he's set himself up as an independent voice.

MADDEN: Yes, I would disagree that he is that calculating. And that any of this is geared toward somehow be taking over as the Tischler (ph) head of the Republican Party or even another run at the presidency were something -- were Donald Trump's political fortunes to change. Look --

COOPER: Aren't all politicians that calculating?

MADDEN: Well, look, from my experience working for Mitt Romney, you know, we're waking up every day for 6.5 years trying to help get him elected, the answer is no, he's not as calculating. And he is driven by the principles that he does argue about in the piece.

But here is what I think we have to look for next, which is, look, he gave the speech in 2016, and it really wasn't followed up with a whole lot of effort to really stop Trump in a structural way by either endorsing one of the other candidates or getting his very well funded finance network to shift money towards one of the other candidates and stop Trump in a place like New Hampshire. He didn't do that.

He gave a speech and it didn't really alter the trajectory of the race or change anything. The question now is, is this just an op-ed that lies on its own or is there another move by Governor Romney, now Senator Romney? It's going to be hard for me to change that.

But does he start to work with other senators in a way that, you know, builds legislative coalitions to try and get the White House to chart a different course on policy or to chart a different course on the President's approach? That will be the real next test for Senator Romney.

COOPER: Ryan, do you see him taking another step or seeing how this plays out and then, you know --

LIZZA: He's kind of the only game in town now in Washington. All of the, you know, well-known anti-Trump Republicans are -- have either retired or defeated or in the case of John McCain, passed away. I mean, the last two years, that entire faction in the Republican Party has really just --

COOPER: Who is he going to get to sit within the cafeteria?

LIZZA: Exactly. That's not like he's beloved by Democrats. So, you know, he's going to find it's a lonely place to be, you know, as Bob Corker and Jeff Flake have. And all of us in the media, every time Trump does something that seem to violate one of those principles that he laid out in that op-ed, we're going to go to him and ask him for his comment. So he has crowned himself the leader of the never-Trump Republicans and he's not going to be able to take that crown away.

MADDEN: And Ryan makes a good point. I mean, that was one of the things that I think stuck out in the op-ed where he said, "I'm not going to, you know, respond to every single tweet or every single statement."

COOPER: Right.

MADDEN: Fat chance, like he is going to have to respond to every single tweet now and every single statement.

COOPER: Maybe he'll be eating lunch with the teachers in the teacher's cafeteria. Kevin Madden, Ryan Lizza, thanks very much. Coming up next, the shutdown, the standoff on the wall that President Trump first said that Mexico will pay for and Mexico has already paid for, now says is already built. We'll keeping them honest on that. And later, my conversation with the twin brother of an American now being held on espionage charges with no explanation in Russia.


[21:17:20] COOPER: Well, there is, as you know, standoff between the President, Democrats and Congress over a deal to end the government shutdown. The President saying he can't accept the Democrats' offer to reopen the government because he, and I'm quoting here, "would look foolish if I did that."

The sticking point is money for a wall or steel slats or whatever you want to call it that the President wants on the border with Mexico, which is odd, because keeping them honest, funding wasn't supposed to be a problem.


TRUMP: I promise, we will build the wall.

And who is going to pay for the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.

TRUMP: Who is going to pay for the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.

TRUMP: It will be a great wall.

Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Mexico will pay for the wall.


COOPER: All right. So, Mexico isn't paying that way. Now as the President explains most recently on Twitter, Mexico is really paying this way, and I'm quoting now, "Mexico is paying for the wall through the new USMCA trade deal. Much of the wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work. $5.6 billion that House has approved is very little in comparison to the benefits of national security, quick pay back."

Now keeping them honest, it's kind of like saying you don't have to pay your taxes because you had a good day at the race track or something random like that. The budget process does not work like that. Congress has to earmark funding and authorize spending. In any case, what's all the money needed for if, as the President says, much of the wall has already been fully renovated or built?

Keeping them honest, to the extent that you believe the kind of wall the President wants is necessary, the money would be needed because none of what the President said there is actually true.

In 2017, when the President first erroneously claimed that construction was well underway on a new border wall, we sent our Gary Tuchman to the border and here's what he found.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): The budget director declared, "This stuff is going up now because the President wants to make this country safe." But keeping them honest, this stuff has nothing to do with President Trump.


COOPER: That was May of 2017. We've been following it since then, and to this day, nothing really has changed. No new construction. Some could begin shortly, none yet, and certainly nothing like the President's claimed that much of the wall has already been fully renovated or built. What the President said is just not true and the same goes for this claim that he'll take responsibility for the shutdown just a few weeks ago.


TRUMP: I am proud to shutdown 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 do 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 of shutting down.


[21:20:05] COOPER: Well, it sounds like a promise. Whether that promise or the larger showdown of the shutdown, we got the right folks to talk about it, RealClearPolitics Editor and Columnist, A.B. Stoddard, former Obama Senior Adviser, Van Jones, former Trump Campaign Aide, Michael Caputo, and David Lapen (ph) who served in this -- excuse me, Lapan, who served as administration spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security.

David, is John Kelly right, did the administration leave the concept of a solid concrete wall early on, because the President certainly doesn't seem to believe that they did?

DAVID LAPAN, FORMER DHS SPOKESPERSON FOR TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: I think it's true and it's backed up by what Secretary then Kelly at the time as Homeland Security talked about with members of Congress and in testimony. He very clearly early on said it's not a wall, it's not going to be from sea to shining sea, it's more a barrier. And importantly, it's augmented by people and technology.

Technology is certainly not bells and whistles as the President has described it. That's what the professionals down on the border believe is necessary and that's what Secretary Kelly talked about early in his tenure.

COOPER: Michael, I mean, the idea that Mexico is already paying for the wall because of the NAFTA replacement, that's just not true. It's not how trade works, correct?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, I don't know how you expected Mexico to pay for it. If you wanted them to stack crisp $100 bills on a pallet like President Obama did for Iran, that was never going to happen. I don't think they're going to do a bank check or wire transfer.

You know, I always knew the President's refrain line from the campaign was going to come back to haunt him. I just didn't know how much the media was going to obsess over it. In the end it's, you know, one hand in one pocket, one hand out of the other pocket. This is going to get paid for and you can define it however you want.

COOPER: Van, I mean, to the notion that the President thinks he'll look foolish if he accepts the offer from the Democrats, is he right, especially given how deep a line in the sand he seems to have dug in all this?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think he looks foolish either way. I mean, you have a President who is inflicting real pain on real people who work for our government to try to solve a phony crisis at the border.

We have actually fewer people trying to cross -- at the same time, I don't think we should overlook the fact that the people who work for America's government aren't getting rich doing those jobs in the first place. Yet people now are trying to figure out how they're going to put gas in their car.

They're having to choose between are they going to pay their heat bill, are they going to pay for the lunch for their kids at school in the next couple of days? These are real people who have real pain. I think he look foolish either way. But I think he'd be a lot better off as President of the United States respecting the workers for America's government, taking the pain away from them and solving this problem some other way.

COOPER: A.B., who has the most, if any incentive, to budge here?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, what's interesting, Anderson, is that if you watch the President what he's tweeting and what he's saying before cameras like today, he really does not see the downside to this. He has -- it's been reported over the Christmas holidays that he tells his advisors around him that all he needs to do is keep fighting. He just -- it's the fight he has to show to his base, so it's no problem and he does not see the downside to this yet. It's clear that the political vein of a shutdown is just not on his radar screen.

I think what's going to happen in the weeks to come, as we see the House led by Democrats keep passing these bills and sending them over to the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to say we can't put these bills even on the Senate floor because the President won't sign them, is that you're going to see Senate Republicans who are up for election in 2020 like Cory Gardner from Colorado, a state Clinton won, and Susan Collins in Maine, a state Clinton won, as well as other states where Democrats are going to begin to play like Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas where John Cornyn, the second Republican leader who is stepping down is up in Texas in a state that Beto O'Rourke just lost by 2.6 percent.

In a tough, what could be a tough year for Trump? These people are going to start freaking out if they can't vote to reopen the government. The President will not look like a fool if he accepts the offer that the Democrats are going to pass, which is let's solve all of these bills, pay for all of these departments to get back in operation, except for DHS.

That is the easy path and you put off that negotiation for later. If he sticks his head in the sand for another week and they focus all on these workers and their hardships, he's going to continue like the polls showed to pay the political price of the shutdown (ph).

COOPER: Michael, do you think that's a deal the President should do? I mean, get these other things --

CAPUTO: No, I don't. I don't think that the senator is going to freak out about an election that's, you know, going to be 20 months away or 18 months away. I do think it's going to bother them. I think that, you know, they truly believe in government much more than the President does, and I believe the President's base who has never left him.

[21:25:05] Out here in Flyover country, we just don't feel the government shutdown as much. I think the President is going to stand tall. He needs to. A lot of people who supported the President in 2016 see this as a test of his mettle. And I think if the Democrats really wanted to open the government again, they would have actually done more than interrupt Secretary Nielsen today, you know, and Chuck Schumer mansplaining to her and let her present the case that the President wants to make. Instead, they just demagogue. They really don't want to keep the government open.

COOPER: David, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen when she was briefing congressional leadership today, which Michael is just referring to, she said this is not a status quo situation. We are in a crisis situation. Status quo funding is not enough. Is she right? Are we in a crisis situation on the border?

LAPAN: I don't believe so. And if you look at historical trends, it's certainly not the case. Years ago, numbers of people coming across the border were in the millions. The numbers today are up a little bit from what they were at the beginning of the administration. Those were very historic lows at that point in the first six to eight months of the administration.

If there is a crisis at the border, I think that it's a manufactured one. I don't think that the individuals coming from Central America, men, women and children escaping poverty and violence, provide any kind of a national security threat to the United States. So I don't see this as a crisis, especially, again, as you look at it historically.

COOPER: Van, I mean, the bottom line of all this or at least -- I guess should be that there are approximately 800,000 federal workers facing economic uncertainty right now while the leaders of the country are trying to score political points off each other.

JONES: Yes. I mean, and it's disgusting. And I think for everybody, you know, you go to the TSA. People are working there. Again, these are not people who have big savings accounts. These are not people who can call their mom and say, "Hey, look, you know, give me a couple months -- you know, money for my rent." These are people who are literally sometimes making it paycheck to paycheck every single month.

And in the middle of Christmas where people were hoping to be able to do something for their families, to have that snatched away because politicians want to play silly games is terrible. And this is an act of weakness from the President. The President is having to play these games with his base. He's having to throw this raw meat to his base because he is in a weak position.

Fox News pushed him around and Rush Limbaugh pushed him around and he's terrified because his numbers are going down every place else. So he's clinging to his base and he's hurting ordinary people to play political games and it's unfortunate.

COOPER: I have to take a break. David Lapan, I think I'm angled your name initially, but I apologize. Thanks very much, David, for being with us, everybody as well.

Everyone else, stick around. While the President deals with the shutdown standoff, he also has plenty of other problems on his plate, staffing the growing list of key roles like Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Interior. We're going to take a look at why it's so hard to find people to work in what he calls a hot White House. We'll take that one up next.


[21:31:49] COOPER: Today was John Kelly's official last day as Chief of Staff. Mick Mulvaney is stepping in temporarily for weeks. The President said everyone has been clamoring to get the job and that the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.


TRUMP: We have a lot of people that want the job. We have a lot of people that want the position.

We have a lot of people that want the job and there are a lot of really great people.


COOPER: All right. Now, the President has four Cabinet positions to fill. Defense Secretary, Interior Secretary, Attorney General, and EPA Administrator, along with Chief of Staff Mulvaney and the ambassador to the U.N., that's six top positions right now.

Back with us is A.B. Stoddard, Van Jones and Michael Caputo. A.B., I mean, many times, you know, when its two years into an administration, there is turnover. Is this an unusual amount of acting Cabinet-level officials?

STODDARD: Yes. I don't think that we're in good shape with half or whatever the number is, six acting Cabinet secretary positions, most particularly because the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense are very critical positions, and they shouldn't be in flux. That said, yes, the President's rate of turnover is something that his administration is -- has beat the record and he's up at 64 percent.

But just like I said about the shutdown, I don't see that this bothers President Trump at all. He always believes the next best person is coming and he doesn't believe that chaos is produced in any kind of destructive way by kicking people out or having them flee in the way that we've seen. I mean, we've never seen anything like it, but I don't -- I just don't think it's of a big concern to him.

I can tell you there's a concern among Senate Republicans about Matt Whitaker, who is the acting Attorney General, and that's why they want to move on as quickly as they can with the confirmation of William Barr and they've set as of these afternoon confirmation hearings for him.

But this idea of Mattis going -- of the President trashing Mattis today the way he did in front of all his current Cabinet sitting there and watching the way he treats someone like James Mattis, the idea that this position remains open and they have an acting, Mr. Shanahan is acting without any military government experience, is of great concern to Republicans. Of course, they don't, you know, come like Mitt Romney does to the mikes and talk about it, but that is the one they're most worried about.

COOPER: Michael, does trashing, you know, someone like Mattis, someone -- basically the President has trashed a lot of people who used to work for him even at very, very high levels. Does that make it -- is that part of the problem, making it hard to get people -- good people to want to do it?

CAPUTO: I don't think so. I think Mattis is, you know -- first of all, you know, the President does bad mouth folks now and then, mostly when they bad mouth him first, and that's what General Mattis did. You know, General Mattis was briefing Hillary Clinton before he was working for Donald Trump.

And when he came into the administration, he made sure that not one Trump supporters went to work for the Pentagon. And then he fought the President tooth and nail on withdrawal from the Middle East. So that was always going to dissolve in some way, shape or form.

[21:35:00] I think we're going to get a great Secretary of Defense. I think we're going to have a really strong Attorney General in William Barr. I think Heather Nauert is a great choice for the U.N. ambassador. And I'll tell you what, I want Mick Mulvaney to stay. You know, he's kind of like the Leon Panetta of the Republican Party. He's a utility infielder, a real strong player at every position. I think he'll do a great job under permanent status as the Chief of Staff and Russell Vought over at OMB, let him stay too.

COOPER: So, Van, I mean, I'll ask you the same question that I just asked Michael. Does the President bad mouthing people who were his, you know, in his Cabinet when they leave for a variety of reasons, does that hurt or does that make other people not want to put themselves in that gauntlet?

JONES: Yes. The answer is yes. And I just think it's remarkable. I mean, you know, Michael and I are friends and I respect him a great deal. But, you know, sometimes I feel like I'm in this 1984 novel where you're supposed to kind of like un-think a certain things.

You know, now Mattis is just like Hillary Clinton boob and who cares about him, but I can't remember being on this show and you sticking up for Mattis and other people from the Trump administration --

CAPUTO: I love Mattis.


JONES: Well, it's all you've been --

CAPUTO: I love Mattis.

JONES: -- you just threw him under the bus. It's just -- he was garbage.

CAPUTO: No. I'm just saying he's not Saint Francis of Assisi. He's a military general and we'll find another one. And by the way, you know what, Van, I wish you would join this administration because the things he's been on the first step back were incredible.

JONES: Well, look, I appreciate that and I like the job I have right now. I have no intention to join that administration or any other. But I do want to say having been part of the Obama administration, you have to work hard.

You take a lot of incoming, you work late nights and if you don't get paid a lot in those jobs, and if you think that you've -- if you don't do perfectly, that not only you're not going to have the job, you can have the President of the United States trashing you. That's not good for morale. It's not good to be able to recruit people into that building and you need good people there.

And I also want to say, you know, we talked about the importance of having somebody good at the Department of Justice and other places. Having somebody good at the EPA is also important. Keeping America's water from having poison in it and the air from being polluted, all of these important jobs are not helped in the recruitment when you have these kinds of things.

COOPE'R: I have to leave it there. Van Jones, Michael Caputo, A.B. Stoddard, thank you so much.

And American is entering the New Year in a Moscow jail charged with spying. Russia's surprise move is raising questions about its true motive. My conversation with the brother of the man now being held.


[21:40:40] COOPER: Tonight, an American is being held by Russia in an arrest surrounded by mystery. 48-year-old Paul Whelan of Michigan faces espionage charges, but Russia isn't explaining why. He's a corporate security executive for an auto parts supplier and a former marine reservist.

His family says he was there for a wedding when he was detained five days ago. U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman went to see Whelan today at a Moscow jail, something that one U.S. official described to CNN as an unusual move so soon.

The arrest happens to come about two weeks after the guilty plea in this country of Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy. Former national security officials wonder if it's Kremlin retaliation. I spoke earlier with Paul Whelan's twin brother, David.


COOPER: David, what did Ambassador Huntsman tell your family today?

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF DETAINED AMERICAN PAUL WHELAN: He spoke with my brother, Paul's second brother, and explained that the embassy staff had an opportunity to see Paul, and that Paul seemed to be healthy under the circumstances, healthy and good condition.

And the embassy staffs were able to take some requests from Paul, some list of things that he needed, and just to do a general checkup and share with us information about now how we could proceed to the next steps of helping him.

COOPER: Are you clear right now as to what exactly the U.S. government State Department is doing or can do to try to free your brother?

WHELAN: I think we have a general sense of what they're able to do. Certainly we realize that they're not there to provide him with legal representation, so that's a step that we're going to be getting started for him to help to identify lawyers and so that he can select one and start to deal with the legal issues that he faces in Moscow. But it also allows us to do things like provide him with money or other things so that he can have resources in the jail.

COOPER: To the notion that is being put forward by Russia that Paul was on a "spy mission" when he was arrested, I'm wondering what your response to that is. I mean, to your knowledge, is your brother -- has he ever been a spy?

WHELAN: No, I don't believe Paul is a spy. I don't believe that there are charges that would support him being a spy.

COOPER: He spent a lot of time in Russia, I understand, over the years, vacations. Do you know what it was about Russia that he liked, that he enjoyed?

WHELAN: Well, I don't think it was solely Russia. Paul has traveled a lot for personal reasons and for business. And I think Russia was one of the many locations that he went to. He has friends that he's gathered over the years on social media, some of them are Russian and so he's visited them while he's been in Russia.

COOPER: When was the last time you spoke to Paul and how did you actually find out he'd been detained?

WHELAN: It's probably been a month or so. I think it was before American Thanksgiving. And I've heard from my family that they were concerned that he was missing because he hadn't checked in from a wedding that he was attending in Moscow. They were expecting that they might see pictures or that he might text them to find out about some activities that the family was experiencing in Michigan.

There was a vet appointment for his favorite dog, and so that was really the first time we had a sense he was missing. That was confirmed on the Sunday that he had a missing person report filed by his friend in Moscow, an American who is also a former marine. And then it was Monday morning when I did some internet sleuthing to find out more that we actually learned that he'd been detained.

COOPER: And that's how you found out, you found out on the -- about it through the internet?

WHELAN: Right, yes. We didn't have any idea and so as anybody would, you would be concerned that something had happened to your family member who had disappeared and was out of contact. So, I got up and started to do searches to see if there was news about an American who had been killed or been in a car accident or something else had happened, been mugged in Moscow, and those searches led me to news wires that were reporting that the Russian ministry's press release that Paul Whelan had been detained as an alleged spy.

COOPER: I mean I can't imagine how frightening this is and, you know, distressing this is obviously for you, for your family. You know, we are seeing in overseas in Russia. If you could speak to your brother, is there anything you would want to say to him?

[21:45:05] WHELAN: I would just tell him to be patient, to be strong, as I know he can be in these sorts of situations, and to know that we are doing everything we can, both to help him in Russia with the situation that he has right there, and also to look to the U.S. government's resources to see if we can get him to come back home.

COOPER: David, we wish you the best and we'll continue to follow this. Thank you. WHELAN: Thank you very much.


COOPER: Well, ahead tonight, more on the breaking news and the President saying he'd look "foolish" if he signed onto the Democrats' plan to end the shutdown. There are all kinds of consequences on the lingering government shutdown on top of federal workers without pay conditions are deteriorating, some in the national parks. These are so bad that Joshua Tree campgrounds can't stay open. We'll have the latest from there next.


COOPER: Again, our breaking news, President Trump telling lawmakers he can't accept the Democrats offer to reopen the government because he says, "It would look foolish if I did that." It's not just federal employees impacted by the partial government shutdown now in day 12, federal facilities like our national parks have being crippled by all kinds of health and safety hazards. The popular campgrounds at California's Joshua Tree National Park were forced to close today with toilets at near capacity. Nick Watt is there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here are some trash bags that we can have. Do you guys need gloves?

[21:50:03] NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A small army of volunteers keeping Joshua Tree as clean as they can.

SETH ZAHARIAS, VOLUNTEER: We're operating now, but I'm working 11 to 13 hours a day running what I do for a living, running rock climbing trips, and maintaining the park. And, yes, what we're doing right now is not sustainable.

WATT: The tollbooths are closed. No one is collecting $30 a car. The park service right now limping along with absolutely essential stuff only. This park is still open, but the deadlock in D.C. does mean that campgrounds are now closing in California.

(on camera) All the campgrounds here at Joshua Tree closing down, and the issue, those toilet blocks. Now the volunteers can keep the toilets clean, but not to be too gross about it, but those vault toilets are reaching capacity.

(voice-over) Other parts of this more than 1,200 square-mile park also closing because of "illegal activity," people apparently off-roading, damaging the environment, bringing in dogs, other remote parts also now officially off limits because of safety. Get into trouble out here and there might not be anyone around to save you.

Over in Texas, Joshua Snider broke his leg Christmas Eve when he fell at big bend. His buddy and another family had to carry him out.

JOSH SNIDER, INJURED NATIONAL PARK VISITOR: When we're on the phone with the park, they told us that because of the government shutdown there's limited rescue services available and that they're going to send one park ranger. You know, you'd think they'd come with a stretcher or something.

WATT: No, not right now. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution kept its 19 museums and the national zoo open over the holidays, but today they finally shuttered up, all now closed.

At Yosemite, the nation's third busiest national park, they're also having huge problems with garbage and toilets filled to capacity. The Neblett family from Texas was planning this vacation to Joshua Tree for months, now they're cutting it short.

LORI NEBLETT, NATIONAL PARK VISITOR: Well, it's impacted ours for fun, but its impacted people's livelihoods and people's jobs.


COOPER: Nick Watt joins us now. Nick, if the shutdown drags on, is there a chance the park will have to close completely.

WATT: Yes, there is. Listen, that used to be the way of things when there's a government shutdown the parks would close. But last year the National Park Service brought at they cooked up a new kind of contingency plan, and that is they basically furlough about 85 percent of their employees.

And then they try and keep the parks open just with a skeleton staff. I'll read you just a little extract from that plan. They say staffing will be held to the amount needed for the protection of life, property, and public health and safety.

So, if they deem that public safety, health is at risk, then they may close down the park. Also, listen, those volunteers who are working their day jobs and cleaning the toilets here, they say they don't know how much longer they can do it. So, Anderson, yes, if this drags on a lot longer, they could just close the whole place down. Back to you.

COOPER: Nick Watt, thanks very much.

Coming up, did you happen to notice what was on the table today, literally, while the President sat with his Cabinet and spoke with reporters? The curious case of the fake movie poster, next on the Ridiculist.


[21:56:30] COOPER: Time now for Ridiculist and there's plenty to talk about from when the President was on camera today with his Cabinet or the acting Cabinet and repetitively rambled the bunch of misdirection, half truths and no truths about everything from the nonexistent wall to the erroneous history of Russia. But right now, I just want to focus on something else that was on the table, literally on the table in front of him. Never mentioned, never discussed, a printed poster-sized "Game of Thrones" rip-off, featuring a picture of the President and the phrase "Sanctions are Coming." Now the question is, what was it doing there? Reuters' reporter Jeff Mason was in the room.


JEFF MASON, REUTERS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't know why that was there. I saw it when we were in there with the press pool and took a picture of it and sent it out on Twitter. But I haven't spoken to anyone at the White House about why it was there or where that came from. But it did sort of underscore the reality T.V. sense of being in that room. Being in that, I think the press -- we were in there for about an hour and 45 minutes listening to the President, listening to Cabinet officials and seeing that poster.


COOPER: So here's what we know. Back in November, the President tweeted the picture referring to economic sanctions on Iran, so that's what he tweeted. Now, HBO apparently was not amused at the time, saying it would prefer its trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes.

But the fact that the President tweeted that three months ago, it doesn't even begin to explain at all what it was doing at today's Cabinet meeting or why it had been printed out to movie poster size in the first place. I mean, the President did say he was home alone in the White House over the holidays. Maybe he used the poster to scare away would be burglars like in the movie "Home Alone" with the Michael Jordan cutout? Possible.

Or maybe the President had been playing an incredibly easy version of "Where's Waldo" or "Elf on the Shelf" featuring himself and accidentally left the poster on the table, which really can't be it because that would be psychotic

Not to mention, if you're going to make a fake movie poster, you should at least come up with a fake movie title, "Sanctions are Coming," really? And it's not even a play on the title, it's a rip- off of the catch phrase.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And winter is coming!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is coming for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winter is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And winter is coming.


COOPER: Now, I'm no expert on fake movie posters, but I do love my "Game of Thrones", and I have been compared to a White Walker, which I must admit I do sort of see a resemblance. But if you're going to rip-off a T.V. show, should this White House be ripping off a show in which Jon Snow leads a caravan of refugees through a border wall? Someone I think that particular irony might be lost on the President.

Call me crazy, but it might be possible that he may just get a really big kick out of seeing his picture on a poster and he wanted everyone else to see it without ever explaining why it was there. He just liked it, maybe.

I know it sounds absurd, but let's not forget this is the same person who had framed copies of "Time" magazine with him on the cover hanging up in at least five of his clubs. The cover dated March 1st, 2009. They were fake. They were completely made up. He had somebody do that, and then he framed them. He wasn't on the cover of "Time" magazine at all in 2009.

We may never know why that poster was printed out or why it was just sitting on the table in that Cabinet meeting today. But we do know winter isn't just coming, it's already here on the Ridiculist.

The news continues. I want to turn things over now to Don Lemon and "CNN TONIGHT." Don?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Happy new year, everyone.