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Mueller's Team Comes Under Fire From Conservative Media; The 2018 Elections; CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute; Chiefs Beat Chargers; Lions Preserve Playoff Hopes; LeBron James Passes Larry Bird On Triple-Double List; NHL's 100 Year Anniversary; New Children's Book "Santa's Husband" Aired 6-7a

Aired December 17, 2017 - 06:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This story just adds another layer on what has been a barrage of attacks on the special counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cinch coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a third world country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes things might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The integrity of this investigation has to be protected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Trump team is terrified as to what could happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a circus, at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just makes the meeting this week between Donald Trump's attorneys and Robert Mueller that much more significant.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. We are so grateful for your company. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

PAUL: This morning, special counsel on the defensive, Republican leaders on the attack, and a potential key week in the Russia investigation on deck.

BLACKWELL: Robert Mueller's team is preparing to interview President Trump's private lawyers, but it's also been forced to defend itself against new attacks from members of the Trump transition team, Republican lawyers, and the conservative media. PAUL: At issue here is tens of thousands of emails sent by members of the transition team. The transition team's lawyers say Mueller got those emails illegally and argue that the documents should have been protected.

BLACKWELL: But the Special Counsel's Office says it has followed the proper legal channels and legal experts say the e-mails are fair game because they were sent from government accounts.

CNN's Boris Sanchez explains how this latest round of attacks will affect the investigation moving forward.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This story just adds another layer on what has been a barrage of attacks on the special counsel from Republicans, some Republicans who are making case of that Robert Mueller should resign after news broke several days ago that there had been messages exchanged between top FBI officials back in 2016 during the campaign that were critical of then-Candidate Donald Trump.

Republicans made the case that those two officials that had since been on the special counsel team had tainted the investigation, so to speak. One of those officials actually left the special counsel before the text messages were revealed. One of them was reassigned shortly after those messages came to light.

But, again, many Republicans are making the case that messages reveal partisanship within the investigation and they have argued that Robert Mueller should resign. Democrats, in response, have made the case that the special counsel is not partisan, that it remains politically independent.

Though, they are speculating that the president is now planning to fire Robert Mueller. Two Democrats, both on the House Intelligence Committee, made the case this weekend that that was the case.

First, Adam Schiff, who was on Twitter, saying that he believed that the firing of Robert Mueller would happen before the end of the year. The other, Jackie Speier, also made the case to a San Francisco tv station that Robert Mueller's firing was eminent.

CNN reached out to White House Attorney Ty Cobb for a statement on these remarks and he gave us a statement writing, in part, quote, "As the White House has consistently said for months, there is no consideration of firing the special counsel."

So, you have the White House denying that there is any kind of plan to remove Robert Mueller as the head of the special counsel. You have some Democrats that are saying that that is the case, that his firing is eminent.

And then you have certain Republicans saying that the special counsel is tainted and that Robert Mueller should, indeed, resign. A complicated situation and one that likely will receive greater focus because, as early as this week, you have White House legal team meeting with Robert Mueller one-on-one, potentially to discuss the next steps in this investigation. Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.

BLACKWELL: Here now is CNN political commentators, Errol Louis and Andre Bauer, and CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer, as well. Good morning to all of you.

All right. So, let's start here with the claim that these emails, tens of thousands of documents, were unlawfully produced by the GSA. Julian, these are government accounts, right?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It seems from the stories that the GSA voluntarily shared the information with the investigators, so at this moment, there is no reason to suspect anything wrong was done. I see this as part of a broader attack from the administration on the legitimacy of the investigation.

BLACKWELL: So, let me come to you, Andre. I want to read for you a tweet from Norm Eisen, the former ethics czar for the Obama White House.

[06:05:05] He also was as he writes in this tweet the deputy general counsel of the transition Obama-Biden '08, "I warned everyone there is no expectation of privacy in your transition e-mails. The clue e- mails are named The whining letter from the Trump transition technically admits this. It ends by asking for a legislative fix."

You've been part of a transition to the executive branch when you were the lieutenant governor under Marc Sanford in South Carolina. You knew that your e-mails were government property, did you not? And if there were some investigations, they could be retrieved through a government agency, correct?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I did. But I would say this, Victor. What the American people want to have is they want to feel like this is a conflict of interest-free investigation and if people aren't going through the right channels to do that, then people say, well, there is already so much of a cloud over this. Looks like most of the people investigated donated either President Obama or Secretary Clinton --

BLACKWELL: Hold on. I want to give you time to finish this answer but for the scope of this letter that went from the attorney for Trump for America to these congressional committees, you acknowledge that these are -- these documents were not unlawfully obtained, correct? And that --

BAUER: Well, I don't -- I don't because I don't know how -- I don't know the particulars of how they were obtained. I'm sure they can go through a legal channel to obtain them through the correct manner and that maybe what they should have done.

BLACKWELL: Are you suggesting that they didn't? I mean, if you say if that is what they should have done, then you're suggesting that maybe they did not?

BAUER: Well, Victor, I don't know the particulars of it. More of the big picture is, look, they are fair game. There may be a different channel by which they need to obtain these but, overall -- certainly not everybody, but a lot of people feel like this is a one-side investigation. Why isn't Hillary being investigated to her ties to Russia as well?


BAUER: You just don't -- in NASCAR, for example, you don't just --

BLACKWELL: This isn't NASCAR! Andre, this isn't NASCAR! This is a federal investigation and you have a prosecutor here going through a government service agency that office or administration rather to get the documents.

BAUER: But Victor, you don't think that Hillary Clinton should be investigated with her ties to Russia?


BAUER: She got hundreds of millions of -- Russians and now she gets nothing?

BLACKWELL: You knew the exact topic we invited you here to discuss, it was this letter from Trump for America to the Congressional committees, and every time you're on, you transition it back to Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is not the president of the United States and right now, she is not under federal investigation. That is what we are talking with this morning. Errol, let me come to you.

BAUER: -- the investigation and I tell you that a conflict of interest of this investigation includes everything on the table. Not just one-sided investigation.

BLACKWELL: So, Errol, let me come to you and this is what we are hearing from conservative media and have this conversation with Brian Stelter a little later. This echo chamber from the White House to most often the studios of Fox News in New York back and forth and back and forth.

And conservative media broadly trying to continue to discredit the Mueller investigation by trying to discredit the investigators, but also to shut is all down together.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. Part of what seems to be a transparent effort to sort of undermine the investigation by making it seem as if, well, there is some sort of conflict. Something wasn't done right.

BAUER: A bunch of --

LOUIS: -- may have given up political donation at some point in their life and on and on and on. In this particular case, it's important to keep in mind that what is being offered here is that perhaps the transition materials were improperly given to the Mueller investigation and they are saying it's protected by attorney/client privilege. One thing to keep in mind, and it's very rare to hear the special counsel actually explain any of this, but they said, look, we did everything pursuant to the permission of the writers of the emails or pursuant to criminal process, which to my ear sounds like what they are saying is you don't have -- you can't assert attorney-client privilege to do something unlawful and that defeats the privilege.

If you say -- if I were to say to you, Victor, you're my lawyer. I plan to do something illegal, why don't you help me figure out how to do it, you can't run back later and say, this is all protected by attorney-client privilege.

At some point, we should really talk about the truth, not the politics of the situation, not whether or not Hillary Clinton got a pass two years ago or anything like that. We should really talk about the fact of the matter and that is what we should all be waiting for the special counsel to reveal to us.

BLACKWELL: Julian --

BAUER: This investigation is --

BLACKWELL: Hold on, Andre. We are going to come back to you. I'll get back to Julian and I'll come right back to you after that. We're going in order here. There was a response here from a spokesman for the special counsel which is very rare to hear from him. He has not responded to any of the criticism thus far.

[06:10:03] Let's put up on the screen what Mr. Carr said, "When we have obtained e-mails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process."

They are defending how they got these emails. Give us some context here on the rarity of hearing from a spokesman for a Special Counsel Mueller.

ZELIZER: Yes. We haven't heard much from him at all. He has have been very careful to remain quiet and not have his spokesman out front. In part, this is because Mueller is extraordinarily cautious actually in how he conducts an investigation. It's the opposite of what administration spokes people tend to be saying right now.

But I think the special counsel feels that his office, right now, is under systemic attack, which it is, and so my guess is this is an effort in a very important week, probably, in terms of how the administration is going to handle this investigation to explain clearly that nothing wrong was done on their part.

They don't believe that this is protected material and they went through the proper channels to obtain the material. As Errol said, this is a very transparent effort. That is why all of a sudden we are talking about Hillary Clinton right now in the panel.

So, I think the special counsel feels that they have to be a little political right now, meaning not political for one side or the other, but to protect the integrity of the investigation from the president of the United States and his allies.

BLACKWELL: Andre, do you think Special Counsel Mueller should be fired?

BAUER: No. But I do think that it is more than fair to raise questions about people who are on his team that have only donated to one side, that have been involved in Fusion GPS and paid for and all of those are conflicts of interest and all of those of important when building the trust of the American people because the whole reason you have special counsel is make sure there are no conflicts of interest and they are all over the place in this investigation.

BLACKWELL: Andre Bauer, Julian Zelizer, Errol Louis, thank you all.

Do not miss "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper this morning. He's got Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

PAUL: Massive wildfire is raging in Southern California still. There are thousands more evacuating just this morning. We will have an update from the front lines.

BLACKWELL: Plus, hundreds of passengers aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise get sick, what happened and what the cruiseline is doing about it.

PAUL: Also, there is a new children's book out this Christmas. Takes us inside Santa's wedding. We meet Santa's husband, David. We will talk to the author and illustrator ahead.



PAUL: It's 16 minutes past the hour. There are new evacuations this morning for thousands of people in Southern California. Firefighters there are battling the third largest wildfire in the state's history right now.

BLACKWELL: Yes. It's the Thomas fire that has burned nearly 300,000 acres so far and led to the deaths of at least two people including one firefighter.

PAUL: CNN national correspondent, Miguel Marquez, is on the frontlines there and has this report from Santa Barbara late last night.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christi, Victor, this Thomas fire has just been a slug and it's only getting harder. The winds have just been completely sporadic, blowing almost not at all like they are right now, but up in the hills they are blowing much more intensely.

We are in winds as high as 40 miles per hour and they are expecting that this is the last stand for this fire. If they can keep it down tonight, they think they can hopefully get on top of it and finally put it out, but it is a huge job.

We are going to turn off the light here so you can see just how it's burning in the foothills above Santa Barbara. Big massive fire there and then as you move over to the hillside, you can see that entire hillside is just fire.

When the winds pick up that fire is pushed directly towards Santa Barbara and that is the concern that they have right now. It burned near Carpinteria and then Montecito and now it's burning toward Santa Barbara, the neighborhoods of the towns of Montecito and Santa Barbara now in the direct line of fire of this Thomas fire that just will not quit.

All wind-driven and the dry, dry brush, the humidity levels in the brush here has been below 10 percent. Firefighters hope that if they can get on it tonight, though, if they can survive those winds tonight, and they have some 400 vehicles up in the area here fighting the fire.

That's why they have called for these new evacuations because they didn't want to do it in haste and in a crisis situation where you have all of those fire vehicles in there and then people are trying to get out at the same time.

So, if they can survive the winds tonight and they can get past this one evening, then tomorrow, in the days ahead look much better to finally get this fire out -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: We hope so for all of those folks there. Our meteorologist, Allison Chinchar is with us now.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Allison, really, the wind, the dry brush, the heat. Is there really any relief in sight?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What they need right now most, Victor, is rain and it's just simply not in the forecast. So, anything else is just going to prolong the fires that are already there as you talked about the winds and the low humidity.

Now, here is a look at the main fire, the Thomas fire, the third largest in California history, it has only about 5,500 acres to go before it reaches the number one spot. While 5,500 acres seems like a lot, we lost 10,000 acres just in the last 24 hours to that fire.

So, taking another 5,500 is absolutely not out of the question for today because this is where we have our main fire threat for today. The orange area being an elevated fire threat and red areas being critical.

So, you can see it's not just limited to Southern California but also Northern California as well. Look at these wind gusts we had yesterday. Almost 60 miles per hour -- in Fresno County almost 60 miles per hour.

[06:20:11] Even Burbank picking up a wind over 40 miles per hour. That can take those fires that already exist and spread them multiple miles very quickly. Really before people can get a good grip on where what direction the fires are even going in.

The fire weather pattern is going to improve in the next 24 hours. We have got this low and this high. In between them, you get what is called a big pressure gradient and can increase your winds, but that low is going to separate further out.

That is going to make those winds and much more decreased level. That's good but going to take some time to get there. Here is a look at what we have for this morning. We still expect those winds 40, 50 miles per hour this morning.

But once we get to tonight, once we get to tomorrow, Victor and Christi, that is where you're going to see the improvements. But the one thing we need most is rain and, unfortunately, when you look at the next seven days, there is, unfortunately, not only is there not a chance, there is not much hope even in the next seven days for any rain and the last thing the firefighters really want to hear.

BLACKWELL: Certainly. Allison, thank you so much for watching it for us.

PAUL: Meanwhile, there are hundreds of passengers who are dealing with a stomach virus and it started when they were on a Royal Caribbean Cruise. The ship did return to Florida yesterday, but more than 300 people came ill on this cruise. Passengers aboard the ship described the scene as, quote, "terrifying and ghastly."

BLACKWELL: A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said the company taking steps like intensive sanitary procedures to minimize the risk of any further issues. The cause is still unknown of these illnesses.

PAUL: Trump transition team lawyers say their e-mails have been taken illegally by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Next, that accusation forces a rare move by the Special Counsel's Office.



PAUL: It's 26 minutes past the hour. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

PAUL: The Russia collusion probe is now under attack from the president's transition team lawyers who accuse Special Counsel Robert Mueller of obtaining their emails illegally.

BLACKWELL: Mueller's team defended itself this morning saying everything they have they got through cooperation or proper legal channels. But members of the GOP and the conservative media are really backing the president here going against Mueller and his team.

PAUL: And now doubling down, the Fox News host who said earlier this month that members of the FBI should be, quote, "taken out in handcuffs." BLACKWELL: She now says the bureau is a crime family trying to take down the president. Joining us now to talk about this, Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." Brian, the rhetoric here is really ratcheting up and happening quickly. There has been a march here, but in the last probably five or six days, it's really hit a peak.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I agree with you. You can't understand fully how the Mueller probe is being perceived, how the public is understanding it, without understanding how conservative media is trying to discredit Mueller and discredit the FBI and discredit the DOJ.

There is a concerted effort from pro-Trump hosts on Fox News and radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, and from some right-wing bloggers and commentators and social media stars to tear down Mueller, to demand his firing, and as you said in some cases, even demand his arrest.

It is like watching an alternate universe. You mentioned, Jeannine Pirro, the woman who called for them to be let out in handcuffs this time last week. Let's take a look at what she is saying this weekend. Here is how she is framing this for her audience, which includes President Trump.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: I doubt an American presidential election history that there has been as great a crime or as large a stain on our democracy than that committed by a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice, who think they know better than we, who our president should be.


STELTER: Pirro is an informal adviser to President Trump. She was said to be in consideration for a job in the Trump administration, and we know that President Trump loves to watch her show and other very supportive shows on Fox News.

So, consider the effect of this kind of rhetoric on a daily basis, every single day, every single day being heard by the president and his aides. That is one of the reasons why there is such a growing concern that Trump may try to fire Mueller is because he is being advised to do so by his favorite host on tv.

PAUL: Right. But there are an awful a lot of people who will seriously question that firing, one, if it happens.


PAUL: I mean, Brian, when we talk about who President Trump is talking to, let's face it. President Trump is talking to Fox, himself.

BLACKWELL: And listening to them. STELTER: Right. Exactly. Now look, he also watches other cable news channels including this one, so he does hear a wide range of opinion. I am really struck by the language, the rhetoric, in some cases, framing that we are seeing from hosts like Sean Hannity.

Banners on screen that say, a coup in America?, is it time to investigate the investigators? Hannity calls Mueller the head of the snake saying he is disgraceful. So, this kind of language repeated over and over again I think of it as a feedback loop.

I was talking to another expert about this, Nicole Hemmer, who wrote a book about right-wing media. She said there is a feedback loop between these commentators who know what the president wants to hear and then the president says similar comments which then reinforces and emboldens these pro Trump posts.

It's definitely something to pay attention to as we hear this drum beat about Mueller because we know poll shows the majority of the public is very supportive of the Mueller probe. They want to know what really happened with Russia's meddling in the election last year but there is a vocal minority of the country that is said by hosts like Hannity who are incredibly skeptical of Mueller. It's a real example of the divide in the country and how conservative media is fueling that divide right now.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Brian, it's also important to point out that the president is not alone. We heard testimony, at least the questioning by some of the House members when the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was on the Hill this week quoting some of these reports, some of these FOX hosts and their stories --

STELTER: Right. Right.

BLACKWELL: -- about Mueller and his probe.

STELTER: And it's one thing to wonder about certain members of the Mueller team. Look, there are members of the Mueller team that gave donations to Democrats and that does not mean that they are so biased that they are incapable of being involved. But it's fair to ask those questions and reporters from CNN and FOX and lots of outlets have asked those questions.

I think it's another thing for Jeanine Pirro to talk about a criminal conspiracy, for Sean Hannity to say this is entirely corrupt, right? It's a big -- it's a big leap to go from legitimate questions about the credibility and those should be asked and so far the public supports the probe, versus the kind of propaganda stick day-to-day drum beat that we're hearing from these FOX News hosts. And I think it's important to see this is what is being told to people like President Trump on a daily basis.

BLACKWELL: And that's the same day, the same week that we hear the president say that he is going to rebuild the FBI.


BLACKWELL: So, Brian Stelter, we will talk more about this next hour. Thanks so much for being with us.

President Trump wants to campaign during the midterm. It's not unusual for a sitting president to do that.

But are GOP candidates really looking for his endorsement? Do they want to share the stage with him? We will ask our political experts next.



PAUL: All right. There is the Capitol as we look ahead this week, Tuesday, the big tax bill is going to be on the books and, of course, Republicans have said plan to get it passed and get it to the president's desk by Wednesday. We, of course, will be following that for the next several days and keep you in the loop as to the progress of that.

Let's talk about poll numbers right now for the president. They are down. Alabama just lost a Senate seat to a Democrat, first time in 25 years. And despite GOP candidate Roy Moore getting a full-throat endorsement from the president, "The Washington Post" reports that he plans on campaigning for Republicans in next year's midterm elections. That's not particularly unusual.

Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for "Spectrum News" with us now. As well as Andre Bauer, CNN political commentator and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for sticking around. First of all, let's talk about a report in "The Washington Post" this morning. When we look at who the president has already campaigned for Luther Strange, Roy Moore, Ed Gillespie -- and let's listen to the president in his own words here.


TRUMP: You understand this and just look at the polls. Luther will definitely win.

So get out and vote for Roy Moore.


PAUL: Both of those candidates lost, Andre. And it's not unusual, the president isn't going to pick a winner every time, obviously. However, do GOP candidates want President Trump out there campaigning for them?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. Think about congressional candidate Karen -- the representative candidate Karen Handel who won that seat in Georgia that the Democrats went all in and lost. What about Ron Estes in Kansas?

Here in my home state Mick Mulvaney seat which has always been held for decades by John Spratt who is a great man. Mulvaney upset him and of course Ralph Norman was able to keep that seat so the president has got involved and a bunch of other seats that we've all quickly forgotten that he won a long run.

You know, the Luther Strange thing, the best endorsement that really happened was when you don't get your sitting Republican senator to come and support you. That was the nail in the coffin for him and that really -- that I thought, ended the election and is not indicative of the president's overall broad support.

Errol, we have -- the "USA Today" -- and I want to go back to this from 2014. Talking about President Obama.

Said, "The president wants his fellow Democrats to keep the Senate, would love to see them retake the House and has made it clear he is willing to help but in some cases the best thing he can do for Democratic candidates is to stay away. Questions of political liability have escaped very few presidents."

Have they happened one year in before, to your knowledge?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there are some warning signs on the horizon that Republican (INAUDIBLE) have to be very, very nervous about in some of these suburban districts.

Here in New York, certainly in Virginia, where Democrats are making inroads in district where they have no business doing well. I mean, you know? The results in Alabama are startling in a lot of respects.

So if the president is going to sort of go out and campaign and expect every district or every candidate up and down the line, the benefit from his presence, I think, they are going to have a really serious problem.


On the other hand, if he can pick and choose and be very careful and judicious about where he might be able to make a positive difference, then he would certainly be an asset to any lower level candidate who is running next year.

PAUL: OK. So you bring to point something that I wanted to bring up from "The Washington Post" this morning.

They are reporting the White House is planning to send these surveys to candidates across the country as -- quote -- "An audition of sorts for Trump's endorsement," is what they said. So they're asking according to "The Washington Post" for internal polling numbers, for fund-raising numbers and to secure petition signatures.

Andre, they don't say anything about them asking the candidates to illustrate their stance on particular issues on what their core message is going to be. They are looking at numbers, according to this report.

Does the president -- does he just want to pick a winner? I mean, explain to us that strategy.

BAUER: Well, I don't think that is the case because originally in the Alabama Senate race, you know, he picked someone that was already there. He picked someone that he felt he could work with.

And so what I hope we will do as a Republican Party is get people in who will push to do the things that all Republicans agree on like less taxes. We have to fight our own to get a common sense bill passed and it becomes difficult, so he's going to have to vet these candidates to make sure they are going to fight for what he thinks is important.

PAUL: Well, yes. But they are not asking for that. They are asking for internal poll numbers and fund-raising numbers and petitions.

BAUER: Agreed. And that is why I was making the point that I think he needs to make sure that he asks candidates -- that he gets candidates that are going to push his agenda. That is an important part of making sure you get -- if you get people in Republican in name only that does you very little good.

PAUL: All right. Errol, last word?

LOUIS: Well, I mean, the problem, of course, that this doesn't really work. That strategy won't work in swing districts. You got a lot of districts where folks have given him a chance or given him a try and things like demeanor, tone, the tweets, the vulgarity, the obscenity.

You know, in a lot of cases this is what's turning off some of those suburban voters. To the extent that you start to lose some of those, Donald Trump himself may be able to prevail in 2020 but those who associate with him we have seen there's considerable evidence that they're going to bear the political cost of some of his action.

PAUL: All right. We appreciate so much you sticking around. Errol and Andre, thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: Sure. And don't forget to watch "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Jake Tapper is talking to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senator-elect Doug Jones as well.

BLACKWELL: All right. So a lot happened in the NFL on Saturday, has a lot of people now talking about playoffs. What is happening in the playoffs? Kristina Fitzpatrick, what's going on today?


Well, the Detroit Lions are dancing their way towards the playoffs. They're bringing some holiday cheer along with them. We'll have the latest after the break in your bleacher report coming up.

BLACKWELL: But first the 11th annual "CNN Heroes All-Star Tribute" salutes 10 people who put others first all year long. The star studded gala airs live this Sunday. Tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are everyday heroes, they inspire, and change lives every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to make sure that they make better choices when it comes to violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you lose your child, the love doesn't go away. It has to find a place. I'm lucky I found a place to put that love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are truly what it means to be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is people helping people the best way we know how.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they see me, they always feel happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just give them a chance. They can do anything you ask them to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Sunday night, CNN presents a very special live event.


KELLY RIPA, CNN HOST: And I am Kelly Ripa.

COOPER: Join us live for "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute". Live Sunday 8:00 p.m. on CNN.



BLACKWELL: So I've got some Michiganders who are staying at my house right now watched the Detroit Lions last night. And they were pretty happy loudly as I was trying to sleep.

PAUL: Were they dancing too?

BLACKWELL: I don't know. Whatever it was, it was loud.

PAUL: Because you're sleeping. That's right.

Kristina Fitzpatrick has more in this morning's bleacher report. Good morning.

FITZPATRICK: Good morning.

Yes, it's crunch time for a lot of NFL teams when it comes to the playoff picture. Some Saturday NFL to talk about here on this Sunday. After six losses in seven games, there definitely was some doubt about the Chiefs' season. But they have now won two straight against divisional opponents to move into first place in the AFC West.

The offense was firing on all cylinders against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday. Alex Smith finds Tyreek Hill for a 64 yard touchdown and 10-0 lead. The Chiefs' defense was rolling two forcing four second half turnovers that earned them the 30-13 win.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions have a lot to dance about. They are still in the playoff picture. Thanks to a 20-10 win over the Chicago Bears.

Matthew Stafford threw two touched passes including one to T.J. Jones. He got the guys going in the end zone with this Rockettes-inspired celebration. Perfect for the holiday season and I might add it was done very well, I have to say.

LeBron James is making a statement that age is just a number. Check out this ridiculous one-handed alley-oop.

He finishes against the Jazz. Not many 33-year-olds getting up like that these days you could say.


He now has 60 triple-doubles in his career which puts him ahead of Larry Bird for sixth all time. The Cavs star putting up MVP type numbers in its 15th NBA season.

And how about some outdoor hockey to make you feel all warm and cozy this morning? The Senators and Canadiens commemorated the NHL's 100 year anniversary playing in Ottawa Saturday.

The temperature was a cool 12 degrees at puck drop. And a wild crowd looked every minute of the celebrating in that bitter cold. A wind chill felt like 13 below, you guys, and 34,000 people out there to celebrate.

PAUL: Wow. At least if you're playing, you're moving around.



PAUL: Otherwise, you're sitting in the stands.

BLACKWELL: And if your team is winning though, you're moving around.

FITZPATRICK: That's true and that's a true sports fan to sit out there in that cold.

PAUL: Yes it is.

BLACKWELL: Thirteen below (INAUDIBLE).

FITZPATRICK: Happy hundred years, NHL.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Kristina.

PAUL: Thank you.

So, still ahead, a holiday children's book tells the story of Santa Claus with a fresh new twist. There are some families, though, not so happy about the book, maybe not so hidden agenda.

BLACKWELL: Yes. They call it a political agenda. We have the author and the illustrator here with us live to talk about their new book "Santa's Husband."



BLACKWELL: Well, with the Christmas holiday right around the corner, millions of people are getting really into the spirit with the thought of family and gifts and, of course, Santa Claus.

PAUL: So do us a favor here.


PAUL: Victor had a very good idea.

BLACKWELL: Close your eyes. Close your eyes with me and think of Santa and his spouse. Now open them.

This is the cover of the new book, is this the image that popped in your head? This is the cover of "Santa's Husband," a new children's book that hit stores nationwide this season.

And joining me now the author Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrator Ashley Quach. Good morning to both of you.


DANIEL KIBBLESMITH, AUTHOR, "SANTA'S HUSBAND": Hey, good morning. Thanks for having us.

BLACKWELL: Certainly. Thank you for coming in.

This is new. Daniel, first to you. What inspired "Santa's Husband"?

KIBBLESMITH: Well, it was sort of inspired by the annual tradition we have in this country of pretending that there is a giant war on Christmas and that traditional Christmas is under attack. So among other things, we were reading all of the news about the mall of America hiring a black Santa Claus last year and me and my now wife made a joke on Twitter if that's -- if we ever had a child, they would only know about Black Santa Claus and if they saw a white Santa Claus at the mall, we would just explain, well, that is his husband.

And then Ashley and I knew each other from the internet and from her illustration already and she jumped into my Twitter mentions and said, boom -- new book.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And it's out now. Available everywhere, actually.

So let me read a couple of pages here. It says, "Like any married couple, they have their disagreements, but they always manage to kiss and make up, usually over a plate of milk and cookies."

I'll read one of the online responses too, "I'm African-American and my family collects black Santa figures, but I grew up never seeing black Santas in the mall or on TV. Now that my nephew is two, he's starting to understanding the idea of Santa, and this book lets him know the Santa isn't just the old white fellow he sees in the mall. The "real Santa" looks more like him, and that's kind of cool."

Ashley, important for children to see themselves.

QUACH: Oh, absolutely.

Gosh. One of my favorite things about this book and especially as it's come out are our friends that have children that have families that have not seen themselves yet represented whether these are families of color or whether these are gay families with children. And I just love seeing the children interact with the book. They really -- they really do seem to get it.


BLACKWELL: You know this is a lot for some parents. Some people may not agree with it. Let me read one of the criticisms here.

"I'm gay man, and honestly the book is pretty patronizing and obviously meant to take two sweet things, the image of Santa Claus and love between two adults, and use them as a tool to express a political opinion in a polarizing way -- especially the news anchor scene -- in the guise of a children's book. I find it overall patronizing, and I'm a little disgusted that the authors obviously used homosexuality as a political weapon to make a political statement under the cover of children."

Listen, the elves have health care coverage, they settle labor disputes, you address climate change, Rudolph and Frosty attend Santa and David's wedding. I mean, are you using a children's book to push a political ideology, Daniel?

KIBBLESMITH: Well, I think that's a legitimate criticism. I mean, I'm literally on the news anchor scene right now. But, you know, that's just the world we come from.

I'm a political satire writer. So when, you know, I have the opportunity to write a book, these are the things that I care about and that I'm interested in. My only real response to that, I think, is that we are trying to put a net positive into the world and contribute to a vacuum of representation.

But these are, obviously, our views. They are not everybody's views. And we are just very flattered that the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

BLACKWELL: Daniel Kibblesmith and Ashley Quach, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

KIBBLESMITH: Thank you for having us.

QUACH: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: The next hour starts right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This story just adds another layer on what has been a barrage of attacks on the special counsel.