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Trump's New Year's Eve: Wall Backlash & Russia Probe Pressure; Mueller Maintains Mystery As He Nears Russia Probe Report; Paul Manafort Compromised By Russia During Trump Campaign?; Interview With Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline; Government Shutdown Continues; Elizabeth Warren Launches Presidential Exploratory Committee. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 31, 2018 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: new year, old fights. President Trump is spending the final hours of 2018 tweeting and taunting his opponents. Is there any hope for the shutdown stalemate to be broken, as House Democrats are ready to ring in a new year of power?

American held in Moscow. The Kremlin arrests a U.S. citizen on suspicion of spying just weeks after a confessed Russian agent pleads guilty to conspiring against the United States. Is Vladimir Putin seeking payback?

Manafort compromised? The Russians reportedly were putting pressure on Paul Manafort to pay a multimillion-dollar debt at the same time that he was running Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. What could this mean for Robert Mueller's investigation?

And in the race. Democrat Elizabeth Warren takes a major step towards a White House bid, declaring that she's in the fight to oust President Trump all the way. Tonight, the 2020 race is heating up, as 2019 is just about to begin.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. And this is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

Tonight, CNN has learned that House Democratic leaders have settled on a strategy to try to reopen the government and use their new power to force President Trump's hand. They're planning to call votes just hours after the party takes control on Thursday. But there's no indication that the president is willing to budge on his central demand for border wall funding.

On this New Year's Eve, Mr. Trump is stuck at the White House missing his own party at Mar-a-Lago and taking out his frustrations on Twitter.

This hour, I will talk about that the shutdown standoff and more with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

Let's go first now to CNN's Jessica Dean. She is at the White House for us.

Jess, tell us, what are we hearing from the president tonight?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're certainly hearing a lot on Twitter, Brianna. He says he's willing to negotiate. But he's also saying he's keeping his demand for that border wall and he wants the money to fund it.


DEAN (voice-over): Ten days into the partial government shutdown, sources involved with negotiation say President Trump is privately telling lawmakers and officials he will not sign a bill with only $1.3 billion for border security, the current Democratic offer.

Today, the president sending out a flurry of tweets on the shutdown, taking shots at the Democrats, saying -- quote -- "I'm in the Oval Office. Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for border security, including the wall."

But Democrats appear equally dug in. Taking control of the House on Thursday, they plan to vote on a package that maintains the $1.3 billion for border security, but no wall funding. Still, following a two-hour lunch with the president on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham remained optimistic a compromise could be reached in the next few days.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president didn't commit, but I think he's very open-minded.

DEAN: Meantime, new details about the administration's attempted rebranding of the Trump wall. Outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly telling "The Los Angeles Times" -- quote -- "To be honest, it's not a wall."

He went on, explaining: "The president still says wall. Oftentimes, frankly, he will say barrier or fencing. Now he's tended toward steel slats, but we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it."

The comments led Trump to fire back, tweeting: "An all-concrete wall was never abandoned, as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete. But the experts at Border Patrol prefer a wall that is see-through, thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides. Makes sense to me."

The president also brought the Obamas into his border wall fight, tweeting: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a 10-foot wall around their D.C. mansion compound. I agree totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing. Slightly larger version." The U.S. Secret Service did erect a barrier gate in front of the Obamas' home before they moved in. The house is located on a residential street in Washington, D.C.

And he also brought the deaths of two migrant children at the border into the fight, blaming their deaths on Democrats, tweeting: "Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek, thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can't. If we had a wall, they wouldn't even try."

As Trump seems unmoved on the money he needs for the border wall, his decision to run move U.S. troops from Syria may be slowing down. Senator Graham telling reporters the president agreed to reevaluate in order to find the best way to move forward with the withdrawal.


GRAHAM: I think we're slowing things down in a smart way. But the goal has always been the same, to be able to leave Syria, make sure ISIS never comes back, our partners are taken care of, and Iran is contained. And I think that's possible. It's going to take a little longer than everybody thought. But, hopefully, we can get there.


DEAN: President Trump also tweeting about Syria today, saying that his plan is to slowly bring the troops out of Syria, while also fighting ISIS.

And, Brianna, he says this is just a campaign promise he's following through on, that this is what he's always said he was going to do.

KEILAR: All right, Jessica Dean at the White House, thank you.

I want to get more on the Democrats' strategy for taking on the president and trying to break this shutdown stalemate.

We have CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly here with that.

So the Democrats are actually -- they're planning on votes shortly after they take over control of the House. Is this going to work?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not going to work if they think this is going, in isolation, to reopen the government.

Look, here's what they're going to do. They're going to pass -- right now, there are seven funding bills that haven't been passed yet. One of them is the most contentious. That's the Department of Homeland Security bill. That's where border security lies. That's where the president wants the wall to lie.

What Democrats will do is they will pass that bill at its current levels of funding until February 8. The remaining six appropriations bills, they are going to package them all together, the bipartisan Senate proposals that the Senate already passed most of, and send that entire package over to the Senate.

Here's the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made very clear if the president doesn't sign off on something, he's not going to put it on the floor. So the House Democrats can pass whatever they want. If the president's not on board, Senate Republicans are not going to move it. The president has made clear he's not on board.

His threshold remains the same, billions for a border wall. Democrats are saying, we will give you $1.3 billion for border security and not a dime more. Therein lies the issue. Therein lies the area that needs to be bridged, and therein lies the reality of this moment. Things are frozen, there are no actual negotiations.

What we are going to see on Thursday is the first real legislative action in days, and maybe that kick-starts something into gear. But at this moment, there is, A, no clear pathway out of here, and, B, no end in sight.

And what does that mean when I talk to people on Capitol Hill? They acknowledge if things start to happen, they could happen fast, but at this moment people are still talking about weeks, not days, in terms of how long the shutdown is going to last.

KEILAR: Weeks, my goodness. Weeks.

MATTINGLY: Pack a lunch.

KEILAR: All right, Phil Mattingly, many lunches. And lunches for weeks.


KEILAR: Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Now to tensions between the United States and Russia. They're ratcheting higher tonight after the arrest of an American citizen in Moscow accused of spying.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joining us live now from Moscow.

And, Matthew, a lot of questions tonight about whether this arrest is connected to the recent guilty plea here in the U.S. of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's a good question, and we don't really know the answer to that definitively.

But the fact is, Maria Butina pleaded guilty just two weeks ago and now here we are with a suspected Americans spy announced being arrested in the Russian capital. Details are still very sketchy, of course, but I think what's increasingly clear is that as 2019 starts, so too does a potentially new and damaging crisis in the relationship between Moscow and Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): Tonight, a U.S. citizen detained by Russia, caught spying, according the a short statement read out on state television. The country's main counterespionage agency, the FSB, has named the American as Paul Whelan, but has given no other details.

The U.S. State Department hasn't shed of light on the case either, saying it has requested consular access to the prisoner and expects Russian authorities to provide it, but, "Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time," the State Department added.

This after Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina, who is being held in the United States, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. U.S. prosecutors say she acted as an unregistered foreign agent, attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party to lobby influential Americans.

She now faces up to six months in jail. Russia vehemently denies Butina is their agent, but at his annual news conference a few weeks ago, the Russian president went out of his way to say retaliation will not take place.

"We will not arrest innocent people simply to exchange them for someone else," he insisted. But there are precedents for a U.S.- Russia prisoner swap. Back in 2010, glamorous Russian agent Anna Chapman was returned along with nine others suspected of espionage, in exchange for the release of four prisoners in Russia.


One of them was Sergei Skripal, recently poisoned with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury. The latest arrest comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a holiday message to President Trump confirming that Russia is open for dialogue with the U.S.

The arrest of this U.S. citizen for espionage, though, so soon afterwards sends a very different message.


CHANCE: Brianna, it is a message of defiance and of hostility. As I say, we don't yet know the circumstances of what exactly happened with this American citizen, but, as I mentioned, it is almost certain to set that relationship between Washington and Moscow on a very rocky path indeed -- back to you.

KEILAR: It sure is. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much.

And joining me now, Congressman David Cicilline. He is a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us on this holiday eve. We appreciate it.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure. Happy new year.

KEILAR: Happy new year to you. What do you make of this development?

CICILLINE: The development with respect to our budget proposal or the...

KEILAR: No, I'm so sorry. You just heard -- being on the Foreign Affairs Committee, when you hear about this Russian spy, alleged -- or sorry -- pardon me. When you hear about someone the Russians are saying is an American spy being detained, and it seems like it could be in sort of payback for the Butina plea, what do you think of that?



I mean, I think it is obviously very concerning. I think this is further evidence that Russia is not our friend. They're adversaries of the United States. We know that they attacked our democracy in the last presidential election.

We have really seen a tremendous amount of evidence about the sophistication of that attack on our democracy. And it is ongoing in very serious ways. And so it is not surprising that they're attempting to retaliate from the rule of law in our country, and we have to learn a lot more about this.

But, you know, this is conduct you would expect from a despot, from a tyrant, from a leader of a country that's an adversary of the United States that doesn't share our values.

KEILAR: "TIME" magazine is reporting that a Russian oligarch through a middleman was pressuring the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to repay his debts.

We are talking about millions and millions of dollars in debts, and this was all happening during the 2016 election. And Manafort actually offered, according to an e-mail that "TIME" refers to in this report, briefings to a Russian oligarch in order to -- quote -- "get whole" with the Russians.

What is your reaction to this rather stunning bit of news?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, it is breathtaking. It is breathtaking.

I mean, to think that a person who is leading an American presidential campaign is in debt to a Russian oligarch and is trading access, briefings by the campaign in exchange for relieving some of the debt, I mean, it is very, very concerning.

For those who think that the Russian effort to compromise and attack our democracy isn't serious, this is further evidence of that. Our elections ought to be decided by the American people, free from any interference by foreign adversaries.

This is, again, part of a growing amount of evidence about the Russians' campaign to attack our democracy, to help elect Donald Trump and to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. And whether you are a Republican or Democrat, a Clinton supporter or Trump supporter, it ought to concern you.

We ought to be able to be united in our efforts to protect the integrity of our elections and punish any foreign government who attempts to interfere in any way and hold people accountable who are in the positions of Mr. Manafort, who may have in fact compromised the integrity of our elections for his own financial advantage.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about the shutdown now, because we're in day 10. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight. And House Democrats when they take control of the House are going to vote on funding bills, including one that has $1.3 billion for border funding.

You know that that's not going anywhere outside of the House, so what is the endgame here?

CICILLINE: Well, I think what we hope will happen is, look, there's broad consensus on the six funding bills. They're bipartisan. The Senate already approved that spending 100-0.

So those departments, we ought to just fund them to the end of the fiscal year, which is what one package will be. Let's isolate the disagreement, the Department of Homeland Security. We will propose and we will pass a piece of legislation that will provide current funding of $1.3 billion for border security until February 8.

That will give us an opportunity to engage in additional discussions with the Republicans, but let's isolate the problem. The other six departments, let's open those up, let's act like adults, as Leader Pelosi, speaker-designee Pelosi said. We will do that right away. We will reopen the government.

Those six bills hopefully will pass both the House and the Senate. The president should sign them. There's no dispute on those issues. Then the remaining Department of Homeland Security where there's a disagreement, let's keep the current level and engage in real discussions to see if we can reach agreement.


It is a perfectly sensible way to approach it that will reopen the government and ensure over 800,000 employees that are being affected by this can have their lives back, and the president can engage with the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate and try to come up with a solution.

KEILAR: You say it is sensible, but Mitch McConnell is going to say, no, it is not, the president won't sign it, I'm not putting it on the floor.

Are you comfortable...

(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: Are you comfortable -- the president is not going along with this plan, so it is dead in the water. It's not going to be taken up by the Senate.

Are you comfortable in the place where you are that your supporters, that your constituents believe you're doing the right thing to not capitulate on this? Are you sure and comfortable that you have the support you need to not blink on this?

CICILLINE: Look, it is not a question of not blinking. We supported border security. We have a bipartisan agreement. It was 100-0 in the Senate. The president said he would sign it.


KEILAR: OK. But that's over. I hear what you're saying. There was something, and the president did walk back on it.



But my point is, there's no disagreement on those six bills. Let's do that. I disagree that the president won't sign that. He should sign that. There's no disagreement about that.


KEILAR: Sir, you know they don't want to decouple it. They're not going to go along with that. So, knowing that, as you move forward on that, it is clearly a messaging vote.

Are you comfortable with where you are, that you have the time to kill here that your constituents will stick with you?


CICILLINE: No, I disagree. I don't think it is a messaging vote.

It is reopening the vote. It is passing a bill where there's bipartisan support.

KEILAR: It is only reopening it if the Senate takes it up and the president signs it.

CICILLINE: But I try not to -- and then we have to put pressure on them to do that. It is isolating where the conflict is. That's one department.

But let's be very clear. Democrats supported almost $1.7 billion over the last two years in border security. We support securing our borders. We think it should be done in a smart way, using technology, drones, satellites, cargo inspections, things that will actually work, more personnel.

We don't think a concrete wall, which is a 19th century solution for a 21st century problem, makes sense. And I think, again, the suggestion that Democrats somehow don't support border security is just not true.

The president's own chief of staff, the outgoing John Kelly, and the incoming Mick Mulvaney both said a border wall is not going to solve the problem. They both acknowledge that.

But the president has shut down the government because he wants a fight over this, so we will distract from the other problems he is facing, his defense secretary leaving, the ISIS coordinator leaving, his foundation being shut down for persistent corruption, the Mueller investigation proceeding, Mr. Flynn's sentencing hearing, like, all of these things.

Instead, he has distracted. He said, I'm shutting the government down, because it achieves an objective. We are no longer talking about all of the problems the administration faces. We are talking about the government shutdown.

This was done purposely. It is an easy problem to solve, if the president is really interested in reopening the government, but so far he hasn't expressed any intention to do that.

KEILAR: We are hearing weeks from our Phil Mattingly. It is really stunning.

Congressman, thank you so much. Congressman David Cicilline, we appreciate it.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Happy new year to you.

CICILLINE: Thanks. Same to you.

KEILAR: And just ahead: more on Paul Manafort and whether his financial debt to the Russians left him compromised big time while he was in charge of President Trump's campaign.

And as Elizabeth Warren makes her White House hopes clear, President Trump is weighing in tonight, talking about her chances of bringing him down.

But, first, take look at tonight's celebration in Paris, where they just rang in the new year moments ago.



KEILAR: Tonight, as Paul Manafort awaits sentencing for his crimes, there is new reporting about his Russia connections while he was President Trump's campaign chairman.

"TIME" magazine says that Manafort owed millions of dollars to the Russians at the time, multimillions, and they were pressuring him to pay up.

Let's bring in CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez to talk about this.

It is the question, was he compromised? He was certainly vulnerable to being so.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is the essence of kompromat, which is the word that's become part of the lexicon since this investigation began.

And the amount of money is a large sum. It is $19 million that allegedly Paul Manafort was in debt to Oleg Deripaska, one of the most connected oligarchs in Russia, connected to the Kremlin.

And so the center of the story is Victor Boyarkin. He's a former intelligence agent for the Russians. And he was in touch with Paul Manafort, trying to lean on him over this amount of money that he was allegedly -- that Manafort allegedly owed to Deripaska.

So here is a part of the "TIME" magazine story in which they quote Boyarkin in which he says -- quote -- "He owed us a lot of money and he was offering ways to pay it back. I came down on him hard."

Again, he is a former intelligence agent with the Russians. And he's in touch with the chairman of the Trump campaign during the key period when Trump is about to become the Republican nominee.


KEILAR: And what is interesting is, there's e-mails in this report, and it is Paul Manafort offering briefings to the Deripaska, that oligarch, to become whole, to make him whole, which means to pay off his debt.

PEREZ: Right, and that's what Boyarkin is referring to.

Again, there have been these e-mails that have been published by the Associated Press and "The Washington Post" and other news organizations. And they show that, at least according to these e- mails, Manafort was offering to settle the debt by putting people in touch with people in the campaign.

KEILAR: Selling access. It is pretty stunning.

There's a mystery case in the Mueller probe.

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: The Russia probe. It has been challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court. Tell us about this.

PEREZ: Right. It is on the doorstep of the Supreme Court right now.

Right now, the chief justice is going to decide, frankly, whether or not this gets a full airing before the Supreme Court. He asked for the government to submit a brief. We don't know a lot about what is going on behind the scenes here. We know that it is a company, it is a private company and that it is

owned by a foreign government. Everything has been done under seal, so much so that during one of the hearings, they sealed off the entire floor of the federal courthouse in order to allow the lawyers to come in and out and the reporters not be able to see who exactly was coming in.

So we know that it is connected to the Mueller investigation, but, beyond that, we don't know very much more, Brianna. And so now we're keeping an eye on the Supreme Court, possibly into the new year here to decide whether or not this gets a full airing in the Supreme Court.

KEILAR: We will wait.

Evan Perez, thank you for the report.

Just ahead: Senator Elizabeth Warren takes a crucial first step towards a likely presidential campaign. Is she a top-tier contender? We will hear what President Trump is certainly saying about that tonight.


[18:31:26] KEILAR: Tonight, President Trump is wrapping up 2018 much as he started it, facing controversy over his border wall and mounting pressure in the Russia investigation.

Let's bring in our analysts to talk about all of this.

Phil Mudd, to you first. You worked at the CIA and the FBI. And I wonder what you think about this "TIME" report that Paul Manafort was getting pressed by the Russians, a Russian oligarch through a middle man, to pay back a debt. He was at the time the chairman of Trump's campaign and he was being pressured to repay this while he's head of the campaign? What did you think of that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: What do I think about this? Like New Year's, I'm irritated.


KEILAR: This is New Year's, not festivities.

MUDD: Excuse me, serious news here.

When you're going through this, there's an appearance of impropriety. Are you vulnerable? For example, Visa cards, did you ever get involved in domestic violence? These are things, shoplifting. We had people at CIA who had been involved in shoplifting and they couldn't get a security clearance, not because they were connected with the Russians but because there's an appearance of impropriety that can make them vulnerable.

Somebody walks in and says, I'm going to expose your domestic violence unless you give without something of value. In this case, there's not the appearance of impropriety, there is impropriety. He is vulnerable to influence from a foreign power as he's talking about Russia issues with the campaign because he owes money. We give this guy this position of power? I wouldn't have gotten this if I were in government.

KEILAR: He said that he would give briefings to this oligarch Deripaska to make himself whole on these debts.

MUDD: That's exactly why you need to be concerned about these issues. Why did he give briefings to an individual like that?


KEILAR: He offered them.

MUDD: Well, because he thought it was a national security interest? Because he was vulnerable as a result because of the financial debt.

KEILAR: I think it was not the former, that's fair to say.

MUDD: I think that's fair to say. In this position, if you're a security expert, you look at this and say, this person not only should he not be a campaign manager, he shouldn't have a security clearance because he's vulnerable.

KEILAR: What does it mean for the Mueller investigation, Evan? Because I wonder, he was -- we believe it was $19 million in the hole. This is not small change, it is big money.

PEREZ: Right. And one of the key players in all of this is this guy by the name of Konstantin Kilimnik. And the Mueller investigation of him very focused on understanding this guy and his role not only with Paul Manafort, but also how he connected to other people, and I think -- one of the things we expect in 2019, we're going to hear more of the fuller story here. Some of these emerged during Paul Manafort's trial in Virginia. I think we're going to hear a lot more of this when the Mueller report comes out or whatever new charges might be coming from Mueller, too.

KEILAR: Jackie, you were in the middle of a shutdown. It is going on. There doesn't seem to be any closed door negotiations trying to wrap this thing up.

And there's just no movement, but Democrats will have these votes when they take over control of the House. To what effect though? What is the end game here?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: It feels like they're sort of moving things around, right?

KEILAR: Just doing something to do something?

KUCINICH: Right. Only President Trump knows the end game because Mitch McConnell is waiting for President Trump to say what he will sign. And even if he says it, there is no guarantee until his signature is on the paper -- I mean, how many times have we been in a situation where there's a deal in the House and the Senate and the president undermines, cuts the legs out of his own Republicans? Now we have Democrats, he's going to have to come to them with something because they're not going to be bullied by him, frankly.

KEILAR: Ron, check out what the outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, told "The L.A. Times". Because, of course, the shutdown is all about the border wall, right?

[18:35:01] But he said this: To be honest, it is not a wall. The president still says wall. Oftentimes, frankly, he will say barrier or fencing, now has tended towards steel slats, but we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration when he asked people what they needed and where they needed it.

Then, President Trump responded, right, on twitter. An all-concrete wall was never abandoned as has been reported by the media. Some areas will be all concrete, but the experts at border patrol prefer a wall that is see through, thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides. Make senses to me.

Wall or no wall, Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think no wall. Even the president's tweet kind of acknowledges what, you know, what the outgoing chief of staff was saying. But the moment for the wall, you know, really has I think come and gone for the president. I mean, he had a deal a year ago.

People forget that last February all but three Senate Democrats and eight -- only eight of the Senate Republicans voted for a proposal from Mike Rounds and John Manchin that would have given him $25 billion, including as much as that he wants to spend on a wall, in return for a citizenship, halfway citizenship for the so-called Dreamers, young people brought here illegally by their parents.

Ultimately, the White House torpedoed that deal and demanded the largest cuts in legal immigration since the 1920s. I don't think that if the president offered that deal again tomorrow the Democrats would accept it at this point, because they are now -- you know, they have a House majority that overwhelmingly views the wall as unnecessary, expensive, ineffective, and, frankly, a symbol of racial animosity, and they have a coalition that overwhelmingly oppose it.

All of the groups that created the Democratic majority in the House oppose the wall at 60 percent plus. It is not clear what leverage the president really has in this fight. Brianna, the history, as you know as well as I, the history of government shutdowns is they don't provide enough leverage the make the other side do what you want. I think this is going to go into the ledger when all is said and done.

KEILAR: Just become so normal, it's so -- it's frustrating to watch.

OK. There's a story that's just developed, right? I don't know if you've seen them, but there's this video that was put out on Twitter by Strategic Command which controls -- it actually controls the nuclear weapons in the country, right? So that's pretty alarming. Here is what the original tweet said: Times Square tradition rings in

the New Year by dropping the ball. If ever needed, we are ready to drop something much, much bigger.

I'm hoping that we can show -- oh, yes, it is a stealth bomber casually dropping very large bombs in what is kind of making light of this situation. So shortly after this, we had an interview with Congressman Ruben Gallego. He criticized the message. Then, an apology was tweeted out as the message was deleted just prior to that.

Here's what the apology says. It says: Our previous NYE tweet was in poor taste and does not reflect our values. We apologize. We are dedicated to the security of America and allies.

Phil Mudd?

PEREZ: That's so 2018. I mean, I'm serious, this sums up 2018 so perfectly.

MUDD: Let me put this -- before anybody tries to make light of this, let me offer a serious perspective on this. The president gets off a plane from a conversation with a nuclear power that is North Korea and says we're safer with no evidence. It turns out months later he was incorrect.

The president makes a decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria -- and, by the way, after lunch with Lindsey Graham says maybe I didn't consider that well. Let me be clear, these decisions about whether to put American forces at risk and whether to kill somebody overseas involve potentially the death of a child. Maybe don't joke about it. That could be a New Year's resolution.

KEILAR: It's the casual nature of something that's so serious. And it isn't funny, Phil, you're right, but it is almost -- it defies belief.

PEREZ: It really does. Again, I go back to the fact that this year we've seen so many things that would under normal circumstances defy belief, and yet they happened, right? So, this is just another one, and I just -- you know, it is something that this strategic command should not be sending out messages so casually, joking about bombs.

KEILAR: Do you think in another administration, Jackie, that would be sent out or do you think it is taking the lead from the president?

KUCINICH: You know, you shouldn't have to tell those folks, think before you tweet. But, you know, the president doesn't follow that and clearly -- clearly someone, someone, some adult decided that maybe it wasn't good to put something that -- for give the pun -- incendiary on the Internet, with allies, adversaries on New Year's Eve looking on.


BROWNSTEIN: You know, I'm still trying to get over the Strategic Air Command tweeting at all, you know? I mean -- KEILAR: You're three steps behind us.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, it is sort of like -- it is sort of like the kind of thing where, you know, you expect -- you know, what is it? Talk softly and carry a big stick? That would be the ultimate suppression o expression of that, you would expect your nuclear planners to uphold.

[18:40:05] But it is. It is kind of I think a reflection of the way the boundaries are disappearing. It sounds like they learned a quick lesson though.

KEILAR: All right. Ron, thank you so much. Phil, Evan, Jackie, really appreciate it.

Happy New Year.

BROWNSTEIN: Happy New Year. Yes.

KEILAR: Happy 2019, you guys.

Just ahead, insights into Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation as we expect the special counsel to drop his final report in the New Year. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM special report.


[18:45:12] KEILAR: Tonight, special counsel Robert Mueller is wrapping a busy year in the Russia investigation, and as he heads into 2019 he is keeping the Trump team and the nation guessing about what to expect in his final report.

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger has more on Mueller as a man, an investigator and a thorn in the president's side.


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 PRESIDENT 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 --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he's the right guy at the right time.

BORGER: Mueller was a bipartisan favorite.

ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL DURING BILL CLINTON INVESTIGATION: 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.

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

BORGER: 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.: a by-the-books guy 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 7:00 to 9:00, at 9:03, it's like, well, on the invitation, 7:00 to 9:00, 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?

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.

[18:50:12] 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: Oh, 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.


KEILAR: Just ahead, more of Gloria Borger's exceptional report on Bob Mueller, including a look at his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey.


[18:57:08] KEILAR: In these final hours of 2018, we're looking at Robert Mueller's investigation and how his life and career prepared him for this moment. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger picks up her report with a look at Mueller's history with James Comey.


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 warrantless 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, which whom I'd been discussing this particular matter and 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 warns there's trouble ahead.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, LEGAL SCHOLAR: I think the report is going to be devastating to the president.

BORGER: After months of haggling, Team Trump has provided answers to Mueller's questions about collusion and in convinced Trump's problems will be more political than legal.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats 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 awaiting Mueller who is already letting his work speak 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.


KEILAR: Thanks to CNN's Gloria Borger for that report.

I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you so much for watching, for Wolf Blitzer and everyone both on camera and behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we want to wish you a happy and healthy 2019.

CNN's own Anderson Cooper will ring in the New Year with Andy Cohen in Times Square, coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern to begin there.

But, first, we bring you a CNN special report, "All the Best, All the Worst, 2018."

That starts right now. Happy New Year.