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Trump Escalates Attacks Against Top FBI Officials; NYT: Trump Railed Against Immigrants In Meeting; Sixty Million People Under a Winter Weather Alert Today; Puerto Rico Struggling to Rebuild 3 Months After Maria; Trump's Jerusalem Decision Overshadows Celebrations. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired December 24, 2017 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump is attacking FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe he is trying to delegitimize the investigation into him, into his family, into his administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the president is doing is basically saying if you don't agree with me, if you don't support me, you are lying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is supposed to be touting a tax reform victory on the defense following this bombshell "New York Times" report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saying that Haitians, they all have AIDS, and that Nigerians would never go back to their huts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House response denies these outrageous claims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a terrible thing if prejudice is what motivated this president's approach to immigration.


RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Rene Marsh, in for Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

It's another round of a fight we have seen before. The president versus the FBI. President Trump going on the Twitter attack on the agency's deputy director.

MARSH: Trump re-upped accusations that Andrew McCabe is bias because of political donations his wife received in the past. McCabe, one of the agency's most senior officials, oversaw the investigation into the Hillary Clinton emails.

BLACKWELL: Also, the White House is fighting against claims president Trump made derogatory remarks about immigrants. "The New York Times" is reporting that during a meeting with top administration officials, President Trump claimed that all Haitians have AIDS and Nigerians would never go back to their huts once they saw the United States.

MARSH: We're going to have more on that in a minute.

But we start with CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and the president's attacks on the FBI.



Trump's tweets taking aim at several FBI officials, including Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came with word that McCabe told senior FBI officials months ago that he was planning on retiring. The two sources familiar with this plan told CNN.

Now, a couple of months ago, he told senior agents he was eligible to retire in March and that he had planned to do so, but there is a chance that under FBI rules, that he has accumulated enough time where he will be able to retire sooner. The criticism here of McCabe, you know, for the past several months has been growing as a number of Republicans are questioning the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigations and several Republicans, including the Senate judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley, have called for McCabe's removal, but Democrats argue that the Republican criticism of McCabe and the FBI in generally are an effort to undermine Mueller as his investigation ramps up and to give Trump cover should be try to remove Mueller, a step as you know the White House insists is not on the table.

Now, as to McCabe, he is a critical person. He runs the day-to-day operations of the FBI and he was also a key person overseeing the Hillary Clinton investigation. Her use of a private email server and just this past week, he spent over 16 hours on the Hill before Congress testifying before three congressional committees about the Clinton and Russia investigations. And we have done some reporting on that and we've learned that he backed up some of what the former FBI director said about his conversations with the president. He was also questioned extensively about his role in the Hillary Clinton investigation.

Shimon Prokupecz, Washington.


BLACKWELL: Shimon, thank you.

Here to discuss, CNN political analysts, Margaret Talev and Karoun Demirjian.

Good morning to both of you.

So, let me start here by just reading the tweet that is getting so much attention from the president. I'll look at my screen here. How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a man in charge, along with leaking James Comey of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation, including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails be given $700,000 for her wife's campaign by Clinton puppets during investigation.

A few errors there, factual errors that we have talked about this morning. But I want to point out that this isn't a new narrative for the president. Let's go back to July and quickly read what he tweeted then. Why didn't AG Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation, but got big dollars, $700,000, for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives? Drain the swamp.

Now about that time, that's when he was still acting director then, but, also, it was about the time that Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, his home was searched by the FBI.

Is this tweet really about the email investigation, or is this more about Russia? Margaret?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, this comes -- when you look at the timing, at a time when House committee just interviewed the president's personal assistant of 30 years and it comes at a time when it's very clear that the Mueller probe is not going to wrap up neatly by the end of the as the White House had been hoping and intimating for several weeks and months now.

[07:05:06] And it also comes at a time when we're learning that the deputy director had told folks that he planned to resign in the coming months. So, the timing of this seems very clear it is connected to some of the president's frustration about the Mueller probe and his inability to shake this. The whole reason why McCabe was serving as acting director is that the president fired Jim Comey.

BLACKWELL: So, Karoun, let me ask you about this, GOP Senator Chuck Grassley has called for Deputy Director McCabe to be replaced. He said that this week is not the first time. This is what he said.

McCabe ought to be replaced and I said that before. I've said it to people who can do it.

He added, though, Trump ought to stay out of it. I think it's a Christopher Wray job.

Now, the president isn't, himself, replacing McCabe or firing him. Possibly he can't do it because he is a career employee. But how does this tweet shape the perception of his involvement with McCabe's departure?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president has not refrained from weighing in over Twitter on a lot of things that he either should not or cannot directly control. Look, the ultimate arbitrator of the fate of Bob Mueller is Rod Rosenstein, who's the deputy A.G., the president could probably fire Rosenstein if he wanted to but he hasn't done that. Democrats are kind of bracing for what the president might give or different personnel shake-up he might try to execute in order to be able to get rid of Bob Mueller, if that's, you know, something that he chooses to do, which, of course, his people have denied.

McCabe is another figure, though, in this long narrative that stretches back to the Clinton email probe, to the era of when the president was getting rid of Jim Comey. We have seen various reports, you know, of different aspects of what's going on with the Russia probe and different revelations what was going on with various FBI personnel at the time the Russia probe was running and Clinton email investigation, all of which gives the president plenty of things to latch on to if he wants to try to make a political point.

And we know that the Russia probe which, you know, is generally borne out of the FBI and DOJ has been a thorn in his side since the very beginning of his presidency. He does not let a moment go really or let an opportunity go to try to cast a shadow over the people and the places that, you know, are potentially vulnerable to be targets when he gets frustrated with the way that probe is going.

BLACKWELL: Margaret, the president also tweeted that the McCabe is racing toward the clock to get his full benefits which he is eligible for in March, 90 days, question mark, exclamation point.

I don't really like trying to figure out if it's a typo or not but this is the way the president communicates, right, through Twitter. Is there any indication the president will or can take some action to prevent him from getting to that 90-day mark?

TALEV: It seems like the president is acting like McCabe is doing something wrong or squirrely by thinking about retiring when his time comes up as many federal agents do. This does seem to be much more about discrediting and making it seem like there is something wrong which is a little bit ironic. The president wants McCabe to go.

So, you would think you'd -- you know, your instinct is like he must be happy. Maybe something like congratulations on a long career of service but that is not the response that we saw yesterday.

BLACKWELL: Yes. The other text kind of gives this a bit of context. FBI agents association has felt compelled the last several weeks to release at least two statements defending the integrity of the special agents in which they write just a couple of days ago, attacks on our character and demeaning comments about the FBI will not deter agents from continuing to do what we have always done, dedicated our lives to protecting the American people. Now, the White House says the president's criticisms are of political leadership and not the rank in file.

But is that list clear here as this goes on and on, criticisms of the CIA and the FBI and DOJ at large?

DEMIRJIAN: I was just going to say it remains me of the episode when he was not endorsing the intelligence community's report and speaking questionably about their report and there is backlash to that as well. Look, these are career FBI officials that you are talking about have been there for decades. Yes, things are coming out about their actions that are becoming lightning rods for this political controversy but they also have a lot of allies and the FBI does, you know, stick up for its own.

You do find that, you know, it's very difficult when the president is talking about an organization at large or, you know, singling out members that represent that organization and not taking pains to distinguishing things. It is an impression that is left on people about that organization, whether it's the FBI or the CIA or other intelligence community, they have been frustrated by a lot of the rhetoric that's been coming out of this president that is not tempered oftentimes in order to kind of differentiate what the White House then tries to say later which is we are just talking about political criticism with one person not the organization at large.

[07:10:14] And you're seeing them speak up for themselves and that is what this is.

BLACKWELL: There is always the tweets-speak-for-themselves explanation which they often don't. Karoun, Margaret, this is only one of the big stories happening of the administration this weekend we're going to talk about. So, stay with us.

MARSH: And the White House is denying a "New York Times" report that says President Trump allegedly said all Haitians have AIDS.

CNN's Dan Merica is following that story -- Dan.

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Rene. Forceful denials from the White House on President Trump's first day, full vacation day here in Florida. More on that after the break.


[07:15:03] MARSH: Well, President Trump had some very angry words about immigrants at an oval office meeting in June.

According to "The New York Times" he said: Afghan immigrants come from a terrorist haven. Haitians all have AIDS and he railed that once Nigerians had seen the United States, they would never go back to their, quote, hut in Africa.

BLACKWELL: Well, the White House says the president did not say these things. CNN politics reporter Dan Merica is in West Palm Beach, Florida, close to where the president is staying for Christmas and the New Year holiday.

What else are we hearing from the White House about this report?


They are not saying much beyond a very forceful denial. "The New York Times" reporting, yesterday, that President Trump in a June Oval Office meeting with some of his cabinet members and White House aides, he said, as you mentioned, immigrants from Afghanistan comes a terror haven country, that immigrants from Nigeria wouldn't go back to their, quote, huts once they saw the United States, and that all immigrants from Haiti have AIDS.

Obviously, these are very demeaning, dismissive comments but White House president secretary said they never happened. Here is what she said in a statement to CNN: General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nelson and all other senior staffer actually in the meeting denied these outrageous claims. And it's both sad and telling "The New York Times" will print the lies of their anonymous sources anyway.

"The New York Times" is standing by their reporting. CNN has not verified that these comments were made but President Trump has -- he ran a campaign that was very direct on immigration. He made it a super point of his campaign in his first year in the White House. He has proposed, obviously, the travel ban and wants to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, and he has made some detailed proposals to change the immigration system including ending the visa lottery system and merit based immigration.

Additionally on this Christmas Eve holiday here in Mar-a-Lago, President Trump will be in front of the camera twice. We'll see him do a teleconference with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. And also watch the NORAD Santa tracking system that tracks Santa across the globe -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Dan Merica there near Mar-a-Lago, thanks so much.

MARSH: All right. Well, let me bring in our panel. We have Margaret Talev and Karoun Demirjian.

Thanks so much for joining us both this morning. The White House is pushing back really hard on this story. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders essentially saying "The New York Times" is printing lies.

But I want to play this reaction from one of the reporters who broke this story. Take a listen.


MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We stand by our sourcing. We're confident that that story is true. The White House did push back very aggressively late last night and early this morning, and sending us a note that said that several of cabinet secretaries who are in the meeting at the time say that it didn't happen, not the meeting didn't happen but the inflammatory comments weren't said. But we stand by our reporting.


MARSH: Well, Margaret, to you, you know, as a reporter, I mean, you know, how this anonymous sourcing works. I mean, what do you make of the White House's reaction there?

TALEV: Well, Michael and Julie are fantastic reporters. And the problem for the White House is going to be that the continuum of the president's remarks on the campaign trail and an office make these remarks seem plausible in that greater context between the immigration ban and then, ultimately, earlier this year, within the last couple of months.

But after that meeting, the policy ultimately was reached in terms of Haitians. The decision to have those 60,000 Haitians who have come since that terrible 2010 earthquake be told they are going to need to go back, even though a lot of aid experts in this country and around the world said that Haiti is not ready to absorb them.

MARSH: Right. I want to talk more about that in just a moment. But even his own Republicans, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a congresswoman from South Florida, granted she is a representative of South Florida, a large Haitian population there, but she tweeted about there. We want to throw that up on the screen.

She says: No POTUS, Haitians don't all have AIDS. She goes on to say that he should actually come on down to South Florida and talk to them.

I also want to play this. This is when the president was on the campaign trail, September of 2016. He made a stop in South Florida. He was specifically speaking to a group of Haitian-Americans. Take a listen. We'll discuss on the other side.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whether you vote for me or you don't vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion and I will be your champion.


MARSH: All right. That is what he said at that time in 2016.

Fast forward, Margaret, you were just mentioning this, where he made the move to remove protections for Haitians who are in the United States living and working. They came here after that 2010 earthquake.

[07:20:01] So, my question for you, Karoun, in light of this new reporting, should we be looking at the president's immigration policies or policies overall that impact immigrants through a different lens?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think that a lot of people were looking at it through a lens that was a little bit skeptical. I mean, look, the president has made public comments too about different groups of people. There is the Mexicans and rapist comment that was made on the campaign trail and then the border wall. People have connected those dots, even though the people at the White House say they shouldn't.

The Haitians comment that was reported connected to the ending of the TPS status, that is also connection you can make. We have seen that the president has made moves to change things like the visa lottery after certain terror attacks in different parts of the world. The idea that there is, you know, an impulse and then a reaction is not novel. And so, this one is shocking just because it's such -- it's such a

statement -- it's such a racist statement to say, yes, you know, that all of one group of people have AIDS and that is just casting aspersions right and left whether it is the Nigerians he was talking about or Haitians, and those comments are shocking in the way that we read about them in "The New York Times." And so, then, to connect those dots seems all the more troubling if you're connecting that to a policy versus -- there is something less shocking somehow about a terrorist attack and then the president making -- reacting to that by choosing to change the immigration policy.

But he has been facing criticism for multiple friends about these shifts that are being made to be more restrictive and to let fewer people in, and people are criticizing him by saying those decisions are often seemingly being made from an ideological or emotional perspective and not necessarily taking the balance of what might be best economically and otherwise for the country.

MARSH: Right. And, Margaret, real quickly, we have a little bit of time left. But, you know, because these comments are being attributed to the president, we have to talk a little bit about politics. I mean, in 2016, it was the election of the disaffected white working class. We saw what happened in Alabama, minorities showed up, as well as women.

What kind of impact does this sort of rhetoric have on politics, you know, overall? Are we going to see that wave kind of reacting to what they are now associating with the president?

TALEV: Well, certainly, those kind of comments are divisive. But there is an element of nationalism or nativism to the base politics of this administration, and, look, this is day two of the president's vacation that is going to extend all the way through the end of the year, into the New Year. The president is going to have some opportunities to speak to the reporters who are covering him in Mar-a- Lago.

And it's one thing for a spokeswoman to make a denial. But he certainly has the ability to go to the camera and talk about what he did or didn't say and how he wants Haitians and Nigerians and the rest of all the word to understand how he really feels. So, we look forward to hearing more.

MARSH: We certainly do. Margaret Talev and Karoun Demirjian, thank you so much. Happy holidays.

TALEV: Thank you. You too.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, some people are still traveling, trying to get home, trying to get to their brother-in-law's house. Grandma's house? I don't know where you're going!

But take a look at FlightAware, because a lot of the planes are going to be grounded. Weather is coming in. We will show you how this picture will change in a few hours. MARSH: All right. And also, three months after Hurricane Maria

ravaged Puerto Rico, much of the island is still without electricity. We'll have a live report from Puerto Rico on how people are living and trying to celebrate the holiday.


[07:28:13] MARSH: Welcome back. I'm Rene Marsh, in for Christi Paul.

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

President Trump is up this morning and renewing moments ago just minutes ago, tweeting an attack on one of the leaders of the FBI.

MARSH: That's right. He's zeroing in on Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Trump accuses McCabe of bias for political donations his wife received in the past, but she received those donations before he became deputy director.

Sources say McCabe had already planned to leave the agency in a few months once he is eligible to retire.

BLACKWELL: The Department of Homeland Security is calling a string of shootings targeting Pennsylvania law enforcement a terror attack.

Authorities say that 51-year-old Ahmed Al-Mofty attacked police in three places. This was Friday. First he shot at an officer in a police car and then shot and injured a state trooper. Later, he was in a shootout with police and he was killed. Al-Mofty was a naturalized U.S. citizen who recently returned to the country from Egypt.

MARSH: Well, family, friends, and fellow firefighters gathered to mourn the loss of one of their own killed in a California wildfire. Cory Iverson died last week battling the California wildfires. The fire is only 78 percent contained. Iverson's wife recalls her last conversation with him before he left for the fire lines. She feared for his safety but knew his commitment was making a difference for others.


ASHLEY IVERSON, WIDOW OF FIREFIGHTER: My sweet husband left this earth not just a hero but, in my eyes, he left us as a super hero -- a super hero that has given me the platform to make that difference. So, today, I will add one more vow to you, my love. I vow to you to make you proud.

[07:30:01] I am no longer a slave to fear.


MARSH: Well, Ms. Iverson says that she is overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support for her and her family.

BLACKWELL: All right. Almost 60 million people are under a winter weather alert today. Let's take you to Maine which you can see here, a few issues. You see the ice on the windows and on the roads. Several inches of snow with that ice. Cars stranded on the side of the road.

Here's the Website, a look at FlightAware. All of the planes in the air right now, this could change later today.

MARSH: Well, meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us with the low- down on what we should expect if we're going to be traveling today.

Good morning, Allison.


Well, the thing I would say is it doesn't matter your end destination because you could encounter problems in between those destinations. We have winter weather alerts in Portland, Oregon, as well as Portland, Maine. That's what we got, two different systems here that we're talking about, one that's really going to have probably the biggest travel concern is the system in the eastern half of the country, simply because of how many major cities it's going to impact. We're talking Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Boston as well.

Here is the thing. Even though most of the issues rely on the road, air travel could be affected by this. And keep in mind, if you're traveling by plane, once you get to that city, you have to get in the car to get to your final destination as well. So, road problems are going to be a concern for just about everybody.

Here's a look at the forecast radar. Again, right now, still over areas of he central plains and pushing into the Midwest. By around 12:00 to 1:00 this afternoon, we're looking at Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, all of those cities looking for potential of heavy snow coming down.

Then it pushes further off to the east. Now Buffalo, Pittsburgh, a lot of other cities starting to be added as we get closer to the evening time tonight. Then as we go through the overnight it becomes more of a concern for New York, Boston, as well as Portland, Maine. These are going to be the cities where we end up having that heavy snow overnight which means those cities could be waking up tomorrow to a very white Christmas.

Widespread totals. We're talking about two to four inches, but these purple and pink colors you see here, that's 6, 8, even 12 inches of snow. You're biggest concerns for air travel today are going to be Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, but also we talk about Cincinnati, Buffalo and New York as well.

Even out in the west, we can't ignore this because Seattle and Portland also have another system moving in bringing rain as well as snow. Now in most places that snow, it won't change into snow until the overnight hours tonight, but even still you could start to have some travel problems in those cities as early as this afternoon.

BLACKWELL: All right. Allison, thanks for watching it for us. Merry Christmas to you.

CHINCHAR: Thank you. You too.

MARSH: All right. And just over three months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, much of the island is still struggling to rebuild. Tens of thousands will still be without electricity and running water for Christmas.

CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago is live in Puerto Rico this morning.

Leyla, despite the conditions, how are Puerto Ricans trying to celebrate or make the best of this holiday?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, everyone can agree here that it is a tough year to celebrate Christmas. People are having to get creative, to find ways to even, in some cases, just light the Christmas tree. When I spoke to the mayor of San Juan, she told me about 70 percent of the people here have power, but when I spoke to the mayor of Utuado, who is in the interior part of the island, he says about 70 percent of the people in his municipality do not have power.

So we went to an area that the locals have begun to call it the "camp of the forgotten", an area that was washed out by a bridge and since has a temporary fix has been built. But we talked to one woman who was actually making pastillas, a very typical food this time of year. And here's my exchange with her.



SANTIAGO: She is saying this year is more important because even though Maria destroyed their island, there is still a lot to be grateful for and she specifically mentions the doctors have come to visit, the clowns that have spent time with the children, even mentions us visiting her here. That's why she says it's important to keep these traditions alive and to celebrate Christmas this year.


SANTIAGO: So, that was one family in an area that was isolated for two months. They still don't have power. They still don't have water but that family has a generator.

When I went to the other side of the river and spoke to a family of four staying with relatives, they said Maria destroyed their homes so they didn't have a roof, they didn't have water, they didn't have a generator. So, there wasn't a Christmas tree or any sort of festivities in that home. They said Christmas would just be like another day.

[07:35:03] There certainly seems to be a sense of hopelessness among a lot of Puerto Ricans here and just wondering when they will get power and water. And one last note, I spent some time with Santa here in San Juan last

night. Even as he was talking to children, Hurricane Maria came up as kids talked about not having power and water this year for Christmas.

MARSH: Leyla Santiago live for us in Puerto Rico, I mean, just heart break to go hear. They just want the basics as Congress is still -- has not approved funding to go directly to Puerto Rico just as yet.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's talk about Bethlehem for obvious reasons. Although, this morning, the mood a little different. The crowd far smaller on this Christmas Eve.

How President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli's capital is impacting celebrations there. We will take you there live.

MARSH: The Moscow ballet is trying to promote good relations between the U.S. and Russia. They are performing "The Nutcracker" in the United States but it's not the original version. We will tell you how it's different, next.


[07:40:32] BLACKWELL: This morning, strong rejection of new sanctions and a warning from North Korea. On state TV, North Korea said if the U.S. wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy toward the country.

Now, the response is coming a day after the U.N. Security Council adopted a new set of sanctions that further straps the country's economy.

MARSH: North Korea called the sanctions, quote, rigged by the U.S. and an act of war, violating peace along the Korean peninsula. They also said the countries that supported the resolution will pay a heavy price.

BLACKWELL: The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands is apologizing after lying and accusing a reporter of spreading fake news. Now, in 2015, Peter Hoekstra told a panel the Netherlands was in chaos because of what he called an Islamist movement and a stealth jihad. Well, when a reporter asked him about it and those comments specifically, he denied them and called it fake news.

But here is the video.


PETER HOEKSTRA, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE NETHERLANDS: The Islamic movement has now gotten to a point they have put Europe into chaos. Chaos in the Netherlands --


BLACKWELL: Well, Hoekstra asked for forgiveness and says he regrets the exchange with the reporter.

MARSH: Well, Christmas celebrations are under way in Jerusalem but the holiday is being overshadowed by a political policy.

BLACKWELL: There are protests continuing over the decision by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli's capital.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is there in Bethlehem for us.

And -- so, what are the differences this year?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Rene, you can get a look from behind me how empty Manger's Square is, right in front of the Church of the Nativity, the biblical spot where Jesus is born. Normally, on this hour on Christmas Eve, the square would be packed and people here would be counting down the hours until the highlight of the date, really the highlight of the year which is midnight mass led by the Latin patriarch of the holy land.

But this is an effect we are seeing from President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israeli.

First on the political level. Around the square, there are signs that say Jerusalem will always be the eternal capital of Palestine. There are pins being handed out with that exact slogan. That a shot back at Trump and gives you an idea of the anger many still here feel and even if there are no protesters or demonstrations today, we have seen them over the lost few weeks ever since Trump made that announcement.

But there's a second way in which Trump's announcement has affected the festivities here and that's because right after, expecting demonstrations, the State Department issued a travel warning for Bethlehem. What does that mean? Well, it means that tourists who were going to come here suddenly cancelled hotel reservations, the shops here don't have customers, and that gives it an empty feel here in manger square.

Still, though, it has to be said, there is a festive atmosphere here. The Palestinian ministry of tourism said 2017 was the best year for terrorism even if dramatically dropped off after Trump's announcement. Still, the crowd is here, small it is, is having a good time.

So, on that note, Victor and Rene, allow me to say merry Christmas from Bethlehem.

BLACKWELL: All right. Oren Liebermann for us there in Manger's Square there in Bethlehem, thanks so much.

MARSH: Well, at a time of political tension between the U.S. and Russia, Moscow ballet is using a production of "The Nutcracker" to promote good relations between the two countries, and they have a dove of peace in their version instead of the sugar plum fairy.

Details ahead.


[07:48:26] BLACKWELL: So, in this current political climate, with the tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Moscow ballet is trying to bring the two countries together on the cultural stage.

MARSH: Yes, they are trying -- they are performing "The Nutcracker" in the United States. But in their version of the ballet, they have a dove of peace.

Our Christi Paul has the details.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Allegations of Russian collusion may be taking center stage in the political arena. But there is one stage where Russia and the U.S. can come together and potentially do some good.

(voice-over): The Moscow Ballet is performing the great Russian "Nutcracker" on stages across the United States. This is their 25th anniversary "Nutcracker" tour, stemming from Glasnost, a policy calling for increased artistic openness between the U.S. and Russia after the end of the Cold War and their version of the "Nutcracker" is quite different from what you may have seen before. There is no sugar plum fairy here but there is a dove of peace, a gift given to the principal character Masha during the Christmas party seen.

AKIVA TALMI, PRODUCER, MOSCOW BALLET: And she takes the dove of peace on the wings of the dove of peace around the world, seeking peace and harmony. She goes to France, Italy, Africa, all around the world, and she finds peace and harmony through love.

PAUL: To show their commitment to the theme of love and peace with the U.S., Moscow ballet created "Dance with Us." It's a program where local ballet students in each city audition, rehearse, and perform with these famous Russian ballet dancers.

[07:50:01] Besides fostering a greater cultural exchange between the two countries, it gives the American children a once in a lifetime experience and a glimpse behind the Russian ballet curtain.

REMIE GOINS, BALLET STUDENT: Russia, there's definitely like -- they have to work really hard to get to where they want be and there's no other way to do it. In the Russian one, I had teachers that were like they are very strict, and you had to work really hard.

PAUL (on camera): So you want to go to Russia, is that right? Would you like to live there?

GOINS: It is kind of scary moving to Russia because, you never know what is going to happen, or alone or something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a new experience and it was very fun.

PAUL (voice-over): Moscow ballet dancer Batalov is an honored artist of Russia. That's one of the highest honors given in that country. Producer Akiva Talmi told us the Russian ballet is like America's Hollywood. So, honor is like winning an Oscar. And they both say dancing in the U.S. has left an impression on them. ANDREY BATALOV, PRINCIPAL DANCER, MOSCOW BALLOT (through translator):

Well, the fact that Russian ballet brings special culture, I hope the American audience will remember what we are delivering with our performance of the classical heritage.

TALMI: The Russian artists have learned about American children. Their openness and the happiness of American children is very, very contagious. They are surprised by that. There's a tremendous amount of misunderstanding for many, many years for politics.

And truthfully, culture has always been used as a vehicle for improving relations. My life in working for Russia has been about peace and the dove of peace is our most successful character.

PAUL (on camera): Moscow Ballet hopes American audiences see that the great Russian nutcracker does what politics seems to do, bring people together.


BLACKWELL: All right. Thank you very much, Christi. Santa I hear, sources say.

MARSH: Sources.

BLACKWELL: -- is on his way to Russia.

Santa Claus is coming to town. I don't know if you have heard. But we are tracking Santa via NORAD. And we'll tell you where he is, where he's going next, and when he'll be coming to the U.S.



[07:56:51] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, everyone. My name is (INAUDIBLE). I want to say hi, mom, and hi everybody. And I wish you all a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, everyone. This is Captain Bill Ybanez (ph) here deployed to Djibouti, Africa. I want to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy new year from San Antonio all the way to Dallas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I'm (INAUDIBLE) from Sledgewick (ph), Iowa. I want to say merry Christmas and hope you have a good new year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Specialist Lopez from company 244 from Louisiana. I want to say merry Christmas to everyone back home, my wife, my parents. Hope everything is doing well, hope everyone is having a good holidays.


BLACKWELL: All right. Merry Christmas to you. Children are waiting for Santa to come down with all of those presents. MARSH: That's right. Right now, NORAD is tracking his every move to

make sure Santa and his reindeer are on the right track.

BLACKWELL: Let's take a look.

MARSH: Let's take a look at that. Where is he now? Hovering over Russia, I am told. This is NORAD's Santa tracker. It is a decades old tracker that watches his presence as he delivers presents to good boys and good girls.

That means Victor is not getting one.


MARSH: Basically, NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, monitors aircraft. But today, they are focused on Santa's voyage around the world.

BLACKWELL: Now, this is a simulation, folks. You see, up in the right-hand corner, there's the gift count closing in on 600 million. Of course, Santa would have to land at some point to deliver the gifts, so this is a simulation of the map and where he is. So it is happening right now over Russia.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is here.

Allison, potentially dangerous weather to fly through tonight here in the U.S.

CHINCHAR: That's right. But you talked about it, NORAD is there to help us track where he is, but they have connections. They can kind of tell him what spots to avoid. Maybe when to slide in a few spots, it is all magic, we know this.

But, yes, here's the thing, he will encounter areas of snow. Right now the snow is over portions of the Midwest starting to make its way to Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit.

But tonight, then it starts to make its way into areas of the Northeast. So, this is where Santa is probably going to have some of the trickiest navigating conditions. We're talking Boston, New York, Portland, because this is where some of that weather is going to slide in during the overnight hours.

Again, however, Victor and Rene, we talked about this. Here's the thing, you know, Rudolph has a red nose. In the foggiest conditions, believe it or not, that's the best color for his nose. It has a longer wavelength than other colors.

So, let's say he was Rudolph the blue-nosed reindeer, it would be harder for Santa to navigate in the foggy conditions. He's well - equipped. He is prepared. So, everything will be good through tonight.

BLACKWELL: So glad to know the nose is red.

Allison Chinchar, thanks so much.

CHINCHAR: Thank you.

MARSH: And thanks so much for starting your morning with us. Happy holidays.

BLACKWELL: "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now. Merry Christmas, everybody.