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Pence Meeting with House, Senate Staff as Shutdown Enters Week 3; Shutdown Impact; Interview with Rep. Carolyn Maloney; Russians: Now Isn't the Time to Discuss Prisoner Swap; Special Ops Chief Pleads Not Guilty to Premeditated Murder; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Hits Back at GOP Critics. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 5, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[10:59:59] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you for spending part of your morning with us. We hope you make good memories today.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: There's more news in the NEWSROOM. We turn it over now to Fredricka Whitfield.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you. Happy new year.

PAUL: Happy new year to you.

BLACKWELL: Happy new year to you.


WHITFIELD: -- in this room.

PAUL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Hope you had a great holiday.

PAUL: You too.

BLACKWELL: Yes, you too.

WHITFIELD: Lots going on.


WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much. We'll pick it up from here.


WHITFIELD: It is 11:00 on the East Coast hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

Fourteen days, 11 hours and counting -- that is how long the federal government has been partially shutdown, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers without a paycheck as lawmakers spar over the President's demand for a border wall. Here's what we know. Right now, Vice President Pence is meeting with the staff of congressional leadership next door to the White House. Here's what we don't know -- who the staff members are and what kind of influence they might have in these negotiations.

And President Trump says he is prepared for the shutdown to last months and even years if necessary.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing, I don't call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and for the safety of our country.


WHITFIELD: All right.

Neither side willing to blink over border wall funding. Meantime, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are feeling the impacts, struggling to make ends meet as they wait for the government to reopen. Many saying they feel like pawns in this political game.

Let's check in with CNN's White House reporter Sarah Westwood. What more can you tell us about this meeting?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN REPORTER: Well, Fred -- expectations are low for a breakthrough in this meeting today especially after Democratic congressional leaders and the President emerged from high level talks in the situation room yesterday set with very different outlooks for where the situation stands.

Democrats called that meeting contentious and they said they wanted President Trump to reopen the government while talks continue. Trump saying that meeting was productive, but signaling his willingness to keep the government partially shuttered indefinitely until he gets funding for his border wall. And he's holding firm at that $5.6 billion sum that House Republicans passed in a bill that died in the Senate, one of the last legislative acts when they still had control of the House majority.

But Trump is increasingly flexible it seems on what would qualify as a wall, whether that's steel slats or see-through barrier. The President seeming to bend a little on what he would consider a fulfillment of his campaign promise.

But Trump is reprising today a misleading claim about the political ideologies of furloughed workers as he calls on Democrats to make a deal tweeting moments ago, "I don't care that most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats, I want to stop the shutdown as soon as we're in agreement on strong border security. I'm in the White House ready to go, where are the Dems?"

Of course, this is misleading because the heads of federal employees unions have obviously pointed out that workers not getting paid right now belong to both parties, and Democratic congressional staff have been invited to these meetings at the White House led by Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Jared Kushner also expected to attend.

And President Trump now also saying he's considered declaring a national emergency in order to get wall funding if he can't do it legislatively.

Here's what he said yesterday about that.


TRUMP: We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country, absolutely. No, we can do it. I haven't done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we could call a national emergency and build it very quickly.


WESTWOOD: Now, congressional Democrats already pushing back on that idea and they're still refusing to fund the wall in any form. So Fred -- heading into these talks today there's not a lot of optimism that we'll see the log jam break.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood -- keep us posted. Thank you so much.

So while lawmakers argue over how to pay for the President's border wall there are real people. Some 800,000 Americans now forced to make some very tough decisions about how to cover basic necessities.


ANDREA POPELKA, FURLOUGHED WORKER: When something like this happens and you're not getting your next check, it is like ok, what do I do? I'll have to make a tough choice between, you know, paying my utilities or going to buy groceries for the next two weeks.


WHITFIELD: So you may not realize just how far reaching this shutdown is. Important government services, the ones that you're still paying for with your tax dollars, remain closed. And that will likely affect you or someone you know or something you care about.

If this is the year that you wanted to say start a small business, the agency that handles loans for that is not processing loan applications right now.

Are you planning to get married this year perhaps in Washington, D.C.? Well, you might have to wait. The D.C. court that handles marriage licenses is closed.

And in just a few more days, all federal courts could be impacted because they're projected to run out of money on January 11th.

[11:04:59] Or perhaps you are thinking about or in the middle of buying a house. Depending on your type of loan, your closing could be delayed.

The IRS is impacted as well. Most workers there are off the job. So that refund that so many people bank on could get processed later than usual.

If you're a farmer waiting on further assistance because you've been dinged by those retaliatory tariffs from Trump's trade war with China, you may have to wait until after the shutdown to get a loan from the USDA. And if the shutdown continues much longer, it could delay a major January report from the USDA which farmers use to make plans for the rest of the year.


MOREY HILL, FARMER: The January report has a lot to do with 2018's production in acres, and a lot of farmers and traders base a lot of what they're going to do in the coming year on what that report tells us.


WHITFIELD: So as you can see, this is not just a Washington, D.C. problem. There are a lot of Americans out there making some very hard choices.

But the President says he is prepared to go the distance.


TRUMP: If we have to stay out for a very long period of time, we're going to do that. And many of those people, maybe even most of those people that really have not been and will not be getting their money in at this moment -- those people in many cases are the biggest fan of what we're doing.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now to discuss all of this: congressional reporter for the "Washington Post" and political analyst Karoun Demirjian; and assistant editor for the "Washington Post" and CNN political commentator David Swerdlick.

All right. Happy new year to both of you.



WHITFIELD: All right. So Karoun -- you first. Do you think the President understands all of these real life impacts when he says he would be willing to let the shutdown last for years?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that he understands that the longer this goes on, the more consternation there's going to be about the shutdown. But I think he also thinks that that gives him leverage. I don't know that the President is seeing the furlough worker situation with necessarily the panic of oh, my goodness, we have to get these people back on the job. He's seeing it as well, if there starts to be an outcry of people being frustrated, they'll break my way, maybe they'll start to blame the Democrats.

It's interesting that in the clip you just played, the President is saying that some of the people who are furloughed are the biggest, biggest fans of this when a little bit over a week ago he was tweeting that most of the furloughed workers were probably Democrats.

So he's kind of using the situation and using the worsening situation to try to bid up his argument which is not the most compassionate way of going about business but, you know, he is trying to make a deal. And this is how the President operates.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And David - I wonder if the President can be accused of being rather cavalier about this given that, you know, people -- federal workers, you know, are not making exorbitant amount money where you know, the commonality is there's three months, you know, just for a rainy day.

I mean some people are living paycheck to paycheck. And knowing that they may be missing yet one more paycheck, you know, is a big deal. And does it pacify them to hear the President who says he would consider declaring a national emergency to help get money to build the wall?

SWERDLICK: Good morning, Fred. No. I think the longer we go on, the President's words do not pacify or help out government workers.

I think Karoun's analysis of the President's thinking on this is spot on. And I would only add that that tweet you put up about the President saying I don't care that most of the people affected by this are Democrats is sort of a slight of hand. He's saying I'm not being partisan, yet he is also reminding everybody who reads that tweet that he thinks most of the people who work for him are Democrats. And that's the key.


WHITFIELD: Shouldn't he be caring about all Americans and their welfare?

SWERDLICK: He should care about all Americans but he should also care very specifically that these hundreds of thousands of federal employees, he is essentially their boss. Ultimately they all work for the American people, but he is their direct boss.

So when he lets this shutdown go on, and when Democrats let this shutdown go on, and people go past one or two checks if we get to that point most Americans don't have an unlimited savings that they can dip into. So yes, if you have to get a home loan, or if you have to pay your rent or if you have to pay for the basic necessities of life, this is going to affect those people. It is also going to affect all Americans who rely on government services as you just reported, whether you need a tax refund or a home loan or want to go to the national park for a family vacation.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And Karoun, this is the President's attempt at compassion perhaps. Listen to his advice to federal workers who are struggling to pay rent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you ask those companies or landlords to go easy on --

TRUMP: I think they will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry would you ask them, sir --

TRUMP: I think they will. No, I think that happens.

You know, hey, I have been a landlord for a long time. I've been in the real estate business for a long time. When you see there are problems out there, difficulties out there. You know, the people are all good for the money, they work with people. They work with people.

[11:10:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you would encourage landlords --

TRUMP: Sure. I would encourage them to be nice and easy.


WHITFIELD: Realistic -- Karoun?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, that's an interesting form of trickle down compassion economics, I guess, that the is espousing there saying, you know, I've been a landlord. Also the Trump family does not have the best reputation of being compassionate landlords.

But putting that aside, yes, there are landlords out there that will take a minute and say I'm not going to screw my tenants here because this situation is creating this not them.

However, that doesn't actually I mean solve the problem. Rent is not the only expense that people are going to have to worry about covering. It is not that everybody's you know, entire -- that people have money left over to do everything else other than make their rent.

And so the fact that President Trump seems to be speaking to the landlords and not the people who are the actual ones living paycheck to paycheck suggests that his compassion is potentially, if not misdirected, not completely directed at where the problem is that is being fomented by this standoff in Washington, D.C. that he is at least 50 percent at this juncture.


WHITFIELD: So the President met with Democrats yesterday in an attempt to make some ground on, you know, this compromise on the shutdown. Was it, you know, productive? Or was it contentious? That kind of depends on who you ask. Listen to what the President said new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


TRUMP: I said why don't you use this for impeachment. And Nancy said we're not looking to impeach you. I said that's good, Nancy, that's good. But you know what, you don't impeach people when they're doing a good job.


WHITFIELD: So a couple of things on that. The good job part, you know, you've got government shutdown, there are very few presidents out there who would advocate for a government shutdown -- David.

The other is apparently Pelosi's office says that Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker said this meeting is not about impeachment, it really is about, you know, reopening government. So a real difference of, you know, the issue of impeachment here.

SWERDLICK: Yes. Two points -- Fred. One is that the President has a way of boiling complex nuance things down to a narrative that reflects the narrative he wants to put out there in the press and with the public. Speaker Pelosi said the day before that she wasn't taking impeachment off the table, but she also probably did say to the President that the meeting they were in about the shutdown was not about impeachment.

The President is right that the constitution doesn't contemplate impeaching someone over doing a good job or a mediocre job or a poor job. But what he is leaving out is that the constitution does indeed give power -- give Congress the power to remove the President if they feel like he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. We're not there in that debate yet.

I just want to make one quick point here about the shutdown itself which is that I think one reason we're so far apart on this and why this may drag on for more days or weeks is that these members of Congress and the White House go into these meetings, but this debate fundamentally is not about the number.

The President's got his $5.6 billion number. Democrats at various points have put out either zero or $1.3 billion or $1.6 billion.

This is about a fundamental difference in the way the parties look at the border and immigration and that's why there aren't incentives at least at this stage for either side to give in. Either side is doing what its base wants, which is to say we don't like the way they handle immigration and the other side is saying we don't like the way they handle immigration.

WHITFIELD: Which brings us to, should there be much confidence in what this meeting involving the Vice President is all about -- Karoun? Especially as, as far as we can tell, you know, the House Speaker is not there, the minority leader is not there. So who of influence besides the Vice President is at this meeting?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, that's exactly the question. Does the Vice President really -- can he be considered a person of influence? We have seen the President undercut things that the Vice President has said before, whether it has to do with the budget or other matters as well.

And I think at this point House Democrats now in charge do not trust that anything that any of Trump's surrogates, including his most -- the second in command say, which is why they have been so adamant that unless President Trump himself endorses something and says it publicly over his Twitter account basically that they aren't going to actually believe it and take it to home the bank.

And it's not just Democrats who are looking for that Twitter signal. Senate Republicans don't want to stick their necks out again --


DEMIRJIAN: -- to have their heads cut off when the President decides to potentially change course because he decides he is unsatisfied with what his people negotiated. So this is very -- these proceedings are important to get everybody close to the same page. Maybe Pence is just taking talking points directly from the President.

But as we know those talking points can change. So I don't think anybody trusts a deal, even if everybody else in Washington can agree to one, until the President says ok, I'm on board, too.

SWERDLICK: Yes, that's right.

WHITFIELD: All right. Karoun Demirjian, David Swerdlick -- good to see you. Thanks so much. See you again very soon.

SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Still ahead, congressional staffers are meeting with Vice President Pence this hour as that partial shutdown drags on.

[11:15:00] Straight ahead, we'll speak with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney about what Democrats are hoping to get done.

And then later, American Paul Whelan detained in Russia and charged with espionage. Why Russian officials say right now it's impossible to discuss any prisoner swaps.


WHITFIELD: History was made this week on Capitol Hill as Nancy Pelosi took the gavel, marking her second turn as House speaker. And minutes after being sworn in, the new Democratically-controlled House got down to business wasting no time to put its agenda in motion.

The House approved a stopgap spending bill on Thursday, but there's little hope that the legislation will actually make it through the Senate.

Joining me right now, CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes. Kristen -- good to see you.

So the Democrats trying their best to get moving, but that spending bill could be dead on arrival.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred -- that's right. Unless there's some kind of enormous change, it will be dead on arrival once it reaches the Senate. Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up any bill that does not have border wall funding that does not have an agreement from the President and Democrats. He wants to make be sure that the President will sign this bill.

So why are Democrats putting it forward? Well, a lot of it or at least some of it is posturing. Keep in mind, President Trump has been tweeting, he has been on television, he continues to say that this is the Democrats' fault.

Well, this is an opportunity for Democrats to shift the focus back to Republicans because it is not just any old legislation that they passed on Thursday. This is legislation that was approved by Republican senators.

So essentially we heard Nancy Pelosi say why wouldn't they vote on this again, this is something that they approved. Now, we know, of course, the reason why it fell short was because President Trump said that he would not sign that bill. But it does again shift that focus back to Republicans as we come down to who is to blame for this shutdown.

[11:20:04] So where do we stand exactly? Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said again he will not take up anything on the floor that is not going to be signed by the President. The President says he is not going to sign anything that doesn't have border wall funding. And Democrats say that they're not going to agree to anything that has border wall funding. So of course, we'll watch to see what exactly comes out of this meeting today.

But the other dynamic that we're watching really closely here is among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Mitch McConnell says this isn't Republicans' problem, it is not his problem. But it's about to be because two Republican senators in vulnerable states that are up for re-election in 2020 are now speaking out and saying that they want to approve something, that it is time to reopen that government.

Remember that whole dynamic we saw back in 2018 where Democrats were running for the Senate in areas that were not favorable to Democrats, we're going to see the opposite of that in 2020. So you're going to see these vulnerable Senate Republicans really starting to speak up, trying to see what's best, what their constituents want.

And a government shutdown is not good. Even though we're far away from the election it's never good for someone who's running for re- election -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. You better believe it.

All right. Kristen Holmes -- thank you so much. Appreciate that.

All right. The President said that 800,000 government employees who are out of work or working without pay are ok with that. But federal workers we talked to are telling a very different story.




MCCABE: So we've got people working who don't know when they're going to get paid. We were last paid December 31st. The next scheduled paycheck would be January 15th. We have been told that if there's no resolution by January 11, that paycheck will not come. So you're already in a highly stressful, in a very stressful job, and now when you go home, you're thinking about how am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to pay for child care?

It changes the dynamic at the dinner table for the families of the controllers.


WHITFIELD: Joining me right now is Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York. She is a senior member of both the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; and a member of the Joint Economic Committee. Good to see you. And happy new year.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Happy new year to you -- Fred. And thank you for having me on your show again.

WHITFIELD: So how do you empathize with these federal workers who are saying we're really worried about not receiving a paycheck, you know, on the 15th? Really worried about making mortgage, paying bills, you know, putting food on the table.

MALONEY: Well, I have great empathy for them and so do Democrats. We want to open up the government. Our first action was to pass two bills that would do so that have passed the Senate before.

Even Republicans are speaking out in support of opening up the government. Senator Collins in Maine and Senator Gardner in Colorado. And we sent the bill over to the Senate, and Senator McConnell should put it on the floor for a vote.

WHITFIELD: So that meeting today involving the Vice President -- is this something that is being entertained? Do you believe the focus of that conversation, of that meeting will be how do we get government working again, perhaps put on the back burner this whole wall issue, deal with it separately. What do you suppose is being entertained? MALONEY: Well, meetings are important, even if the principals are not

there, which they're not except for Vice President Pence. But -- because you can see each other's point of view, you can try to look for common ground. You can put out various -- float ideas and proposals and try to work together for a compromise to move forward.

The Democrats have come forward with a concrete proposal. We passed a bill that would open up homeland security until February 8th and allow both sides to continue negotiating, and a bill to fund all of the agencies at a level that they were approved and passed in the Senate before.

And so at the very least McConnell should put this on the floor for a vote. We have put out -- the ball is in their court. We have passed a bill to open up the government.

WHITFIELD: So when the President was asked about what kind of safety, you know, nets are in place for federal employees going without paychecks, this was that moment from the rose garden yesterday.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're saying months and possibly a year for this shutdown. Do you have in mind a safety net for those who need their checks, those who need SSI, those who need Medicaid -- what have you?

TRUMP: Well, the safety net is going to be having a strong border because we're going to be safe. Many of the people you're discussing, I really believe that they agree with what we're doing.


WHITFIELD: So what's your interpretation of what the President said and how he sees things?

MALONEY: Well, Democrats are for a safe border too, we're for homeland security and we're for borders and we're for helping people.

[11:24:54] We want to put people first. And we pushed a comprehensive immigration reform and more reforms at the border and facilities to take care of people and process them appropriately.

He's the one who calls the shutdown and he's the one who is stopping this government from opening up. They're raising real concerns and he's just turning it into an attack on the opposition party.

WHITFIELD: So what do you believe Democrats are willing to give up or give in on if it is about negotiating, if it is about both sides coming to terms about something here?

MALONEY: Well, that's -- I'm not in the negotiations, but Democrats are hearing from our constituents that they do not support the wall. They do not support the Republicans' approach to immigration. We would like to see the dreamers taken care of. We would like to see DACA approved for those who know no other country but America when they were brought here as children.

We would like to see comprehensive immigration reform and we'd also like to see lowering the cost of health care, preserving -- preserving pre-existing conditions which the Republicans have been attacking, and also lowering the cost of prescription drugs, infrastructure, good jobs, and fighting corruption in government. We want to do things to help people, not just bicker with this president.

So we are moving forward immediately when we go back to Congress with what we call HR-1, which is a comprehensive bill on campaign finance reform, trying to take special interest money or so-called dark money out of politics, bringing more transparency into it so you know who is trying to influence the government, bringing government accountability on the executive branch. And then also moving forward with lowering prescription drug costs and many other things that are important to people.

I'm deeply concerned as I know you are, Fred, from your questions about the federal workers. There are 14,000 in my state; 800,000 across this country.

It is very critical to them. Many of them are living from paycheck to paycheck. And it is hard on the American people who want to get a small business loan or get any other service from government.

So this should be resolved. At the very least, we should open up our government. We should fund our government and go to work to help the people.

WHITFIELD: So adding to your worry or concern that the President is considering or at least knows he has in the back pocket or intimated that he has in the back pocket this national emergency. What are your thoughts when the President said this?

MALONEY: Well, the real --


TRUMP: I could call a national emergency because of the security of our country, absolutely. No, we can do it. I haven't done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we could call a national emergency and build it very quickly.


WHITFIELD: All right. So now your concerns or thoughts?

MALONEY: He has caused the national emergency by closing down the government and by refusing to fund the government with bills that the Senate has already passed, the Republican senate.

So he has -- the only emergency that exists is one that he caused with his mismanagement of this. He is creating a crisis when there is no need for a crisis. Just fund the government and let's go to work and discuss all these issues including health care, national defense and everything else. WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now. Carolyn

Maloney, Congresswoman -- thank you so much for being with me.

MALONEY: Thank you -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. In the last hour, newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York defended fellow freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's vulgar language when calling to impeach President Trump. Here is what Congresswoman Tlaib said.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: People love you and you win. And when your son looks at you and says "Mama, look you won. Bullies don't win." And I said "Baby, they don't because we're going to go in there and we're going to impeach the (EXPLETIVE DELETED)."


WHITFIELD: So that moment has had a lot of people talking, including fellow freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tweeting this in response to what has become some outrage, "Republican hypocrisy at its finest, saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just locker room talk, but scandalizing themselves into faux outrage when my sis says a curse word in a bar. GOP lost entitlement to policing women's behavior a long time ago. Next."

All right. Tlaib didn't back down from her statement, tweeting "I will always speak truth to power."

I'm sure the conversation is not over yet.

Coming up, an American arrested in Russia, but his brother says he is not a spy. We'll hear from him next.


WHITFIELD: Russia's deputy foreign minister says it isn't time to discuss a possible prisoner swap involving a U.S. citizen arrested last week. Paul Whelan is accused of spying by the Russians, but formal charges have not yet been made against him.

Whelan is a former marine and corporate security expert and says he was only in Russia on vacation. The arrest comes less than a month after alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring against the U.S.

Senior international correspondent Sam Kiley joining me right now. So Sam -- good to see you.

The Russians are saying now isn't the time to discuss any kind of prisoner swap but they aren't closing the door on that possibility either, are they?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. And I think that, Fredricka, that possibility always exists when you're dealing with a spy versus spy saga -- a story that's getting curiouser and curiouser with the arrest in the U.S.-controlled north pacific of a man on charges for arms trafficking and money-laundering, a Russian citizen whom the Russians say is innocent but has been taken into custody by the FBI.

[11:35:03] There is no direct connection that has been made by the Russians, but it is an interesting coincidence that the United States as far as the Russians are concerned arrested him the day after Mr. Whelan was picked up here in Moscow with the only kind of indication as to what he might be eventually charged with coming from local media reports, quoting government sources saying that he was caught quote- unquote red-handed receiving some kind of electronic memory stick or something with some confidential information on it which then led to the raid on his hotel rooms next door to the Kremlin.

But there's been no official statement on what he is accused of, what the sort of espionage that Mr. Whelan is being accused.

And of course, this is attracting international attention because Mr. Whelan happens to be the citizen of no less than four different countries. Born to British parents in Canada, he has British and Canadian citizenship. He also has Irish citizenship by descent. And of course, he is a former U.S. Marine and an American citizen.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador has been to see him in jail here where he is being held without bail. That is what his lawyer is demanding that he should be released on bail. And the Canadians and Irish are also expected to go and see him fairly soon -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Very complicated. Sam Kiley -- in Moscow. Thank you so much.

All right. Paul Whelan's brother David wrote an op-ed in the "Washington Post" saying unequivocally that his brother is not a spy and he's calling for his release. He also said, I'm quoting now from the op-ed, "We urge President Trump to intercede on Paul's behalf. U.S. government action will reinforce that Americans traveling abroad should not do so in fear and ensure other American families are less likely to have their loved ones go missing."

David Whelan joining me right now. So David -- good to see you. I know this is a very worrisome time for you. What is the latest that you're getting about your brother's welfare?

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF PAUL WHELAN: Thank you for having me.

The latest we've had about Paul is from the embassy visit on Wednesday and that was very heartening. He had been missing for three days after the Friday, December 28th, until we heard about him having been detained on the Monday, which we found out about on the Internet. We didn't find out through directly from the Russians or anybody. So it was a surprise. But it was nice to know.

And so Wednesday was really an opener for us because now we could actually see that he was alive. He was as well as you can be in Russian detention. And that we could start to help him to have his needs met, to get his eyeglasses back, to get basic toiletries for his stay in their jail, to help him to secure a lawyer -- those sorts of things all became possible.

And so that's really where we are as far as his status. The State Department employees at the embassy have been fantastic. We really appreciate Ambassador Huntsman's help. And they're expecting to be able to see him next week perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday.

WHITFIELD: So David -- tell me about your brother Paul. You know, as a former U.S. Marine and clearly, you know, a world traveler and a citizen of several countries, tell me about, you know, his vacation there in Russia or your understanding about, you know, what he was doing in Russia. How he was vacationing and how he would be, you know, scooped up under some suspicion of spying and in possession, according to Russia, of classified Russian information.

WHELAN: Yes, and it is the scooping up part that is really -- that's where we sort of fall off the cliff and don't really have any understanding of how he got there.

He went to Russia on the 22nd of December to help a friend. And that's the kind of person Paul is. He is a generous person. And he had been to Russia in the past. He knew his way around town. He could, you know, order food. He could go to the sites.

And so when a friend was having a wedding ceremony in Moscow, he turned to Paul and said would you mind coming along because the friend's American family would be there and hadn't been to Russia.

And so Paul was just there to make it easier for them to get around. He ended up taking a group of them, as part of their tour, through the Kremlin and the armory, and you know, essentially talking about the experience that he had had there but as someone who already had the experience.

And then that evening he disappeared. And so he didn't attend the wedding. And from that point on, there really is no detail. There is no official statement from the Russians. We haven't had any detail through the embassy, perhaps in part because the Russian prison blocked the embassy's ability to give Paul a waiver of the privacy act so that the embassy could share information.

[11:40:04]But we really are completely at sea. And it isn't help by the fact that the spy charges, the espionage charges seems just completely unbelievable.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe that there's some connection between his detainment or arrest and the pleading guilty of Maria Butina, the Russian spy? There's a month between that. Do you see any connection that this is some sort of retaliatory move potentially by Russia?

WHELAN: It is so hard to know. Every time we turn around, we seem to find another dot on the map. I don't know if Maria Butina's case is involved with this. I don't know if the arrest of the man in the north Mariana Islands is really to do with this. Because of the kind of work that I do as a librarian and information person, I happened to look up Paul's old Web site address which has been in the news, It was bought 54 days ago or 56 days ago.

It is impossible for me to understand why anybody would want to buy that domain name. So there are always (INAUDIBLE) that are out there and it's impossible for us to without any kind of detail to understand if any of them are connected.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe that the U.S. government, the Trump administration can do, should do more?

WHELAN: I think that I'm a librarian and I'm doing the best I can for my brother and so are my siblings. And we will try and help him to get home. And the people who know how to get him home are in the governments of the United States and the other governments who are helping Paul.

And I'm loathe to second guess the decisions that they're making, whether they're doing behind-the-doors negotiations for Paul, whether they're willing to take a statement early on. I would rather that they take whatever steps they feel are necessary to get Paul home.

And we will continue to encourage them to do so. We will encourage Americans to contact their Congresspeople to contact Ambassador Huntsman and let them know that there is concern -- there is broad concern in America that Americans can be arrested in this sort of manner in foreign countries and push whatever levers we can to bring Paul home.

But I don't necessarily want to second guess anybody who knows more about their area than I do.

WHITFIELD: And of course everyone is hoping for the best for your brother, Paul Whelan. David Whelan -- thank you so much.

WHELAN: Thanks very much for having me -- Fred.

Up next, he bravely served his country in the fight against ISIS and now he's facing a murder charge for a gruesome killing in Iraq. The latest on the court martial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher right after this.


WHITFIELD: At least three people are dead and four others wounded after a shooting at a bowling alley in southern California. A witness to the shooting in Torrance says she saw a fight break out and several people hit by gunfire. Another man in the alley says people were crying and didn't know what to do.

But authorities have not yet identified the suspect or a motive and the identities of the victims have not yet been released. And of course, we'll bring you more information as we get it. A U.S. Navy SEAL is pleading not guilty to premeditated murder. Special Ops chief Edward Gallagher is facing a laundry list of charges in the stabbing death of a teenage ISIS fighter during a 2017 deployment to Iraq.

CNN's Nick Watt has the story.


NICK WATT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A chest full of medals, nearly 20 years in the service. PHILLIP STACKHOUSE, GALLAGHER'S LAWYER: When somebody's been named the number one SEAL on the West Coast, you're dealing with a very high caliber individual.

WATT: This Navy Seal, now charged with premeditated murder.

In Mosul, Iraq in May of 2017, Special Operations chief Edward Gallagher allegedly stabbed an injured boy to death. The military says the boy was a captured Islamic state fighter.

Prosecutors claim Gallagher took a photo with the corpse and sent it to friends with messages such as "I got this one with my hunting knife" and "I got my knife skills on."

(on camera): What is your contention, that he didn't in fact stab this ISIS fighter or he did but the circumstances are extenuating?

COLBY VOKEY, GALLAGHER'S LAWYER: He didn't murder -- he didn't murder anyone when he was out there.

WATT: You know, I'm tied down to my question. Did he stab this ISIS fighter.

VOKEY: Well, without getting in too much into the facts of exactly what happened there, the question is what he is being charged with is he is being charged with did he murder anyone. And the answer is no he didn't murder anyone.

Special Operators, SEALs, MARSOC, Green Berets, they do kill people in combat. The question is, is it lawful?

WATT (voice over): Prosecutors claim that a month later, also in Mosul, Gallagher shot a civilian, an old man. Then a month after that, he shot a young girl. And that on multiple occasions, he also fired indiscriminately into crowds of civilians.

It was members of Gallagher's own SEAL platoon who reported him to authorities. He was arrested Sept. 11 and has been in custody at the Miramar Naval Base ever since.

Family, friends and colleagues in court to watch Gallagher plead not guilty to all nine charges leveled against him.

AARON KAHN, GALLAGHER FRIEND: We're here to support our belief in Eddie's overall innocence and the fact that our government is prosecuting an innocent man.

WATT (on camera): Gallagher is also accused of obstructing justice. Prosecutors claim that he sent text messages and spoke to people in person, all according to the charge sheet, attempting to discourage members of his platoon from reporting his actions. He also stands accused of quote, "wrongfully retaliating against members of his platoon for reporting those criminal actions".

STACKHOUSE: There are text messages that we have been provided that indicate that Eddie might have sent some text messages out saying that these individuals who are making the allegations against him are lying.

WATT: Gallagher, married with kids, was planning to retire. He might not get that chance.

VOKEY: If you're charged with premeditated murder, and anybody found guilty of that, it's a mandatory minimum life sentence.

WATT: Prosecutors claim that as well as posing with the body of his victim, Gallagher flew a drone above the corpse and conducted a re- enlistment ceremony next to the body.

[11:49:56] (on camera): The judge has now scheduled Gallagher's trial to begin February 19th. And he says he will decide next week whether this Navy SEAL has to remain in the brig, remain in custody until that date.

Nick Watt, CNN -- San Diego, California.


WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just started her new job in Congress and her critics are already going after her. Some booing her on the House floor and others circulating a video of her dancing while she was in college in an apparent attempt to embarrass the New York Democrat.

Our Athena Jones reports.


AHTENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A 30-second video clip widely shared on Twitter showing New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop. Shot while she was a student at Boston University, it's part of a several minute homage to '0s movies like "The Breakfast Club".

The clip was posted the day before the new Congress was sworn in in an apparent bid to embarrass the 29-year-old Bronx-born Latina, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The since-deleted anonymous post called the self-described Democratic socialist "a commie and a clueless nitwit" and inspired a backlash from those who saw nothing wrong with a college student having fun.

[11:54:57] Ocasio-Cortez responded by tweeting a new video of herself dancing into her office. The dancing post was just the latest example of an ongoing effort by critics of Ocasio-Cortez to diminish her.



TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Democratic socialist.

JONES: She's become A lightning rod for conservatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's proposing that we take -- that we bring socialism to our country right now. In Venezuela, there are people who can't afford shoes.

JONES: In November, a columnist for the right-leaning "Washington Examiner" tweeted this photo of Ocasio-Cortez walking down a hallway in a blazer apparently seeking to raise doubts about whether she struggles economically.

Ocasio-Cortez wasn't shy about fighting back, posting in response, "Dark hates light. That's why you tune it out." She parries attacks from conservatives including ongoing questions about her working class roots by calling out corny Republicans and telling one poster, "You didn't even know who I was seven months ago. You're not going to birther me now," a reference to the longtime effort once championed by now President Trump to paint President Obama as un-American.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We made it here to Washington, D.C. for what I am lovingly calling Congress Camp, day zero.

People are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.

JONES: Ocasio-Cortez also supports liberal policies that some even within her own party see as pie in the sky. And it had made her a favorite target of Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- she's constantly wrong but never in doubt.

JONES (on camera): The GOP attacks on Ocasio-Cortez don't appear to be letting up. Some of her new Republican colleagues jeered her on the House floor yesterday when she cast her vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

She retweeted a video of the moment, writing, "Over 200 members voted for Nancy Pelosi today yet the GOP only booed one, me. Don't hate me because you aren't me, fellows."

Athena Jones, CNN -- New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Tonight, experience the incredible story of a comedy great. Gilda Radner, in her own words, "LOVE GILDA". A CNN film re-airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.