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Millions Impacted by Deadly Storms; Evacuations Underway in California; Security Incident on U.S. Air Base in Japan; Iraqi Troops 1 Mile from ISIS-Held Compound in Ramadi; Inside Look at the Big Money Political Donors; Report: Madonna's Teen Soon Ordered Back to U.S. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired December 26, 2015 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: -- newly adopted baby girl they brought with them to surprise grandma who is overjoyed as you can see.

[07:00:07] ERROL BARNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see her kids and her new grandkids.

PAUL: So sweet. Congratulations to them, and merry Christmas to everybody there.

But little that woman knows she's going to be on national television.


PAUL: There is a lot of news that we have to talk to you about this morning.

BARNETT: That's right.

The next hour of your NEW DAY starts now.


PAUL: Oh, breaking overnight -- deadly weather hammers the South, the Midwest, homes are destroyed, roads are washed out. People are upset. And it's not over. There is another system that could impact more than 22 million of us.

BARNETT: And we got breaking news from the West Coast out of southern California. This rapidly growing wildfire has forced evacuations and road closures. We'll talk to officials on the ground to see what condition there are like. And we'll see if they can get the word out to residents.

PAUL: Also, a fierce battle under way in Iraq, to retake the city of Ramadi from ISIS terrorists. Door to door combat underway. Bobby traps are set by ISIS, though. They are slowing the Iraqi forces down. Can they finally drive ISIS out of that key city?

Well, wishing you a good morning on a Saturday at 7:00. I'm Christi Paul. We're always so grateful for your company --

BARNETT: Hey there. PAUL: -- and yours.

BARNETT: Surprise, everyone. I'm Errol Barnett, in for Victor Blackwell. The second hour with you, Christi, is a good. Like to keep it up.

PAUL: Oh, good man here. Thanks so much.

BARNETT: I know, the end of the fifth hour.

PAUL: I know, the end of the fifth hour.

Listen, we want to start with this wild weather across the U.S. Blizzards in the U.S., powerful rain storms in the east. Fourteen million of us facing new severe weather threats today, and that's going to rise to more than 22 million of us tomorrow.

BARNETT: And consider this: in just the past 24 hours the South has been getting drenched with double digit rain totals, forcing terrible flooding in some places. You see some of the footage there. This same region reeling from the tornado outbreak earlier this week. Unfortunately, the death toll continues to rise. At least 15 people are confirmed dead. Dozens more are injured across Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.

We want to bring in our Nick Valencia, because he is following all of the latest developments with this deadly system.

And, Nick, 15 dead so far. That could rise in the next two hours.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could, Errol. And Alabama suffers the brunt of the damage overnight. It was a Christmas Day tornado there in Birmingham that trapped people as Errol was talking about.

This is a part of the same string of storms that has swept through the south the past couple of days, causing major damage there. Just a look at this home, a tree into the home.

Errol was talking about 15 people's lives have been claimed as a result of these storms. Among the youngest victim, a 7-year-old boy in Mississippi.


VALENCIA (voice-over): 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 roads impassable. 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 was done, it was confined to approximately one square mile. We have three structures, three houses left.

We transported one person from the scene. There were two others that were removed from the structures. We reported 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 tornadoes that killed at least eight people in the state. Many roads are flooded and some people are dealing with rising what under the circumstances in their home.

In Wren, Mississippi, Victor and Tamika Hale (ph) watched as their home of ten years was overtaken by water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lawn mower, the trailer, it just floated away, garbage cans, everything is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened so fast, that it get up and get out, everything went away way too fast.

VALENCIA: The couple is now homeless, staying with relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We lost everything. My child, he didn't get any Christmas items.


VALENCIA: Certainly a difficult Christmas for all those affected there in the south. Two people are still unaccounted for in the state of Mississippi. Folks there all across the southern United States need your help. If you feel compelled, try to help out those affected, you can go to our Web site, to help the victims of those deadly holiday storms -- Christi, Errol.

PAUL: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

And, of course, coming on this week when a lot of you might be listening from your cars or watching from the airport, trying to get home.

[07:05:07] This wicked weather is not going to make it easy for you.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has more on what to expect.

Because this is one storm. There is another one, is there not, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're going to be dealing with a series of multiple weather events. You can technically tie them back to this same system.

Now, here's a look at what we had so far through Monday -- four-to-six inches, we've had at least over ten inches in parts of Oklahoma City, and again, we are talking almost ten inches in parts of Alabama and Georgia as well. But the severe weather threat ramps up yet again today.

We've got this new system stretching from San Francisco up towards Cincinnati. They could be bringing in damaging winds and isolated tornadoes. That system begins to push farther east as we go into Sunday. So, now, the threat becomes Memphis, to Dallas, to Houston, down to New Orleans. So, any of these cities that you have travel plans, you definitely want to check with your airline carrier to make sure there may not be any delays.

Flooding threat is also a huge concern today. We still have numerous flood watches, flood warnings and flash flood warnings still for Alabama.

But behind this system, we're talking about a different scenario. This is the cold air. We have winter storm watches, blizzard watches, blizzard warning in effect, notice as the front begins to push a little farther off to the north, and the low swings up. We have not only rain and severe weather for parts of the Southeast.

But all this snow behind it, take a look, Chicago Monday morning, not exactly a good location to be. If you are traveling in or out of Chicago on Monday morning, definitely give yourself some extra time or check with your airline carrier because we're going to be dealing with big travel delays there, again in a lot of these cities, Christi, over the next couple of days.

PAUL: All righty. Allison Chinchar, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

We want to get back to some of other breaking news that we're following, this wildfire in southern California, forcing officials to close two major roadways and issue mandatory evacuations now this morning. This is some of the video that's just coming into us overnight.

Ventura County fire officials say the 101 Freeway, and the Pacific Coast Highway, two major thoroughfares there, near the city of Ventura shut down this morning, firefighters working to battle an uncontained 900-acre fire north of the city. The Solimar Beach community is under mandatory evacuations. The Faria Beach community is under a voluntary evacuation.

Let's talk to Captain Mike Lindberry with the Ventura County fire department.

Captain, thank you so much for being with us. I know that a lot of people travel these roads on a daily basis. When do you anticipate they might reopen?

CAPTAIN MIKE LINDBERRY, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPT (via telephone): Well, thank you for having me this morning. You know, it's a really good question, unfortunately, it's one I'm unable to answer right now.

You know, this fire started over four hours ago and we haven't seen any change in the intensity in the burning along that freeway corridor. As a matter of fact, we've seen multiple spot fires in between the lanes of the freeway, in between the 101 and PCH.

What we're dealing with here is, this corridor along with the I-5 corridor, the primary corridors here in California, this can have a major impact on our holiday traffic. We're going to do everything we can to get this opened as soon as we can. But we can't do it until we can do it safely.

PAUL: Sure. And, Captain, you mentioned this has been going on four hours. As I understand, it is still a zero containment. What is your biggest obstacle at this point?

LINDBERRY: Well, you know, there are multiple forces coming together here. As you know, we had a very exceptional drought here in California. These fields are very, very dry. We haven't had any rain, significant rain to speak of so far this year and this area is now under a wind advisory. We've had gusts up to 47 to 50 miles an hour in the area.

So, we had been challenged in every area on this incident, that fuels are very fine, they're burning very rapidly. And this fire was probably up to 100 acres within minutes of being reported if that can give you an idea how fast it's spreading.

PAUL: Any indication what started it?

LINDBERRY: No indication at this point. There is a lot of infrastructure up in the hills above where this fire is burning now. That's a possibility. But we're going to have to get in there and take a look at it.

PAUL: You mentioned the dry brush. Do you see any significant building, homes, companies that are threatened at the moment?

LINDBERRY: A lot of that infrastructure I mentioned in this area nor of highway 101. There is a lot of drilling. There are a lot of oil wells up in the areas. And the structures that come along with that sort of operation. But we do have 30 to 35 homes in the Solimar Beach area that are currently under a mandatory evacuation and are threatened.

[07:10:07] And we have a number of homes in another area that are under voluntary evacuation. The big factor is which way is this wind going to pan out? When the sun comes up, if it heads out of the south-southwest, it can glow this fire back towards the north. And then we have a lot of structures in another area that we'll be used to bypass on the 101, that can really create an issue.

PAUL: You mentioned oil wells and we just have a second here. But I wanted to ask you about that.

Do those oil wells pose any particular threat, advanced threat?

LINDBERRY: It's something that we'll consider, but we haven't seen any problems yet. Most of those oil wells we require the companies to provide a lot of the defensible space around those wells. So, often, you're just going to have a well on a pad that is surrounded just by dirt with no vegetation.

PAUL: OK, all right. Well, Captain Mike Lindberry, I know that you've got a big job this morning. Thank you so much, taking some time to talk to us. And hopefully, we'll get some updates throughout the morning. But best of luck to you and the crews there. Stay safe.

LINDBERRY: Thank you, Christi. Bye.

PAUL: Thank you, Captain.

BARNETT: And he said there, that fire moved quickly. We're fighting to get a hand him on it.

Still to come this hour on NEW DAY, less than a mile away, the Iraqi military have a visual on ISIS fighters. This is in Ramadi. But will they be able to take back control of this strategic city?

PAUL: Plus, the queen of pop entangled in an international custody battle. We'll have details on Madonna's fight to get her son back.

BARNETT: Also developing, a suspicious fire at a Houston mosque is now under federal investigation. This after officials discover multiple points of origin. We're back in a moment.


BARNETT: Welcome back.

New this morning, a federal investigation in Texas, after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is called in to investigate a suspicious mosque fire.

[07:15:00] Now, here's what happened: the blaze broke out yesterday afternoon after Friday prayers. It took 80 firefighters to get the flames under control. No one was injured. But members of the mosque congregation were understandably rattled.


ACHREF BAVAL, MOSQUE ATTENDEE: A burned mosques, burned chairs, or a burned synagogue or a burned temple, it's not good to see it like that. The mosque is doing a great job to educate the community, not to hurt people, and to educate people to do the good and forbade the evil.


BARNETT: Investigators say it's the, quote, "multiple points of entry" for the fire that led them to call this blaze suspicious.

Joining me now on the phone is Jonathan Gilliam. He's a CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI special agent and former Navy SEAL as well.

Thanks for joining us on the phone today, Jonathan. This fire now being called suspicious because of its multiple points of entry. Some attendees are hoping it's just an accident. But what are your thoughts?

JONATHAN GILLIAM, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I mean, they have multiple points of entry. I'm not an expert on fire, per se. But once the ATF or those individuals actually handle fire on scene and say that this rises to the little of suspicious, we have to concur looking at this, like any other investigation, as though this is the possibility that nefarious activity is what led to this.

Then, the investigation will start to unfold similarly to any other type of investigation once the FBI gets on scene, but takes over, but from I have been reading, the FBI does not have people on right now that they're probably waiting on the experts that do arson investigations to come to their findings before they take over that investigation.

BARNETT: OK. Because we should note, this is a second mosque fire in recent weeks, there was another one in California's Coachella Valley. Do you fear and, of course, investigators have to consider that this would be a part of a backlash following the terrorist attacks we all witnessed in San Bernardino?

GILLIAM: Sure. I mean, I'm positive that they have that in mind. These are a little bit far apart, so they may not be connected. But they will be looking at all those things. I mean, any time a religious institution is involved in nefarious activity, whether it's burns or bombs, especially if it's across state lines, they will start to pay close attention to that, because there's special attention always paid to religious institution.

And same thing with political individual who are politicians, same type of special investigation has to be put forward to these different things.

BARNETT: All right. That's our CNN law enforcement analyst Jonathan Gilliam on the phone with us there, noting special investigator e versions to arrive at the scene to answer these very important questions. Jonathan, thanks.

Now, did you wake up Christmas morning missing a gift because it wasn't delivered on time?

Did you get all your gifts?

PAUL: I did. Well, no, actually I didn't. It wasn't for this week.

BARNETT: OK. I was going to say, you are not alone. You see severe weather that we've been talking about in parts of the South, well, it kept FedEx from delivering gifts by Christmas Eve. But see how the company tried the make up for the delay.

PAUL: They're famed, you know, disadvantaged as we are when the weather hits, right? And in Indiana, there was a delivery, unexpected gift. FedEx couldn't

deliver this one, people. We show you what caused this reaction.


[07:21:27] PAUL: Twenty-one minutes past the hour. Look at this. That's a bridge in southern Indiana that's going to need some repair after that semi truck caused it to collapse.

Police say the semi was just too big for the bridge, and its trailer got caught. There were two women in the truck. Thankfully, neither was injured.

BARNETT: Let's take you to South Australia now. Hundreds of firefighters there spent Christmas Day trying to get a handle on this massive bush fire south of Melvin.

More than 100 homes have been destroyed so far. Some 1,600 residents in a nearby tourist town were evacuated Friday, but were allowed to return today.

PAUL: And some people are waking up furious at FedEx because the packages didn't get delivered in time for the holiday. But listen, it's because FedEx's main hub is in Memphis, Tennessee, and guess what? Severe weather there.

So, to make up for the delays, FedEx said some employees volunteered to work extra shifts on Christmas to help get packages to customers. Irate customers, though, took to social media to complain. Many calling FedEx the Christmas Grinch. But, hey, it's the weather, it's not tear fault.

BARNETT: Yes. Social media can find sympathy sometimes.


BARNETT: Now to a gift that was fought going to be lost. You got to see this, my favorite story of the day. It's the moment an Indiana woman learned she's a grandmother. Here is her priceless reaction.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been dreaming that it was a girl.


PAUL: Dreaming it was girl.


BARNETT: Listening there to Eva Goeb. She had no idea her son and daughter in law were visiting for the holidays. So, that was a surprise. It was more special when they handed her that bundle of joy, the newly adopted baby girl.

You can see, them and hear, grandma is overjoyed.

PAUL: We want to talk to them, if you are up. We want to talk you and find out more about that moment.

BARNETT: The baby seems so well behaved.

PAUL: So happy there. And I just keep thinking, oh, this poor woman had no idea on national television. Oh, it brings us joy.

Thank you for the smile this morning. We all need that, no doubt about it.

Because we're talking about this door to door fighting and booby traps set by ISIS. We do have some details this morning as the Iraqi military is inching close to the stronghold there in Ramadi.

BARNETT: Also, another story you may not have heard of -- Madonna's international custody battle for her son. Mom wants him home in New York. Dad wants him to stay in London. And the 15-year-old has his own opinion.

Stay with us.


PAUL: Here's a look at this week's mortgage rates for you.



[07:27:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: Yes, the breaking news out of Japan this morning, a U.S. airbase ordered personnel to shelter in place after some sort of security incident. Now, the Yokota Airbase is located northwest of Tokyo. Officials say the shelter in place order is a precaution to protect residents on base as professionals respond to this incident. Again, we do not know what this incident is.

Witnesses say the gates were locked down. There were long lines of cars formed outside the base. As soon as we get more details, certainly, we'll bring them to you.

BARNETT: Developing overnight in the Middle East, Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man this morning who they say tried to stab an officer in Jerusalem. On Christmas Day, Israeli police say they killed a Palestinian woman who tried to ram officers in her car. This is in a West Bank village near Bethlehem. Blocks and Molotov cocktails flew between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Christmas celebrations carried on despite that violent backdrop.

PAUL: And this morning, we have new video of the fierce battle to retake Ramadi from ISIS fighters, and a constant bombing that left that city in ruins at this point. Iraqi officials, they say that progress is slow, ISIS has left behind an awful lot of booby traps and IEDs. But they do predict Iraqi troops are very close to retaking the city completely.


LT. GEN. HAMID ATIYA AL-MALIKI, COMMANDER OF IRAQI ARMY AVIATION (through translator): The enemy began to fall apart. The city is surrounded by 360 degrees. We are one kilometer from the government compound.


PAUL: CNN correspondent Robyn Kriel is with us now.

So, Robyn, do we have any idea -- he said they are about a mile from the main compound. But do we have any idea how close the Iraqi forces are to retaking the city in full?

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand, Christi, is that there are -- there's about 70 percent of the city currently is in Iraqi forces hand and 30 percent is still in ISIS hands, that's the latest information from the Iraqi defense ministry.

Now, what does this mean exactly? It means that, of course, as you said, it is taking a very long time. They began this offensive, this real push on Tuesday, although, they have been conducting sort of larger operations to strangle the city of, to strangle ISIS, in particular, from its supply routes since November.

So, this has not started in the last few days. It's been an operation they have been preparing for, for a while. But the reason it's taking so long, as you mentioned booby traps, sniper fire, vehicle bombs, as well as the fact that they are worried about civilians being caught in the crossfire.

ISIS stopped a number of civilians from leaving the city. They did know this onslaught was coming. The Iraqi defenses forces did tell civilians that they should leave because they were going to launch these operations. So, many of them tried to leave, but many of them were stopped and there is the concern that ISIS is using them as human shields.

[07:30:05] PAUL: So, ISIS fighters, a lot of them, obviously, stayed to try to fend this off. Do we know what kind of -- what kind of a consequence this will be for ISIS in terms of their logistics and their morale, if this city does fall and goes back into Iraqi hands?

KRIEL: Well, I understand it will be as large a propaganda coup for the Iraqi defense forces as it would have been for ISIS back in May. It was hugely embarrassing for the Iraqis when the city fell and the ease with which it fell, because it was -- they simply ran out of ammunition, and I believe they were calling for more support from Baghdad and from the Americans, and according to people on the ground in Ramadi, the commanders on the ground, they weren't getting that support. But the reason, the embarrassment and ensuing criticism that came out,

especially from the United States, Ash Carter is saying that the Iraqis lacked a will to fight in that specific fight. So, it's hugely embarrassing. It mean at lot for them. I understand it will be the exact opposite for ISIS, when this folds, it will be a big loss to them. Of course, everyone will look at the number of cities fallen out of ISIS' hands.

But the question will be, just long how will they be able to hang onto it? ISIS can launch subsequent attacks.

PAUL: My next thought was how long can they hold onto it?

All right. Robyn Kriel, we appreciate it. Thank you.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring in now, CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He always helps us understand the complicated issues as they unfold in the Middle East.

And, general, you see the drugs in Ramadi from some of the videos the Iraqi military has released. If and when Iraqi forces do take the entire city back, we wonder how much will be left of it?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, unfortunately, Errol, this is something the Iraqi people have gotten used to -- rebuilding their cities, rebuilding their house. And it's a direct reflection of how much damage, first al Qaeda and Iraq and now ISIS does to communities. They not only impose their will on people that don't want that will imposed to them. But then after fighting multiple times and engaging with the Iraqi security forces, they will plant bombs inside of houses, what's called HBIEDs, house- borne improvised explosives devices.

I'm very familiar with those. I was in a house once. It was put in a booby trap mode like this. It will drop the ceiling or cause the house to explode. The only way you can get rid of those Bobby traps inside houses, for the most part, is to explode them, themselves, you can't oftentimes disarm those bombs.

So, yes, there will be a lot of damage in this city, after the Iraqi security forces gain complete control and they're on the verge of doing that now. The good thing is, though, the Iraqi government and Anbar government, primarily Sunnis are prepared to take over in an attempt to hold this city against further incursion by ISIS.

BARNETT: And what about civilians? ISIS always threatens residents, if they flee, they'll be killed. They now have this policy, the Iraqi military is trying to institute to allow people to wave white flags out of their homes, just so they know it's safe.

I mean, how much danger remains for civilians?

HERTLING: Well, quite a bit, actually. We're talking about -- ISIS has used minarets from mosque, another complete disregard of true Islam. They have used minarets and told the citizens they cannot surrender to the Iraqi security forces, that they're going to be killed if they try to escape. This is one more thing ISIS is doing.

But the danger is still there. I don't think you're going to see a whole lot of civilians waving white flags, because they are fearful for tear lives having lived under this organization the last six months or so.

It's going to continue to be a tough fight. But as you asked earlier, this is going to be a huge victory for the Iraqi government, because they have inculcated the Sunni tribes, the coalition forces have trained these fire brigades that have gone in there with the golden division, the special operations, and they have secured the city. It will mean good things for other communities that have Sunnis and Kurds saying, hey, the central government is prepared to assist, and it's not as much of a sectarian divide as it has been in the past.

BARNETT: Right, it shows they were able to begin the trust of locals there, which is no small feat. Just quickly while we have you, I want to pivot to the breaking news that we are following right now out of Japan, the Yokota Airbase there, issuing a call to shelter in place. This broke in the past hour or so. We don't have much information.

What do you know about what's happening there right now?

HERTLING: Well, a shelter in place is something that is used by a base commander to make sure people that are in the community, the military personnel and their family are kept safe. It is my understanding that that shelter in place has been lifted.

[07:35:00] The excuse given for putting it in place was, in fact, an unauthorized person with a suspicious package that entered the airbase. It was an extremely good reaction by the air force security people who guarded the base.

This is the location of the U.S. forces Japan headquarters. So, a lot of things go on there, a great action by the air force security people. A shout out to them.

BARNETT: All right. So, this may have been just a precautionary measure. We'll work to get that confirmed.

General Mark Hertling, thanks for insights today. Appreciate it.

HERTLING: Thank you, Errol.

PAUL: All righty. Up next, NBA star standing up, and speaking out against violence. We have details for you on this new public service announcement creating quite a stir.

BARNETT: That's right. Also, political jabs. A new Ted Cruz super PAC ad takes a swipe at rival Marco Rubio.


PAUL: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour right now.

And the Iowa caucuses are about a month. Political ads in full swing, as I'm sure you have seen, attacking some candidates, supporting others -- money paid for by big, many I should say are paid by big money donors, political action committees.

Well, Chris Frates joins us with a look at who is it giving their money and why are they doing it?

Good morning, Chris.


CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Christi. It's rare for big donors and politicians to speak about the relationship and what that money brings them.

But we recently talked to a top GOP money man who has given millions to politicians to the presidential candidate who's benefitted.

FOSTER FRIESS, GOP DONOR: Hi. I'm Foster Friess.

(voice-over): GOP money man Foster Friess has written his big checks to support his friend, Rick Santorum. In 2012, the retired billionaire money manager threw Santorum a lifeline when he gave the super PAC supporting him more than $2 million.

FRIESS: I think he's a champion of little guys. He's very presidential.

FRATES: In his heyday, Friess was making $10 million a month. Friess won't say how much he will give this campaign season but explains why he donates.

[07:40:02] FRIESS: I get a sense of satisfaction I am continuing the process that created my success.

FRATES: Friess prefers to give to super PACs, which can take as much cash as he's willing to give, instead of giving directly to campaigns, where the limit is $5,400.

FRIESS: When the super PAC came along, I realized that I can just write a check. It's a lot more effortless, and that seem to work.

FRATES: Santorum doesn't think he is trying to buy influence.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he was in it for access, he wouldn't be supporting some guy four years ago who's 1 percent in the polls. If he's in it for access, he wouldn't be supporting a guy four years later who's in 1 percent in the polls.

FRATES: Veteran GOP fundraiser Henry Barbour says passionate donors like Friess are outgunned by those seeking influence.

HENRY BARBOUR, REPUBLICAN FUNDRAISER: There are a lot of people give because they believe in something. They far outnumber the people that give access. Yet, the people for access different much larger dollars. FRATES: According to a non-partisan watchdog, so far this election

cycle, super PACs have raised $315 million and spent almost $100 million, much of it on ads. But those ads still leave Republican candidates far behind the front runner, who hasn't spent a dime on television advertising.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Super PACs are a disaster. They're a scam. They cause dishonesty. And you better get rid of them, because they are causing a lot of bad decisions to be made by some very good people. I'm not blaming these folks, but I guess I could.

FRATES: Some experts say big check writers are driven by a mix of business and ego.

LAWRENCE NOBLE, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER GENERAL COUNSEL: They're giving to people what they think will support what they want. And they are giving to people they know will answer their phone calls if they win and will give them access and will listen carefully to what they want on a public agenda.

FRATES: Those GOP presidential ads you see on TV, more than 70 percent of them so far have been paid for by super PACs. That's according to a recent report from a non-partisan watchdog group. But how successful those ads are is an open question. The report says Jeb Bush and the super PAC backing his campaign have spent almost $26 million airing 15,000 ads. Yet Bush is still polling in the single digits.

With the first contest over a month away, now is the time that money could be a game changer for many of the candidates -- Christi.


PAUL: All righty. Chris, thank you so much.

Let's talk to CNN political commentator and host of "The Ben Ferguson Show", the one and only Ben Ferguson, of course.


PAUL: Yes, merry Christmas to you, Ben. Thank you.

Hey, let's watch one of these ads that the super PACs put together for Cruz quickly and we'll talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He represents the people. He represents me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He actually went to Washington, D.C., and did what he told the voters he was going to do.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who actually stood up not just to Democrats but to leaders in our own party. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not afraid to say the honest truth, even from

the Senate floor, even if it's unpopular.


PAUL: So, the ad focuses on something that really, Ben, is quite polarizing to a lot of people, the fact that he stood up to leaders, some might try to switch around and say, well, yes, but that led to a shutdown, a government shutdown last year.

How much of a risk is it, these super PACs?

FERGUSON: It depends on the motive of the super PACs. I mean, some of these super PAC ads are there to harm other candidates. Some are just there to support candidates. I don't mind it when they're supporting a candidate and saying, hey, look, this is who Ted Cruz is, for example, this is why you should vote for them.

The same way with Foster Friess you just heard there. Foster is a perfect example where I don't really have a problem with super PACs when it comes to people like him, because he's not trying to pick the guy that's going to get the most influence. He is picking a guy that I think he believes in Rick Santorum, bests his ideals and values. He is willing to support that individual even when they're not at the top of the race.

So, you know, a lot of it, you look at it and you say, OK, some I don't like, some I do like. In reality, that's a part of politics. Super PACs are here. They're in this election. And everybody gets a shot at using them and everybody gets a chance to go after big donors or small donors to support super PACs. So, it's one of those things, where may the best man win.

PAUL: Well, can super PACs elect the president, though? Do you think they will be the difference?

FERGUSON: No. I don't. I don't think it can elect a president.

I think they certainly can hurt somebody who on the other -- you know, if you have a super PAC that's able to go after one candidate that you don't like. I think it can maybe eliminate a candidate if you have multiple super PACs kind of focusing in on one individual.

But look at a great example of how it's had virtually no influence in Donald Trump, and he's at the top of the polls. And there have been people with lots of money that'd been wanting to get rid of Donald Trump and get him down to the top spot. And either they have been too afraid to spend that money with their super PAC to do it, or when they have tried to go after a super PAC, it really hasn't worked?

PAUL: Well, I mean, he -- Trump, himself, calls super PACs a disaster.

FERGUSON: Yes, it's easier to say that when you're a multibillionaire.

PAUL: Yes, I was going to say, because he has said, because -- you know, as he said, he is self funded.

[07:45:02] FERGUSON: He's his own super PAC. That's how I look at it.

I mean, it takes a lot of money to run for the White House. Look how much money Barack Obama spent when he ran the first time and second time. It was unbelievable the amount of cash. Donald Trump, it's easy for him to cast stones at others. But not everyone in this race is a billionaire, much less a millionaire, a multi-millionaire. So he is his own super PAC.

And, Donald Trump, one of the things here, a little hypocrisy, Donald Trump has been supporting candidates and super PACs for years. He has been writing huge checks him he says, I was writing them for influence, now I'm not doing it.

Well, you are, are you writing a huge check for you, your own input. The same thing, it happens to have your name this time.

PAUL: Right. But a lot of people appreciate that, you know --

FERGUSON: It's always easy to go after other people and tell you how bad and evil and awful they are. But Donald Trump had no problem writing these checks for decades.

PAUL: Hmm, all righty. Ben Ferguson, it's always good to get your voice on this. Thank you.

FERGUSON: Thanks. Good to see you.

PAUL: You too.


BARNETT: Christi, we have been following breaking news of a wild wildfire in southern California. We want to bring you the latest on all of this. This video is just into CNN. Officials have been forced to close major roads. And there are mandatory evacuations under way. We're following this breaking story and we'll have the latest at the top of the hour.

Also coming up, Madonna's son doesn't want to come home. Next, details where Rocco says he doesn't want to come back to live with the queen of pop.

And it's being called a power move. See how these NBA players are using their fame off the court to tackle gun violence.

More on that after all this.


BARNETT: Welcome back, everyone.

Madonna's holiday is off to a very rough start. The pop star's teenage son, Rocco, is refusing to come back to New York. He wants to stay in London with his dad, movie director Guy Ritchie. That's according to the "New York Daily News."

Now, we have some video of Rocco from a few years ago.

[07:50:02] Madonna went to court in Manhattan on Wednesday and won a court order to force Rocco to return. But according to the paper, Ritchie's lawyer in London says Rocco's expressed very clearly he does not want to return to New York.

So what happens next here? We've got our legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson, joining us.

So, how will this work -- where are you, Joey? Right in front of me. How does this work, Joey, if Madonna's lawyers are essentially working on her behalf in New York, Rocco has his dad's attorney working for him in London, who really has the upper hand here?


If only 15-year-olds ruled the world. And so, you know, sometimes teenagers can get a little rambunctious, and they can get a little -- you know, wanting to go their own way. But at the end of the day, it's really governed and ruled by the court of law.

And so, obviously, a New York judge has no say in terms of what happens in London, but in this situation, the judge has a lot of say. Why? Because the New York court had original jurisdiction, the divorce was dealt with there. As part of that, the custody proceedings were determined there and they will be determined there.

And so, therefore, London, at the end of the day and any courts, you know, in the U.K. will honor the judge's order that he be returned to New York and it be sorted out here, and it's also governed by treaty. And so, you know, what will ultimate happen, that's an open question. But as of now, he'll be returned to New York. There will be hearings on it and they'll be a decision made as to where he lives moving forward.

BARNETT: And that's a good point you make because, look, the law is one thing, but we're dealing with a 15-year-old here. And, you know, any 15-year-old is kind of getting a sense of their own independence, who they are, and sometimes that means disagreeing with mom and dad.

So, what if Rocco decides not to come back to New York and stay in London? What happens then?

JACKSON: Well, that won't happen because he'll be compelled to come to New York. And at that point, a judge will determine, pursuant to a hearing, what happens next.

And what happens in New York is the child himself will have what's called a law guardian. That's a lawyer. And that lawyer will fend for the child's interest. And ultimately, this will be determined by the best interests of the child. That's the analysis that goes into it.

And oftentimes, you know, look -- 15-year-old, do you know what's in your best interests at 15? Not entirely, although you may think you know. And so, the judge will have a hearing, determine where should the child stay, what are the factors?

Is Madonna more suitable to have her child with her? Is the father more suitable at this time? What is her schedule? What are the demands of her schedule? How would he be impacted, that is Rocco, by that schedule?

So, all of that will be filtered out to determine whether he stays here or goes there. But make no mistake about it, he does not get to choose himself unilaterally what he wants to do.

BARNETT: Well, that's just one final point I want you to make, because let's throw another wrinkle to this. What if Rocco gets his own attorney, right? I mean, does he legally, 15 years old, have any say so in this case?

JACKSON: You do. Absolutely you do. And so a child has say so, and you do have an attorney, and that attorney, again, is called a law guardian, and that law guardian really fends for your interest.

So, what you have to say and how it's impacting me and my mom's on tour and we're not get ago long and oh, my goodness and I think it's time to leave -- the judge will listen to all of that but will ultimately be guided by long term, where's it best? Would moving the child to London, how would that impact the entire family unit, his other brother, his half-sisters, how would it impact his future life, his education, his physical and mental well-being?

And so, after all of that is said and done, Errol, the judge concludes whether he will be here in New York, against his wishes, or whether he'll move on and stay with his father, which he currently wishes to do. But at 16, he might feel differently. At 17, he may feel differently.

You know, kids sometimes change their mind all the time.

BARNETT: Apparently, he'll be turning 16 in April. He's already had to deal with growing up with Madonna as your mother. Hasn't he been through enough already?

We hope this comes to some kind of a good resolution.

Joey Jackson, thanks for your time today.

JACKSON: Thank you, Errol. Have a great day.

BARNETT: You too.

JACKSON: Coming up at the top of the hour, tornadoes and massive flooding. Eight people have died in Mississippi from this severe weather outbreak. Unfortunately, more rain is on the way today.

We'll talk live with the sheriff of one county in Mississippi where homes are already under water. And rains -- or I should say raids to round up and deport illegal

immigrants from Central America could start as soon as next week. Today, some of the Democratic presidential candidates are speaking out against those raids.

PAUL: And I want to share with you some of the newest pictures we're just getting in of that wildfire in Solimar, that's burning along Rincon, north of Ventura in California. More than 250 acres burned and no containment yet.

We'll have the update for you. Stay close.


[07:57:34] BARNETT: Welcome back, everyone. As always, the NBA takes center stage on Christmas Day with a great lineup of games.

PAUL: Yes, this year it wasn't just about the games, though. It was actually about gun violence. Andy Scholes is here with more.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, guys. Christmas Day is the NBA's day. A lot of people watch these games.

And this year, stars Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Joakim Noah, they partnered with to put together a public service announcement about gun violence. Spike Lee directed the PSA where the NBA stars spoke about their appearances, along with people who have been affected by gun violence.

And take a listen. Here's a portion of it.


STEPH CURRY, NBA PLAYER: I heard about a shooting involving a 3-year- old girl over the summer. My daughter Riley's that age.

CARMELO ANTHONY, NBA PLAYER: The gun should never be an option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're Americans. We don't have to live like this.

JOAKIM NOAH, NBA PLAYER: We can all make a difference.

CROWD: In the United States, 88 people die of gun violence every day.



SCHOLES: So, President Obama tweeted, saying he was proud of the NBA for standing up against gun violence, adding sympathy for victims isn't enough. Change requires all of us speaking up. And you can see more of these in-depth interviews with the players on

We want to know what you're thinking at home. Should pro-sports leagues get involved in controversial issues like this? Tweet us using #NewDayCNN or reach us on Facebook. PAUL: All righty. Andy Scholes, we appreciate it. Thank you.

SCHOLES: Thanks.

PAUL: Absolutely.

There is so much news to tell you about this morning.

BARNETT: That's right. The next hour of your NEW DAY starts now.


PAUL: Two breaking stories overnight to tell you about.

First of all, severe weather hitting the southern part of the U.S. Tornadoes, heavy rain leaves 15 people dead in three states. Hundreds are under water, and it's not even over. There is another storm in the days to come. And it's expected to affect millions of us.

BARNETT: There's another breaking news story we're following right now. You are looking at live pictures of a rapidly growing wildfire in southern California.

PAUL: And major roadways are shut down this hour. Mandatory evacuations connected to this fire that you're looking at.

We're so grateful to have you, as always, on our Saturday Mornings here. I'm Christi Paul. And --

BARNETT: Everyone, how are you? I'm Errol Barnett, in for Victor Blackwell this weekend.

PAUL: So good to have you here.

BARNETT: Good to be with you, Christi.

PAUL: Absolutely.

BARNETT: Let's begin here, though, with this unrelenting severe weather. It has been pounding the south. Take a look at some of the pictures we're getting in here.

This region that was hit by a tornado outbreak earlier this week is getting drenched now with double-digit rain totals.