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The Lead with Jake Tapper

New Special Counsel Speeds Ahead On Trump Criminal Probes; CNN's Sam Kiley Looks At Brutal Consequences Of War; Second Known Protest-Related Execution Carried Out In Iran; Congress Facing Friday Deadline To Fund Government, Avoid Shutdown; Lockerbie Bombing Suspect Makes First Court Appearance In U.S.; Powerful Winter Storm Moving East, Impacts Central U.S. Today; High Inflation Forces Some Families To Squeeze Holiday Budget. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 12, 2022 - 16:00   ET



CHLOE MELAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maybe that's what it should be. It should be the three of us doing our own, like, side show, right?



BLACKWELL: I'm into it.

GOLODRYGA: Yellowstone is in this year. I like that, too.

MELAS: See? I love it when you come in with a fun fact like that. Yellowstone, so good finally, nominated. Getting its due.

GOLODRYGA: Chloe, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

MELAS: Thank you.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Special master? Out. Special counsel? Full speed ahead.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Case dismissed. A judge today dropping the special master case, clearing the way for the Justice Department to directly access thousands of records, some classified from Donald Trump's property. The potential legal peril as criminal investigations begin to close in on Donald Trump.

And, justice a long time coming. The alleged terrorist accused of making the bomb that took down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 killing 270 innocent people -- well, he's now in U.S. custody. Coming up, the day in court for the Lockerbie suspect.

Plus, a scientific achievement for human kind, potentially an unlimited supply of clean energy. What's behind this atomic breakthrough that researchers say could revolutionize the way we live?


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with our politics lead. The legal jeopardy facing Donald Trump. Today, the Justice Department scored another major win. They officially got full access to the tens of thousands of documents and records found at Mar-a-Lago and in Trump's private office. Some of which were classified.

This ruling comes as member of the January 6th committee are making their momentous decision on whether to criminally refer Donald Trump to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.

And all of this as CNN learns the newly appointed special counsel is moving quickly on two criminal investigations around Donald Trump. Sources say Jack Smith and his teams of prosecutors are looking at Trump's state of mind after the 2020 election, including what he specifically knew about any plans to storm the Capitol and potentially interrupt the transfer of power.

CNN's Sara Murray starts off our coverage today with more insights into the special council's investigation, including a brand-new subpoena to a top elections official.



SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESEPONDENT (voice-over): Special counsel Jack Smith speeding ahead with a pair of criminal probes around former President Trump.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: He promised to the American people in his own statement that there would be no pause or hiccup in this work, and I understand that is exactly what's going on now.

MURRAY: Prosecutors in the Mar-a-Lago documents case taking an aggressive approach as they asked a judge to hold Trump in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena over the summer, demanding Trump return all documents with classified markings.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is the new hoax, the document hoax.

MURRAY: DOJ hitting a setback as the judge refused to hold Trump in contempt, but notching a victory as the third party review of documents seized from Trump's Florida resort officially comes to an island.

Judge Aileen Cannon dismissing the case today, giving DOJ access to tens of thousands of records and other items from Mar-a-Lago.

Investigators also plugging their way on their probe into efforts to subvert the 2020 election. A source tells CNN they're asking those in Trump's orbit about the former president's involvement and knowledge of events leading up to January 6. The special counsel staff already twice as big as Robert Mueller's team in the Russia probe, including 20 prosecutors on January 6th and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

TRUMP: We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen.

MURRAY: And prosecutors have been looking at potential financial crimes in an under the radar part of their probe, digging into the Save America PAC, according to subpoenas viewed by CNN.

All of this as the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack convene privately over the weekend.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have some things to decide as to whether we make referrals on information that we uncovered during our investigation.

MURRAY: Aiming to nail down a list of individuals they plan to refer to the Justice Department to be considered for prosecution.

Among those under consideration, Trump, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, and attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If we do make referrals, we want to be very careful about how we do them, but I think we're all in agreement that there's evidence of criminality here.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, we are also learning that the special counsel has subpoenaed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Of course, Raffensperger was on a call with Trump after the 2020 election where Trump asked Raffensperger to find the votes needed for Trump to win the state of Georgia --

TAPPER: Right.

MURRAY: -- which he lost. And this is one of a number of election officials that the special counsel has made clear, the prosecutors want to talk to.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Sara, stay with me.

I also want to bring in former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, let me ask you, since just Thanksgiving, special counsel Jack Smith has brought two former White House lawyers, three of Trump's closest aides, and Trump's former speech writer, Steven Miller, before a grand jury in Washington. What does the pace of this tell you about where the investigation is right now?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells us, Jake, that, of course, they were moving at full speed even before Jack Smith came on board. One of the things they had to wait for is the litigation over the privileges these witnesses were claiming and now that that's out of the way, they really can put these folks in the grand jury and find out what they know. So I think they're now getting down to it.

You know, the key issue here when thinking about the charge related to January 6th, it's all conspiracy charges -- seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct Congress. So you need intent for that, and knowledge and you can't get to that unless you find out what Trump knew and what he was saying.

And so, you need these witnesses who now in the last few weeks and in the next few weeks are going to be in the grand jury.

TAPPER: And, Sara, there are some key differences between this special counsel Jack Smith and the name most Americans probably think of when it comes to special counsel Robert Mueller.

MURRAY: Robert Mueller, old news. This is the new special counsel. But I think a big difference is, look, Robert Mueller was really starting essentially from scratch when he got started. This is an investigation that's well underway. They've been working on it for months.

Jack Smith is relying on career prosecutors at the Justice Department to carry this forward. He's going to continue on really on, you know, legal advice from the Justice Department. And, of course, the big difference is Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States.

So Robert Mueller hit a point where he knew he was not going to be able to prosecute Donald Trump. He was a sitting president. That is not a constraint that Jake Smith has.

TAPPER: Jennifer, the January 6th committee is expected to announce its criminal referrals, if any, next week. Who do you think will be on that list?

RODGERS: Well, what we're hearing sounds like it makes sense to me. The former president himself, of course, and then some of the people who were the likely architect of this scheme. Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows was certainly in the thick of it. John Eastman, Jeff Clark. It seems to me those are the big names who were in the room with the former president hatching this plan and then carrying it out.

So, we'll see if that's what the committee finds.

TAPPER: Right, in addition, of course, to the seditious conspiracy convictions of the Oath Keepers.

So, just how much other work does the committee have to get done in the last few weeks before it's disbanded?

MURRAY: Well, they obviously have to pin down these criminal referrals we've been talking about, what's the basis for those are going to be. And they've also have to finish their final report. It's still not done. And they have to get that to the printer, which they have been waiting to do.

And then they need to figure out how they're going to present this. These sort of last opportunity to show this to the American public. You know, do they want to put forward a stylized hearing here, which is what we've seen from the past in the committee, or do they want to go something that's more like a straight business meeting when they may run through their top lines, and then do their votes on criminal referrals. And this is something the committee still hashing out.

TAPPER: And, Jennifer, once the committee makes its referrals to the Justice Department and we do anticipate that they will refer at least someone, how do the investigations proceed? Will Attorney General Garland wait to make decisions on criminal referrals until a special counsel's investigation is done? Does a referral necessitate an actual prosecution?

RODGERS: I think these are going to dove tail together nicely because the investigation that the special counsel is now doing is not finished anyway so they'll basically have in their hands what they've been working on this whole time, and then the referrals and all of the information coming over from the committee. They'll be able to make one set of decisions after they have all of this.

Of course, the referrals don't force the Justice Department to do anything. And they won't really consider what the committee wants to happen as definitive, but you know, listen. They're going to be very interested in the evidence and the committee is full of very smart people, lots of former prosecutors and lawyers on that committee. So if the report really goes through and says specifically, these are the pieces of evidence that prove this particular crime that we are referring to you, I think prosecutors certainly will take a hard look at that when they're making their decisions.

TAPPER: And, Sara, do we know how much Attorney General Merrick Garland is involved in any of the decision making here if at all?

MURRAY: Well, I mean, look, I think a big part of the reason that he appointed this special counsel because he wanted somebody else, to be the one who's going to make a lot of these ultimate prosecutorial decisions. I think, of course, we're waiting to see is what kind of prosecutorial decisions may happen when it comes to former President Trump, but he's not operating, you know, totally in the dark. We don't expect him to be left out of the loop like we saw with Robert Mueller.

TAPPER: And, Jennifer, lawyers for Donald Trump say they do not believe that Trump will ultimately be indicted. Do you agree?

RODGERS: I do not agree. I think he will. We've seen a lot of evidence publicly and the special counsel and his team are busy collecting more. I think he will be indicted. TAPPER: Do you have any, and again, you're just speculating here, but

you're pretty smart. You know the stuff. What do you think the charges could potentially be?

RODGERS: Well, I think we'll see charges based on the document side.


They very cleverly avoided the typical classified documents kinds of charges, but those sorts of things were part of the I think we'll see the improper handling and taking of records I think we will see. National security espionage charges and on the January 6th side, it's a little tougher. If they do decide to charge, I think we'll see the sorts of charges we've seen today -- seditious conspiracy, obstruction of Congress, obstruction of the laws of the United States, conspiracy against United States, that sort of thing. But that was one is trickier, again, based on knowledge and intent. But if they get there, I think that's what we'll see.

TAPPER: All right. Jennifer and Sarah, thanks to both of you.

On Capitol Hill right now, the debate over how to avoid a government shutdown and the $26 billion that maybe be trouble spot.

Plus, just how much American consumers plan to scale back this Christmas with inflation still at historic highs.

And, from blizzard conditions to tornados. The major winter storm that could impact the United States from coast to coast.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world now, a new vow of unwavering support for Ukraine from G7 leaders. The group met virtually today and agreed to bolster Ukraine's air defense system.


This comes as the war is still raging almost ten months after Putin's invasion and there are, of course, civilian casualties from this brutal war which Sam Kylie saw up close at a hospital in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

A warning now. Some of the images in Sam's piece might be disturbing.


SAM KYLIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Getting the ingredients for lunch to Vyacheslav's best friend, his arm and his livelihood. Hit by a missile in Bakhmut, he thinks his life was saved by his leather jacket, which held him together when he was hit, searching for cabbage and beets.

I don't know what hit me, I don't know the stand. But the force was incredible, he says, because the arm just flew off. I was conscious, but I was praying, I tell you, I pray to survive. He was a builder and he was right-handed, but not anymore.

He was rescued by soldiers from Bakhmut, which has been the seen of the most fighting along an 800 mile front, and rushed to hospital here.

The first thing I asked was if I could have my arm sown back on, he said. I saw it was completely turned off and just hanging in the sleeve. My stomach was burning. There are times he wishes he didn't survive. Now I'm half man, half zombie, half human, to be exact.

The fighting in Bakhmut is merciless. And it's been relentless. Weeks of intense artillery drills have torn the city apart and ripped into the dwindling number of civilians still there. The local Ukrainian authorities have implored civilians to leave the region for months. The consequences of staying are often catastrophic and end up here in the nearby Konstantinovka hospital.

So this is how the Ukrainians are managing to get around the destruction of their power grid. This is a Ukrainian series of boilers installed in this hospital. It can only heat though the intensive care ward, maternity ward, and the operating theatres. Everybody else just has to wrap up warm.

Is that because you don't have power?

Medecins Sans Frontieres has rushed medics to replace those who have fled.

LUCIA MARRON, NURSE, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES: Having issue with electricity supplies, sometimes there's not light or no water. So, that's very challenging.

KILEY: But still, the injured come from Bakhmut. This woman in her 30s has been riddled with shrapnel. Her leg is shattered. But as they examine her more closely, her internal organs have been badly damaged. These two surgeons will be in this operating theatre for many hours to come.

The doctor says she's a resident of Bakhmut. She came under artillery fire and suffered a shrapnel wound to the abdomen, with damage to several organs.

Is she going to live?

We hope so.

Are you seeing a lot of these sorts of injuries?

Yes, every day, every day.

And with the fighting in eastern Ukraine expected to intensify, every day will be a bad day.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KILEY (on camera): Now, those days are going to get worse, Jake, as the winter deepens. It actually becomes easier for heavy weapons armor to move on frozen ground. There's anticipation that perhaps the Russians may step up their operations. At the same time, the Ukrainians may open up a southern front. For the same reason President Zelenskyy was appealing at that meeting with the G7 for more tanks in particular, more air defenses, more artillery.

The Ukrainians know if it comes to a waiting game, the Russians can outlast them. They need the momentum and they really those weapons if they're going to prevail, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sam Kiley, in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much.

Also in the world lead today, Iran has announced what is believed to be the second execution of a protester. This comes after a furious three months of protesters calling for the end of the regime of the Islamic Republic and after the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini, who died in the custody of Iran's so-called morality police.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is with us.

And, Salma, what were the charges against this protester who was executed?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, an intimidating and public hanging in Iran today. The authorities hanged Majidreza Rahnavard in the early hours of this morning. Potentially residents could have seen his body hanging in the city of Mashhad.

Now, he's accused by Iran's authorities of waging war against god. The allegation is that he killed, stabbed to death, two members of the security forces and wounded several others. But the devil is in the details here, Jake. That accusation is that the incident occurred on November 17th. That means this man went from accused to being hung in less than a month -- death penalty proceedings and an execution in less than a month.


That's why activists and rights groups say he was the victim of a sham trial.

I want to pull you another video that's being shared on social media today. CCTV footage that Iran's courts used to convict him of this crime. Now, we've blurred part of it because it does show a very violent scene, but even in that unblurred version, analysts will tell you, you cannot make up people's identities.

And that's why rights groups and activists are saying these are contrived allegations, that these are carried out in kangaroo courts with little due process. In fact, his excuse according to activists has one purpose and one only. It is a tool of repression. It is intended to intimidate, terrify, scare protesters from taking to the streets against the government again. And he's not the only one. This is the second protester who was

executed. The first was just four days ago and the fears is there are more of these so-called excuses coming. Amnesty International says there are 17 others right now who are potentially facing the death penalty and you can expect that face paced speed again, but protesters say this will not terrify them. This will not stop them -- Jake.

TAPPER: It's just, so horrific. Is there any sign that this latest public execution is working to deter any Iranian from stop protesting? Understandably so, of course.

ABDELAZIZ: I think if you're an activist, if you're a demonstrator, it actually is doing the exact opposite, Jake. Make no mistake about it, this is a huge challenge for Iran's government. Three months now of constant -- near constant demonstrations that stretch across every single province in Iran.

And the consequences of that have been brutal. More than 480 protesters killed. Thousands of people detained, according to rights groups. We cannot verify those figures, of course, because we don't have access on the ground.

But even in the face of this brutal crackdown, every story, every instance of repression, every death becomes a rallying cry on the ground. Becomes fuel for the fire and the passion and the anger those protesters have.

In the case of Rahnavard, already, his story is being shared on social media. Already, his name is being called by protesters. The details of his trial are being used as an illustration of just how repressive Iran's regime is.

TAPPER: All right. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it.

Here in Washington, D.C., the urgency Democrats have to reach a spending deal not only to avoid a government shutdown by Friday, but also before House Republicans take over in a matter of weeks.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, lawmakers are scrambling to fund the government to avoid a shutdown. That's become an annual tradition here in Washington, D.C., much like decorating the White House Christmas tree. Congressional negotiators have just five days to reach a deal or to extend the deadline, all of which is further complicated by the looming Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in January.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

Manu, where the negotiations stand right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're moving slowly and it looks like they're going to have to wait for another week to see if they can get another deal.

Remember they initially had a September 30th deadline. That is when Congress must fund the entire federal government. But because they were unable to do that, they punted all 12 appropriations bills up until the current, this Friday, December 16th, to try to get a new funding deadline deal. They were unable to do that and now, Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, indicated they will punt this for another week, to try to cobble together and put together all those 12 bills into one massive bill to try to jam through Congress in just a matter of days.

They're still haggling, the two sides, over spending levels. Democrats want more money for defense spending. Republicans more money for defense spending. They have not agreed to overall top dollar figure. They're looking in some where in the range of $1.75 trillion.

But, Jake, this is significant because not only could they punt these decisions to next year, there are major policy issues riding along with it, including overhauling the Electoral Count Act, to avoid another January 6, and. of course, $37 billion to aid Ukraine, which would be part of this package if they can get a deal.

TAPPER: Manu, what are the implications for Kevin McCarthy, who wants to be speaker and the House Republican majority, if this is punted to 2023?

RAJU: This would be a big fight potentially early in the new congress. Kevin McCarthy himself is still struggling to get the votes to become speaker. He needs 218 votes to become speaker. They expect 222 Republican votes, but assuming there are currently seats in the new House, 222 seats, so just four defections could scuttle his ambitions, but that will mean -- that shows you the difficult road ahead.

If this is punted into the new Congress, this would be one of the first decisions he could have to make early next year, how to get his conference on board, how to get a deal with a Senate Democrats. How to get Joe Biden on board, which is adding lots of urgency to the situation right now, to try to get a deal to the end of next September, worried about this in the fall, and not at the beginning of next year, which could potentially spark new fears of a government shutdown before they could deal with another major economic issue, raising the national debt ceiling, which is still uncertain how they would deal with that in the new Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thanks.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman French Hill of Arkansas.


He's on the House Financial Services Committee and he's co-chair of the American Hostage Task Force as well.

Congressman, we seem to go through this exercise in every year, maybe even every Christmas. The White House maintains they do not anticipate a government shutdown.

Do you think a compromise bill is likely to happen?

REP. FRENCH HILL (R-AR): Well, Jake, it's good to be with you. And, yes, I really think our appropriations committees deserve coal in their stockings this Christmas once again because Congress hasn't gotten their work done over the course of the last year so we're up against this funding deadline.

Look, House Republicans would soon tackle this next year in the new Congress and, so, I don't know how it's going to turn out. Essentially, you have Democrats negotiating with Democrats, led in the Senate by Pat Leahy and Richard Shelby, two members with great seniority who are both leaving Congress this year.

TAPPER: Many Republican lawmakers including your leader, Kevin McCarthy, would like to see this push into the next Congress when they're going to be in charge of the House. Others say that would only make it even more difficult to reach a deal.

Which would you prefer?

HILL: Well, you're right, it would be tough to do that. But I think it would be good to do it the new year when we have the Republican Congress. We would have the demonstration of the American people that we're prepared to lead by getting a budget through for 2023.

But, look, we have been spending money like drunken sailors in this country since the beginning of the pandemic. And Republicans want to go back to pre-pandemic spending debates. And the sooner we have that and get the right ship righted, the better.

We can't continue one and a half trillion dollar deficit for the next ten years, which is what the Biden budget projects.

TAPPER: Yeah. I know some drunken soldiers, drunken sailors, I think actually this is worse.

I want to get your reaction to comments from Senator Bernie Sanders about why in his view Republicans want to wait into the next Congress. Take a listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): What I worry about is Republican ethics are to hold hostage next year, if we don't get it on the bill passed to, hold hostage the government in order to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.


TAPPER: Is he right? HILL: Let's be clear, it was the Obama administration that agreed to

budget sequester. And it's the Democrats in the House and Senate that may wave that and not do the spending cuts that the Obama administration called for.

Look, Republicans are for stability in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. These are promises to the American people. The only way to reform those policies in my view is by bipartisan negotiation.

I don't think that's in the cards because I don't think we have a serious party to negotiate with, in Senate Democrats, or President Biden.

TAPPER: I want to ask about your work as co-chair of the American hostage task force because ever since the release of Brittney Griner, many of your full of fellow Republicans have been quite critical of that prisoner exchange, of Griner for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. Your Arkansas Republican colleague Bruce Westerman called the trade shameful. He said it was a shameful early Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin.

On the other hand, I've heard Republicans including Roger Carstens who is the former Trump official now Biden official whose head of negotiating these deals saying this was the best deal we could get. It was the only one on the table.

How do you see it?

HILL: Well, look, we set up this hostage task force in 2021. I did it with my friend Ted Deutch of Florida. He represented the Levinson family, another terrible situation and I had my own situation with the Kamalmaz family who we believe has been killed and incarcerated in Syria.

This is a way to help our members cope with the families. We have over 60 American families that are suffering, a family member being held abroad here at this Christmas.

So, my view is, look, Ambassador Carstens is doing a good job. These are never easy. I always celebrate with Americans coming home. But, Jake, look, I think we could do a better job and not rewarding these bad countries for taking American hostages.

Iran, Syria, Russia, China, all are holding Americans, we need to do a better job by not rewarding them so there's no incentive to take another American.

TAPPER: So, you're not the only one I've heard make that argument, critics of these deals say it could potentially incentivize governments to hold Americans hostage in order to get their own people back, or get something in exchange.

Now, earlier, this year I asked Trevor Reed, the former marine who was in Russian custody for three years. I asked him about that basic argument. Take a listen to what he told me.


TREVOR REED, AMERICAN FREED FROM RUSSIA: Those types of governments need no incentive to make Americans hostage. They're always going to do that. The United States went out and made the ethical decision to exchange prisoners to get their innocent Americans out of that country, even while exchanging them for someone who's more high- profile and valuable in the United States.


So, that's the United States, that's what sets them apart.


TAPPER: His basic argument is, we are more moral than these countries, Russia, China, Iran, et cetera. So, it's always going to be an unfortunate situation. But that's the price we pay because we care more about our people, as opposed to, you know, about Viktor Bout-like Bond villains.

HILL: Yeah, I share Trevor Reed's view. And look, while celebrating the Griner family, nobody is celebrated that will more than the Whelan family, even though they are heartbroken that Paul did not come out with Brittney Griner.

So, this is tough work. America does a good job of it. I am grateful that Ted Deutch who's leading Congress this year, and I were able to work together to create a situation where we have better communication with our families that have a loved one held abroad. And I continue to push our government to use every power they have to get our Americans home.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman French Hill, thank you, so much, sir. I appreciate it. Hope to have you on the show more in the new year.

HILL: You bet, Jake. Great to be with you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the beginnings of justice in a courtroom today, nearly 34 years after the Lockerbie bombing that brought down Pan Am Flight 103.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, a Libyan man accused of being involved in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 made his first court appearance in Washington, D.C. today.

As CNN's Nic Robertson reports, a suspect allegedly helped make the bomb that detonated over the Scottish town of Lockerbie which killed 270 people, nearly 190 of whom were Americans, 35 of them students from Syracuse University study abroad program.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Finally facing justice in a U.S. court almost 34 years since the he allegedly set the timer on the Lockerbie bomb that would kill 270 people.

Libyan intelligence agent Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir al-Marimi, was previously in Libyan custody. How he got to Washington, unclear. But a triumph for justice and the victims families.

VICTORIA CUMMOCK, HUSBAN KILLED IN A PAN AM FLIGHT 103 BOMBING: Today's arraignment of Mas'ud in a Washington court house is a significant first step to address these three decades long miscarriage of justice.

ROBERTSON: The majority of passengers on board the ill-fated Pan Am 103 were mostly Americans, 35 of them students at Syracuse University, returning home for Christmas.

It took years of painstaking detective work, reconstructing the shattered Boeing 747 jetliner, eventually discovering tiny bomb fragments and clothing, leading back to Malta, and ultimately to two other Libyan intelligence agents. One of them Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted and spent eight years in a Scottish jail, released in 2009, suffering from cancer.

When I met him two years later, he was still protesting his innocence. He died the following year, taking his secrets to the grave.

The FBI's breakthrough came nearly half a decade later, discovering Mas'ud's testimony given years earlier while in custody in Libya, on unrelated issues. A near 40-year veteran of Libya's intelligence service, he, admitted to working with al-Megrahi, said they were praised by Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi according to an FBI affidavit.

The case appearing to place him at the very time and location the bomb began its deadly journey seems strong.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The boarding pass that shows he went to Malta, his fingerprints on it, the fact that he left right after the bomb was placed, the fact that he was the intelligence service's main technical expert on bomb making.

ROBERTSON: A test now, will testimony gathered by Libyan law enforcement a decade ago be admissible in the U.S. court?


ROBERTSON (on camera): Yeah, I don't think anyone is expecting this case and his trial of bringing him to justice is going to be easy. It's been such a long road to get to this point. But -- and the charges, the destruction of aircraft and the issuing death, he faces the death penalty for that. He still needs to retain legal counsel.

So, next hearing, I believe, set for the 27th of December. This will be, like the whole investigation, a painstakingly slow process, Jake. TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

A major winter storm has buried parts of California Sierra Mountains. Take a look at this. Cars along Interstate 80 under mounds of snow. The conditions are expected nationwide, that's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our national lead. A coast to coast multi-day wintry mess is ahead. It will likely impact nearly every person in the United States this week, after snow slammed the Western U.S. over the weekend, drought stricken towns such as Soda Springs and California developing five feet in just 48 hours. Resorts in Lake Tahoe got much needed snow, though it probably was not the best time to write a ski lift.

Let's bring in CNN's Allison Chinchar, now the CNN weather center.

Allison, this storm, it's huge. What areas are you watching most closely?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, it's huge, it's also slow- moving. And that is an important factor with this, because as it takes its time crossing the country, it has the ability to doubt a tremendous amount of snow or rain in that long period of time.

So, right now, the storm is basically hovering right over areas of Colorado. It is going to slowly make its way across the rest of the country and throughout the rest of this week. But we've got kind of a tale of two seasons here. You've got the snow on the north and west side, and then the warm air on the south and east side.

So, where you've had that snow in place, it's a lot of snow. You already mentioned, soda springs getting out at five feet. Mt. Rose Ski Base topping out at 48 inches. Same thing with Twin Bridges. And again, a lot of those numbers are still climbing.

Here is a look at the system. You can really see the soil. Also, take in just how large and encompassing this particular storm is as it makes its way across the country.


Now, in a short term, a lot of these areas are looking at snow and even a little bit of ice mixing in. It's a lot of snow.

But you also notice this orange color here. That's blizzard warnings because not only do you have the snow falling down, but you have very gusty winds. Some of these places, 35, 45, even as much as 50 miles per hour, reducing that visibility down to practically nothing. So, you've got those blizzard conditions possible in several of these states.

But also, as the system makes its way to the east, it's going to pull in a lot of that warm and moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. And that's going to fuel the potential for some strong to severe thunderstorms. Not only today, but especially on Tuesday, and even a little bit more so on Wednesday across areas of the gulf coast and then by the latter half of the week, you start to see that system make its way into the mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast.

Now, in terms of the severe storms we talked about, this is going to be the main threat area for today. Cities like Wichita, Oklahoma City, stretching down towards Abilene as well as Wichita Falls. By tomorrow, notice it expands. It is a much larger area, and also gets a little bit stronger, especially across portions of central Louisiana. So, Shreveport, Alexandria, even New Orleans, Little Rock, areas of Dallas, all looking at the potential for some strong to severe thunderstorms.

The main threats will be tornadoes, damaging winds, hail, but also some flooding. Look at how much heavy rain is going to be across that area. You are talking 3 to 5 inches of rain. Keep in, mind for a lot of these, areas, they already had a lot of rain, Jake, the last few days. That ground is already saturated. It won't take much to cause additional flooding.

TAPPER: Allison Chinchar, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Though it may look like a winter wonderland outside for some, there is a little less holiday magic this year for millions of middle class families, when it comes to their budgets. They're forced to pare down wish list with inflation at a 40-year high.

As CNN's Gabe Cohen reports, some parents are trying to get creative so they can put at least a few gifts under the tree.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Hyattsville, Maryland, Anya Remy, an HR professional, is Christmas shopping for her children on a stricter budget than ever before.

ANYA REMY, H.R. PROFESSIONAL: It's few items for the kids this year, as opposed to getting them all of the things on their list.

COHEN: High inflation has made holiday budgeting a more complicated equation for middle class families. A November poll found 47 percent of Americans had less savings than a year ago. 42 percent plan to spend less on gifts this season. Only 8 percent plan to print spend more.

But up to now, the national retail federation says overall, holiday spending hasn't slowed. Families are just making sacrifices.

Jeanette Duvall (ph), a school bus driver is relying on coupons for the first time.

JEANETTE DUVALL, SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: We had the same quality of gifts they used to have.

JOE PARKER, PARENT: It's a little pinch.

COHEN: Joe Parker says he won't limit spending for his family, just for himself.

PARKER: They are good kids. They do what they're supposed to do, so I'm supposed to fulfill my part.

COHEN: In a new poll, 55 percent of Americans say rising prices have caused financial hardship for their households.

LINDSAY COOK, TEACHER: It doesn't take much.

COHEN: Lindsay cook is one of them. She's a teacher. Her husband, a school security officer. Higher prices have forced them to dip into savings the past few months.

COOK: I'm living paycheck to paycheck. So, there's no sort of wiggle room. And it's kind of scary.

COHEN: How is your holiday budget change?

COOK: How do you create a budget when you don't have any sort of extra income?

COHEN: She decided to spend no more than $100 for each of her two children.

I sense the stress in your voice.

COOK: I don't want to disappoint my kids. I don't want them to be upset. So, it's just kind of sad.

COHEN: Then there's parents like Karissa Warren. We met her back in March when she could barely afford gas with surging fuel prices.

KARISSA WARREN, PARENT: Because if we would fill our tanks, we wouldn't have enough cash for the rest the week to cover the rest of our bills for that week

COHEN: With gas prices down, and raises at work, she felt more secure heading into the holidays. And then came the news, like many Americans, she's getting laid off from her job.

What did that do to your budget?

WARREN: What budget, right? It just kind of blew everything up. Now, it's like anything extra is out of the question.

COHEN: She's already purchased a few gifts for three-year-old Leyla and says that's the end of her holiday shopping. And Leyla seems just fine with that.

You are still going to have a great Christmas.

WARREN: Right, yeah. I mean, that's at the end of the day, as long as she's happy, we're all happy. We won't have gifts on the tree this year. But she will, and so, that's all that matters.

COHEN: Gabe Cohen, CNN.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Gabe Cohen for that report.

Coming up next, we're going to hear from retired U.S. Army Green Beret who is now on a daring mission hunting for bombs in Ukraine.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Millions of dollars and decades later. Scientists say they figured out how to replicate the energy of the sun, creating what could be an unlimited supply of clean energy.

Plus, decked out in the halls. A Los Angeles City councilman's brawl with the men at a holiday party as a group of children watched.

And leading this hour, as winter settles over Ukraine, access to power is becoming one of the pressing concerns with Russia weaponizing winter, and taking down Ukrainian infrastructure. Ukraine state energy provided says the country suffering a, quote, significant power deficit due to these Russian attacks.

In Southeastern Ukraine, the exiled mayor of Melitopol told reporter that Russian troops were panicking, and redeploying in his city after a weekend of heavy shelling.