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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Top Israeli Envoy Meets With Senior Biden Officials On Gaza War; Navy Downs Barrage Of Drones And Missiles Over Red Sea; Trump's Christmas Message To Biden, Opponents: "Rot In Hell"; Trump's Legal Team Asks Appeals Court To Toss Jack Smith's Case In New Court Filing; FBI Probing Threats To CO Judges Who Barred Trump From Ballot; Ukraine Claims It Destroyed Russian Ship In Crimea; Kremlin Critic Navalny Located At Siberian Penal Colony Two Weeks After Disappearance; Apple Appeals U.S. Decision To Ban Watch Imports In U.S. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 26, 2023 - 20:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Tonight on "360," with Israeli officials saying there IS no timetable for slowing the pounding of Gaza, a war cabinet member comes to Washington where pressure is growing to end it soon.

Also, tonight, does he think it's festivus or something? The former president airs his grievances, makes a list, and tells the people on it what to do and where to do it.

Plus, dissident Alexei Navalny missing and feared dead in Russia's prison system. He resurfaces bringing a Christmas message of courage, hope, and, yes, good cheer from one of the coldest corners of the modern-day gulag.

Good evening, everyone. John Berman here, in for Anderson. We begin with US officials trying to steer Israel toward a new, less-intensive, less destructive phase of its campaign in Gaza, and Israeli officials signaling they're in no hurry. One of those officials is in Washington tonight, meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. We're going to have the latest on those meetings, which wrapped up about six minutes ago.

First, though, the fighting itself, which included more than 100 airstrikes today on Hamas targets in Gaza, that's according to the IDF, and 241 killed on the ground, according to unverified claims by the Hamas-controlled health ministry there.

CNN's Will Ripley has the latest.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The terrifying sound of ongoing bombardment, Israeli shells hitting targets, closer and closer to this UN-run school in central Gaza. For thousand sheltering here, it's time to move, again. Families forced to flee for their lives, and this is not the first or even second time for many. Once again, they carry the war-torn pieces of their lives in pursuit of elusive safety. Just days earlier, many here vowed they would never move again, never -- a vow they're now willing to break only because they know their children's lives are at stake.

(OM MOHAMED speaking in foreign language.)

OM MOHAMED, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): There's no safety in the school. We're looking for a safer place. I'm leaving because of the intensity of the airstrikes and the suffering.

RIPLEY (voice over): Everywhere else is crowded. There's no guarantee they'll find a spot. But what else can they do? Even if they have nowhere else to go, they can't stay here. They don't want to die here.

The scene, a grim reminder of what their parents and grandparents endured in 1948 when Zionist militias forced them out of their hometowns. In the cold winter, blankets and mattresses are precious commodities.

Cars and the fuel that run them are scarce. Those who can't afford it hire donkey carts. For the rest, it's a long trek on foot.

(ABU AHMED speaking in foreign language.)

RIPLEY (voice over): "It's very tough back there," he says, "Bombs are falling on people everywhere. People were injured there. We don't know where we're heading. Everywhere is under threat. We're just moving with the rest of the people."

The destination for many -- relatives' homes, a roof over their heads even if they are in neighborhoods already devastated by Israeli airstrikes.

Street battles raging across Gaza, turning areas north and south of the strip into ghost towns -- the scars of battle, raw.

YOAV GALLANT, ISRAEL'S DEFENSE MINISTER: We are in a multi-arena war. we are being attacked from seven different sectors -- Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. Anyone who acts against us is a potential target. There is no immunity for anyone.

RIPLEY (voice over): Iran's allies in the region engaging in low-level hostilities in response, they say, to Israel's war in Gaza, Yemen's Houthi attacking ships, ships they claim are Israeli-affiliated, turning the Red Sea into a dangerous route for world trade.

Iran's vow to avenge the killing of an Iranian commander in Syria, sparking renewed concerns of expanding the conflict, especially on the Lebanese-Israeli border, artillery fire with the Iran-backed Hezbollah, keeping both countries on edge since October 8th.


In Gaza, a race for survival between a routine of airstrikes, rushing to hospitals and burials, and the ongoing search for food and water, and a pursuit of shelter for close to two million people displaced.


BERMAN: And Will Ripley is with us now. Will, what is the prime minister saying currently about the war?

RIPLEY: Well, he is saying that it is going to be a very long fight ahead after making his second visit to the northern part of the Gaza Strip and meeting with troops there. He said that they are going to have to sacrifice more.

He wrote an op-ed for the "Wall Street Journal," John, where he talked about the deradicalization of the Palestinian people, the demilitarization of Gaza, and the destruction of Hamas. And he says those are the requisites for peace. That's a very lofty goal and something that's going to take quite a long time, experts say, especially considering the fact that now you have a lot of the displaced populations -- two million people or so -- most of them packed into the central and southern parts of Gaza, which is exactly where Israel is now focusing its intensifying military operations -- John.

BERMAN: Will Ripley, thank you so much for your reporting.

Now, the visit to Washington by one of Prime Minister Netanyahu's closest confidants, Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is at the White House where talks with administration officials, Priscilla, just wrapped up. What can you tell us about what took place?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: John, that's right. This was an hours' long meeting. It ended moments ago, and it came at a critical time as the looming question over these meetings were what does the next phase of the Israel-Hamas conflict look like, especially, the ground operation that Israel is engaged in in Gaza.

Now, as you mentioned there, Ron Dermer is a close confidant to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's a member of the war cabinet, and he was Israel's ambassador to the US previously under Netanyahu as well.

Now, Israel, up to this point has assured the US that it plans to move toward a low-intensity war. That means more precise military operations targeting Hamas leadership. But they haven't offered a timeline as to what that looks like and when.

Now, US officials have said and -- that they have anticipated that localized operations would happen sometime in January. But again publicly, US officials have not been able to offer much more detail beyond that. And so, going into these meetings, senior US officials, including the Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were going into this, wanting to see results. What does it look like, especially as the death toll grows in Gaza?

Now, over the course of the day, senior Israeli officials expressed confidence that there -- the conversations between the US and Israel have been good and that there is no daylight because they are both on the same side.

BERMAN: So that's how they went in. Any sense of how they feel coming out?

ALVAREZ: We still don't know, John. I'm waiting on a readout from my sources. But the question going into this again was what -- when the war transition to this low-intensity phase. And now, we wait to see if the US got the answers that they wanted, especially as the pressure grows on President Biden, both domestically and on the world stage over that growing death toll.

BERMAN: Priscilla Alvarez, working late at the White House where these key meetings just wrapped up. Priscilla, thank you very much.

In Iraq, just south of Baghdad, the funeral for a local Hezbollah fighter killed in US airstrikes overnight. Central Command says they hit three facilities used by the group and others. Iraq's government, though, none to pleas calling the strikes hostile acts.

We also learned late today that US navy warships have once again been busy intercepting anti-ship missiles and drones in the Red Sea. It's a lot for CNN's Oren Liebermann who joins us now from the Pentagon with the latest. Let's start with the strikes in the Red Sea and what they mean, Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, this is very much a barrage of missiles and drones that was intercepted by US forces in the Red Sea. The USS Laboon, a destroyer, as well as F-18 fighter jets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group carrying out these shootdowns and interceptions of what was a launch that was carried out over a period of 10 hours from early this morning into the early afternoon.

US Navy says they intercepted 12 one-way attack drones or suicide drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two land attack cruise missiles. So an incredible display of firepower there coming from Houthi forces in Yemen. A spokesperson for the Houthi armed forces said they were firing at a ship that didn't identify itself and didn't respond to Houthi naval forces, as well as carrying out attacks in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

But you get the sense very clearly of why the US set up a multinational, essentially, coalition in the Red Sea to try to fight back or push against these Houthi attacks and try to make shipping safe through the Red Sea, one of the most critical waterways in the world. And yet you still see major shipping companies avoiding the Red Sea.


The US has tried to keep the conflict centered on or focused on Gaza without having it spread to the rest of the region. And even if we haven't seen a regional war, we have seen conflict in many other places that stems back to Gaza even as the US is trying to avoid exactly that.

BERMAN: But the barrage you're describing, Oren, no wonder that there are some shipping companies trying to avoid the Red Sea all together.

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Talk to us about the strike in Iraq, may be a more significant piece of military action we've seen from the US in that region. What are you learning?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely, and we'll draw the connection here. The Houthis are Iranian-backed proxies in Yemen. And this is Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy in Iraq that the US targeted. That's because US says they struck with a one- way attack drone US forces in Erbil in Iraq, causing injury to three US servicemembers, including one who sustained or one who remains in critical condition. President Joe Biden was briefed about that attack and given options for how to respond.

You're seeing on your screen here the results of the US response, attacks on three facilities the US says is used by Kata'ib Hezbollah and affiliated groups for carrying out and operating its drones. And the US trying to send a very forceful message, but calibrating that message with these strikes to try to avoid regional conflict or even a localized escalation.

This, however, is very sensitive. The US generally doesn't carry out strikes in Iraq. Normally, it carries out those strikes in Syria, and that's because the US has good relations with the Iraqi government. And the US presence in Iraq relies on those relations. Still here, the Iraqi government responding very angrily, calling these hostile acts that infringe upon Iraq's sovereignty.

It's also worth noting here, John, US Central Command says there were no civilians affected by the US strikes. The Iraqi government says there were civilians who were injured in the US attacks. You see quite a bit of tension there as the US trying to keep everything as stable as it can. You can see the difficulty of that in the current Middle East.

BERMAN: Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon. Oren, please keep us posted. Thank you.

Perspective now from CNN Political and Foreign Policy Analyst Barak Ravid who was also a reporter for Axios. We spoke shortly before airtime.


BERMAN: Barak, you were the first to report on Ambassador Ron Dermer's visit to the White House and the State Department. What have you learned about those meetings?

BARAK RAVID, CNN FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Well, Minister Dermer was in the White House, meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and with the Secretary of State Blinken earlier today. And this is interesting for several reasons.

First, because Dermer, I think, is Bibi's last confidant. From his entire government, he is the only person that Netanyahu really trust and, therefore, he's the person that Netanyahu sends messages with him to Washington. And I think he had three interesting messages.

First, about the day after in Gaza. Second, about the next phase in the ground operation in Gaza. And another interesting message, the Israeli concern about the amount of munitions the IDF still has.

BERMAN: On the issue of the day after the military operations in Gaza, you have reported on this new vocabulary that apparently is being used about a reformed Palestinian Authority. What does that mean and why is that important?

RAVID: You know, that's sort of a funny story because Netanyahu, in public, says he doesn't want the Palestinian Authority to have any role in the governance of Gaza in a post-Hamas reality while Dermer, in private, started talking about what he called RPA, Reformed Palestinian Authority, Revamped Palestinian Authority, Revitalized Palestinian Authority.

You pick how you want to use this R. So when US officials said, well, if that's the case, then you do agree to the Palestinian Authority having a role in Gaza. So then the Israelis say, well, you know, maybe this is where Israel is right now. And it's interesting because there's a big gap between what Netanyahu says in public and what he says in private because he's concerned that if he starts talking in public about the Palestinian Authority, having a role in Gaza, he will lose the right flank of his coalition, which could make the government collapse and lead to a new election.

BERMAN: That maybe, though, even in private, represents something of a shift. Is there any ground shifting when it comes to how Israel is conducting the war and whether it might be approaching some kind of denouement?


RAVID: I think what the Israelis realize and, unfortunately, they realized it too late is that the day after is not six months from now. It's not a year from now. It is four to six weeks from now when this operation will be scaled down from this high-intensity phase we are in to a low-intensity phase. The IDF will pull out from the center of the Palestinian cities, from the center of Gaza City.

And then the question will come, okay, who's running things in Gaza now when Hamas is in the bunkers? Is -- are we allowing Hamas to come back or Israel will have to find another entity that could run Gaza? And there are no answers to this question at the moment.

BERMAN: So there are proposals out there being discussed amongst some neighboring nations, including one from Egypt. What's known, at this point, about what Egypt is proposing and how viable a possibility it is?

RAVID: Well, I think the Egyptians are looking or trying to look at it in some sort of a holistic way, meaning, trying to get some sort of a package that will include ceasefire, release of hostages, and some sort of a post-Hamas government in Gaza. This is an interesting idea. The only problem is, at the moment, other than Egypt, nobody is buying it. The Israelis don't like it, Hamas doesn't like it. So I think, at the moment, it's sort of dead on arrival.

BERMAN: Yes. Reuters reporting that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have both rejected this idea. Why?

RAVID: Because part of this idea is for them to give up much of their powers in Gaza and, you know, they're not interested to do this especially not to the Palestinian Authority, which is their biggest political rival, which they ousted in 2007 in a military coup and kicked the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. So they have no willingness, at least at the moment, to turn back the clock on this one.

BERMAN: Barak Ravid, your reporting is always on the leading edge. Thank you so much for your time tonight.

RAVID: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Next, why hallmark won't be using the former president's profane Christmas wishes anytime soon and what it says about the current political season.

And later, what Ukraine's bold strike in another Russian warship says about the state of a war that's brought precious little hope for them recently. The question now, would that be about to change?



BERMAN: The former president likes to claim he made it okay to say "Merry Christmas" again instead of Happy Holidays.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, we had to defend the words "Merry Christmas." We're not to defend it anymore.


BERMAN: So whether he or anyone ever had to do that is debatable at best, that's putting it mildly. Whether he has outdone it with his new seasons greeting though is not debatable. This one has three words, and they are not "Peace on earth."

They come in a social message, which begins with "Merry Christmas to all, including Crooked Joe Biden's only hope, deranged Jack Smith." And it ends with, "MAY THEY ROT IN HELL. AGAIN, MERRY CHRISTMAS." That's all caps.

That is the 45th and possibly the 47th president of the United States, telling the 46th to ROT IN HELL -- all caps. The message comes less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses and just days after another immunity claim by his lawyers in the January 6th case. CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Washington for us tonight. Kristen, what else does the former president have to say this Christmas, and I imagine it's not, you know, silver bells or walking in a winter wonderland.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, it's not spreading so much Christmas cheer, but that is not really former President Donald Trump's style. He continued his ranting against the special counsel even today after Christmas, essentially, playing off that last message saying Biden's flunky deranged Jack Smith should go to hell.

Now, what this really is is a preview of what the next year is going to look like as Donald Trump tries to win back the White House, particularly, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. And as you noted, yes, he could be the 47th president.

And right now, he is leading the GOP primary field. And the reason that that is notable is because we have seen him amp up his rhetoric. It's not just these attacks on Joe Biden and Jack Smith, it is the aggressive anti-immigration language. It is going after the judges in the Colorado Supreme Court for ruling against him.

And we are unlikely to see any sort of toning it down and the reason being, when I talked to his advisors and his allies, they believe what he is doing is working. And they say they have the proof to back it up by showing the polls particularly out of Iowa. As we have seen him ramp up this language and rhetoric, he has actually gained points in that state.

Now, obviously, a ballot hasn't been cast. We will wait to see what exactly happens in those first caucuses. But right now, he feels like what he is doing is working, and he has these poles that he's looking at that say that it is.

BERMAN: Yes. It's not a bug, it's the feature of the campaign. What about the latest immunity claim from the Trump legal team, Kristen?

HOLMES: Right. So right now, the ball is in Jack Smith's court. Over the weekend, we saw Trump's team argue they want an appeals court to rule that Trump cannot be criminally prosecuted because he has immunity. And now smith's team has until midnight Saturday to respond. We expect to see he will respond at any moment.

Now, the thing to really keep in mind here is that he is coming -- Jack Smith -- off of a relatively big loss, which was bringing that immunity claim, asking for expedited process to the Supreme Court and then essentially saying, no, it has to go through the appeals court.

This could not be a more significant win for Donald Trump. When I talked to his legal team, when I talk to his advisors, the one case that they were sure was not going to be pushed back until after the election was the January 6th insurrection case or the -- excuse me, the election interference case. They believe that that was going to be a hard line starting in March, maybe a few days, but not get pushed back after the election. Right now, there is a chance that this could get pushed back because the judge in that case has basically paused all proceedings until the ruling is done in this immunity case, which means that even if the appeals court, which is going to hear it in early January hears this right away, it'll still going to be pushing all of those processes back, making it more and more likely that that court date will be moved. So again, that is a big win for Donald Trump.


BERMAN: Kristen Holmes, great to see you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

HOLMES: Happy Holidays.

BERMAN: For more on the politics, legal tactics, and social media linguistics, we're joined by Axios Senior Contributor Margaret Talev, former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, these days host of the "White Flag" podcast, and Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney-general.

Margaret, I want to start with you. You know, President Trump has said these things on social media. He's called his political adversaries, quote, "vermin." He said that immigrants will poison the blood of US, the US echoing Nazi rhetoric. And now he's told President Biden to rot in hell. What does he get out of saying this and it's clearly deliberate?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. John, you know, I am often looking for the strategy behind the former president's tactical moves, but I don't actually see a great one here. I think his best strategy for this might be that people are sort of tuned out over Christmas. We're like, oh, did you hear what Trump said?

But I think like I looked at polling leading up to Christmas. And polling shows at least for a brief window of time, Americans really want to be happy and uplifted. This monomyth (ph) poll shows, like, eight out of 10 Americans said they'd be on Santa's nice list, and nine out of 10 Americans or, you know, three or four of us want to listen to Christmas music.

So this is not a conventional approach to the Christmas season. And I think it does raise new concerns about normalizing this kind of language, hoping your adversaries or people you see as your adversaries rot in hell at the presidential level.

I don't know if it will hurt him heading into Iowa. I don't see how it would help him. I think it does show how very focused he is on two people right now -- on Jack Smith, that prosecutor, and on Joe Biden.

BERMAN: Yes, it turns out rot in hell was not one of the 12 days of Christmas, five golden rings, very different than that.

Joe Walsh, I think you have a different take on this. Let me show you this before you weigh in here. This is something that Donald Trump reposted on his social media. It's a word cloud that was put in the British newspaper.

And inside this word cloud, describing Donald Trump, it has words associated with him including revenge and dictatorship here. And again, Trump reposted this, indicating that he is leaning into this, embracing it, rather than running away from it. Why do you think that is?

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN: Because he loves it, John. He's proud of it. Donald Trump wants to be a dictator. But to what Margaret said, this isn't the story, right? Trump is a bad guy. He's a horrible guy. He's a bully. He's a jerk.

The story for America in 2024 is that this is what Republican voters want. Yes, Donald Trump wants to be a dictator. He wants to have unlimited power.

But the scary thing, John Berman, is Republican voters want him to be a dictator. They want him to have unlimited power. They want revenge. This is what, in 2024, America has to wake up to.

This is way, way bigger than Donald Trump. And I actually think, he's going to lean into this because I think these plays with people beyond his base. And I think Biden and Democrats better wake up to that.

BERMAN: Again, you think this is no bug. You think this is a feature, if not the feature, of his messaging?

WALSH: I think he's going to run on this, John. I think Donald Trump is going to tell all of America, I'm going to be a freaking dictator. And sure, his base is going to eat that up. But there are a lot of voters in America, John, who want a president to do something about the border, do something about the crime. And they won't say it publicly, but they don't care if he has to be a strong man to do it.

I think Trump and his people believe this is a very sellable message, sadly.

BERMAN: Elliot, let's talk about the legal issues here. Let's start with the filing from the Trump team Saturday night. They asked the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the entire election subversion case. Anything in that filing?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think what's most striking in the filing is this idea of an official act. The former president's entire argument is based on the fact that everything he did was an official act of the presidency. He says that because these were official acts, he can't be prosecuted for them.

Notably, what they say is that even setting up, quote, "alternate slates of electors" or even calling state officials to pressure them to overturn the results of the election are official acts. That's their argument. And they cannot win if the court does not buy that argument. So they're sort of -- it's a little bit of a stretch, to be perfectly candid, that argument. The idea that anything a president does can fall under this umbrella of being an official act. So we'll see what the court does with that. But that's -- you know, that's sort of what they've got here and what they're basing their entire case on.


BERMAN: Yes, you know, in a bunch of different courts, both criminal and civil have weighed in on different aspects of that question, not just pertaining to the president, but other government officials. And they've all said -- no, they've all said, no, they are not official acts in some form or function. We'll see what the appeals court says here.

The more interesting question might be when we hear what the appeals court says here. They're going to hear arguments on January 9th. Now, Kristen Holmes is reporting about the dancing and the jumping up and down inside Trump World over the fact the Supreme Court did not hear the case quickly. But this still could go quickly, right?

WILLIAMS: It still could go relatively quickly. I don't want to get anybody excited, but just in the grand scheme of federal appeals, getting a case briefed and argued by January 9th is breakneck speed in terms of our court's move. Now, the court -- the appeals court that's hearing it could rule on the case within a matter of days or weeks.

And then it's up to the Supreme Court after that to decide, number one, if they even want to take the case in the first place. Remember, the Supreme Court does not have to take a case and they can just let it go and let the lower opinion stand. Now, the Supreme Court could rule quickly or, you know, as people know, it could take months and months and months.

So it really is an open question as to when the trial does proceed, whether it's March, that's probably not likely or sometime thereafter, or even beyond the election. But it is moving quickly in the grand scheme of federal cases. And we ought to just sit tight for at least this next week, see when these filings come in, see when the court rules and see what they do with it.

BERMAN: Care to venture a guess of whether the Supreme Court will do this quickly, if they do it at all?

WILLIAMS: I mean, they might expedite it. I think they certainly may put it on faster than a one year calendar than they typically would. But in terms of resolving it in a couple of days, that may not happen.

BERMAN: So Margaret, obviously, Donald Trump has leaned into his legal issues. It may have been the very thing that boosted his campaign over the last 12 months. Does that continue to be the case through next November? At what point might that be a strategy that could backfire?

TALEV: Well, it certainly appears to be the strategy that will prevail through primary season. You could argue there isn't still a primary season. It's already, you know, the outcome is known, but it's not known until it happens. So I think we need to get through Iowa, New Hampshire, you know, South Carolina.

But clearly, he's going to lean into it when the votes he's competing for are the Republican base plus, you know, movable independents who are able to vote in a Republican primary, you know. So, I think to Elliot's point, sometime around March, you know, between March and June, we're going to know whether this thing is going to happen this year or not.

And at that point, Donald Trump has two considerations and one is legal and the other is political when he's competing in the general election. It is going to become a question of, can he actually appeal to voters who don't think of themselves as Republicans based on a grievance message?

But I think it's much too early to look now and say what's going to work for him in August? What's going to work for him between January and February? This is his strategy, and he's going to run it all the way.

BERMAN: Joe, very quickly, a conviction, if it were to happen, would that help or hurt Donald Trump?

WALSH: I think it's a wash. What a terrible answer, John. Look, he's going to lean into, I'm going to be an authoritarian, and he's going to lean into, look at all of these people trying to prevent me from getting elected. He's going to lean into his legal stuff as well.

BERMAN: Joe Walsh, Margaret Talev, Elliot Williams, thank you one and all.

So up next, more on what Kristen Holmes mentioned earlier, the former president's language about the Colorado Supreme Court disqualifying Trump from the state's primary ballot. Now, law enforcement officials are signaling that the justices' safety could be on the line.



BERMAN: A week after the Colorado Supreme Court's unprecedented 4-3 decision kicking former President Trump off the state's presidential primary ballot, the FBI is now joining forces with Colorado law enforcement officials after reports of violent threats against the justices. It comes with officials and non-government research groups closely watching rhetoric on extremist online forums for any signs that threats could become real.

CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller here with us now. John, what do we know about what exactly the FBI is looking into?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, what the FBI is doing primarily right now, John, is assisting local law enforcement because otherwise they have to find a federal violation. Under Colorado law, making a threat against a judge or an elected member of the assembly is considered an act of retaliation.

It's a class six felony. But it also spells out that it has to be a credible threat. Here's the difficulty for law enforcement. First, identifying these people with their handles and screen names, that can be done. In fact, the FBI is really good at that. Second, doing the threat assessment, which is, is this threat real? Is this person blowing steam? Is what they said, although abhorrent, a real threat, is it a credible threat?

Do they need to carry it out? But the hard part is what we've learned again and again, you can pick your case. Judge Esther Salas, whose son was murdered at her home in New Jersey, who passed a law to protect judges.

The Nancy Pelosi case with the home invasion where her husband was assaulted from an individual who said he intended to wait there for her and kidnap her. And it's not always the people making the threats in these forums, in these message boards, in these chat rooms, who are the ones who act.

Sometimes they're the lurkers who decide, I don't have much of a voice here or a presence, but I'm going to go out and actually do something. So a lot of this has been about increasing protection.

BERMAN: So these threats are somewhat similar to other violent posts that we've seen when Donald Trump has faced indictments or other legal issues. So, how concerned is law enforcement about this repeat type performance?


MILLER: To the extent that they've seen this before, and most of it is blowing off steam. We saw this with the first criminal indictment in Manhattan. The threats against Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, where they had to increase his security. The threats against the judge.

But now we see the threats against the judge in the civil case. And the threats against the judge in the Washington, D.C., January 6th, in the election interference case. But not so much the judge in Miami where, you know, he's had some -- the point is, Donald Trump has the ability to pour gasoline on this environment by making distinct, specific, very personal attacks and saying, you know, we can't stand for this, and that gets the followers going in these chat rooms.

BERMAN: When the rhetoric does get to a dangerous level, perhaps a criminal level, how hard is it for law enforcement to track the people down who are making some of the threats?

MILLER: So that can be done. In the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau when I was there, we had a threat assessment unit, a very good team, and we did a couple of things. One, we would issue subpoenas, preservation orders, legal process on the providers to say, we need that IP address, we need to trace that to a machine, to an address, to a person. We could do all that in many cases.

The more difficult part is going out there in a case where someone has said those things and sitting them down and getting them to talk about it and then assessing, can we say this person is a real threat or not a real threat? Is this a person who's in need of medical help? Is this a person who we need to do a search warrant on for weapons? Did the threat rise to the level of violating the law? And this is a very layered and complicated process. You know, prosecutors in a First Amendment based society are pretty wary about taking on a case where they think that the threat is either not specific enough or not credible enough. And, of course, as we were talking about before, you never know if the threater, forgive me, is going to be the actor.

BERMAN: John Miller, great to have you here. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, just ahead, take a look at this.




BERMAN: Ukraine today carrying out another major strike against Russian forces in what could be its third such success in less than a week. We have details ahead.



BERMAN: With the ground war in Ukraine as frozen as the winter battlefield, there is some progress for Kyiv to report in the air and on the water. Most recently, the airstrike that Ukrainian officials say destroyed a Russian Navy landing ship in Crimea. Ukraine also claims to have downed five Russian combat aircraft since Friday. As we mentioned, with the war nearing its two-year mark, Ukraine has struggled in recent months fighting on the ground.

With me now is Retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, a CNN Military Analyst. General, thanks for being with us. How significant is this Ukrainian strike on the Russian warship?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, any strike that can decrease the amount of capability, capacity to conduct offensive operations that the Ukrainians can do against the Russians is a plus. It goes into the plus side of the column. The challenge is it is an amphibious landing craft and be pretty significant.

And you can see from the explosion that it was loaded with ammunition. A lot of those are secondary explosions. I mean, that's quite significant. That ship is out of commission now, obviously, that's a good thing. Russia still has the law of large numbers, John. And we've talked about this for a while. They can continue to bring capacity to the fight where the Ukrainians have limited capacity to do that. And that's where we are right now.

BERMAN: Is this, in some way, compensating like a spectacle and it's very visual and it is a spectacular demonstration of what Ukraine is capable of, but they've struggled on the ground? MARKS: Well, they have. I mean, absolutely. Morale is incredibly important. If you were to list the top three factors in combat, morale would be at the top. If you feel good about what you can accomplish, if you trust your leadership, if you trust the individual to your right, your left. There's almost any obstacle that you can overcome.

This is incredibly important for the Ukrainians. The Russians, on the other hand, have a limited capacity to resist this coming from Ukraine. Yet, Russia can take a blow like this and then can continue to show up. That doesn't mean they're very effective. That doesn't mean they have good leadership.

What that means is they can just keep bringing good money after bad, basically. More young men can come forward and they can have a fight like this.

BERMAN: What about the warplanes, the aircraft that Ukraine says it's been able to shoot down five Russian fighter jets they say in just three days?

MARKS: Yes, that's significant because those aircraft can put themselves in a pattern over the Black Sea, essentially, out of some range of the air defense that the Ukrainians might have, and they can launch cruise missiles to go out of it, go after very precise targets. That's a significant blow against the Russians.

But again, bear this in mind, look at the overall inventory, and you realize Ukraine must continue to maintain a pace or pick up this pace. It's going to really start to turn the table in terms of what the potential outcome looks like.

You just said it. Frozen war fight, frozen terrain. This becomes very, very difficult unless you can turn that -- turn the tide on this.

BERMAN: Yes. And where it's not frozen, there are some setbacks for Ukraine, including in the eastern city of Marinka. After months of fighting there, Russia has retaken that city or taken that city from Ukraine. How significant is that if Ukraine is actually losing territory?

MARKS: These are tactical engagements, John. They are significant to the commanders that are on the ground. I would never say you cannot overestimate the sense of loss when you lose a tactical fight. In the aggregate, what does it mean operationally in terms of the risk

the Ukrainians, in terms of their strategic objectives and in terms of what Russia is trying to achieve?

I would suggest Russia loses more greatly if they do not include connecting those tactical fights if Ukraine can hold. This is a significant victory for them, even though it's a tactical loss.

BERMAN: Understood. If Ukraine can hold, which may depend much more on what happens in Congress next month than what happens on the ground in eastern Ukraine this month.

[20:50:06] General Spider Marks, great to see you. Happy holidays.

MARKS: Thank you, John. You as well.

BERMAN: So now the latest on what has been, at times, a desperate search for Russian dissident Alexey Navalny, who has survived an assassination attempt, survived Russian prisons, and now survived 20 days in a kind of limbo where no one knew where he was, all with his bravery and defiance still intact.

Nada Bashir has the details.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): One of President Putin's most famous adversaries. Relieved, exhausted, but most importantly, alive.

KIRA YARMYSH, NAVALNY SPOKESPERSON: We filed 680 requests in different Russian prisons trying to locate Alexey. For weeks, Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny's whereabouts were unknown. Now, his team has located him at a remote penal colony north of the Arctic Circle, after a journey Navalny says took almost three weeks.

BASHIR (voice-over): "They brought me here on Saturday night." Messages posted on social media by his aides say, "I didn't expect anyone to find me here before mid-January." Navalny's team raised the alarm weeks ago after he failed to show for recent court hearings. At the time, the Kremlin stated it had neither the capacity nor willingness to monitor prisoners' whereabouts.

YARMYSH: According to Russian law, after the prisoner is being transferred to another colony, they have to notify his relatives, but we know very well that there is no law that applies to Alexey and they will never notify anyone about his whereabouts.

BASHIR (voice-over): In a statement on Monday, the director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation said the colony in northwestern Siberia, known as the Polar Wolf Colony, is infamous for its remote location and harsh conditions.

Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison in August, after he was found guilty of extremism related charges, which he and his legal representatives have consistently denied. This, in addition to a previous 11 and a half year sentence for fraud and other crimes.

Known for organizing anti-government street protests and using his blog and social media to expose alleged corruption in the Kremlin, Navalny has posed one of the most serious threats to Putin's legitimacy during his rule. His disappearance coming to light just days after Putin announced he would run for reelection in March 2024.

VLADIMIR MILOV, NAVALNY ADVISER: It is no coincidence that Navalny disappeared exactly at the moment when the so-called sham presidential elections were announced and Putin announced that he's going to be running again for -- sorry, I lost count for which term already. BASHIR (voice-over): And while news of his whereabouts has brought some reassurance to supporters, there is deep seated concern over the conditions the opposition figure now faces at Polar Wolf.


BASHIR (on-camera): And John, according to a local government media outlet in Siberia, the focus of this particular penal colony is re- education through occupational therapy. But the conditions there are of course said to be harsh and there is concern over what Alexey Navalny may face during his time in detention.

Important to underscore that Navalny, his legal team, and his supporters have consistently denied the charges laid against him. They say they believe this is a politically motivated attempt to stifle criticism of President Putin. John?

BERMAN: Nada Bashir, thank you very much.

Still to come tonight, Apple taking it on the chin. And customers on the wrist why their latest, greatest and priciest smart watches have been banned from import into the United States.



BERMAN: The latest, greatest versions of the most popular smart watches made by America's most iconic tech company are now banned from entering the United States. Apple appealed the government's decision today after the White House refused to overturn the ban. In October, the International Trade Commission said Apple violated a patent of a medical tech company.

And so, as of this morning, in Apple stores across the country, you cannot find the latest version of the Apple Watch, nor any version of its pricier cousin, the Apple Watch Ultra. And once websites like Amazon are sold out, that's it. No more new watches until a solution is reached.

Our Senior Data Reporter, Harry Enten, is here now with much more.


BERMAN: So these -- how popular are the Apple watches?

ENTEN: I mean, look, they sold nearly 50 million of them. There you go right there. Sold nearly 50 million of them last year. You know, and I think people, to give you a baseline understanding, watches, you know, Swiss, the Swiss export, the most watches, historically speaking, they only exported only about a third of that number in 2022, only 16 million across all Swiss watchmakers.

And yes, that's your Patek Philippes, that's your Rolexes, but there are a lot of lower brands as well. So the fact is, the Apple Watch, for all intents and purposes, is the new Patek Philippe. BERMAN: Patek Philippe. I never thought I'd heard you say those words, Harry Enten. For people who don't know, what magical powers do these watches have?

ENTEN: Well, perhaps most importantly, it does tell time, John. I just want to note that it tells time, but it doesn't only tell time, right? You can get your email on there, you can text on there, but most importantly, you can keep track of your sleeping patterns, your fitness patterns. That was one of the things that was going on in terms of the infringement, was the idea that some of that fitness stuff might not have been quite on the level.

So the Apple Watch can do a lot. It -- to me, it's, you know, almost like a real-world Dick Tracy watch. Remember Dick Tracy? You know, he'd walkie talkie, hello, hello, hello.

My father loved Dick Tracy. I enjoyed the 1990 film as well, and perhaps I could recreate it if I, in fact, get an Apple Watch, which you sort of have right over there, John.

BERMAN: I'll let you look at mine. Not touch it, though. So without Apple watches, Harry, are kids still going to be able to tell time?

ENTEN: Yes, you know, this is one of the more interesting things, which is, you know, there have been a number of studies done, I kind of averaged across them. You know how many kids at this point can actually tell time from an analog watch?

BERMAN: How many? Only about 75 percent of them can actually tell time from an analog watch, adults under the age of 30. 25 percent actually struggle on this question. So the fact is, I think this could be a very good thing because it might force the kids to go back to school and actually learn how to tell time, John.

BERMAN: Chicago likes to say, does anybody really know what time it is, Harry? Does anybody really care?

ENTEN: It's hammer time.

BERMAN: Harry Enten, thank you very much. Great to see you.

ENTEN: Thanks, buddy.

BERMAN: The news continues. The Source starts right now.