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14 million People Facing New Severe Weather Threats Today, more than 22 Million Facing Them Tomorrow; Video of Wildfire in Southern California; Reaction to Plans of Mass Deportation in the U.S.; Suspicious Fire Destroying Mosque in Texas; Shelter-in-Place Order on Air Base in Japan; Refugee Crisis in Europe; Planned Parenthood Shooter Appearing in Court. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 26, 2015 - 06:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN HOST: Your NEW DAY starts now. It is so good to have you with us, as always. Happy Saturday to you. I'm Christi Paul, and with us today...

ERROL BARNETT, CNN HOST: Surprise, everyone. I'm Errol Barnett, in for Victor Bladwell -- Blackwell today. Great to be with you.

PAUL: Oh, so good to have you here, Errol. Thank you, especially when we've got so much to talk about. We want to begin with this unrelenting severe weather that's been pounding the South.

The region that was hit by a tornado outbreak earlier this week, now look at these pictures that we're getting in. Drenched with double- digit rain totals. Terrible flooding in some parts. We're talking about 14 million people today facing new severe weather threats, and more than 22 million tomorrow. I want to show you this map here because overnight the death toll from this week's tornado disaster did go up. At least 15 people are now confirmed dead. Dozens more are injured across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

CNN's Nick Valencia following the latest weather system and the damage that it's done already. Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning, Christi. Some of the same states that have been just battered by this brutal string of storms over the course of the last couple of days hit hard again overnight. We're talking about Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and now you can add Alabama to those states affected.


VALENCIA: Severe weather batters several Southern states. Heavy rains hammer parts of Alabama. At least 20 inches fell in less than 24 hours at the airport in Gadsden. The water made some road impassable, with rescue crews helping residents trapped in their homes. The National Weather Service said a potential tornado touched down in Birmingham, causing damage to several blocks. CHIEF CHARLES GORDON, BIRMINGHAM FIRE DEPARTMENT: The damage that was done, it was confined to approximately one square mile. We had three structures, three houses that collapsed. We transported one patient from the scene. There were two others that were removed from the structure, but were reported no da -- no injuries.

VALENCIA: Alabama's Governor declared a state of emergency because of widespread flooding. At least 117 homes overcome by water. In Georgia the rain damaged roads and made driving treacherous. And in Mississippi flood warnings and relentless rain add more misery to areas already devastated by tornados that killed at least eight people in the state. Many roads are flooded, and some people are dealing with rising water in their homes. In Wren, Mississippi, Victor and Tamika Hale (ph) watched as their home of 10 years was overtaken by water.

TAMIKA HALE (PH): Refrigerator, the lawn mow, the trailer, it just floated away. Garbage can, everything gone.

VICTOR HALE (PH): It happened so fast, we had to get up and get out. The rain was coming way too fast.

VALENCIA: The couple and their nine-year-old son now homeless and staying with relatives.

TAMIKA HALE (PH): It's discouraging, we lost everything. My child he didn't get none of his Christmas items.

VALENCIA: That damage just looks devastating. At least 15 people have lost their lives as a result of these storms. Many others are displaced, having to spend their Christmas in shelters. And now of course the concern it's moving west. Blizzards, heavy snow, just a brutal mix of that wintery weather mix that Allison Chinchar can tell you a lot more about, Christi.


PAUL: Yeah, and we're going to check in with her here. Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BARNETT: And one thing to keep in mind here is you've got millions of holiday travelers just trying to get home at this hour, and they can expect everything out there, from blizzard conditions to unseasonably warm weather. That's taking place here in the South.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us now from the Severe Weather Center. Is this severe weather far from over? How much is left, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I wish I could tell you it was. No, unfortunately, actually we're going to be dealing with this for several more days. Here is a look at the current radar. You can see heavy rain moving out of Nashville, starting to move into Chattanooga, Huntsville, and even into parts of Birmingham as well. But let's take a look at where the current threat is going to be, because this is where we've already seen the rain. Notice parts of Alabama and Georgia have already picked up over 10 inches of rain, and more is on the way. We've got the severe threat in parts of Texas and Louisiana today. But out behind the system, we're talking about blizzard conditions and some ice, which is very dangerous for travel. Severe threat starts from San Antonio today, up towards Dallas, but it could extend with some minor damage up around Cincinnati. Then we move into Sunday, the severe threat pushes east. We're now talking Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, and Houston. And again dealing with some isolated tornados as well. Not good for travel, if you have any travel plans in those cities.

Also the flood threat. Take a look. All the green areas indicate where we have flood watches, flood warnings, and the red shaded areas where we still have flash-flood warnings. Many roads still completely underwater. We have water still flowing into folks' homes. Again, this is not a good condition. But notice the front as it begins to lift and push east, and a lot of winter weather wraps back around. Notice this. By Monday morning we could be dealing with a mix of snow, possibly ice, and rain for Chicago. So if you are planning to head back to work, or you have some late travel plans on Monday in Chicago, it's not going to work with you, along with any other city across much of the central and southern United States. Guys.

BARNETT: Hmm. That is intense stuff. We'll continue to check in with you, Allison, in the hours ahead as folks just try and make it home safely this weekend. Thanks very much for that.

Now we want to get you to breaking news we're following. Take a look at this video just in to CNN of a wildfire in Southern California. It is the wee hours of the morning there at this moment, and it's forced officials to close two major roadways and issue mandatory evacuations. Ventura County Fire officials say the 101 freeway and the Pacific Coast Highway, that's near the city of Ventura, they've now had to be shut down. Firefighters there are working to battle an uncontained 900 acre fire north of the city. And this fire is growing rapidly as well. The Solimar Beach community is now under a mandatory evacuation, and the Faria Beach community is now under a voluntary evacuation. We will continue to follow this breaking story and will have more for you on this throughout the morning. Christi.

PAUL: Also in this morning the ATF have been called in to investigate after a suspicious fire nearly destroyed a Texas mosque.

This happened yesterday evening after Friday prayers at the Savoy Mosque. No one was injured. The flames were so intense though firefighters were frightened that the ceiling would cave in. Cathy Hernandez from CNN affiliate KPRC takes us there.


CATHY HERNANDEZ, REPORTER, KPRC CHANNEL 2, HOUSTON: Muslims gathered Friday night for prayers in a banquet hall. Just feet away, their burned mosque. Investigators inside rummaging through charred debris.

ACHREF BAVA, MOSQUE ATTENDEE: A burned mosque, burned church, or a burned synagogue, or a burned temple, it's not good to see it like that.

HERNANDEZ: A man who prays here got an inside look at the damage and with his cell phone filmed the Savoy Mosque on South Wilcrest in west Bellfort, Friday afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTENDEE: When I left there everything was fine, you know. There were a whole bunch of people in there, we were capacity full.

HERNANDEZ: Just an hour before the mosque capacity full, filled with 200 people for prayer.

BAVA: It's just a place where people look for peace, people look for solutions, and people communicate with God. And, and it's very, very sad.

HERNANDEZ: The flames so intense firefighters stayed outside for fears of the roof collapsing. People who call this mosque home want to see change.

BAVA: The mosque is doing a great job to educate the community not to hurt people, and to educate people to do the good and forbid the evil.

HERNANDEZ: An evil that may have entered this place of worship.


PAUL: Cathy Hernandez with our CNN affiliate KPRC. Thank you so much for that report. We'll have more on this story all morning, including a look at that investigation with former FBI Special Agent Jonathan Gilliam.

But next, immigration controversy. Should the U.S. deport all undocumented Central American migrants in the nation? There is strong reaction this morning to a plan that could begin as early as next month.

BARNETT: Also coming up for you, the childhood home of President Clinton is torched. Why officials suspect arson is behind it.

PAUL: And later, an Indiana woman gets a secret surprise. Oooh, it's caught on tape. Why did she have this reaction? We'll show you.


PAUL: Twelve minutes past the hour right now. So grateful to have you with us. You know, a lot of reaction this holiday weekend to plans of a mass deportation here in the U.S., the Washington Post reporting the plan to deport undocumented Central American migrants.

This is a plan which the DEA test (ph) reportedly has not given final approval to. We need to make that point. But this would be nationwide. I could begin as early as next month, and it applies to families fleeing violence in Central America, specifically adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the U.S. by an immigration judge. They would be detained wherever they can be found, and immediately deported, even though it's a holiday weekend.

The presidential candidates are reacting to this. I want to tell you first of all what Bernie Sanders said.

He blasted the plan, saying quote "We must take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out." Donald Trump took credit for the plan, tweeting "Wow, because of the pressure put on by me, ICE to launch large scale deportation raids. It's about time." And then we heard from Hillary Clinton as well. She kind of tried to land somewhere in between it seems, saying quote "It's critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it. And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues."

Let's talk about this with CNN political commentator, Errol Louis. Errol, it's so good to have you with us. So, I, I want to go with, with Trump first and the fact that he's taking credit for this, which there's no sign that he is to be credited for, no sign that he's not. Do American people, however, really believe that the federal government is taking its cues from Trump?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, I doubt that. In a political season, unfortunately, Christi, this is being turned into a, a football. I mean there's a remarkable -- I mean you did a great job of summarizing it, but this is a remarkably complex set of problems that are going on. I mean Donald Trump has called for the deportation of 11 million people who are estimated to be here -- who are undocumented. You're talking about, and what the Department of Homeland Security is talking about is a very, very small sliver of that. And what they're saying is that, if you have been adjudicated as not eligible for asylum, and if you are here improperly, and if you -- you've been heard by an immigration judge, you have got to go. And that is a relatively small set of people. It's certainly emotionally potent, it's certainly politically very much in the news, I guess, or on the lips of the candidates. But this is not something new. In fact, of all of the problems that we have as far as trying to get our arms around this whole immigration problem, this is one of the relatively simple one, you know. I mean, again, this -- these are people whose names are known, whose cases were heard, whose disposition has already been ordered by the federal government.

PAUL: Mm-hmm. And with that said, you know, we look at the timing here, it does seem to put Hillary Clinton in a tough spot per se. She didn't necessary go one way or the other with this, with that statement. And I'm wondering, how do you think it is that she might be able to balance this without seeming to look oppositional to her base?

LOUIS: Well, as, as always when you're talking about the Clintons, when you're talking about Hillary Clinton, you have to do look a little bit at the fine print. And just the quote that you read, Christi, suggests that, you know, whose claims have been heard? Well, that's the category that we're talking about right here.

Their claims were heard and, as heartbreaking as it may be, as unfair as it may seem, as inhumane as some might find it for political or even religious grounds, the, the reality is, once you've gone before an immigration judge, once the, the law has been tested against the facts of your situation, you know, that's one of -- that's the hard part, is just getting somebody to show up in court, getting the claim processed.

Once it's been processed, however, you know, at, at some point you've got to decide, well, look, at least in this category we, we sort of went through those claims. I think that's where Hillary Clinton is going to stay, and say, listen, we've got a huge backlog of cases, we've got lots of people who, who are in the shadows and never, ever see the light of day in a court. But I think most Americans, for political purposes as well as in reality, believe that, you know, you should have your day in court. And once you've had that day in court, as Hillary's position so far, you know, we've got to, we've got to take that seriously.

PAUL: Mm-hmm. All right. I want to talk about the calendar if I could for just a second here. Because, as we look at what's happening, for the first time really in a long time, the Iowa caucuses are late this year. Usually they're a couple days after New Year's. This year they're not until February first. I'm curious as to whether that might do anybody in the Repub -- on the Republican side any favors, heading into that caucus?

LOUIS: Well, I think that some of the candidates think it's going to do them a favor. In this next week, if you look at the schedule, it looks like Christ Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, is going to make a swing through Iowa, and do something like three or four town hall meetings and some meet and greets, and so forth. He hasn't been polling very well there at all. Most of his attention, and time, and effort, and polling results are really focused on New Hampshire. So he thinks that he's got enough time to sort of sneak in there and maybe get something going.

PAUL: Does he? I mean, Errol, historically, when we look at -- when we look at this extra time, will this extra three weeks really make a difference to any candidate?

LOUIS: Oh, I think it absolutely could. I mean, Christi, if you look back to 2008, Mike Huckabee kind of snuck in at the last minute. He was supposed to be coming in third. He ended up winning the caucuses. Up until a couple of weeks before the caucuses four years ago, Rick Santorum was in seventh place. He was polling in single digits. Came from behind. I mean, you know, this is a process that -- caucuses in particular -- that reward organization, that rewards multiple attempts to sort of reach people and set things up so that, when the caucus arrives, you can actually just execute and get your people out into the polling site. So four weeks is an eternity when it comes to that kind of on-the-ground organizing.

PAUL: A very good point. Errol Louis, always appreciate your insight, sir. Thank you for being with us.

LOUIS: Absolutely. Thanks, Christi.

PAUL: Sure.

BARNETT: All right. Surely this is the first day there've been two Errols on this show, by the way.

Still to come on NEW DAY Weekend, we've got a new development in the case of that Texas judge shot outside of her home last month. Also coming up, a Christmas miracle. Why a Florida family is thankful their daughter is alive after a close brush with death. And the very important message they have for other parents giving their children flu shots. More on that after this.


BARNETT: Welcome back, everyone. A fire at former President Bill Clinton's childhood home. This is in Hope, Arkansas. It's now being investigated as arson. Police say the fire began in the back of the home early Friday morning and, in addition to the damage from flames, the home's walkway and door were vandalized with graffiti. The home is a National Historic Site. Clinton lived there for the first four years of his life.

PAUL: A Texas judge shot last month in Austin is home this morning from the hospital. Julie Kocurek was shot and wounded in her driveway on November sixth. A person of interest in the attack is still in jail on an unrelated murder charge, but police believe she was targeted. Again, the news is she is finally home.

BARNETT: Pope Francis calls for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world in his Christmas Day message. The Pope also called for Israeli-Palestinian talks, and appeared close to endorsing a two-state solution. He also prayed that the U.N. agreement on Syria would succeed in halting that country's devastating civil war.

PAUL: Well, a Florida family is so grateful for what they're calling a Christmas miracle because they say this is something that saved their daughter's life.

BARNETT: That's right, and they're not just being thankful; they're paying it forward. They have advice to share. This morning they have a message for parents about one of the best holiday gifts you can give your child.

Here's CNN medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, with their story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Errol, Christi, the flu season is upon us, and a Florida family spent Christmas Day here, at the intensive care unit at this hospital. Their daughter was perfectly healthy until the flu attacked her heart. Gemma Botelho was a completely healthy four-year-old little girl. And now she's fighting for her life in this intensive care unit because of the flu.

ALEXANDER BOTELHO, FATHER: I really thought that was the end.

COHEN: You thought she was not going to make it? BOTELHO: No.


COHEN: On Sunday, December 13th, Gemma had a slight fever.

SZABO: She wasn't extremely sick at all.

COHEN: On Monday Gemma felt better. She even danced in her school's Christmas play. But then, three days later...

SZABO: She was pale, she had cold hands, cold feet.

BOTELHO: The way she spoke to us, how she was trying to say something's wrong. I could tell 'cause she never spoke to me with that tone before. It's like asking for help.

COHEN: Her parents, Lejla Szabo and Alex Botehlo, took Gemma to the emergency room, just in the nick of time. She arrived and went into cardiac arrest.

SZABO: The feeling of losing your child right in front of you.

COHEN: You thought you were going to lose her?



COHEN: Her heart wasn't doing anything?



COHEN: Doctors performed CPR on Gemma for 45 minutes.

SZABO: He told me then, you know, you just have to look back and you just have to appreciate these four and a half years that we had with her.

COHEN: Doctors couldn't get Gemma's heart working again. They put her on life support and sent her in a helicopter to a transplant center, thinking she'd need a new heart.

SZABO: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, her heart wasn't doing anything. So...

COHEN: (inaudible) no activity?

SZABO: Nothing, absolutely no. No activity, no pulse.

COHEN: The Sunday before Christmas her parents asked friends around the world to say prayers for their daughter at mass.

BOTELHO: One in Argentina, in Brazil, in Italy, and one in Miami, eleven o'clock.

COHEN: Everyone did a mass at the same time?

BOTELHO: Yeah, yes, for her.

SZABO: Yes (inaudible).

COHEN: And that's when Leyla and Alex say they got their Christmas miracle.

BOTELHO: She start to bounce back on Sunday.

COHEN: All of a sudden, on Sunday, Gemma's heart started to beat again. Can you explain it?

DR. JEFFREY JACOBS, ALL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Sometimes we don't understand everything that happens in medicine.

COHEN: What's Gemma's prognosis? How's she going to do?

JACOBS: I think she's doing to make a great recovery. A month from now this is going to be just a little bump in the road for her life, and she should be back to doing the things she's always done.

COHEN: No one can explain why some healthy children like Gemma get so desperately ill from the flu.

Did Gemma ever get a flu shot?

SZABO: Never.


COHEN: Because?

SZABO: Because I, I didn't think of the flu as a, as a serious illness.

COHEN: But now they do, and the parents of this little girl who dreams of being a doctor when she grows up, have a message to other parents. Get your child vaccinated for the flu.

Gemma is doing better, but she's still not out of the woods yet. Now every year children do die of the flu, and it's not too late to get a flu shot this season. Errol, Christi.


PAUL: Wow. That is -- if you want to reminder, that's it.

BARNETT: Because people do forget the flu can be deadly...

PAUL: It can be so serious.

BARNETT: they avoid those shots (ph), but there's a story for you. PAUL: Yeah, you're right.

BARNETT: All right. Still to come here on NEW DAY, a top commander of a Syrian rebel force is killed in an air strike. Who was he exactly, and how significant is this on the war on terror. Our military analysts weigh in.

PAUL: Also, the man accused of the shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic last month says he wants to represent himself in court. Talking to a criminal defense attorney about the consequences and the possibility of that.

BARNETT: And we are keeping a close eye on this breaking news. A wildfire growing in Southern California, already forcing road closures and mandatory evacuations. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have clothes, we don't have -- and this all I have is what I have on. It's discouraging. We lost everything. My child he didn't get none of his Christmas items.


PAUL: Oh, you just feel for these people. A Mississippi family woke up Christmas morning to what you're looking at there. Their home of 10 years ruined, completely flooded with at least two feet of water inside.

[06:30:00] A lot of Southern states have been drenched over the last 24 hours. Some spots getting ten or more inches of rain. And more could be on the way today. We are going to keep you updated throughout the morning on the weather story. Because it is certainly severe and dangerous.

BARNETT: Also, take a look at this, the ATF have been called in to investigate, after a suspicious fire nearly destroyed a mosque in Texas. 80 firefighters responded to this blaze after flames broke out following a Friday prayer service. Investigators say the fire appeared to have multiple points of entry, but that it's too soon to determine the cause.

PAUL: And in southern California, take a look at some of the pictures we're getting in here. A wildfire forces officials to close two major roadways, and issue mandatory evacuations now, Venture County fire officials say the 101 freeway and the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway near the city of Ventura both shut down. Firefighters there working to battle an uncontained 900 acre fire. This is north of the city, and it is growing rapidly, we are told, this fire. The Solimar beach community under those mandatory evacuations. The Faria Beach community under a voluntary evacuation at the moment. We are going to have a live report for you on this at the top of the hour.

We do have some breaking news I want to show you out of Japan. A U.S. airbase ordered personnel to shelter in place. This was after some sort of security incident. The Yokota Airbase is located northwest of Tokyo.

BARNETT: This is all -- just broke in the past few hours. Let's bring in CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, as I mentioned. This is still breaking at the moment. But you have been to this air base. So just fill us in. What kinds of incidents would call for a shelter in place?

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Errol. There are a lot of things that could happen, that could result in this. But things like bank robberies and oddly enough, bank robberies actually do occur on military bases every now and then. Fortunately, they're very rare, but something like that could spark it, a domestic dispute could spark it, some kind of a hostage situation. So, of course, all of this is speculation at this point. But the basic idea is that any type of incident like this such as what happened at the Washing ton Navy Yard would result in a shelter in place order from the base commander. And Yokota is a base where, you know, obviously, it's a very big base. It's the headquarters of the fifth air force and U.S. forces Japan. So, there is some important installations that are there. And it has a great deal of significance for the U.S. presence in that country.

BARNETT: It certainly does, and as we should keep mentioning. This is as far as we know, just a security incident at this moment. But what is the usual procedure if there is some kind of security threat on what is a very key and important international airbase?

LEIGHTON: So, when they shelter in place, they are really telling people that they need to stay where they are. What they are looking for is making sure that whoever is perpetrating in incident of this particular magnitude or this this particular type is contained, that they can catch any suspects that are involved in something, you know, that maybe criminal activity or violent activity. And what they do, is they shut all the access points to the base. They also make sure that the access points to big installations, important installations are sealed and that they are monitored. So that means the runways in the case of an airbase like Yokota are, it also means that the headquarters buildings for U.S. forces Japan in this case or -- the air force, or any of the other major units that are on that base.

BARNETT: All right, so they have procedures for this sort of thing. But as I mentioned, this is still breaking. Colonel, great to get your insight on that. Stay with us, though, as we tackle some other big stories here.

LEIGHTON: You bet. Absolutely.

PAUL: Thank you for staying with us. Because we need to talk about Syria. There is a powerful rebel commander that's been killed in an airstrike in the Damascus suburb there. The group Jaish al-Islam confirmed Zahran Alloush's death and they've already appointed a new leader, apparently. Syria state-run news agency aired aerial footage, apparently of the strike or from it, but it's not clear whether Syrian on Russian planes carried it out. I want to bring in CNN's Robin Kriel. Robin, first of all, what do we know about this rebel leader and this group?

ROBIN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, effectively, Zahran Alloush was the commander of what is being described as one of the most effective rebel groups battling the Syrian government. Now, it wasn't just the Syrian government that Jaish el-Islam was battling. They were also targeting ISIS. So, we know that as ISIS was growing and -- growing and expanding across Syria. That Jaish al-Islam was also expanding, especially in eastern Damascus in the suburbs of Damascus. So, we also - there was also a video that was released, Christi, of this particular rebel group executing ISIS prisoners, so in terms of battling the Islamic State, we know that this group was committed to that as well as not being aligned with al Qaeda. So this was supposedly supposed to be a more moderate group and Zahran Alloush, the leader who was killed in that airstrike, supposedly a more moderate leader, although, still very violent. His group was behind a 2012 attack on the national security agency in Damascus, which killed a number of people, sorry, and targeting specifically the Syrian government and al Assad's government.

PAUL: So, Jaish al-Islam, I understand, is considered a terror group by the Assad regime. Can you expand more and what all of that means?

KRIEL: Yes, the Assad regime along with the number of other groups, rebel groups battling the Assad regime, they do consider them a terror group as does Russia. Remember, Russia is also on the side of Bashar al-Assad and his government. Although the United States and some other allies are not on the side of Bashar al-Assad and his government. So, it's really quite confusing that he is the - He would have been the enemy of some. For example, you know, if those were Russian jets that attacked that meeting, the high level meeting of rebel commanders, in which Zahran Alloush was killed, or whether it was Syrian, it could have been either. But, indeed, they all do battle ISIS as well. As was this group. So, it really is quite confusing on the ground as to who is supporting whom.

PAUL: Yeah, no doubt about it. The only commonality they have is fighting ISIS.

Robin Kriel, we appreciate it so much. Thank you.

BARNETT: Let's bring in back in our CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton to discuss this. Colonel, you have been listening to our correspondent there in London. And as Robin was mentioning, Jaish al-Islam was one of the main rebel groups expected the whole talks for the Assad's government next year. This was a group that was considered key to this peace process. So, with the death of its leader possibly by Russian hands. What does that mean for the peace process looking ahead?

LEIGHTON: Well, Errol. It's a very serious blow to Saudi Arabia. Because Saudi Arabia was the big sponsor of Jaish al-Islam and actually the father of the leader Zahran Aloush who was killed was also a resident, an ISIL's (ph) resident in Saudi Arabia. They are Salafists, which is an offshoot of Islam, that is a fairly strict interpretation of Sunni Islam. They also, interestingly enough, had said some positive things about al Qaeda and about Osama bin Laden specifically. So although they are against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, they are somewhat -- somewhat pro al Qaeda, at least the al Qaeda that Osama bin Laden ran, they also are very much against Hamas. They are very much against the Iranian presence in the Syrian civil war. And so as a result of this, the death of Aloush is a very big blow to this group. And this group is actually a coalition of about 60 different terrorists and what the certain government would call terrorist groups and what we would generally term as being the fighters against the Assad regime. So that is a very serious situation. And it's really designed to help the Russians and the Syrian government gain the upper hand in the peace talks that will be coming up next year, as you mentioned.

BARNETT: Well, but they may gain an upper hand peace talks, but tactically on the ground, they may have opened, really made an opening for ISIS, because this group, that was apparently very successful in keeping ISIS away from Damascus, particularly the Eastern suburb. So, if you think that with the leader of this group being killed, that that session may change.

LEIGHTON: It could. And, now, of course, they were very quick to appoint a new leader. But in these situations, where there is in essence somewhat of a top down command structure, the group that is affected, in this case, we are talking about a group that has somewhere around 20,000 or so fighters, they could seriously be impacted from a moral standpoint and also from a support standpoint. Right now the Saudi Arabians are and the Turks were also supporters of this group Jaish al-Islam. They are really scrambling to fill that void. Because both Saudi Arabia and Turkey want to make sure that their interests are represented at the Syrian peace talks and this could not only adversely affect that, but it could affect that tactical situation that you talked about. If it opens the door to ISIS, then that creates another problem for the Russians and for the Syrian government.

BARNETT: Yeah, there are so many external forces at play inside Syria. It can get quite complicated. I appreciate Colonel Leighton coming in and giving us some of your insight this weekend. I appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, Errol.

PAUL: Meanwhile, President Obama took a break from his family vacation in Hawaii, making his annual visit to -- the troops at the Marine Corps base Hawaii there. Obama calls the event one of his favorite things to do and promised the men and women in uniform that their service is never taken for granted.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As we know -- when you are deployed overseas, it's tough. And even though we've been able to reduce the number of folks who are deployed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there's still folks over there every single day. It's still dangerous as we saw this past week. We had some outstanding brave men and women who are killed. And so, we never take it for granted, what all of you do for the American people. You help keep us free, you help keep us strong, and whatever service you are in, whatever branch we are extraordinarily grateful for everything that you do every single day.


PAUL: And you heard the president mention now what happened earlier this week: Six Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Bagram, Afghanistan. The president calling them outstanding and brave.

BARNETT: Now, as we look back at the new stories of 2015, we want to focus on one that's spot heated controversy here in the United States and in Europe. The refugee crisis.

PAUL: Also ahead, the fast fact in the Planned Parenthood clinic massacre plans to represent himself in court. Some legal analysis on his defense straight ahead.


PAUL: So, as we head towards the new year, this is that time of year when we kind of look at what's happened already. And one of the big stories this year was this refugee crisis. And I don't know if you are aware of this, but the number of migrants who've entered Europe by land and sea has now passed the 1 million mark.

BARNETT: Really, staggering when you think about it. CNN's Arwa Damon, Nima ElBagir, Nick Paton Walsh, Clarissa Ward and Ivan Watson. They all covered the crisis in this report. At round table, they discussed their experiences.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you ever think you'd see just this masses of people marching through Europe like that? I don't think I ever would have imagined a scene like that.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know when they get to Greece in the boats that just keep on coming and coming.

There is this logic out there. Why don't they just stay in Lebanon or Turkey? You know, they're safe.

DAMON: Would you?



DAMON: No, because you need a life. You need to be able to build a life. You need to be able to build a future for yourself.

ELBAGIR: For your children.

DAMON: And you are not going to have a future sitting in a refugee camp, on in a country where you can't actually get a job, you can't pursue your education ... (CROSSTALK)

DAMON: Pursue your life. And you know what, sadly the reality is, they're not going to go home. The war if Syria isn't going to end any time soon. And even if it were to end tomorrow, I mean the country is ...

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is awful consequence for the decades to come, though, that the dentists, the architects, the boring people who do these important jobs, are not going to be there. And they are not going to want to go home, and they're going to be doing that job in Germany.

DAMON: This isn't necessarily, you know, the poorest of the poor that are making this journey. They can afford it.

WATSON: A lot of these folks are middle class people.

DAMON: Syria's ...

WATSON: They are going through safe parts of Syria.

DAMON: Syria's poorest of the poor sadly are the one that are either still in Syria, because they can't afford, so they've been getting bombed just about every single day. Or they're the ones who are stuck in the refugee camps. It's not a cheap journey.

WALSH: But it's so universal. It's the sheer volume of people doing it for totally understandable human reasons.

WATSON: There is no way the way that refugee trail unfolded is good for any of the refugees and migrants or for any of the European states. It kind of weakens European institutions. It weakens ...

DAMON: But it also became a debate.

WATSON: ... boundaries and borders.

DAMON: And that idea of, you know, Europe or even America, it's meant to be a democracy. It's meant to uphold all these ideals and values and to be treated like trash. That's how they felt, they felt like they were being treated like trash.

WATSON: I think it depend on the country or the border.

DAMON: Sure. Yes.

WATSON: That's not entirely fair. Because there were people who welcomed these migrants.

ELBAGIR: And people who made very difficult political decisions.

WATSON: Exactly. But it also created more of a pool factor. And that's ...

DAMON: Yes. WATSON: Was that better?

ELBAGIR: But then we had that conversation in the U.K. where the Conservatives said, if you stop saving them, they'll stop coming. And that you have to debate what that does to your humanity? Can you really watch thousands upon thousands of people washing up on shores?

DAMON: But that also, why does it have to get that bad for people to react? Why does it have to act that image ...


DAMON: I'm not encouraging you on the beach, for people to begin to react.


PAUL: It's a good question. We'll continue to -- more of that as well. Great insight there from people who have been in the middle of it.

Next, though, the case of the man accused of gunning down three people at Planned Parenthood clinic, may hinge on his mental capacity. Our criminal defense attorney weighing in on whether it's a good idea for him to represent himself? And could that really happen?

BARNETT: And coming up next hour, more on this developing story this morning, millions already impacted by deadly storms in the South East. Millions more will be hit by it as it moves on. We'll bring you the bleak forecast of more severe weather to come after this short break.



PAUL: It's for the 7:00 hour here right now. And the case against this man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic last month in Colorado Springs could hinge on whether he sounds mentally competent. Robert Dear appeared in court earlier this week. He actually interrupted his public defender and told the judge that he wants to represent himself. The judge ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation. However, in a previous court appearance earlier this month, the suspect indicated he would not cooperate with a mental evaluation.


ROBERT DEAR, ACCUSED PLANNED PARENTHOOD CLINIC SHOOTER: And I'm not going to agree that their mental health evaluations, where they want to take me and put me under psychotropic drugs, so that I can't talk like a fat man does.


PAUL: So, here's the thing, he is facing 179 felony counts, including murder and attempted murder, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson is with us here. So, Joey, first of all, and good morning to you. What if Dear won't cooperate with - in having a mental evaluation? At that point what happens?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Christi. Well, this is how it's going to go. The defendant, of course, has a right to self-represent. That is the law says that you can represent yourself. However, it's discretionary to the judge if you are not competent. And so, the reality is, is that anyone who is competent has an obligation or at least the Constitution provide that they can represent themselves. But the judge can say no in the event that there is not confidence. Now, we have an issue here, Christi, where he's saying, I am not going to cooperate. So, the judge can say, well, if you don't cooperate, you don't get the ability to represent yourself. And so, it's certainly possible, that while he may be found competent to stand trial, itself, he may not have the ability to move forward representing himself if he doesn't cooperate with the mental health evaluation.

PAUL: OK, but if he doesn't cooperate with that, surely you would think he's not going to cooperate then with people who would be assigned to be his attorneys. If, and on top of that, if he is deemed incompetent, if he's deemed incompetent to represent himself, does that mean that he is deemed incompetent and cannot go through a jury trial? Would that immediately be an insanity defense? What happens there?

JACKSON: It's a great point, Christi. There's a distinction between competent to stand trial and being competent to self represent. That is. In the event that you are oriented as to time and place, and you could understand the proceedings against you, the judge can order that the trial will move forward. However, it requires a higher degree of competency, obviously, in the event that you are going to be questioning witnesses, you are going to be given an opening statement, et cetera. And so, there's a distinction that the court makes between just having the ability at a minimum to have -- you know, to be there and actually stand trial and, number two, to actually question witnesses, participate in the proceedings and move forward. So, there is a distinction between the two. Now, the third prong of it, of course, what will be his defense. Certainly, we could see some insanity type of defense raised. And that, of course, is different as well. Because now you are going to have an issue where, were you insane? Not at the time that the proceedings are going on, but at the time of the commission of the offense, itself, and then, of course, in Colorado, the burden would be on the prosecution to prove sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. Unlike many jurisdictions, Christi, where he defendant, him or herself would have the obligation to prove that they are, indeed, sane?

PAUL: Right. And I would say, it just not make sense for him to represent himself and stand up and claim that he was insane at the time and then we are expected to believe that he is now saying enough to argue that moment, that he was insane at the time.


Do you see in any of this, one that, he might actually be able to represent himself and, two, that the death penalty could come into play here?

JACKSON: You know with regard to the death penalty, Colorado has the death penalty, but it hasn't been used. I mean the fact is in the last 40 years, they've executed one person. And you might remember the Aurora, Colorado, shooter, movie theater shooter, killed 12 people, injured 70. He didn't get the death penalty. I think with the mental health component it would be very difficult. In terms of him representing himself, a judge can certainly find that he is able to do it, but a lot would have to do with whether he participates in the competency proceedings that he doesn't do that, and the judge could say, you know what, I am not going to allow you to actually stand forward and represent yourself. And so, that remains to be seen in terms of his cooperation or participation in those mental health proceedings.

PAUL: All right. Joey Jackson, always good to see you, sir. Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Christi.

PAUL: Of course. Errol.

BARNETT: Still to come at the top of the hour, we are keeping an eye on breaking news out of the West Coast A wildfire in Southern California forcing road closures and mandatory evacuations. Also, pop star Madonna's big custody battle. If you heard about this, why her teenage son refuses to live with her in New York. And her fight to keep him there. Also, a secret gift sends a woman into a happy frenzy. The video is going viral. This is my favorite story of the day. And you'll see it.


PAUL: You've got to see this, the moment an Indiana woman learns she is a grandmother. Her reaction is priceless. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh! Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! I have been dreaming this.


PAUL: Oh, that itself the best. She had no idea her son and daughter in law were visiting for the holidays for one, but that is their newly adopted baby girl that they brought with them to surprise grandma who is overjoyed, as you can see.