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Trump Starts Christmas Vacation After Major Tax Win; Pelosi Urges Ryan Not To Let House Probe Shut Down; White House Officials: Trump Wanted News Conference, Aides Said No; Poll: 62 Percent Say Fight Against ISIS Is Going Well; FBI Arrests Former Marine Allegedly Planning Terror Attack. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 08:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- have Trumpy bear riding by my side.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Its makers planning some design changes in the New Year, but it will still come with --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special certificate of authenticity.

MOOS: So that you know who can't say --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



PRESIDENT TRUMP: So, this is the bill right here. We're very proud of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He initially wanted to have a press conference. His aides prevailed on him not to have one.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he wants Democratic votes then I want to see his taxes. I want to make sure that whatever we are doing is not designed to basically line his pockets and the pockets of all his friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump's long-time secretary, Rhona Graff, is the latest member of inner circle to face questions from lawmakers in the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI has thwarted a plot that targeted San Francisco around the holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The life of ISIS is going to live beyond the demise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.


RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. I'm Rene Marsh in for Christi Paul. Thanks for joining us.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. President Trump is spending Christmas break at his island resort, Mar-a-Lago. He's there this morning celebrating his first major legislative win, tax reform.

MARSH: And the president is cheering what he calls the largest tax cut in history. With factcheck, it's actually the fifth largest cut since the '60s. Despite his excitement, aides told him that he shouldn't do those ends of the year traditional press conferences for fears that questions about Russia could overshadow the tax bill.

BLACKWELL: And those turns are coming as investigators we know interviewed the president's longtime personal assistant as part of the investigation into the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and several Russians.

MARSH: CNN's Dan Merica joins us live near the president's Florida resort. Dan, no doubt that tax bill is a big one for the president at the end of the year, but of course, his aides didn't want him to step on that.

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, Rene. It's a huge win. It's actually surprising for many journalists who have covering the president that he had a relatively small signing in the oval office and then didn't do that traditional press conference.

This is a man who built himself as a larger than life promoter, ran a campaign based on that, and it was surprising that this huge legislative victory that he had that he didn't do a bigger event. He noted that in that oval office ceremony saying that he wanted to do something bigger in January.

But as you noted, his aides suggested to him maybe let's not do a press conference. They want this tax bill to be the focus. They think it's a huge win and they want to be talking about that not about questions about Russia and a whole host of other issues.

Here's here at Mar-a-Lago for the winter holiday where he's surrounded by a lot of longtime friends. He's really most comfortable here. But as the calendar turns to 2018, the focus would now be on whether Republicans can hold the House and Senate.

President Trump was asked yesterday if he is going to go out and sell this tax bill, take a listen to what he said.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't think I will have to travel too much to sell it. I think it's selling itself. It's becoming very popular, but I think it will really -- you will see something on February 1st, when open up the paycheck.


MERICA: That's the kind of wishful thinking for the president. He doesn't think he'll have to travel to sell this bill. That it will sell itself. It's an unpopular bill, however, 45 percent of Americans disapproved of it in November. More now, 55 percent according to a CNN poll disapprove of that bill.

So, the president will have to step out and sell this bill, as well as other Republicans. It's critical for the president's future agenda, which she say could be welfare reform or infrastructure.

It's critical that they hold those majorities, slim majorities especially in the Senate so that those things have a chance of getting that done. If that's going to happen, many Republicans acknowledge that the president will to step out and sell this bill and hopefully, turn it from an unpopular bill to something that the American people support -- Rene.

MARSH: Dan Merica reporting live for us from Florida. Thank you, Dan.

BLACKWELL: All right. CNN political analysts joining me now, Margaret Talev, a senior White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News," and Matt Viser, deputy Washington bureau chief for "The Boston Globe." Good morning to you.

So, Margaret, let me start here with you. Minority Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, sent a letter earlier this week to Speaker Paul Ryan expressing the concerns of some Democrats especially those on the House Intelligence Committee that Republicans will be wrapping up the investigation into potential Russian collusion soon.

And we now have the response from Paul Ryan's spokeswoman saying in part, "Leader Pelosi would like to see this investigation to go on forever. Whether it concludes next month, next year, or three years, she will say it's too soon."

So, how justified are these concerns? Are there clear indications that this investigation at least in the House will be wrapping up in short order?

[08:05:07] MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the timeline to watch, of course, really Bob Mueller's investigation when that wraps up and there are no indications that that is on the cusp of wrapping up even though that is what the White House had hoped for.

But it does appear that House committees are looking in terms of the Republican leadership to wrap this up, going up to New York to do that review with the president's longtime assistant.

For the Democrats, of course, they see this to some extent as an issue that continue criticism of the president, I would say, it's interesting to watch Paul Ryan's language a few months ago, remember back in the summer, talking about how Mueller was absolutely not a partisan, how he had been appointed by Republicans, was a Republican.

Trying to end this idea of politicizing Mueller's involvement. You're seeing a different tone now across the spectrum from Republicans while they support Mueller raising questions about those investigations, Republicans do not want this dragging into 2018, but it will, as long as Mueller's investigation is continuing.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And we heard from people who are close to those who are part of Mueller's team that they should plan to be part of this investigation, continue their work through much of 2018.

And that among other things brings up a good point that many people, of course, are watching the Mueller investigation because of the investigations that he is the one who could bring criminal charges.

There may be some political prescriptions based on what the House and Senate investigations find. But based on the partisanship that we've seen, especially in the House investigation with Chairman Nunez, having to recuse himself, although still issuing subpoenas. I mean, what fruit can come from this investigation in the House? Is it now pretty much null?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to say. I mean, you're anticipating -- the anticipation is to be sort of two different reports. One from the Republicans, one from the Democrats, which it sorts of tells you where this investigation is headed with the partisanship and disagreements between both parties, of what prism through which they look at this investigation.

There are some things that they can do, and Ashley Strong, the spokeswoman for Paul Ryan alludes to some of this, which is preparing for the midterm elections. Making sure that whatever happened in the lead up to the 2016 election does't happen in the leadup to the 2018 elections.

So, I think that Congress could attempt to do something in that vein. But even that is a little bit difficult to tell, given that the president is still, you know, to have not on board that there's a problem to deal with in the first place.

BLACKWELL: Matt, let me stay with you, a source who has knowledge of the session has confirmed that Rhona Graff, the president's longtime secretary and personal assistant was questioned by the criminal investigation, Mueller's team, as part of their look into potential Russian collusion. Detail for us how essential she is to this investigation.

VISER: She is, you know, one of the longest serving people who has been around Trump, you know, outside of his family.

BLACKWELL: Let me correct that, investigators of the House Intelligence Committee, but go ahead.

VISER: She's been with Trump for 30 years. She is the person through which phone calls -- you'd call Rhona, and she would patch you into Donald Trump. She's the conduit to him throughout -- in the ups and downs of his business career.

So, she's very close to Trump. She knows Trump very well. She's been loyal to Trump. So, I do think she's one of those people who could potentially shed some light on Trump's past interactions with Russians.

You know, she was not part of the campaign's apparatus as much. You know, there were other aides who were around him at that time. She is a person who knows Trump and knows his world quite well. She wasn't necessarily inside some of those meetings, but she could have been setting them up.

BLACKWELL: Margaret to you, we learned from CNN's Jeff Zeleny that the president did want to hold that end of the year news conference before heading off to Mar-a-Lago. But his advisers said he shouldn't because they expected he would be besieged by their term, by questions about the Russian investigation likely he would have.

By that logic, considering that the investigation could stretch deep into 2018, are we not going to see a news conference from the president for most of next year? Will he not do a non-Fox News interview? I mean, there has to be a better strategy than avoid questions.

TALEV: Well, certainly, we'll be looking for this. We have been encouraging the White House to do that end of year news conference, although, I have to tell you I wasn't terribly surprise at the reluctance to do so.

[08:10:08] It, of course, would have turned into several questions about issues that have nothing to do with the tax bill and the tax bill is what the president wanted, or his team wanted, to end the year the note on message wise.

But, look, I think it is instructive that since the first round of interviews in the first 100 days we see far fewer interviews with the president. You haven't seen the sort of traditional news conferences that allow a real give and take and substantive discussion of the issues.

The president has really preferred the last minute shouted questions in the oval office or even most favorite, outside, as he's getting ready to board the helicopter, the drama of the urgency of the helicopter, the background noise.

And it allows him to him to control the conversation a little bit more. His aides are concerned that if he did a full news conference, eight or nine questions, that he might decide to answer some of those questions and it would take on a life of its own.

So, but I hope in the new year that he continues the tradition of news conferences. It's important for transparency. It's important that Americans know what he's thinking on these issues beyond the sound bites that we've been able to get in the rushed conversations but it's complicated. BLACKWELL: Yes. The last television interview that was not on Fox News was back in May with Lester Holt when he revealed what he was thinking when he fired James Comey. The last formal news conference was in February. It's been a long time. Margaret Talev and Matt Viser, thank you both.

MARSH: Well, a former Marine is accused of planning to attack San Francisco during the holidays. We have details on how the alleged plot was stopped.

BLACKWELL: And 30 million people under a winter weather alert potentially dangerous weather conditions could really make their plans difficult. We'll talk about those.

MARSH: And overcoming odds, how a homeless high school football player led his team to victory with the help of his coach, both on and off the field.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel like I have somebody in front of me, it made me do better in school, and made me want to do better in life.




MARSH: Well, this morning, a changing view on the war on terror. In a new CNN poll, the majority of Americans say the fight against ISIS is going well and more than 40 percent approved how President Trump is handling terrorism. But at the same time, 70 percent say that people say that they are worried about an impending attack on U.S. soil.

Here to break this all down, we have Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst and former senior adviser to the national security adviser, and CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Thank you both for joining us this morning.

Sam, I want to begin with you. Again, the majority of Americans say that Trump is doing very well when it comes to the war on ISIS. However, when you look at their concerns about attacks here on U.S. soil, they don't feel as confident. How do you explain that contrast?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks. Well, it's interesting, I actually started my career in Iraq working with Lieutenant General Hertling on things like counterterrorism. We felt like we had a lot of success against terrorists there and then they came back.

And I think that really underscores the point that military strikes and kinetic operations are a very important part of counterterrorism strategy around the world. That's why, for example, the global coalition that's fighting ISIS, it's about 74 countries has included a lot of military strikes against ISIS. While at the same time, focusing on things like stemming the flow of foreign fighters and countering ISIS propaganda. Now, I think that the polling underscores the fact that we have had military success against ISIS.

The Iraqi prime minister declared Iraq as fully liberated from ISIS a few weeks ago. President Trump and President Putin have also said that Syria has been cleared of ISIS, but that doesn't necessarily make us safer.

Here in New York City alone, we've had two terror attacks over the last several weeks that were inspired by ISIS online. So, despite the fact that we have deprived ISIS physical safe havens, which is a very significant achievement, they still have the capability to manipulate the digital space.

And we really need to double down on air operations online to combat ISIS' capability to reach people through the internet.

MARSH: Lieutenant General Hertling to you, I mean, we've heard the administration's plans for battling ISIS allegations against ISIS and also that they believe they can best protect the homeland.

I mean, the president has focused a lot on immigration sort of policies, whether it's the travel ban, whether it's the wall, as ways to protect the homeland. But we haven't heard the administration talk that much about the focus of homegrown terrorists who are inspired by ISIS. What do they need to do?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, I think, Rene, first of all, good morning. I think one of the key things and Sam hit it very well is terror knows no politics. So, this poll that you cited I found it very interesting as I read through it where it said less likely to anticipate terror when the president is a member of your preferred party.

That's just silliness because terrorists will strike when they want to and how they want to. And what we've seen with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they've certainly been decimated in terms of their ability to conduct a conventional fight and also to hold on to cities.

But as you said, there are a lot of homegrown terrorists. There are continued emphases on cyber terrorism as Sam mentioned. And I would suggest that conventional fight against ISIS might have been successful, but I think we'll see them go into a new phase of operations as you have seen many times before.

Where some of the terrorists who were not killed are going to go in the desserts, riverbanks, mountains, of Iraq and Syria, and continue to fight on, and they will re-evolve unless something is done beyond the military means, which we've been talking about for several years.

[08:20:14] It's got to be a fight against the ideology of ISIS and extreme Islamism.

MARSH: Because, Sam, we haven't heard from the administration their plan for how to deal with those homegrown-inspired sorts of attacks, similar to what we saw in New York City in the subway station.

VINOGRAD: Exactly. And I don't doubt that there is extensive work under way in this space. I just think we need to fundamentally reorganize ourselves when it comes to combatting extremism online.

I worked at the U.S. Treasury Department and there was a dedicated entity that worked on countering threat finance and terrorist ability to manipulate financial infrastructure.

I think we need something very in the digital space, but at the same time, to your point earlier, we have to stop focusing on the wrong enemy. And all of this talk about the travel ban and a border wall is frankly a distraction and misallocation of resources.

MARSH: Right.

VINOGRAD: The two terror attacks that we saw here in New York over the past several weeks were from people, yes, they were immigrants to the United States, but from what we know at this point, they were radicalized domestically.

So, talking about keeping them out of the country doesn't get to the fact that they were radicalized from within the United States, when they were reading content within the United States as immigrants to this country.

So, I think we need to be very clear about where we're trying to strike the threat and not distract attention and resources away from that objective.

MARSH: OK. Really quickly, the president rolled out his national security strategy this week. Let's take a listen.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries but in a manner that always protects our national interest.


MARSH: Well, he singled out Russia as one of the rival powers that seemed to have ruffled Putin's feathers. Putin calling it aggressive. Does this escalate rather quickly, Lieutenant Hertling?

HERTLING: It does not. The national intelligence is driven by the intelligence community and what they know. Truthfully, Rene, I've been talking when he was commander in Europe, I've been talking about the Russian expansion and threat.

And the president and his national security calls it revisionist power attempting to create discord among the west and it's been true since about 2008 when Russia attacked into Georgia, they have continually tried to disrupt the western powers and the world order to their advantage. So, it is contrary to what the president has been saying verbally so that there is a disconnect between what he is saying in the paper of the NSS and what he's saying verbally, but it is not at all contrary to what we believe for the last 10 or so years.

MARSH: All right. Samantha Vinograd and Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: The FBI say it stopped a terror plot planned for San Francisco. They say the person was planning it, a former Marine who pledged allegiance to ISIS. We'll tell what you they say he wanted to do.

MARSH: Plus, dangerous travel conditions shaping up for the holiday weekend as heavy rain and snow move in. We'll have the details coming up.



MARSH: Welcome back. I'm Rene Marsh in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. The FBI said its agents have averted a terror attack that was planned for San Francisco. A former U.S. Marine is accused of plotting an attack at Pier 39 during the holiday season.

MARSH: Everitt Aaron Jameson told an undercover FBI investigator that he wanted to show his support for ISIS. CNN's justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider has the details.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The FBI has thwarted a plot that targeted San Francisco around the holidays. Authorities say Everitt Aaron Jameson was plotting to stage an attack on Pier 39 in San Francisco sometime over this Christmas holiday.

And the FBI agents who were tracking him online saying he was modelling his planned attack on those over the past few years including San Bernardino and most recently in New York City. In fact, Jameson voiced his support for that truck attack in New York City on October 31st when eight people were killed on a bike path.

And then the complaint says Jameson recently became a tow truck driver in his hometown of Modesto, California leading to concerns that he could attempt that exact same type of attack that we saw in New York City.

Now, the criminal complaint also details the letter that authorities found inside his home under a search warrant this week. The letter said things like you all brought this upon yourselves and you've allowed Donald J. Trump to give away al Quds to the Jews. That's a reference to Jerusalem.

Also, he said, we have penetrated and infiltrated your disgusting country. Now top officials here in the U.S. have been warning as recently as last month about this danger of a possible uptick in ISIS- inspired attacks right here in the U.S. especially with the collapsed of the Islamic State's caliphate.

The FBI did a search of Jameson's home in Modesto, California that's just 90 miles from San Francisco and they have firearms, empty magazines, ammunition and fireworks. Jameson is now in custody.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, California's "Modesto Bee" says that Jameson's attorney has denied the allegations contained in the affidavit.

Well, potentially dangerous travel conditions this holiday weekend for millions of Americans.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in CNN's meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Allison, is there any way to know who's seeing the worst of it and when?


MARSH: I like that.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it.

MARSH: Yes. Thanks, Allison.

BLACKWELL: All right. Still to come. To avoid a government shutdown this year, Senate Democrats had to cave on a DACA fix. Now the Hispanic Caucus and Dreamers are questioning whether the party will keep their promise next year and when. We'll discuss that.


[08:37:00] BLACKWELL: The Hispanic Caucus and DACA recipients, activists as well are reeling after Democrats postponed action on the DACA program for the third time this year. There was no fix in the September short-term spending bill. No fix in the two-week spending bill that passed on December 8th. No fix on the spending bill Thursday before the government ran out of funding.

Democratic leaders insist they have strategy to fix a DACA fix in January however. Will they deliver on the promises, though, and when?

Here with me to discuss CNN political commentator Maria Cardona and chairman of the National Bar Association PAC and former D.C. Democratic Party chairman, A. Scott Bolden.

Good morning to both of you.


BLACKWELL: So let's start here, Maria, with what we heard from minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, earlier this year in November.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I have to see what the spending bill is. But I fully intend that we will not leave here without the Dream Act passing. With the DACA fix. And I've made that very clear.


BLACKWELL: "We will not leave." Well, they left, and it didn't happen. Explain how this is not a promise broken here.

CARDONA: Well, first of all, let's remember that Democrats do not control Congress. They don't control the House. They don't control the Senate. They have very limited leverage. So --

BLACKWELL: But she knew that when she said it.

CARDONA: Sure. But what she was doing was certainly pushing not just Democrats but Republicans as well. Let's remember there are many Republicans who have also made the promise to fix DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, for almost a million kids who came here through no fault of their own, who now, thanks to President Trump, who, you know, took that protection away from them, are now in limbo.

And so what she's facing today is protecting these dreamers as we call them is a huge priority for Democrats. It a huge priority for American voters. And the thought was, the hope was that Republicans would also make sure that this was a priority for them. We know that many of them support this.


CARDONA: There is a bipartisan bill in Congress right now that if Republicans had the political will to put it on the floor right now it would pass overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. So this --


BLACKWELL: There's also Jeff Flake who has said that in voting for the tax cut that he got some confirmation that there would be a DACA fix as well. So there is bipartisanship in the Senate as well.

CARDONA: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Let me get to Scott because I don't have a whole lot of time here.

CARDONA: Sure. BLACKWELL: But this obviously is something that has bipartisan

support as Maria pointed out in the Senate. But if the president, if Republicans say yes, there will be a DACA fix, there will be protection for these roughly 800,000 undocumented peoples in this country who came here as children, no fault of their own, but we want money to start building this wall. Is that a fair exchange?

BOLDEN: It's not a fair exchange, quite frankly.

BLACKWELL: But should Democrats take it?

BOLDEN: Well, if the Democrats what? I'm sorry.

BLACKWELL: Should Democrats take that deal?

[08:40:02] BOLDEN: Of course not. They ought not take that deal because this has bipartisan support if they can get it to the floor. And remember, this isn't over. January 19th is when that spending bill is up and they'll have to do another take.


BOLDEN: And Schumer has given a commitment to 17 or 18 Hispanic members of the House as well as some others in the Senate that they're going to write the law down or they're going to lay down the law on this. But this is about political capital. The Democrats are committed to spending political capital on this. There's some Republicans as well. And remember, the backdrop of all of this is 2018 and that's as important for the Republicans as it is for the Democrats on this DACA issue.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, Scott, let me stay with you, and Doug Jones, the Senate-elect from Alabama, is heading to the Senate in January. And there was an open letter signed by 20 organizations that worked to get out the vote for Doug Jones in that special election just a couple of weeks ago. I want to read a line from it.

"The ticker-tape for Jones' victory has barely been swept from the floor and we are already seeing him pandering to the right and stepping away from the interests of the people who elected him."

Just a couple of days ago he had to walk back what he told Jake Tapper that it's time to move on from the sexual harassment allegations against the president and some in the Senate who have said that the president should resign.

Are you concerned about the degree to which Doug Jones will fulfill those promises he made to Democrats to win this race, considering how conservative, how ruby red of a state Alabama is and what you've seen from him already?

BOLDEN: I'm not worried yet and I hope I won't get worried once he gets in. This is hardcore politics. And Doug Jones' win was a great win for the Democrats, certainly better than Roy Moore being there. But here's the deal. He's in a very, very difficult situation because he's coming from a red state, African-Americans others voted to support him. He owes a lot of people and he owes a lot of people who aren't ruby red, if will you.

So he's going to have to balance that up. Support those who supported him. It's going to be tough. But we have to keep politicians like Roy -- like Jones accountable. And we have to press them and make them vote the way we want them to vote to support what's in our best interest and usually what's in the best interest of America. We'll see.

BLACKWELL: Maria, he's up again in 2020, just filling out that reelection from Jeff Sessions back in 2014 so he's going to be back on the ballot again. Your degree of concern considering what we've seen in just a short couple of weeks since the election.

CARDONA: Well, I would echo what Scott said. He is completely in a very difficult position and he does have a tight rope to -- that he has to perform here in the next two years but I'm going to give him confidence and the benefit of the doubt because he is from Alabama. He is from the communities that supported him. He understands the issues that are important to the voters of Alabama. And he ran a fantastic campaign.

BOLDEN: Right.

CARDONA: And I believe the relationships that he has actually nurtured for decades on ground are relationships that he will continue to respect and that he will mirror the issues that are important to most Alabama voters. And like Scott said, what's important to most Alabama voters, the economy, health care.


CARDONA: I do believe these issues of sexual allegations will be front and center as well. And Scott mentioned -- or, I'm sorry, Doug Jones mentioned that this was going to be something that, you know, moving forward, to the degree that these women need to be heard.


CARDONA: So all of these issues I think are issues that will help him going into his reelection campaign, which will be tough by doable.

BLACKWELL: All right. All right. Maria Cardona, Scott Bolden, thank you both.

BOLDEN: Thank you.

CARDONA: Thank you so much.

MARSH: Well, up next, proof that one person truly can help turn a child's life around. See how a high school football coach opened up his heart and his home to one of his players. You don't want to miss this remarkable story.


[08:48:18] MARSH: A high school quarterback in North Carolina was homeless failing in school and suddenly found himself ineligible to play.

BLACKWELL: You'll want to take a couple of minutes to watch this. Stop what you're doing and sit down.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher explains how the head football coach stepped up to be more than a coach and help his star player achieve his potential.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A senior quarterback with a 95-yard touchdown run to win the state's championship game. Leading a team that just two years ago had a 1-10 record to their first state title in more than 16 years.


GALLAGHER: Historic. Impressive. But this is a story about much more than football. This is a story about a coach, a quarterback and a little but loaded question that changed their lives.

Late summer, 2015, Harding University High School, Charlotte, North Carolina. Sam Greiner, a first year head coach, tasked with turning around the realms of dismal underfunded program and breaking some bad news to sophomore Braheam Murphy.

SAM GREINER, HEAD COACH HARDING UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: The athletic director comes to me and says by the way Braheam Murphy and some other guys are not eligible. I was like, Braheam was not eligible? Like -- I was like blown away because he's so smart.

GALLAGHER: But he didn't have the grades to play.

BRAHEAM MURPHY, HARDING UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: When he told me that I didn't show any emotion but once I got home I just cried for like two days straight.

GALLAGHER: Home, a complicated word in Braheam's life back then.

MURPHY: I had to be on my own at times and sometimes I stay at my friend's house, me and my sister stay at my friend's house. We were going back and forth.

[08:50:05] GALLAGHER (On camera): You're homeless.

MURPHY: Yes. Basically I wasn't in a stable home.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): When he was 5 years old, Braheam lost his mother to a brain aneurysm.

MURPHY: After that it's just like everything went downhill. My dad loves me and everything but we were just going through problems.

GALLAGHER: Coach Greiner started to notice that when he dropped Braheam off at home it was never the same place twice. S. GREINER: Eventually he just opened up to me. And he was like, you

know, I have to stay with my sister from place to place. Now I didn't know what to do at times so I go into my office and I start thinking, I'm like, something's tugging at my heart.

GALLAGHER: And now Sam Greiner has spent years talking faith, family and football. So he called his wife Connie. It was time to practice what he preached.

CONNIE GREINER, COACH'S WIFE: So he stayed with us. We had dinner a couple of times with them and, I mean, I fell in love.

GALLAGHER: And their daughters Charlie and Journey, just 2 and 3 years old at the time, absolutely smitten with the new big brother. So when it came down to that little life-changing question.

S. GREINER: He's like, is it OK if I just stay here with you guys for a little bit? I said, Braheam, you can stay here as long as you want. And two years later, you know --

GALLAGHER: It was an adjustment, but it worked.

MURPHY: I just felt that when I had someone caring for me I felt like it made me do better in school and it made me want to do better in life, you know.

GALLAGHER: His grades shot up, straight A's. Braheam said in finding a family, he also found faith.

MURPHY: Once I met God it -- that's -- that's a main turn in my life also.

GALLAGHER: And football, well, that fell into place. But the story is far from finished. Braheam will leave for college in the summer. He earned a scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

MURPHY: I shed some tears because Connie going to make me -- they're going to make me cry.

C. GREINER: Oh, my gosh.

S. GREINER: What are you going to tell Braheam on graduation day?

C. GREINER: That I love him, that I couldn't be more proud of him. I mean --

S. GREINER: He's doing a family tree changer. I've never had an opportunity to go to West Point. He's better than me. Connie is trying to go to college right now through her career, and one day we'll probably be working for our own son.

GALLAGHER: In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dianne Gallagher, CNN.


BLACKWELL: I told you it was worth it.

MARSH: Yes. Angels on earth.

BLACKWELL: All right. Still ahead, the story behind the story of "A Christmas Carol." Charles Dickens brought iconic characters like Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, you know the names, to life in this Christmas classic.


[08:56:25] BLACKWELL: Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the names. The iconic characters of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." They're known around the world.

MARSH: That's right. Well, CNN's Nick Glass explains how Dickens brought these characters to life to create the Christmas classic.


NICK GLASS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a gilded frame three little photographs of the gristle, all literary lion, this is Dickens as we remember him, looking older than his years, simply worn out and probably conscious of it, he died at just 58.

The Dickens Museum in London is in a Georgian terrace in Bloomsbury with a requisite blue clock. This is 48 Doughty Street and the house he rented as a young married man. Here on display are some of his writing tools, his quill and ink well. His magnifying glass. His cigar box. And something that went with him every time he moved home.

(On camera): He's naturally showing its age, but this is Charles Dickens' actual writing desk. It's where he wrote " Nicholas Nickleby," "Oliver Twist," "Great Expectations." And this, while the handsome little volume, this is approved copy of "Christmas Carol" published on December 19th, 1843. 6,000 copies they sold out on Christmas Eve.

(Voice-over): It's a beautiful object, finely bound, gold lettering on the front and spine. The first story that Dickens ever published directly as a book, rather than in serial form in the periodical. The illustrations by John Leach, a young caricaturist with punch magazine, four in color.

The museum is currently sharing Leach's initial pencil sketches, the first faint apparition of that one (INAUDIBLE) named miser Ebenezer Scrooge.

Being Dickens, a story is naturally a tale of two cities. New York is celebrating this Christmas, too, with a special exhibition at the Morgan Library.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is the original manuscript of "A Christmas Carol" and you see this very (INAUDIBLE) pages where they're heavily revised, he's changing his mind, he's going back. But it's all pouring out of him. The level of artistic energy there I think is almost sort of bouncing off the page when you look at it. GLASS: It's somehow thrilling to see the names and Dickens' own

almost eligible hand. Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and of course Tiny Tim. Now would you have recognized Dickens from this, the earliest known photograph, the (INAUDIBLE) type from 1850, he was then 38. In his 40s and 50s "A Christmas Carol" became one of his favorite readings in his celebrated tours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were like rock concerts, his readings. I mean, people just was so thrilled to be in his actual physical presence. The fact that he was also a brilliant actor was such a huge bonus, people could scarcely believe their luck.

GLASS: Dickens' farewell American tour in the late 1860s earned him the modern equivalent of $1.5 million. Poignantly a ticket stub for a reading in London on February 1st, 1870, this to be among this last. A mere four months later, the great writer, the great performer of his own works was dead. Leaving an empty chair by his writing desk. This engraving became a Christmas best-seller that near.

Nick Glass, CNN, in London.


BLACKWELL: All right. Thank you, Nick.

That's it for us. We'll see you back here at 10:00 for NEWSROOM.

MARSH: "SMERCONISH" starts now.