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President Donald Trump claims that all Haitians have AIDS and that Nigerians would never go back to Africa; President Trump is attacking FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, after it has reveal that McCabe plans to retire; Vice President Pence's adoration for Trump is catching some criticism; Kremlin calls President Trump's new national security strategy confrontational and imperialist; Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort has had a front row seat to history during year one of the Trump presidency; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 19:00   ET



[19:00:14] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday. I'm Pamela Brown in for Ana Cabrera.

Two major stories unfolding this hour. President Trump attacking deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe following news McCabe will retire in the coming months. Trump not mincing words about him on twitter. More on that in just moment.

But first, the White House denying a report in "The New York Times" that claims that during an oval office meeting back in June, the President became so enraged by the number of people receiving visas entering the United States, he began to unleash on specific immigrant groups saying that Haitians, they all have AIDS. And that Nigerians would never go back to their huts once they saw the United States. This report cited sources requesting anonymity.

Now CNN's Boris Sanchez is in West Palm Beach near the President's private resort where he is spending Christmas.

Boris, a busy day for White House officials, likely unexpectedly.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly. Almost certainly unexpectedly, Pam. This is the first full day for the President down here in South Florida. He is supposed to be touting a tax reform victory, but the White House almost immediately from getting here to Mar-a-Lago on the defensive following this bombshell "New York Times" report.

To put it in context, this meeting apparently took place in June between the President and some of his cabinet members. And it was specifically about immigration. And as the President was reading a document that was prepared for him by domestic policy advisor Steven Miller, he became enraged and started detailing some of the numbers of visas that were granted to people of specific nationalities.

The "New York Times" is reporting that specifically of Haitians, this was the exchange that took place. Quote "Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They all have AIDS," the President grumbled according to one person who attended a meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

The President then remarked about Nigerians and here is that exchange according to the "New York Times." Forty thousand had come from Nigeria. Mr. Trump added once they had seen the United States, they would never quote "go back to their huts in Africa." Recalled to officials who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the oval office.

Now we reached out to the White House for comment. And Sarah Sanders provided CNN with an almost word for word copy of the statement that was provided to the "New York Times." Here is that White House response.

She writes quote "General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nielsen and all other senior staff actually in the meeting deny these outrageous claims and it's both sad and telling the "New York times" would print the lies of their anonymous sources anyway."

So again, the White House going on a defensive at a moment where they are supposed to be taking their victory lap on tax reform. What was supposed to be an uneventful vacation for the President, now certainly the tone has changed after this bombshell report, Pam.

BROWN: And the President tweeting as well in the wake of the Andy McCabe retirement news.

All right, Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.

And now more on that to the news that FBI director Andrew McCabe plans to retire. President Trump has been on twitter today attacking him writing quote "how could FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, the man in-charge along with leaky James Comey of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails, be given $700,000 fir wide campaign by Clinton puppets during an investigation."

A second tweet. FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is racing his clock to retire with full benefits 90 days to go?

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is working his sources.

You know, Shimon, we have been told this for a while that Andy McCabe will likely retire in March. That he is not being forced out despite the insinuations today in the wake of this news that he is retiring, correct?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: No, that's exactly right, Pam. That's exactly what we have been told from everyone we have talked to. Every indication has been that he was going to retire once he became eligible, which is around March. Keep in mind that Andy McCabe continues to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the FBI. It's been that way since he has been the deputy director. The deputy director plays a key role at the FBI. Really managing the day-to-day duties, the day to day operations, the various investigations that they have ongoing.

The problem from Andy McCabe has been that he has sort of been the punching back for the President in many instances when the President tweets against the FBI because it was he who was sort of overseeing, right? He is in-charge of the day-to-day operations. He was overseeing the Hillary Clinton email and there was some controversy because Andy McCabe's wife was running for office for a state office in Virginia during the Democratic ticket. Received some donations from a Democratic Party. And the President has taken issue with that suggesting that in some ways, Andy McCabe was biased and in some way, also, politicized that investigation, Pam.

[19:05:33] BROWN: And you know, what's interesting here, Shimon, is that under FBI rules, McCabe could leave earlier, potentially, right?

PROKUPECZ: That's right. He could leave. Now, what we have also been told is there's this, you know, issue of terminal leave. That he has enough time that if he wanted to leave earlier, he could. Perhaps even by the end of this year. You know, on the next week or so. And we have been told that's not the plan. He has a pretty good relationship with the current FBI director. And also Chris Wray, the current FBI director, has wanted to keep some of these senior leaders on because he needs time to acquaint himself with the agency. What the day-to-day operation sort of some of long-term investigations that are ongoing.

So he and the current FBI director despite a lot that's been out there and some of the heat that Andrew McCabe has been taking, have had a pretty good working relationship.

BROWN: But the notion he could leave even earlier sort of flies in the face of the idea that he is being forced out.

PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right.

BROWN: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for breaking it down for us as always.


BROWN: And now, I want to bring in Evan McMullIn. He is a former CIA officer. He also ran for President as an independent in last year's election.

You say President Trump is acting like an authoritarian leader. That's a pretty serious charge. What makes you say that, Evan?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I don't think it's that serious of a charge considering his actions over the past year. I think it's become pretty straightforward.

Look, leaders around the world who seek to lead in an unaccountable way and seek not to be held accountable for their corruption or excess routinely go after law enforcement organizations in their countries. One way to do it is to immediately fire in mass purge those organization of their senior leadership as soon as you gain power. Another way to do it is sort of more gradually.

We haven't really seen that in the United States because most Presidents have honored our norms, which are that yes, you may do some personnel changes when you come to the White House in order to realign organizations around your policy goals and directives. But you are not firing or forcing into retirement or demoting people in law enforcement agencies who may be, who may hold you accountable otherwise. And that is what we are seeing here. And this is something that we see abroad among authoritarian leaders.

BROWN: So you know, you have the President doing this. But also, Evan, you are seeing Republicans, many Republicans on Capitol Hill following suit, criticizing members of the FBI, criticizing Robert Mueller, who of course is overseeing the Russia probe at this point. Does that surprise you? And by the way, the FBI is a predominantly Republican organization.

MCMULLIN: Well, look, I would say that it's more than anything, it's apolitical. I mean, that's what --

BROWN: It is apolitical, but the, most of the FBI agents I know lean conservative Republican. But they put their political biases aside. They are supposed to at the least to do what the work. To be you know, unbiased in their work.

MCMULLIN: I agree with that, Pamela. That's absolutely correct. But I would say most FBI offices and CIA officers consider themselves servants of the country before they think of themselves politically. They may be politically engage like any American citizen is. They have the right to do that. As Americans, they should be. But they don't tend to love politics in first place. And they think of themselves more as I said, servants to the country and public servants.

So this is how they think of themselves. I think President Trump is trying to overlay on them this, this partisan, this partisan framework that he tries to use, I think, to make every investigation into him a partisan won that is perceive d as having a partisan motive and every failure to investigate one of his political opponents to say Hillary Clinton, for example, has also politically motivated.

So you asked about Congress. Yes, I have been disappointed to see that. It is unfortunate. But this is part of what the President in his doing. He will attack somebody at the FBI. And then right wing media pundits will also carry that message. Then partisan members of the House for example, Republicans, not all are this way, but many of them unfortunately are now, will call people like McCabe up to the hill and then have them testify over and over and over. Ask them a range of partisan questions that are motivated by partisan interests. And ultimately, the effect that all of that has on these officers is to impede their ability to lead their organizations and to do their jobs.

Now McCabe may have a range of reasons why he's going to retire as "the Washington Post" says and CNN is reporting in 90 days, but we need to focus more on what President Trump is doing. And I believe that he is trying to delegitimize the investigation into him, into his family, into his administration, in order to make it difficult for these guys at the FBI to do their jobs and also, to delegitimize any results of their investigations into him.

[19:10:44] BROWN: And we should just, again, remind our viewers that Andy McCabe has been telling people for months that he was eligible to retire in March and that he would be doing so at that time.

I want to switch gears here and talk about something else. This week, President Trump's son, two other sitting members of Congress made similar claims that there was this conspiracy against Trump to stop him from being elected. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign. And people are, oh, what are you talking about, but it is. And you are seeing it. There is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America. They don't want to let the little guy have a voice.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: I think they were putting together a plan to stop Donald Trump from being the next President of the United States. I think it's amazing in spite of the fact that the Democrats were against him, the Republican establishment was against him. The mainstream press was against him. And now, I believe the FBI and justice department were against him.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, we have had this investigation about Russian collusion. Maybe we need an investigation about high ranking Obama officials colluding to try to prevent Trump from being President. That's more serious than even Watergate.


BROWN: You know, it is interesting with that argument though. Let's not forget that James Comey, the former director of the FBI didn't talk about the Trump campaign, Russia investigation until after the election. But when you hear talking points like that, from Republicans, does it appear to you that there is a coordinated effort between the White House and congressional Republicans to undermine the special counsel investigation?

MCMULLIN: Well, they are certainly on the same page. I don't know how much coordination is going on, but it wouldn't be unusual for the White House and members of the President's own party on the hill to coordinate on messaging. That happens all the time. So it's, you should expect it. We should expect it here.

But you know, I really take, you know, I really object to this, this language around a rigged democracy in America. That's, that's language that Putin uses. That's language that the Russians use to undermine our democracy. That's language that is used by politicians who want to, who themselves want to undermine our democracy.

The fact is that Russia attempted and I believe did succeed at to some degree, in influencing our election. If there was any interference, it came from them. Our institutions and elections are quite reputable, quite free and fair. They are not perfect, of course. But to call them rigged, I think is -- well, it does a tremendous disservice to the public interest. And I really am so disappointed when I see people like congressman Jordan of the House Republicans trying to politicize an investigation that is attempting to hold a President accountable who may have committed crimes that result in depriving the American people from being able to choose their own leaders without foreign influence. That's what at stake here.

And for them to play politics with this and to impugn the reputations of people at the bureau especially who are working overtime to ensure our freedom here, it's just disappointing.

BROWN: But just to be fair, I mean, it's not just Republicans playing politics with this investigation. Democrats have also come out and made a big fuss over the firing of Robert Mueller, even though the White House has said there's no consideration. Do you see it on both sides of the aisle? That both sides are playing politics here.

MCMULLIN: No. Look, Democrats are doing their job by standing up to the firing of Jim Comey. Now they may have partisan reasons to do that, but guess what, that's part of our system is that competition. The problem is when your partisanship overwhelms your commitment to the country and your commitment to and your integrity, that's the problem.

If -- Democrats are motivated I believe out of partisan interests, yes, but also patriotism and commitment to this country. Right now, to hold Trump and hold this administration accountable. Now would they do the same if the shoe was, were on the other foot? You know, I hope they would. I don't know. But right now, you know, part of our system. There is partisan competition, part of that is healthy. But if you are going to let that partisanship overwhelm your commitment to the country, which is I think what we see by many Republicans in Congress now, that's when you have gone too far. And that is what I see. That's the problem.

[19:15:09] BROWN: OK. Evan McMullin, thank you so much for coming on the show.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

BROWN: And coming up, our political panel weighs in on Trump's twitter attacks on McCabe.

Plus, President Trump has a really big fan and his name is Mike Pence. Why the vice President's praise of his boss this week is raising eyebrows.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love for this country and the people of this country.


BROWN: And later, the powerful place at the center of Trump world, not the White House, Mar-a-Lago in Florida.


[19:19:51] BROWN: And we are continuing to follow two major story this hour.

The first, that President Trump became enraged about immigration during an oval office meeting this summer and began inflammatory remarks about immigrants. This is according to the "New York Times." The President allegedly said that Haitian immigrants quote "all have AIDS." He then said Nigerian immigrants wouldn't quote "go back to hair huts after they saw America." Now the White House denies all of this.

And now the second story, that President Trump is attacking FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, after it has reveal that McCabe plans to retire.

With me now to discuss, Washington bureau chief of the "Toronto star," Daniel Dale, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times" Lynn Sweet and CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali.

Quite the lineup. Thank you guys for being here with me.

I want to talk first about this tweet. The President tweeted this earlier today about McCabe saying how can FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, the man in-charge, along with leaky James Comey of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation, including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails be given $700,000 for white's campaign by Clinton puppets during an investigation.

So Daniel, let's just start with the fact check here. How accurate is this tweet attacking the deputy director?

[19:21:08] DANIEL DALE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TORONTO STAR: It's not accurate. It's slightly more accurate than his usual words about this situation, but still not accurate. What happened was Andrew McCabe's wife, Jill, ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the state legislature in Virginia. And Governor Terry McAuliffe, his political allies and a Virginia Democratic Party made donations to her campaign, which is standard.

So Andrew McCabe never got money himself. It was his wife's campaign. There was no evidence that Hillary Clinton or her team even knew these donations were happening and there's no evidence of impropriety whatsoever. So President Trump has consistently misstated this case to suggest something nefarious when there is nothing.

BROWN: Well, and we should note that Andy McCabe, according to our sources, has long been planning to retire when he was eligible in March. That there is no indication he is being forced out. But Lynn, just this week, multiple sources from both parties tell CNN

that the deputy director McCabe has corroborated testimony from fired FBI director James Comey, where Comey claimed Trump asked for loyalty, for his loyalty. What are the optics of the President attacking McCabe in the wake of that testimony?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Optics are not good, but the optics have not been good when it comes to President Trump and how he has been trying to undermine and delegitimize and destroy the credibility of the leadership of the FBI when it suits him. If McCabe indeed retire, it will still not change what he will testify or his need to testify if the investigators want to them or give information to them. So that won't change what he knows if Mueller or the congressional committees want to know what happened.

So by publicly undermining the top law enforcement officials in the country, President Trump is not only being hypocritical, which is not news, but he is also conflating as we just discussed, even a fact situation, where he wants to criticize the leadership of the FBI.

BROWN: And he is not only criticizing the leadership, but he is also, Tim, repeatedly criticized the Russia investigation himself. And you go back, you look to the President Nixon, calling the Watergate investigation a witch hunt. You know, you look at President Clinton divide in ways to discredit Ken Starr. How is what President Trump doing any different from what we have seen from past Presidents?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, sometimes, when past presidents do something, that's a bad thing. And if he is doing something that past presidents have done, it's a bad thing. When Richard Nixon tried to undermine the investigation against him, most of the time by the way, he and his administration did it behind the scenes. He did -- he was not as public in attacking the investigation as President Trump is now. In fact, for the longest time, the Nixon administration pretended that it was actually helping the investigation. It was only when the investigation that started to get close and there was an issue of whether the President would turn over his tapes, that suddenly the President was more public about it.

So what the real problem here is the following. It's what we're teaching our children which is that there are no objective professionals in our intelligence and law enforcement communities. That's what the President is doing. What the President is doing is basically saying if you don't agree with me, if you don't support me, you are lying and you are probably a democratic who supports Hillary. And he is undermining the professionalism of people he anticipate will say something that is not kind to him, and that's a problem.

You know, presidents often say something like this. I'm going to let them do their job. Look back at presidents, Republicans and Democratic presidents, they will say let the process work itself through. We don't hear from President Trump because he doesn't believe in the process. He doesn't respect the process. And that is a terrible signal to be sending to the next generation of Americans.

[19:25:13] BROWN: And we see way he attacks the media as well, the media trying to hold the administration accountable when it makes sense.

Daniel, I want to go to this "New York Times" reporting. The paper claiming that during an oval office meeting this summer, President Trump became enraged over immigrants saying Haitian immigrants quote "all have AIDS" and that Nigerian immigrants wouldn't quote "go back to their huts."

We should point out the White House has fiercely denied this, citing officials on the record denying this. That "The New York Times" report is citing enormous sources with this, but are you surprised by these allegations considering Trump launched his campaign calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers?

DALE: Yes. I mean, he launched his Republican political career with a racist line that Barack Obama was not born in this country.

President Trump has a long history of public racism. He was openly Islamophobic during the campaign. At the most generous, he was raised baiting towards African-Americans and Hispanics during the campaign.

So yes, we need to note the White House's denial. But they have denied a whole bunch of things that have been entirely true. And I don't think anyone who has watched President Trump and the way he has spoken about race as being a racists openly during his political Presidential campaign. I don't think anyone can be too surprised by this latest story.

BROWN: And you know, in this article, Lynn, it talks about how the President has long held these views of immigration. Didn't just start when he joined politics. But you have noticed a shift over the course of the year in terms of the White House's, the way it handled immigration issues and policy. I mean, you look back almost a year ago to the travel ban, it was pure chaos. And there's really been this evolution that the article touches on in terms of how the White House approaches immigration issues.

SWEET: Well, that's separate. That may be the governance got a little more experienced as the months went on. I think it is different than President Trump's core race base release about who should come into the country. That then propels the execution of these policies which now have (INAUDIBLE) by court cases in multiple courts throughout the nation. And I think that's some of what is at issue here, too.

So the motivation behind what is driving this is the anti-immigrant race based. And a lot of this decisions that the President is making that he then wants to have executed sometimes well and sometimes not as that article noted.

BROWN: And what is your take, Tim?

NAFTALI: Well, historically, White Houses have tried really hard to filter out the bias and prejudices of the occupant of oval office. Because we have had Presidents who have said very bad things about people before. About groups and classes and communities in our society. And it's wrong. They should not have done it. White House typically try to make sure the public doesn't hear that.

We heard it with Richard Nixon because of the tapes, and then we heard what he thought of African-Americans and what he thought of Jews and what not. We learned about some of the things that Harry Truman said when he is, you know, when his diaries were published.

You know, you learn about the imperfections and limitations of a President, usually historically, later. It's a terrible thing. If prejudice is what motivated this President's approach to immigration, it's going to be hard to figure this out. If it's true. Well, partly, people could say it.

BROWN: Look, prejudices are abound. I mean, everyone in some --

NAFTALI: But what we expect from a great President, from a good President, is that they appeal to our better angels. Everybody is flawed. Everybody is a sinner. But the point is, we want to be better and being better is trying to reject whatever prejudice you brought in because of your background and your history. And what worries me is that language is really what he said and it's really what's motivated this peculiar approach to immigration. And look what he did with the Haitians when he decided to drop them as a protected group in 2019. Why? For what reason? But perhaps we know now.

His approach to the world, his dislike of people from a country, we can understand why he wouldn't like Islamists to this country. Of course we don't want that. We want to be free and safe, but why people, just because of they come from a certain country. That's the kind of thinking that's really troubling and I hope the article is wrong.

BROWN: Muslim is like extremists, right?

NAFTALI: Well, it makes up -- by Islamists, I mean extremists. That's what's troubling here. If he is motivated by prejudice.

BROWN: OK, I'm so sorry. We have to wrap up, guys. It was a really important, fulfilling discussion. Thank you so much.

SWEET: Thank you.

DALE: Thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

[19:30:04] BROWN: And coming up on this Saturday after a gushy speech to the President and some overseas presidential promotion, vice President Pence's adoration for Trump is catching some criticism. That's next in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:34:43] BROWN: A compliment every 12 seconds for three minutes straight. That was the report from "the Washington Post" after vice President Mike Pence lavished praise on President Trump during a cabinet meeting. Now in response, trolled the VP, there's a word for person who would praise someone every 12 seconds with a link to the word Sycophant. Now Sycophant is defined as a self-seeking, fawning parasite.

CNN correspondent Randi Kaye takes a look at the relationship between the commander in-chief and his second in command.


[19:35:17] PENCE: You know, he is a man known for a large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma and so I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was vice President Mike Pence during the campaign. Boosting up his boss while playing the role of self-deprecating side kick. All these months later, Pence is still what some have called a permanent path on the back.

PENCE: I will look back and say it was President Donald Trump who led a tremendous renewal of the American spirit.

KAYE: There are a lot of good jobs and way to goes. But there's also a lot of shoulder talk.

PENCE: President Trump's got broad shoulders and a big heart.

Donald Trump showed you can have broad shoulders.

Broad shoulders and a big hug.

The broad shouldered leadership of Donald Trump.

KAYE: CNN's Dana Bash asked Pence to explain.


PENCE: I just -- I think Donald Trump really embodies the American spirit. I mean, he is strong. He is freedom loving. He is independent minded. He is willing to fight r for what he believes in.

BASH: So you are not referencing his masculinity there.

PENCE: Not a bit.

KAYE: Even when he was grilled during a trip to Asia about policy, it always came back to the boss.

PENCE: As the President says, it's time for them to behave.

The policy President Trump has articulated, the President's vision for this, is very straightforward.

KAYE: Asked to say a few words in a cabinet meeting, the praise-o- meter turned up to a level.

PENCE: Congratulations and thank you. Thank you for seeing through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country. You have restored American credibility on the world stage. I'm deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here.

KAYE: It didn't go over well on twitter. This Mike Pence prayer of thanks to Trump is excruciatingly stomach turningly uncomfortable to watch. Another tweet read Mike Pence praised Donald Trump 14 times in three minutes during Wednesday's cabinet meeting. That's once every 12.5 seconds. And this. Did the licking of his shoes and kissing the ring on his finger happen before or after the speech? Camera seems to have missed that.

Showered with compliments, Donald Trump is feeling the love and that seems to suit the both of them just fine.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BROWN: And coming back on this Saturday, Putin pushes back. The Kremlin calls President Trump's new national security strategy confrontational and imperialist. Is the bromance over between President Trump and Russia's president Putin?

We will be back.


[19:42:26] BROWN: Well there is already swift condemnation from Russia after the U.S. announced it will supply anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. That as the country battles pro-Russian separatists on its eastern border. Russia's deputy foreign minister said the deal quote "crossed the line" and warned it will create more bloodshed.

Now this new tension comes just days after Russia issued a blistering rebuke of President Trump's new national security strategy calling it confrontational and anti-Russian.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst and retired CIA chief of Russia operation Steve Hall.

Steve, thanks for coming on. First question, what does all this mean for U.S. Russia relations? Is the so-called bromance between Trump and Putin breaking apart?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Pamela, it's always a very complicated relationship to state the obvious. You know, you had mentioned earlier the issue of the defensive weapons to Ukraine. And it's a great microcosm to sort of look at the relationship and how complex it can be.

I recall prior to my retirement from CIA in 2015, a policy discussion going on downtown at the White House as to how to handle this situation. And the Obama administration, as we know, decided that they were not going to provide these weapons because they were concerned that there would, you know, and even strong reaction on the part of the Russians in Ukraine. Sanctions hadn't yet really had a chance to work. And so the decision at that particular time was not to go ahead to provide these weapons.

Now, things have changed. There's a lot of sanctions. There's been a lot of condemnation. And really, that hasn't changed Russia's position whatsoever. And so the new administration is saying look, now perhaps it's time to be more aggressive and provide these weapons. But every decision that has made has to be, you know, has to take into account what Vladimir Putin could do in a place like Ukraine and that's one of the key things. So I think it's probably a good idea now that, you know, years have gone by and Russia clearly isn't changing its tone based on the Ukraine at the very least.

BROWN: You know, it is interesting because Putin has privately been complimentary of the President on phone calls. Here's what the former director of national intelligence James Clapper had to say about that.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I think this past weekend is an example of what a great case officer Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset. And that is what he is doing with the present.


BROWN: So do you agree? Is Russia handling Trump as an asset?

HALL: I think I look at it a little differently. I think that the Jim Clapper is making a very important point here though. And the point is that Vladimir Putin understands better than most how to spot people's motivation, how to spot people's vulnerabilities, which is sort of one of the basis of the human intelligence endeavor as we know it. And he has done a very successful job of identifying those elements of Trump, which he can leverage and manipulate.

And you know, Trump wears it his sleeve. He tweets every day what his thoughts are. And so it's not that difficult for somebody, you know, who understands people and was been trained to manipulate people to attempt to do this with Donald Trump.

[19:45:41] BROWN: Yes. And you do wonder, you know, we had a guest on earlier who was saying that every time Trump tweets for example about his FBI deputy director, saying negative things, Russia is sitting back and he is enjoying all of this.

So really interesting stuff. Steve Hall, thank you so much for that.

HALL: Sure.

BROWN: Well, coming up, the Trump resort, it is always at the news at the center of it. How Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort has had a front row seat to history during year one of the Trump presidency.

We will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:50:37] BROWN: President Trump is at Mar-a-Lago tonight spending the Christmas holiday with his family. The golf club also dubbed the winter White House has famously been front and center for key moments during Trump's first year in office.

Here is Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once every three days, that is almost how often President Trump has stopped by his privately owned property since taking office, resorts, hotels and golf courses from Hawaii to the east coast.

This holiday weekend, the getaway spot is south Florida where a cheering crowd greeted him on the way to his Mar-a-Lago club just hours after he signed the Republican tax bill.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.

FOREMAN: This is the tenth visit to the place he has dubbed the winter White House. And a good deal of business has unfolded there.

TRUMP: We have a great person right now in Judge Gorsuch.

FOREMAN: The President has used Mar-a-Lago trips to push his Supreme Court pick to hose foreign dignitaries to unleash military forces.

TRUMP: Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

FOREMAN: When North Korea launched an unexpected missile, he and the Japanese prime minister discussed it on a terrace as visitors snapped photos, making joint statements inside moments later.

TRUMP: The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.

FOREMAN: Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's response, there is no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.

But the biggest question about the business of Mar-a-Lago concerns what Trump and his team knew in private about dealings with Russia when they gathered at the resort during Trump's transition to power. Investigators say during a few pivotal days, then Trump's security advisor Michael Flynn was talking to a Russian ambassador, even as President Obama was preparing to sanction Russia. This is what authorities say Flynn lied about to the FBI.


BROWN: And that was Tom Foreman. Our thanks to him for the reporting.

Coming up, looking for a last-minute Christmas gift? How about Trumpy bear?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show your patriotism and proudly display Trumpy on flag day.



[19:57:39] BROWN: Well, tonight the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. A version of President Trump that you can snuggle up with.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNIE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prepare to be blown away by this Christmas gift, just by the fact that it exists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind whispered throughout forest, I come with the Trumpet sounds. Introducing the original Trumpy bear.

MOOS: Is this really a thing, reads the typical comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just find the secret zipper and pull out the flag blanket.

MOOS: This looks like a bad SNL skit, read another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody knows Trumpy bear loves to go to the golf course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I ride with Trumpy bear, he makes my golf game great again. Thank you, Trumpy bear.

MOOS: Is this crap for real, read a third?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply style his trademark here.

MOOS: You bet you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Order now for two payments of $19.95.

MOOS: I can personally vouch for Trumpy bear. He exists. We have one.

A company that specializes in seen on TV ads is doing the marketing. For the woman who created Trumpy bear, nothing partisan, the VP says. We would like everyone to buy it, meaning Trump lovers and haters.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: Trumpy bear is proudly made in America. I'm kidding. It's made in China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most fearless bear everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. He will kick Winnie the Pooh's ass.

MOOS: Instantly recognizable with its red ties and its comb-able hair, no wonder critics are making small hand jokes. I'm disappointed with the size of its paws.

One thing Trumpy bear cannot do is tweet. No fingers. Hey, if President Teddy Roosevelt can inspire teddy bears, why can't Trump inspire Trumpy bears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud to have Trumpy bear ride by my side.

MOOS: Its makers plan being some design changes in the New Year, but it will still come with --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special certificate of authenticity.

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

TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

MOOS: Jeannie Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless Trumpy bear.

MOOS: New York.


BROWN: I just -- I don't even know how to respond to that.

All right. Well, that does it for me. Thank you so much for spending a part of your Saturday with me. I'm Pamela Brown.

Up next, it's back-to-back episode of the CNN series" The 70s."

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.