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President Zelenskyy Expresses Gratitude For American Support; Will House Republicans Pull Back On Aid To Ukraine? Report: IRS Failed To Audit Trump; "Bomb Cyclone" To Bring Blizzard Conditions To Parts Of U.S. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired December 21, 2022 - 23:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, history, a moment that will be the basis of comparisons for generations. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing Congress, the U.S. Congress, in person, and thanking the American people for standing with his country against Russia's brutal aggression, and making the case for continued support.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will be a turning point, I know it, the point when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand for their values.

Your support is crucial, not just to stand in such fight, but to get to the turning point, to win on the battlefield. We have artillery, yes, thank you. We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really.



BERMAN: So tonight, as we see on the right, there was Zelenskyy surrounded by U.S. lawmakers. Yesterday, just yesterday, on the left, he was surrounded by Ukrainian troops on the front lines in Bakhmut, which he talked about extensively tonight. He is now on his way back to Ukraine.

I want to bring in CNN military analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, and counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. It is interesting, Phil, as a counterterrorism analyst, Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russia terrorist, basically called Putin a terrorist tonight. If you are Vladimir Putin, how do you see this moment?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there is a simple perspective, which is that there is an alliance, western alliance, the Americans and the Europeans, that are (INAUDIBLE) against the weakened Russia. I think there is a separate story there -- here, though, John, and that is one of the reasons that I think Zelenskyy came to Washington, and that is if you are Putin, you are looking at, going into 2023, is there any sign of weakness from the west? Why would Zelenskyy show up in the United States?

The Republican leader of the Congress talks about, there is no blank check for Ukraine. There are reports out of -- journalistic reports out of the U.K. saying the U.K. has to tell Biden, you got to buck up here. There are reports out of the White House and questions about how committed Biden is to this campaign.

I think at one level, Putin has got to look at this and think about the unity among the west. In another level, he might say, the reason Zelenskyy had to go is that there is weakness in the west and there is uncertainty about whether the Americans are committed to this, John.

BERMAN: Interesting perspective. So, glass half full, glass half empty, depending how you look at it.

MUDD: Yes.

BERMAN: Colonel, you're standing at the map, the map of Ukraine, which where the troops have been and where the fighting has been has changed some over the last 10 months. Give us a perspective on the battlefield as it stands now.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL: Sure, John. Well, good evening. This is one of the key elements here that really makes a difference because of all these areas right here, at one point in time, were actually occupied by Russian troops. But now, what we are seeing is the Russian troops are only active in these areas right here that I have circled on the big map of Ukraine.

Let's go into some detail here and take a look at what is going on in the eastern part, first of all. The town of Bakhmut, this town right here, is the one where there is a big battle that is going on right now. It has been raging, really, for several months now.


This is kind of where the Russians are putting a lot of their military might into this area. It is not as strategically important as, say, the towns of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Izyum. The Ukrainians have retaken this area right here. But the Russians are putting up a big fight here, but the Ukrainians are holding their own in this particular area.

Now, let's move to the Kharkiv region, the northeast part of the area -- of the country. Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, all of this area used to be controlled by the Russians, the Ukrainians have taken this over. Now, they are kind of stopped at this line right here, but they still have the momentum to move a bit forward if they choose to do so and if they have the right kind of weaponry to do that. And then finally, down in the Kherson area, this is in the southern part of the country, Kherson was the city that was just liberated by the Ukrainians. The Russians are on the other side of the Dnipro River, on the east bank of this river. They still control all this area. They still have this land bridge that connects Russia with Crimea, and the Russians want to keep this.

But what the Ukrainians are going to do is they are going to try to potentially come down through here and go to areas like (INAUDIBLE), which is one of the areas that could be actually one of the big areas that they could potentially take over down here.

The one key thing to watch out for is what is happening up here in Belarus. Putin has been to Belarus and visited President Lukashenko of Belarus. There may be something brewing here where there is an alliance or something more that is going on that is even further baked into the Russian war strategy, but that is exactly how this particular area is playing out. This static line right here may very well change once things frees up.

BERMAN: Phil Mudd, you talked some about the international will to support Ukraine and whether or not that might be wavering or strengthening with Zelenskyy here in the United States tonight. What about the will to fight inside Russia? How much does Vladimir Putin have to worry about his own people? And from an intelligence perspective, how can the U.S. assess how much backing Putin still has?

MUDD: Well, if you wanted to ask the toughest question in a book, that is the question. When we went into this war, John, you would have assessed this as a capabilities question. When you think about intelligence, there are two pieces typically, capabilities and intent. Capabilities, meaning how many divisions do the Russians have, how many airplanes, how many infantries?

You would have said, as I said back then, I thought the Russians will control (ph) the Ukrainians after a while. What we've learned over the past, just less than a year, is this is not just a capability question, this is a will question. The question of will. The Ukrainians have beaten the Russians time and time again.

I think going into 2023, if you go into the spring of this year and the Russians don't make major or significant gains or at least hold their games, going into 2023 -- the spring of 2023, if the Ukrainians keep making gains, I got to really look at a lot of what we were saying a year ago and asking whether the Ukrainians might actually win this one. I can't believe that, but it is a game of will, not just capability, John.

BERMAN: And, Cedric Leighton, to you, one of the major discussion points of this entire trip, the Patriot missile, the Patriot missile battery the U.S. has promised to provide to Ukraine. Talk to us about what that can do, how that can, if it can, change things. And also, how easy or hard it will be for the Ukrainians actually to operate this?

LEIGHTON: So, the Ukrainians, John, are going to need a bit of training to actually operate the system. It is a fairly complex system and what it basically does is it takes the upper part of the air defense structure, in other words the higher altitude targets, and it can go from medium to high altitude very well. Its main target, ballistic missiles.

This is what the system is designed to go against. It takes about six months to train the average operator on this for the U.S. Army. The Ukrainians might be able to do it a little bit quicker if they have the right skill set and if they have people with a bit of experience in here. But it is a complementary system. It is not a (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Colonel Cedric Leighton, Phil Mudd, thanks to both of you. It is so great to see both of you. Have a wonderful holiday, if I don't see you again.

LEIGHTON: You too, John.

BERMAN: All right, I want to bring in the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer. Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, what do you think he wanted to get tonight, and did he get it?

STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Yeah, I believe that President Zelenskyy wanted to do three things. One, to express gratitude not just to President Biden but also to the American Congress, and more broadly in that speech we saw, the American people.

Second, he wanted to make clear that this fight is not just about Ukraine. It is bigger things, it is about a rule-based international order.


The west has a lot of at stake in this fight and how it turns out. And I think the third message should not be a surprise. What Ukraine has survived on the last 10 months is the tenacity, skill, and courage of the Ukrainian military personnel, but they have been helped by a lot of tools provided by the west.

And so, his message both to Congress but I'm sure also to President Biden in their private discussion was, they need -- they want more weapons so that they can continue the gains (ph) in the last few months and continue to push the Russian military back.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting, he made the case this is not just a Ukrainian issue, it is a global issue. This is not just a momentary problem, it is a generational problem. Let's listen a little bit to what he said on that point.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This guy has in his -- to his very soul is who he says he is. It is clear who he is. He is willing to give his life for his country and all the folks who are with -- came with him today. And so I think it's -- he -- ZELENSKYY (through translator): The longer the war lasts, the longer this aggression lasts. There will be more parents who live for the sake of vengeance or revenge.


BERMAN: So, more parents who will live for the sake of vengeance or revenge. This could last, he is saying. Why is that important?

PIFER: Well, I think the message he is trying to say is that the longer this goes on, the harder it could be. And what he would like would be, I think, American support and support from other western countries so that Ukraine can build on the successes they have had in September and taking back all of Kharkiv region, and in November, taking back the western part of Kherson region, continue that military success because that is the kind of thing that is going to force the Kremlin to reconsider its course and perhaps get serious about a negotiation.

BERMAN: Let's talk about negotiation because Zelenskyy, in his speech, he did have words about a possible peace conference, that he's willing to talk about this. But it feels or felt like it came with a big qualifier. It would have to be under certain terms. What would be the terms, do you think, that Zelenskyy would be willing to discuss or negotiate?

PIFER: Yeah, well, he has been very clear. He wants all of Ukraine's territory back, including the Peninsula of Crimea. He wants reparations to repair the hundreds of billions of dollars of damage that this Russian military operation has done to Ukraine. He wants Russians held accountable for the war crimes and atrocities that have been committed.

I'm not sure at the end of the day he can get all of that, which is why I don't believe the west and I don't think the Biden administration is pushing him towards a negotiation. That is going to be a decision that he has to make because if there is a serious negotiation, first of all, there has to be some sign from Moscow, which you haven't seen in 10 months, that they are prepared to negotiate in a serious way.

But then for Zelenskyy, he has to be prepared to make some perhaps politically delicate decisions if there are some areas that he needs to compromise on.

BERMAN: Yeah, and that is what so far -- It is so hard to imagine in some ways because of how much the Ukrainian people have suffered, how much they've been through. He has got an internal domestic issue here, which is that there aren't any Ukrainians who want him to give anything up right now.

PIFER: That is exactly right. If you go back to early March, the Ukrainians were making offers to accept neutrality and accept some other things that really went (INAUDIBLE) towards the Russian position, and the Russians ignored it. What has happened since March is the Ukrainians have seen what happened in towns like Bucha and Irpin and Borodyanka where they saw the torture chambers, mass graves, they heard the stories of some executions, really grotesque things like Ukrainian children being taken back to Russia for adoption by Russian parents. They saw the three-month assault by the Russian military on Mariupol, which leveled a good part of the city.

And so, the attitude of the Ukrainians and also the attitude of President Zelenskyy himself, I believe, have hardened. There was a poll in October and it said 86% of Ukrainians want to keep fighting and they have pause negotiations. So, there are real limits. Even if President Zelenskyy wanted to get into a negotiation, there is real question of how far he could go.

BERMAN: So, what changes things?

PIFER: What changes things, well, again, I would hope that the Ukrainian military can continue the military success. Ideally, they could drive the Russians out or back to the line on February 23. But if they can't do that, at least begin to shake the Kremlin up to -- get the Kremlin to a point where it begins to search for a way out of this. It really is a blunder by Putin.

Russia will diminish politically, economically, militarily. But when do we reach that point? It could take months. It could be a long fight.


BERMAN: I got to --

PIFER: We need to help the Ukraine with equipment.

BERMAN: I got to let you go here. I got to let you go, ambassador. But quickly, does Vladimir Putin, does it cost him fear? Does he worry when he sees Zelenskyy standing before the U.S. Congress?

PIFER: I think Vladimir Putin, when he looks at the film of this, he is going to see President Biden fully backing President Zelenskyy and a lot of American congressional support. And again, what Putin has been hoping to do is undermine western support for Ukraine. What this did was solidify that support between the United States and Ukraine.

BERMAN: Ambassador, great to have you on tonight. Thank you so much.

PIFER: Thank you.

BERMAN: President Zelenskyy did receive a warm, rousing bipartisan reception in Congress tonight, telling lawmakers that U.S. aid to Ukraine is an investment in global security and democracy. But will Republicans pull back on that when they take control of the House in a few weeks? We will talk about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Tonight, we saw a rare moment of unity on Capitol Hill, standing ovation for the leader of Ukraine as he told Congress that his country has beaten the odds against Russia and appealed for continued help to win the war.


ZELENSKYY: Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.


You can speed up our victory.


BERMAN: Congress is expected to vote this week on a spending package that includes an additional $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine. But what is most uncertain is future assistance with Republicans about to take over control of the House. Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to be speaker, said again tonight that he will never support a blank check for Ukraine. However, no one has actually asked for a blank check for Ukraine.

Here now, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Nayyera Haq, former White House senior director of Cabinet Affairs, and Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief of "The Hill."

Bob, let me start with you quickly. The Washington that Zelenskyy arrived in today, in terms of support for Ukraine, what was that in the Washington he left tonight, in terms of support for Ukraine, did it change?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HILL: John, I think it did. I mean, I think it was a very impressive speech. I think House Republicans, in particular, have to be concerned because they are not unified on Ukraine.

A lot of House Republicans do support Ukraine, but there is a big difference between what Mitch McConnell is saying in the Senate on Ukraine, he is a big backer of Ukraine aid, and what he said to Kevin McCarthy.

Of course, Kevin McCarthy has got to first focus on being speaker, but at the same time, their message is very different than Democrats. Their message is no blank check and the message from the president as well as the treasury secretary is that we are going to do this as long as it takes because the stakes are so high.

So, I think that Ukraine aid in the new year, their stock is up.

BERMAN: Stock is up. Scott Jennings, Bob was just talking about some in the House who are not as supportive of aid to Ukraine, as maybe Republicans are in the Senate. Matt Gaetz, who did go, to his credit, did go to the speech tonight, he wrote this. He goes, he went to the speech out of respect, not agreement. And when asked if there is anything in the speech that he found compelling or that he agreed with, he said, I love the fashion choices.

So, what do you make of where certain House members are on this, Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, well, certainly, House members are about the least serious people that you can possibly consult on waiting (ph) topics. That is one of them. And so, that is what I think about him.

I think a distinct minority of Republicans have decided that supporting Vladimir Putin is a good way to own the libs. That's a minority of the party. The majority of the party understands that it is not a great idea to let a murderous dictator run wild through Europe, and so they have decided to support our Ukrainian allies.

Think about the amazing deal the American people are getting here. We are fighting the Russians. We are defeating the Russians. And now the single American soldier is in harm's way. We are helping people who want to fight the Russians. This is a good deal for the American people.

I do think that that is the majority position of the Republican Party. I do think that accountability and transparency is vital. That is why McCarthy says that he does not want a blank check. There is going to have to be some (INAUDIBLE) under the hood here. Where all this money gone? Has any of it wasted, et cetera, et cetera? That's perfectly fine.

But the issue here is not letting Putin get away from this. The Ukrainians are on the verge of winning and it's largely because of us, not anybody else, but because of us. We've got to keep it that way.

BERMAN: Nayyera, how central do you feel that this White House wants to put Ukraine in terms of having (INAUDIBLE) on the political agenda starting in January?

NAYYERA HAQ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: Biden addressed the issue of democracy in his closing remarks to the midterm election. He made America's democracy a political issue, democracy on the world stage a political issue. And effectively, if you defend democracy overseas, this is what it looks like without putting any U.S. troops in harm's way.

The challenge we are seeing is that the same people in Congress, who did not want to investigate the attack on our Capitol, also suddenly now want to investigate spending money for Ukraine. To be clear, John, the Congress, before any money gets sent out, Congress gets 15 days- notice from the Pentagon on exactly where that money is going and what it is going for.

So, the accountability is there. Anybody can google it on House Appropriations Committee. You just have to be willing to read and be transparent about what you are understanding about this war. It is ultimately the existential crisis of the moment. What does it look like for the United States to stand up for democracy on the world stage?

BERMAN: You know, Bob, Cynthia Lummis, the senator from Wyoming, Republican senator from Wyoming, said something interesting after the speech. She said it was wise for Zelenskyy to thank American families. What do you think of that message, Bob?

CUSACK: Oh, I think he knows politics very well. I think Zelenskyy is going to be smart. He knows that House Republicans are going to be controlling that chamber next year.


I imagine he and his people are going to be in contact with him in 2023. I do think it was very smart, his speech, just saying, hey, this is not charity, this is an investment, thanking American families.

It's not like we are sending trillions of dollars. Yes, we do have a spending problem, Medicare and social security need to be shored up financially, but at the same time, you have to think of history. Ten years from now, I think this investment is going to be a good one and most members of Congress do think that.

BERMAN: Scott, what do you make of the theater of tonight? I'm not using that term at all pejoratively because I think it can be very effective. And I think Zelenskyy made it very effective, walking into the chamber in his fatigues, speaking in English to the Congress, talking about Christmas, how Ukrainians will spend Christmas in a way that had to make those members of Congress think about how they will be spending Christmas in just a few moments.

JENNINGS: I think the theater was important tonight because it was a reminder that this is not some faraway problem that if we choose to ignore it, it will just, you know, do whatever happens and it has no impact on the United States.

Coming to the Congress, coming from the battlefield, essentially, to the Congress to say thank you for this aid and for all of your support, it was a reminder that what happens there absolutely affects what happens here and what happens to western civilization, what happens to democracy all over the world.

So, I think the theater of that was really, really important. And again, thinking the American people for their generosity, I think, was great, bu8t also reminding the Congress that, you know, this war is there to be won but it's not won yet, it's not going to be won in the next couple of weeks, but it is there to be won if you stick with us.

To me, the theater of tonight drove home all of those messages, and I thought that was really -- really well planned.

BERMAN: And again, I'm not using that term at all pejoratively, Nayyera, because I think it is extraordinary that yesterday, just yesterday, he was in Bakhmut, which is a city under siege right now, where people are dying every day. He was with the troops on the front line, heroes, as he called them. That was yesterday. And we could see the picture on the left of the screen.

And tonight, he was surrounded by the U.S. Congress. It is just -- it is -- it is hard to get past that moment in history that we just saw there.

HAQ: I ran into the Ukrainian ambassador at a holiday event last night, and I was rather shocked because I asked her how she was doing and she said, I'm fighting, I'm fighting every day, and there is more that you can do.

This is a consistent message. The Ukrainians deeply understand what it means to be connected not only to the U.S. government but to the American people. This is their livelihoods. They have been under threat of Russian attacks for at least 15 years. And now, they have a full-scale invasion the likes of which we have not seen since World War II. So, they're going to tie it to history, they're going to tie it to American responsibility.

Certainly, the fact that millions of Ukrainian children and families are without energy, without heating in Christmas season, all of that works for connecting our countries together in that fight for democracy.

BERMAN: Nayyera, Scott, Bob, thank you all for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.

So, the release of former President Trump's taxes already showing that he was not properly audited by the IRS, even though it was mandatory and even though Trump falsely claimed that he was constantly under audit. What more are we learning or do we need to learn, that's next.




BERMAN: Former President Trump buck years of precedent by failing to reveal his tax returns as both a candidate and while in office. But now, the report from the House Ways and Means Committee is giving us new insight in the Trump's financial dealings.

And while it's going to take time for lawmakers and the public to digest the flood of information about Trump's taxes, one of my next guests says she has got two big questions about it. I'm talking about CNN economics and political commentator Catherine Rampell, who joins me along with legal analyst Norm Eisen.

Catherine, you say the the big questions are number one, how much did Trump cheat Uncle Sam, if he cheated? And number two, why exactly did the Internal Revenue Service dropped the ball on monitoring or detecting number one.

And just to remind people, one of the things that has been revealed in this congressional report is the IRS didn't do the mandatory audit they were supposed to do during Trump's first two years in office.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMIC COMMENTATOR, OPINION COLUMNIST FOR WASHINGTON POST: Yes. So, the answer to question number one is that there were a lot of red flags about financial shenanigans that the president -- the former president was involved in, including dodgy charitable deductions, was he giving gifts to his children that were disguised as loans? Were there personal expenses that he was pretending were business expenses? All sorts of stuff like that. There were tons of red flags even before he took office.

The IRS also has a policy in its manual and this policy has been its manual for decades, that every year, the president and the vice president get audited. So, the question -- whether or not they have red flags, by the way.

So, the question is, why didn't they audit him for the first two years that he was in office? In fact, it looks like, according to this Ways and Means report, they didn't even begin an audit until House Democrats asked them about the audits that they presumed were already going on. They were like, hmm, maybe we should notify the Trumps that we're going to audit them now.

So, it is just -- it is very bizarre and it's hard to know what is going on here. I mean, obviously, the IRS is under-resourced. I've written about that many times. I don't think that is not an excuse for not doing their due diligence here. But were they intimidated, were they bullied, were they disorganized, were they scared of their shadow, we don't know yet.

BERMAN: Norm, they didn't do something that the law says they have to do. What questions do you have about it?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER HOUSE JUDICIARY SPECIAL COUNSEL IN TRUMP'S FIRST IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: Well, to the questions about whether his income was accurate, whether his deductions were accurate, and why the IRS didn't do what they were required to do, the third question that I have, John, is, what do these returns tell us about the larger pattern of alleged frauds that we know has been under investigation, including by New York authorities for years?


I've written about them at the Brooking Institution, questions like the deductions that Donald Trump took for his properties, claiming conservation (INAUDIBLE). Were those merited? There is a lingering question about his large business losses that he has carried forward, whether those were actually for real, the size of taxable deductions.

So, I think once we get the actual returns, investigators, particularly in New York State where the A.G., Tish James, is going to go to trial on allegations of fraud, where the Manhattan D.A. has already secured a conviction on 17 counts of the Trump Organization for tax fraud, and where he is said to be reopening his investigation. We are really at the beginning of understanding the meaning of these financial figures. BERMAN: You know, Catherine, it's interesting, the House Ways and

Means Committee, since it has been led by Democrats, has always said they have a legislative purpose. They have to say that in order to get the tax returns. Well, it turns out, now that we learned that the mandatory audit did take place, that actually really does indicate a real legislative purpose.

RAMPELL: Yeah, I mean, to be fair, I thought that the legal justification that they were using to get Trump's tax returns was not the most compelling one. I thought that there were a lot of other reasons why we cared about getting those documents, because again, historically, presidents and major party presidential candidates voluntarily release them.

BERMAN: That's a political argument, maybe a moral argument, but not to say a legislative legal one.

RAMPELL: Right. And I think it is important to know where is he getting his money from --


RAMPEFLL: -- who does he owe money to, you know, what kinds of financial entanglements does he have that might influence how he sets policy. All of that stuff is important in addition to all of the alleged possible fraud that Norm just talked about. How is he wielding his power and where does he -- how might he be influenced by his business empire? All of that stuff is very compelling to me.

This question about the presidential -- the mandatory presidential audit system, I was, like, ah, whatever, but then it turns out, actually, it doesn't seem to be functioning as it is supposed to be functioning. And again, we don't know why, we don't know if there was some sort of intervention from on high or if this was just incompetence or if people were just, you know, very nervous about crossing Trump. I don't know.

If you look at the report itself, there were multiple reports that were released, but if you look at some of the documentation that was released this week, it does suggest that IRS employees were unusually deferential to Trump's tax counsel on a number of issues and that Trump's tax counsel was very uncooperative in providing information on a number of issues. So, we don't know what went on here, but something didn't function right.

BERMAN: So, Norm, what happens now with Democrats losing control of the House Ways and Means Committee in weeks?

EISEN: Well, John, that is part of the legitimate legislative purpose here. You know, when you issue a report like the one Catherine just referenced, it is customary to back that up with the data. The tax returns are the data that the American people need to see to understand these failures, but they are also available to the United States Senate now.

So, we've already heard from Senator Blumenthal and others that something doesn't quite smell right over at the IRS presidential audit system. And so, I think the Senate will take it and, of course, state investigators. We are counting on the press and the American people to scrutinize these materials very closely.

BERMAN: It's complicated stuff, which also might be part of the reason that the IRS -- I know it sounds strange, the IRS didn't have the right people to go through taxes, but it's pretty complicated.

RAMPELL: It is extremely complicated. And look, you will not find another journalist who has been on the record more frequently than I have, I think, advocating for giving more resources to the IRS precisely so that they can engage in these enforcement activities when they are so outgunned by, you know, big, wealthy individuals or complicated corporate tax audits that they would like to, you know, take on that they can't.

So, I do think they need more resources. I think this is a difficult, task. That said, I still think they really dropped the ball here. This should have been a priority for a whole bunch of policy-related reasons among others. We need to know that the president of the United States is not above the law.

BERMAN: Look, we need to know why they dropped the ball, and that is going to be something big going forward. Catherine Rampell, great to see you. Thank you very much. Norm Eisen, my thanks to as well.

So, it is called a bomb cyclone and it is threatening to bring frigid temperatures and upend holiday travel for millions of Americans. Who will see the brunt of it, that is next.




BERMAN: An intensifying storm is set to impact nearly every U.S. state as we enter the busiest travel days of the years. More than 100 million people now under winter weather and windchill alerts. The National Weather Service is calling it developing bomb cyclone, a once in a generation storm. Several states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Georgia have preemptively declared a state of emergency.

CNN meteorologist Britley Ritz has the latest from the CNN Weather Center. Britley, walk us through what we're seeing now and how bad things could get.

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I want to show you this. Pay close attention to the blues and the purples. That is where the front already moved through. And mind you, this is a 24-hour temperature change. So, yesterday, at this time, we were significantly warmer, pinpointing Casper (ph) 51 degrees cooler now than we were yesterday at this time.

Watch this. A record temperature dropped in Cheyenne (ph) from 43 degrees to 10 degrees within just 10 minutes as that front move through. So, that's a 43-degree temperature drop within just 10 minutes' time. Denver did the same thing, 42 degrees to 18 degrees within seven minutes.


That's a 24-degree temperature drop within just 10 minutes' time. Seventy below, that is what it feels like. So, the temperature is okay. But, here's the deal, when you factor in the wind, this is what matters, this is what it feels like. Denver, temperatures are going to be 11 below in the morning, and then finally slowly trying to wake our way back up into next week.

Jackson, Mississippi, 84 hours below freezing. You can expect this in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as Houston, Texas. Eighty hours in Birmingham, by the way. Below freezing in Houston, 45 if not more.

I want you to pay attention. I mentioned the wind chill. Thirty-five below to 45 below, we are talking about exposure time and getting frostbite, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes at that point. So, gloves, hats, scarves if you have to go out. I would suggest staying indoors.

As for your wind chill forecast, Minneapolis were dropping down to 32 below on Friday, 33 below in Chicago. Folks, it's not getting any better over the next few days. It's just beginning. So, if you can't stay indoors, wind speeds, when you factor that in with the actual temperature, you get what's called the wind chill.

Seventy-four-mile per hour wind speeds in Wyoming. That is a Category 1 storm force wind when it comes to hurricanes. Just a comparison there. Many under some sort of wind chill alert, wind chill warnings from Montana to Omaha, all the way down into the Tennessee River Valley. Also, dealing with blizzard warnings. For parts of the country from the plains all across the Great Lakes, snowfall expected here with the next 24 hours.

BERMAN: Boy (ph). That's all I can say to this. That is some bleak forecast there. Britley, thank you very much.

RITZ: No problem.

BERMAN: I want to turn now to one of the coldest places in the country. Billings, Montana is set to hit an overnight low of minus 29 degrees, minus 50 with the wind chill. Joining me now is Billings mayor, Bill Cole. Did I read that right? Minus 29? That's pretty cold. How do you prepare for something like that?

MAYOR BILL COLE, BILLINGS, MONTANA: Well, you got it right, John, it is about 20 below out there now, looking to 29 below tomorrow, 50 below wind chill. Plus, we've had some snow so the roads are slippery and dangerous out there.

How do we prepare? Well, winter is nothing new to Montana. I really feel bad for Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and other places that are facing this. Our problems are being seen all over the country. We have the advantage of some experience. Of course, our greatest concern is our homeless population. And so, as you heard, going about 5 to 10 minutes, this kind of temperature before you're looking at the risk of frostbite.

Tonight is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, 14 hours of darkness. Fortunately, we have day centers for the homeless. We also have two overnight shelters, one of which we just opened tonight. We've got a great team of churches, nonprofit organizations, volunteers, our rescue mission, our continuum of care, they're working hard on this to take care of our homeless. But that is the homeless side of it. We also have a lot of problems when it comes to city equipment and our personnel.

BERMAN: I was going to ask about that, just in terms of infrastructure. You know, what tends to go when temperatures get, you know, 50 below with wind chill?

COLE: Well, pretty much everything tends to go. But a lot of equipment, of course, is one, by diesel. Diesel clogs at low temperatures. So, equipment doesn't start. Equipment that does start, breaks. Parts break, hydraulic hoses break. Everything has to be hauled back and worked on. Pipes break. We are not seeing frost levels at about the feet where our water mains are not that much below that. So, we're starting to see broken pipes. And, of course, what happens when pipes break? They need to be fixed.

And so, a lot of people don't appreciate when they are having Christmas dinner or Christmas eve with their family and the water works. That is because utility workers and city employees were in a deep, dark trench in 25 degrees below fixing those broken pipes.

And that's the story all over the United States. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. One way we prepare is with extra parts and most importantly, just a very experienced crews and staff who have seen this before and know what to expect.

BERMAN: You know, you know it's cold when even a hearty Montana-based says, yeah, yeah, this is really bad. It is just beginning. Winter is just beginning. Can you stand three more months of this?


COLE: Oh, yeah. You know, of course, it has an economic impact. We're seeing some travel impacts. Our local ski -- the Red Lodge Mountain was closed today because of the frigid temperatures. I assume that it will be close tomorrow. This is a bit unusual. Usually, winter is about 74 degrees all year long and sunny. But this is a bit of an exception.

BERMAN: It's right.

COLE: We've had a lot of great publicity, 3.9 people moved into (INAUDIBLE) in 2021. So, one thing I'm curious about is whether this is going to have an impact on that migration rate. I'm thinking that some people may think that California might not have been so bad after all after they look at a 50-degree wind chill for a while. BERMAN: That's right, mayor. I was part of your campaign promise, 74 degrees every day. Thank you so much for being with us. Stay warm, stay safe.

COLE: Thank you, John. Great to be with you.

BERMAN: All right. We'll be right back.




BERMAN: In just hours, we are expecting the release of the final report from the January 6 Committee. The highly anticipated eight- chapter document will detail the panel's investigation. It comes just days after the committee referred the former president to DOJ on four criminal charges. CNN will bring you that as soon as we get it.

Before we go, though, you know the song, but not the story. Explore the case the music world couldn't shake off in "Taking on Taylor Swift," airing this Friday at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.


UNKNOWN: When I first heard "shake it off," when the hook started, how does a person feel when they come home and they feel like their house has been robbed?

UNKNOWN: As soon as I heard the hook, I said, that's real dummy (ph).

UNKNOWN: 3LW had a steady fandom.

UNKNOWN: We have to take an action somehow.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Songwriters Nathan Butler and Sean Hall sued Taylor Swift, claiming that "shake it off" borrowed from a song they wrote.

UNKNOWN: The part of the song that everybody remembers.


UNKNOWN: This situation is bigger than me.

UNKNOWN: When you have a hit song, you are probably going to get sued.

UNKNOWN: Like trying to copyright?

UNKNOWN: Everyone in the music industry is sort of looking over their shoulder.

UNKNOWN: Taylor's team has been arguing that it's a money grab.

UNKNOWN: When you respect other songwriters, you give credit.

UNKNOWN: If we know anything about Taylor Swift is that she does not shy away from a fight.