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FBI Warns that ISIS Sympathizers Are Calling for Attacks on Churches and Holiday Gatherings in the United States. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 23, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:09] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, U.S. threat warning. The FBI warns that ISIS sympathizers are calling for attacks on churches and holiday gathering in the United States. So as law enforcements are beyond the look for suspicious activity.
Pledge to ISIS. The man wanted in the Berlin Christmas market attack, it was killed in a shoot-out with Italian police even as ISIS issues of video in which it cause for the slaughter of westerners and vows allegiance to the terror group.
And nuclear articles race. After a Donald Trump tweet at the U.S. must expand its nuclear capability, Russia's Vladimir Putin vows to keep up with the U.S. in any new arms race as Trump basically says, bring it on.
And from Russia with love. Trump shares what he calls a very nice letter from Putin in which the Russia leader calls for steps to restore cooperation. Trump says he hopes both sides can live up to those thoughts.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: We are following breaking new stories, multiple breaking new stories.
The FBI and Homeland Security are warning liberal law enforcement to be on the lookout for suspicious activity saying that ISIS sympathizers are calling for attacks on churches and holiday gathers in the United States. The man wanted for the attacking a Berlin Christmas market has been shot dead in a gun battle with police in Italy. At the same time, ISIS has released video of the attacker, vowing allegiance to the terror group and calling for attacks.
That comes as German officials say he was considered one of the most dangerous in the country months before Monday's attack. Russia's president Vladimir Putin is vowing to keep up with the United States in any new arms race after a tweet from president-elect Donald Trump that the U.S. must expand its nuclear capability. Trump upped the ante today reportedly saying we'll outmatch them. But he is also released what he calls a very nice letter from Putin, calling for cooperation.
And the United States abstains as the U.N. Security Council votes to condemn Israeli settlements. Donald trump who publicly called for a veto tweets that things will be different after January 20th. I will speak with Congressman John Katko of the homeland security committee and our correspondents, analysts and guests have full coverage of the day's top stories.
We have two breaking terror stories right now. The FBI is warning that ISIS sympathizers are calling for attacks on churches and holiday gatherings in this country.
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez is standing with that warning. But we begin with Brian Todd on the fast moving events in Europe.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, tonight, we are getting new information from German and U.S. intelligence officials. With the chief suspect in the Berlin attack now dead, we're told intelligence agencies are scrambling to find out if he had accomplices and if so could they be accelerating plans for attacks.
A video made by this killer has raise raised alarms from here in Washington to Berlin.
TODD (voice-over): Chilling new video tonight of the man police say carried out the Berlin truck attack pledging his allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the video, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri threatens to attack western targets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): we will slaughter you pigs. The monarchy is the seventh nation behind them. Their spilled blood will be revenged by God's will.
TODD: Sources tell CNN, intelligence officials from Washington to Berlin are scrambling tonight dissect this video and other clues to learn if Amri had accomplices.
THOMAS DE MARZIERE, GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): We continue it at full speed. It is now above all about uncovering networks.
TODD: The video does not refer to Monday's truck attack that killed a dozen people and there's no indication of when or where the video was filmed, but it was released by ISIS.
SEAMUS HUGHES, GWU PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM: It gives us some window into his connection to ISIS. It may not be ISIS directed but it may be a mix of ISIS enabled. Individuals that find their offline and online connections and use that to advance the ideology.
TODD: The video emerged just hours after Anis Amri was killed in a shoot-out with Italian police near Milan. Police had stopped him because they thought he was acting suspiciously. When they asked to see his papers, Amri pulled a .22 gun out of his backpack and fire. Police say he shouted bastard cops just before he was killed. The confrontation raises critical new questions tonight over how
Europe's most wanted man was allowed to slip out of Germany. The Italian news agency answer. Reports he went through France and into Italy. German authorities in particular coming under increasing criticism.
Two German intelligence officials tell CNN for months before Monday's Christmas market attack, Anis Amri was considered one of the most dangerous Islamists in the country. He had been placed on a list of about 550 dangerous people earlier this year. German authorities knew he was connected to an ISIS recruitment network and knew he had talked about launching attacks.
[17:05:06] AKI PENTZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: All these data points suggested he was somebody of major consequence. The fact the cops and the intelligence folks didn't put a ring around him immediately suggests that something fell down through cracks.
TODD: And German officials did not respond to our request for comment to that criticism that they allowed Anis Amri to slip through cracks in their Muslim. But German chancellor Angela Merkel did say that her government is how going to assess what security measures need to be adopted in the wake of this attack -- Jim.
ACOSTA: But Brian, you are also getting some pushback tonight from veteran intelligence officers on what the Germans are up against in trying to track these suspects, right.
TODD: That's right, Jim. We have spoken with several intelligence and law enforcement professionals all week since this attack. They are telling us if any counterterror agency really wants to track the movements of the terror suspect, it takes between 25 and 40 intelligence officers just to track one suspect. They simply don't have the manpower and other resources. But many people are saying they should have kept an eye on this guy.
ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you very much.
More breaking news. Federal authority say ISIS sympathizers post a threat to the United States with churches and holiday related events being potential targets. Let's turn to our CNN justice correspondent Even Perez to tell us something about this new warning. This just came out this afternoon.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It came out in the last few hours, Jim. And this is a bulletin that went out to law enforcement and private security companies around the country. It reads in part quote "ISIS sympathizers continue aspirational call for attacks on holiday gatherings including targeting churches."
Now, in recent days some pro-ISIS websites have published throughout specifically calling for attacks on churches. They published a list of thousands of churches in the United States including the addresses. This is a publicly available listing. And we should also note that the U.S. military miracles, they issued a
terrorism warning to troops and their families there. Now, they are suggesting they take precautions such as going to the mall in off-peak hours and avoiding less public areas.
ACOSTA: And Evan, why is this coming out now? Are there any incredible threats, imminent threats, potentially link to this?
PEREZ: Well, right now, law enforcement agencies are being asked to look for some specific types of suspicious activity. Now, you know, officials tell me that the bulletin was sent out of an abundance of caution. There's no specific credible threat here in the United States.
And officers tell me that in the last couple days, though, they have noticed following the attack in Berlin, they have noticed an increase in threat intelligence. This is the time of year that they typically see that. So nothing out of ordinary. But in the last, in the past, we have seen, Jim, that, ISIS has mostly called for attacks on military and law enforcement. And this going after churches would be the ultimate in soft targets.
ACOSTA: And it is good to be cautious.
Evan Perez, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Joining me now, Republican congressman John Katko of the U.S. member of the homeland security committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. The FBI and DHS issued that bulletin today. You heard Evan Perez talk about it. It is a law enforcement agency about this ISIS threat against churches and holiday events. What can you tell us about this threat based on what you are hearing on the committee?
REP. KOHN KATKO (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Right. What we are hearing is that there is no specific threat out there. This is a general threat that was posted on the Web site. A few hours ago, a list of a good number of churches in the U.S. and abroad. And it is something they do from time to time in an effort to spread terror and spread fear. But right now, I've not been made aware of any specific credible threat from ISIS.
ACOSTA: But congressman, it seems like a shift in targets for ISIS. In the past, we have sustain the threats focus more on military and law enforcement targets. Is this warning a response to what we saw in Berlin? It seems logical that this is a response in some measure to what happened in berlin.
KATKO: Well, there is no question that ISIS has a much different tact and even al-Qaeda for example. ISIS wants to spread primarily by inspiring homegrown terrorist through the internet. Through dark spaces of the internet. And trying to get people to rise up and create acts of terrorism whenever and wherever possible. They offer suggestions as to the type of terrorism. We saw them at the pulse nightclub, for example. And they are doing it now with respect to the holidays. They're trying to inspire people and hope that someone picks up that mantle as it inspired enough to do an act of terrorism on behalf of ISIS like we saw in Germany. Unfortunately, I think we'll see it continue.
ACOSTA: Yes. As for the attacker in Berlin, Anis Amri, he was killed in Italy. It is believed he traveled there from France. So not only was he able to elude German authorities for almost a week after carrying out this attack, he was able to travel through two other countries in Europe. Was this a failure of European intelligence? Did they drop the ball?
PEREZ: No. I think it is something we saw firsthand for ourselves. I won't a delegation n Middle East last year. And ironically and sadly, every place we went to has been the subject of a major terrorist attack since we have been there. We went to Turkey, we went to Berlin, we went to Brussels and we went to Paris. And everywhere we went, we were told the same thing.
Because of it, the European Union is set up, that you can travel freely between countries. It is very hard to track terrorists. What they're doing. And it is hard to even track those going to the Middle East and come back and then radicalized. So it is a huge gap in security, in Western Europe. And it leaves us (INAUDIBLE) in in the United States because most of the western European countries, we have visa-free travel agreements less. So it is a huge gap in security and Western Europe that needs to be addressed.
[17:10:36] ACOSTA: And there is so many pressing questions right now. One of which is did this attacker have help? Do you think he could have done this alone? Especially when it comes the traveling all the way to Italy?
KATKO: I would be shocked if he didn't have some assistance somewhere along the way. And that's part of the problem as well. But I trust now that they know that now that this has been happen, they are going to turn up on the black to try and find out who has accomplices are.
You know, we do a much better job, United States, of tracking individuals known to be involved and we know the ISIS sympathizers and then are tacking their accomplices as well and is still a very difficult process.
You add into that that people can travel freely between countries. And I think that the Germans, you know, just had a tough time with this. But there -- and it is a sign of a bigger problem that they have to recognize and address. You know, traveling between countries without any passports, without any checks at the borders is a huge problem. And also they have to recognize that there is an awful lot of radicalized individuals in Western Europe. And they have to do about a job of hid in the warning signs. I mean, this guy was on our no fly list. So they would have gotten on a plane to the United States and we would have tracked them for sure. And I think they have should know about their jibs themselves.
ACOSTA: And congressman, a video was released this morning by ISIS' news agency showing Amri pledging his allegiance to ISIS. You chaired a task force on foreign fighters. How effective are these recruiting individuals? It seems like every time we have one of these attacks, there is a video attached to it.
KATKO: There is. I mean, think about what they are doing. And they do it in the United States as well. What they do is they cull the internet every day trying to find people to carry the mantle, carry the torch for them. They get one or two out of a thousand people. They try and hit. They are doing well. And then they take that person, go to the dark space of the internet. Radicalize them and recruit them and get them ready to do these acts of violence. And that's what is happening. And it is a huge problem that we have to address going forward. We take lot of measures in congress last term. We got a lot more to do this term.
ACOSTA: Ok, congressman, stand by. We want to take a quick break and then come back. We will talk to you more about this and some other very pressing foreign policy national security crises that are happening around the world.
We'll be right back.
[17:16:41] ACOSTA: We will talking with Congressman John Katko.
The first Russian president Vladimir Putin is vowing to keep up in any new arms race with the United States. That come after president-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. needs to strengthen its nuclear capability.
Let's turn to CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, a lot of activity today. Where is this headed?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot of activity, Jim. You know, just a few months ago, who would have thought we would be talking about the possibility of a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia. Mr. Trump earlier today saying essentially, if there is going to be an arms race, so be it. That was his statement of the day. And that was followed by a Trump spokesman trying on clarify. It wasn't just about Russia but that Mr. Trump was putting his cards on the table. That he would be a strong leader against any country that might engage in nuclear weapons.
OK. So for his part, Mr. Putin said he would do anything to keep up with the U.S., match for match. If there was going to be a race on nuclear weapons. But he also was a little bit dismissive of Trump, saying he didn't really see anything new in Trump's tweets about upgrading the nuclear arsenal.
Here's the bottom line. Both countries are upgrading their nuclear arsenal. Very costly to actually go ahead and expand it. But all of these statements being watched around the world by countries like China, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea who are trying to decide what to do about their nuclear arsenals -- Jim. ACOSTA: Absolutely, Barbara. But Donald Trump also released what he
calls a quote "very nice letter from Vladimir Putin." Are they looking to head off any tensions? Is that what we saw today?
STARR: Nice letters back and forth, you know. I guess it depends how much you are willing to believe anything that Vladimir Putin says. Certainly, the Obama administration does not. So ask yourself the motivation for Vladimir Putin to send such a nice letter to Donald Trump.
Vladimir Putin wants something and he wants it bad. And that is for sanctions to be lifted. He needs relief for the Russian economy at a time when the oil prices have been falling. The Russian revenue is down. He is looking to get U.S. dollars back into his economy and it has to be nice to Donald Trump. That may be a price he is very willing to pay -- Jim.
ACOSTA: This may be the start of negotiations.
Barbara, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
We are back with Republican congressman John Katko, a member of the homeland security committee.
Congressman, what do you make of this letter? It is released after a Kremlin spokesman said this week that the dialogue between the U.S. and Russia is frozen. It didn't seem very frozen in that letter.
KATKO: Well, I think I liken to it two heavyweight fighters. Just kind of taking jabs at each other. Trying to figure each other out and figure out whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to hug. And, you know, it is not such a bad thing that Russia doesn't fully understand what our strategy will be going forward. I think that's a strength. And I think, I have heard nothing first of all, from my discussions in Congress so far since the election that would suggest that we're willing to, or want to engage in an arms race.
I think what Mr. Trump is signaling is that, you know, listen, we will if we have to. And we are going to do what we have to maintain our safety as a country. And I welcome you as a friend. If you want to be a friend. If not, we are going to have a problem. And it sounds just a little bit like someone we heard from 1980, Mr. Reagan. And I think taking a tough stance more than, no, we are not to be trifled with is a refreshing change from the last eight years where Russia basically the things with impunity and weren't really called on the carpet for anything.
And don't forget that at the beginning of the Obama administration, they were looking for a reset was brought Russian, the fix relations. Russian relations with the United States are terrible and anything that we can do to improve those and make this world a safe and stranger place, I'm all for it. So that's what happened going forward.
[17:20:31] ACOSTA: OK. And I do have to ask you quickly before you go. The U.S. abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote today condemning Israel for settlement activity in the West Bank. What is your reaction to the move by that? Obviously, we saw Donald Trump's reaction. He essentially slammed and it said there is going to be new posture come January 20th. What do you think?
KATKO: I think he is absolutely right. I mean, when I went over to the Middle East in that delegation I told you about, I sat across the table from Benjamin Netanyahu for two hours and listened to him tell us how under siege he is from all sides. And you know, they are a democracy in a sea of dictatorships. And we have basically cut them adrift the last eight years and I think that's terrible.
We have got to get back to let them know that we've got their back. And what they did today at the U.N. by not objecting and not vetoing the resolution, the U.S., is a sea change with respect to Israel. They have to know that we have their back. They have to know we're their ally and we'll support them moving forward. So I strongly support president Trump's - president elect Trump's stance on this issue. Israel has to be taken care of from the U.S.
ACOSTA: OK. Congressman, Katko, it is all the time we have. Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Good to see you, sir.
KATKO: And to you as well, my friend. Take care.
ACOSTA: Thank you.
Coming up, more of our breaking news after the Berlin Christmas market attack. The attacker was killed in the shootout in Italy. Federal authorities warn of threats on churches and holiday gatherings here in the U.S. Our experts are standing by.
You are in the SITUATION ROOM.
[17:25:55] ACOSTA: Our breaking news, Federal authorities are warning of an ISIS threat to churches and holiday gatherings in the U.S. as the man wanted for attacking a Christmas market in Berlin has been killed in a gun battle with Italian police.
Joining me now, CNN contributor Michael Weiss, he is with the "Daily Beast" and he is the author of "ISIS inside the army of terror," Tara Maller of the counter extremism project and CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Michael, let's start with you. Federal authorizes are warning about threats to churches and holiday events. You know, this is something we really haven't heard much about before, threats to churches. Is this a shift in tactics and hos is this connected to what happened in Berlin?
MICHAEL WEISS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: It's not really a shift in tactics for ISIS given what they have got up to in the Middle East. I mean, they have been targeting Christians from the inception going back to when they were Al-Qaeda in Iraq. But yes, I do think that when it comes to western targets, they are looking for softer targets, as we say. It used to be at a premium that they would target - they would go after military or law enforcement. That's proven difficult. I mean, look at what just happen to Anis Amri? He was shot and killed by two Italian police officers.
Going after churches though at Christmas, that sends a message. Remember, they described coalition that's range against them as a crusader coalition. They want to frame this in a kind of clash of civilizations between western Christiandom and Islam because for them the binary is Muslims have no business, no place being in the west in any kind of democratic society. These places are inherently inhospitable to Muslims and Islam.
So, yes, I mean, this is very dangerous state of affair, you know. You don't have to be an Islamic terrorist to shoot up a church. Look what Dylann Roof did a year ago in Charleston, right. I think they are learning from, you know, just frankly, domestic acts of violence that had nothing to do with the religious fundamentalism.
ACOSTA: And Evan, how often do we hear about these warnings after an attack like this? It seems almost as if, you know, they did this because of what happened in Berlin this week.
PEREZ: Yes. I mean, I think it definitely is partly because of what happened in Berlin. And just a couple days ago, I was talking on law enforcement intelligence officials and they said they noticed that it seemed rather quiet. And then Berlin happened. And they took a couple days. And then the chatter and the threat stream sort of lit up. And that's what we see now. It is almost on schedule because we see this usually at the end of the year. We always see increasing threats especially around the New Year holiday. And that's what we expect.
ACOSTA: And Tara, the fact that he was able to get from Berlin all the way to Milan, across to France. We know, you know, we cherish the openness of Western Europe. We have all been on euro rails and so forth, crisscrossing that part of the world. But obviously, this is a vulnerable that has to be dealt with.
TARA MALLER, SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR, COUNTER EXTREMISM PROJECT: It is a vulnerability that has to be dealt with. You have 26 members of the EU that have open borders. This is obviously posing a problem. And did pose a problem in this case. We need to have, you know, better security measures in place and not just in terms of the border but intelligence sharing. We have seen a number of blunders by German officials on this investigation from the first moment they apprehended the wrong suspect to the sort of mishandling of this investigation during numerous points along the way.
So, I mean, I think it is holiday season. There is nothing new about them trying to do attacks during holiday season. ISIS has said this for months in their magazines and propaganda. Department of state had a warning out in November about Christmas markets and holiday markets and holiday season time. And I'm sure you will a similar thing for thing for New Year's Eve and then for the inauguration here domestically.
ACOSTA: And Michael, it seem Amri was connected to an ISIS recruitment network. What do we know about this network? And is this just another example of this sort of lone wolf attackers who are attracted to ISIS through social media? And they are just brought right into their system?
WEISS: No. I don't think this is lone wolf at all. And I think, you know, we have a false distinction that is drawn. If you haven't gone over to Syria and Iraq and joined up with ISIS and been trained, suddenly you are a lone wolf just by having committed an act of terror.
Anis Amri was part of the most prominent German ISIS recruitment network or cell, whatever you want to call it in the country. It was run by a guy called Abu Walaa who was arrested, along with four other ISIS sympathizers in North Rhine-Westphalia in early November. And we know about Abu Walaa's prominence because a guy he sent to Syria to join ISIS, who then subsequently defected from ISIS identified him as the number one ISIS recruiter in all of Germany.
[17:30:17] And according to one of his two deputies who was responsible for handling Anis Amri. Amri was given a choice. He himself could immigrate to Syria and join ISIS and fight on the Middle Eastern battlefield there or he could perpetrate a terror attack on German soil. And Abu Walaa said who personally signed off on that choice. So this is a guy who was being managed. He was being handled by this very large and frankly, we don't know to what extent how large it is.
And I do agree with the Congressman that he absolutely had helped getting from Berlin to Milan. And there is no way he did this on his own. And obviously he has a connection to ISIS H.Q. because a Mac released his last will and testament. And we don't know when that was filmed either. So this is anything but lone wolf. This is ISIS coordinated. Make no mistake.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: And Evan is it possible he was returning to Italy to perhaps carry out another attack. What do we know about why Italy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think jumping off to what Michael was just saying. I think they very much believe that there was something in Italy. They previously stopped him, trying to get from German to Italy who had some false documents. And that's one reason why he was stopped. He was let go. There was something there. There is a part of this network probably exists there. We don't know the extent of it. But we know that certainly the focus of his nucleus (ph) of it is in Central Europe and Germany. But it expands the Balkans and Austria and into western parts of Europe.
So they very much know that some of these guys are in touch directly with people in Syria who are still serving as command and control, directing attacks. And, you know, I think the Germans and everybody is trying to figure out how deep this is. But it's clear that it's a big problem. ACOSTA: And how much do the authorities don't care (ph) about this recruitment networks where ISIS in Western Europe. When you look at Paris, when you look at these other attack, there appears to be a network at -- that is just sort of under the surface and the intelligence community just can't seem to get at it before these attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're absolutely correct. There is a network. The problem is much more significant in Europe particularly in cities like Brussels, particularly in cities like Paris. And we've seen the impact of that in previous attacks. Having said that, going back one other point, while there was a felon, I agree this was not lone wolf. Its unclear how directed it was by ISIS. It's possible that ISIS throws out ideas to their selves. And then the cell takes initiative to do the attack on it its own. So ISIS central may not have known that he was going to take a truck on that particular week and drive it into the market. And that helps the attack stay under the radar of law enforcement because it gives them autonomy to do it without direction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, we've seen a myth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it's sort of a hybrid. It's not exactly a lone wolf because it's part of an embodied network and there's connections back to ISIS. And clearly this individual is not operating by himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he may have sort of done some of the planning on his own or with maybe one or two individuals within Germany at the time. Again, too early to say. We'll know more when the investigation continues.
ACOSTA: All right, thanks very much, Tera, Evan and Michael great insights into a very worrying subject this time of year. Thank you very much.
Coming up, Vladimir Putin's Christmas letter to Donald Trump, warm words among talk of a nuclear arms race.
[17:37:05] ACOSTA: President-elect Donald Trump is taking talk of nuclear competition with Russia further. Reportedly telling a news anchor off camera, "Let it be an arms race." But Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin say they want to strengthen their nuclear capabilities.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is here with more. Ryan, despite all of this tough talk, Trump and Putin seem to be enamored with each other. We saw this out in the campaign trial, now it's happening during the transition.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right Jim. It seems the president-elect certainly not in vacation mode today long weighing in on a number of topics, including that U.S. were -- Russia relationship, a potential global nuclear arms race and his son's charitable foundation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: Tonight, the curiously warm relationship between President- elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is on full display. The transition releasing a letter, Putin wrote to Trump more than a week ago. Where Putin writes that he hopes the U.S. and Russia will be able to "Take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas."
In a statement Trump describes the letter as "Very nice." And says Putin's thoughts are so correct. The letter leers what Putin told reporters in Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump said it would be proper to normalize. And it can't be worse. And I agree with him. We will think about it together.
NOBLES: While Trump seems open to a friendly relationship with Russia, he is also warning that his administration won't back down if after countries begin to beef up their nuclear arsenals. After tweeting that the U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability, Trump was asked off camera by an MSNBC host to clarify his message. Trump saying --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let it be an arms race because we will outmatch them at every path and outlast them all.
NOBLES: Trump's incoming press secretary Sean Spicer said, the president-elect's tweets should be taken literally.
SEAN SPICER, INCOMING PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to put our nation's security and safety first. And he's not going to worry about how it's -- I mean he's going to do it.
NOBLES: But Democrats are raising concerns about the impact of Trumps tweets around the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't have a president who tweets one thing at 5:00 a.m. and then his press people walk it back at 7:00. That's just going to lead to chaos in our international relations.
NOBLES: And it's not just foreign policy that Trump is tweeting about.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT-ELECT: So Eric Trump, everybody.
NOBLES: This morning he bemoaned his son Eric's decision to stop fund raising for his charitable foundation to avoid potential conflicts of interest charges, Trump who leveled relentless attacks on the Clinton Foundation during the campaign.
TRUMP: It is called pay for play. NOBLES: Today, writing, "My wonderful son Eric will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency. Isn't this a ridiculous shame? He loves these kids. He has raised millions of dollars for them and now must stop. Wrong answer."
Trump taking to Twitter to critic the "Tremendous cost of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet saying he asked Boeing to price out a modified version of it's FA-18 plane.
[17:40:02] It's the latest example the president-elect intervening with government contracts following his criticism of the cost of the new Air Force One being developed by Boeing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And today Trump spent the morning playing golf in South Florida with Tiger Woods. And it was about a year ago where Trump told a campaign rally in Michigan that President Obama was playing too much golf, and ironically, he said that he's been playing more golf than of all people, Tiger Woods. Jim?
ACOSTA: And we want to look at the final scores. Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.
Joining us now, our political experts, let's go right to you, Dana Bash. Trump tweeted yesterday, talking about Russia and nuclear capabilities. The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes. This morning, he escalated that tweet saying apparently to MSNBC, let it be an arms race. I mean what do you make of all this? It sounds like a departure from U.S. policy. But as you and I know from covering this campaign it sort of anything goes. And he's going to set the agenda however he likes.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because it's a departure from U.S. policy, decades of U.S. policy, right. I mean anybody who was not expecting things like this weren't, you know, watching your reports from the campaign trail. Didn't see that 75,000 rallies that he did where he gave a version of, not obviously this specific idea of, you know, a nuclear arms race but of broadly, changing the way things are done and mixing it up.
And in his business life, the times that he seems to have had the most success is when he had, you know, his enemies or maybe just the person he's negotiating with across the table, confused about what his position is because it gives him leverage. So I guess from his perspective, why would it be different on the world stage.
ACOSTA: Right. David Swerdlick, it seems that campaign candidate Donald Trump is going to be just like President Donald Trump when it comes to using Twitter on the world stage. Kellyanne Conway is saying that Trump is not making policy on Twitter. It sure sounds like it. I mean what do you think?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yeah, he's not making policy. These things aren't chiseled and granted. But on the other hand, these aren't exactly just thought bubbles or hashtag make America great again. He is getting fairly granular with some of the policy issues that he's talking about whether he changes position or not later is another thing.
But, you know, that -- like that F-35 versus FA-18 tweet, I mean you're talking about why he got into this idea of he's going to see if he wants to price out a different time of jet, not mentioning though that one is a stealth fighter and one is not a stealth fighter. I mean, the meantime, you know, aim with the bargain. He is riling the stock price of Lockheed Martin. You know, this stuff really does matter. He is the president-elect of the United States. Not just some commentator, not just a candidate anymore.
ACOSTA: And Abby Phillip, we saw this letter today that the transition put out from Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump. You know, Donald Trump described it as a very nice letter. And earlier this week the Kremlin was saying, relations were frozen. Are we on ice? Are we warming up again? Is this the big thought? What -- where are we right now?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think clearly both tides wants to make it seem as if there is a warming on the horizon. The Trump letter and the release of the Trump letter from the Trump transition is almost purely symbolic. I mean this letter was sent and received a while ago. And they decided today to release it. And it is also very pro forma. It's similar to letters that Putin sent to Obama on 4th of July this year, with the previous year.
So some of this is about sort of making it a show of saying, we're going to do things a little differently. Here's proof. Putin has sent us this really nice note. And that's I think to Trump's benefit at the moment. He wants to make it very clear that the state of U.S.- Russia relations right now under Obama is colder than he would like it to be. He wants to warm it up. But we still don't know how far this is going to go and what exactly it's going to mean.
BASH: Don't you think it's also something that we've seen a tactic that we've seen so many times which is he made the comment this morning saying, you know, "OK, let's have a nuclear arms race." And then two hours later, I think it was, maybe three, they released the eight-day-old letter. So it's don't look at this. Look over here. And look at this.
ACOSTA: But at the same time, you know, I mean to have a president, you've been covering politics in Washington for a long time. I mean to see a presidential transition where you have one man in the White House. One person waiting in the wings to become president and you have the man waiting in the wings to become president, still 28 or so days out from being sworn in saying, "Let the be an arms race." I mean, I guess it is sort of unprecedented with the S on this one. He's not the president just yet.
ACOSTA: It is an unprecedented move. [17:45:02] BASH: You're right. I mean it is the tradition is one president at a time. And, you know, would be and, you know, there's the Obama White House, I was going to say campaign. But the Obama White House has felt like they have bent over backwards to follow model of George W. Bush and how gracious they were to the Obama team. But, you know what, that only goes so far when you are elected to disrupt things. That means doing everything in your power to disrupt things even the one president at a time tradition.
ACOSTA: And speaking of disruptions, there was one at the U.N. We'll talk about that next. So standby, everybody standby, there's more breaking news next.
Israeli outrage at the Obama administration, why top officials are slamming the president over a United Nations vote.
ACOSTA: In an unusual and controversial move, the United States today abstained as the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Israeli officials are accusing the Obama administration of abandoning Israel. Donald Trump, who publically called for a U.S. veto has tweeted that things will be different after January 20th.
[17:50:01] Let's bring in CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott and from Jerusalem, CNN's Oren Liebermann. Elise, it's a nonbinding resolution at the United Nations. How significant is this move?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very significant. I don't think you can underestimate what happened just now. It may be nonbinding but it certainly going to cause a lot of headaches for Israel around the world, possibly with legal claims. And it also kind of cuts against one of the core tenants that the U.S. has always stood by, which is to protect Israel at the United Nations, I mean it's not unprecedented. Previous presidents have done it. But in this particular case on settlement, this is an issue that President Obama has really thought was an obstacle to the peace process. This has been a real thorn in the side of relations between the U.S. and Israel over the last eight years. And that's why the U.S. supported it. Take a listen to the ambassador Samantha Power at the U.N. today with the vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMANTHA POWERS, U.N. AMBASSADOR: Today, the Security Council reaffirmed it's a establish consensus that settlements have no legal validity. The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop, privately and publicly, for nearly five decades. Our vote today is fully in line with bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LABOTT: And Power's went on to say that the U.S. is a friend -- still is one of the greatest friends of Israel. But as one very top senior Israeli official said to a very top U.S. official yesterday, friends do not take friends to the Security Council.
ACOSTA: It doesn't sound very friendly. CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem tonight, he is live with us. Oren, what's the reaction from there?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Israel has been furious for the past 24 hours. And that's certainly not going away any time soon as we've seen in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. Let me read you just a part of the statement which gives you a hint as to how quickly this relationship is deteriorating in its final days.
It says, "The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the U.N., it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and will all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."
Netanyahu making it very clear where he's already looking, he's looking to President Trump for protection at the U.N. Security Council and looking to a fresh start to the relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president. But that wasn't the end of it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went a step further, taking some diplomatic steps against New Zealand and Senegal, two of the four countries that introduced this resolution.
Let me read a part of this to you, "Netanyahu, ordered Israel's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal to immediately return to Israel, canceled a visit from the Senegalese foreign minister, canceled all aid to Senegal and more." So Netanyahu taking this very seriously in taking steps against those countries that introduced this resolution.
ACOSTA: Oren Liebermann, thank you very much. And let's go back to our panel. Dana Bash, Abby Phillip and joining us now Elise Labott.
Dana, let me just put that tweet back up on the screen because it is rather story we're getting to this point of one president at a time. I guess we have two. As to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th, Donald Trump tweeting there. I mean, this could not have ended worse in terms of the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It's just going to end badly.
BASH: And we've seen it over and over again for the past eight years. And I think Elise you said this when you broke the story, that it's kind of a final thumb in the eye from at this particular instance, from Obama to Bibi Netanyahu. There are lots of other reasons why. But I think it is really important to underscore what you were just talking about, which is that in the history of the State of Israel, beginning with the birth of the State of Israel, the U.N. Security Council has been the place that the U.S. has tried to protect Israel. And the fact that Samantha Power abstained, which is respectively saying, we're not with you. We support this resolution, signals a change. And what this has done, talking about Trump, your original question, is has gotten Democrats and Republicans, people who really don't necessarily like Donald Trump's policies, behind him because they agree with his reaction to this.
ACOSTA: And David, let me ask you this. I mean are you all that surprised that President Obama and the White House decided to take this move so close to the end of his administration? I don't want to say, well, maybe, you know, one last shot was deserved, because you keep in mind, Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Congress at the invitation of Republicans, put his thumb in the president's eye in a very personal way. Is this one last kidney shot before Barack Obama leaves the scene?
[17:54:56] SWERDLICK: Yeah, I'm not sure how productive this is, Jim. You know, the very first ask from the Obama administration to the Netanyahu administration back in 2009 was to stop building settlements. And this is sort of like a book end to that. They weren't able to get anywhere on that issue. Part of it is because they don't have a good personal relationship. I will say, though, that I think it's worth saying that President Obama has been blamed for, you know, souring relations with Israel. And I think that to a degree, there has been friction, but to agree it's worth repeating that President Obama funded the iron dome missile defense shield for Israel in 2011 to the tune of about $1 billion.
Just this September, the Obama administration reached a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package with Israel. So it's a mixed picture here in terms of whether or not he and President-elect Trump are crossing wires. Yeah, you know, President Obama clearly has signaled with this and a couple of days ago making a move about arctic off- shore drilling, using a 60-year-old law that he's going to put the finishing touches on some of the things on his agenda, whether or not he can really do anything about it going forward.
ACOSTA: OK, good point. David, Elise, Abby, Dana, thank you very much.
Coming up, breaking news. The FBI warns that ISIS sympathizers are calling for attacks on churches and holiday gatherings here in the U.S. and tells law enforcement to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
[17:59:56] ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news, U.S. terror bulletin. Tonight, a new warning that ISIS may be plotting attacks on American soil with head to the holidays with churches among the possible targets. We'll look at the potential danger in the days ahead. ISIS allegiance the Berlin market attacker bounces support with the terror group on a video release --