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Erin Burnett Outfront

Michigan Supreme Court: Trump Can Stay On Ballot; U.S. Secretary Of State Meets With Mexican President For "Robust" Talks On Managing Migrant Surge "Humanely"; Poll: Voters Say Immigration Second Most Important Issue; Israeli Military: "Many More Months" Of Hamas War Ahead; Before-And-After Images Show Damage To Russian Warship. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 27, 2023 - 19:00   ET




The Michigan Supreme Court handed Donald Trump a big win, keeping him on the ballot in that state. But that's not stopping the challenges in other states. I'll speak with someone at the center of it all.

Plus, Biden's border problem. The president's top diplomat just wrapping up his meeting with Mexico's president. So, will it change anything at the border?

And new before and after satellite images of a Russian warship Ukraine says it destroyed. It's a close-up look at what really happened.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erica Hill, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Donald Trump wracking up a win in Michigan when the state supreme court rejected a bid to remove Trump from the state's 2024 primary ballot. Trump quick to hail that ruling and one of many rants on social media today.

The fight, though, is really just beginning. Michigan is now the fourth state to reject efforts to keep Trump off the primary ballot, as similar efforts continue in a number of other states. A ruling in Maine is expected any day now. Trump is actually now demanding as well that means Democratic secretary of state, who would decide that ballot issue, recused herself, because of past comments she made about January 6th.

So far, as you see on the map there, just one state Colorado has ruled to remove Trump's name from the ballot. And the ball is also back in Donald Trump's court now, in his ongoing legal battles with special counsel Jack Smith. Smith's team arguing in a new filing that Trump should not be allowed to push political talking points during his election subversion trial, saying, in part, quote, the court should not permit the defendant to turn the courtroom into a forum in which he propagates irrelevant disinformation, and should reject his intent to inject politics into this proceeding -- an effort by prosecutors to try to stop Trump from saying things like this in court.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Every time the radical left Democrats, Marxists, communists and fascists indict me, I consider it, actually, a great badge of honor.

Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. They're weaponizing law enforcement for a high level election interference. Virtually every poll, we're kicking Biden's ass. And that's the problem. That's the problem.

And if I wasn't, if I wasn't, we wouldn't be under investigation by deranged Jack Smith.


HILL: Paula Reid is OUTFRONT.

And, Paula, as I understand it, you actually have some breaking news in one of these cases. What's the latest?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica. The Republican Party of Colorado has just appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the state's unprecedented decision last week to remove former president Trump from the 2024 ballot.

Now, Trump has also signaled that he intends to appeal that ruling, but he has not done so yet. But the GOP was a party to this case. They are working to try to keep Trump as an option to list in the 2024 primary ballot. It's also significant because this appeal means that that Colorado decision from last week is now on hold until the Supreme Court reveals where it is going to get involved in this issue.

And, Erica, as you know, there's a lot of pressure on the high court to weigh in here and offer some clarity about the 14th Amendment and also the power of states and state officials to remove candidates from the ballot.

HILL: Really quickly, Paula, do you have any sense of how quickly the court could decide whether or not to take that?

REID: Well, they've also asked for expedited review, which I was joking with one of the lawyers is very popular right now. Everyone wants to move and move quickly because look, this has huge consequences, right? Right now, this will likely be on pause for the primary. But we know from what we've seen these decisions across the country that the door is still open to relitigate this issue, even in states that have kept Trump as eligible for the ballot for the general election.

So it's unclear how quickly the Supreme Court will move on this. But everyone involved in this knows, Erica, time is of the essence.

HILL: It certainly is. Speaking of people who would like to see things expedited. Jack Smith,

he's filing from his team now. This is more about what can and can't be said in court, ultimately.


How likely is it that Jack Smith gets what he wants here?

REID: Look, what he ultimately wants is just to bring this case to trial before the 2024 election. But the whole thing right now is on pause. But he and his attorneys clearly working through the holiday, continuing to file motions and request of the court so that once these appeals, these larger constitutional questions, have been appealed, they anticipate they will prevail, and they hope that by filing these requests, they can move forward quickly once they get on the other side of these appeals.

Now here, the specific issues trying to limit potential defenses that Trump could use. Specifically, though, their focus on any suggestion that Trump has been the target of, quote, political persecution. They tell the court they don't want Trump to be able to move use this trial as a forum to share what they described as a disinformation. They don't want him to be able, they say, to distract the jars of these political arguments. They want the jury focused on facts.

HILL: Paula Reid, appreciate it. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now is Ron Fein. He's the lead attorney on the challenge list to remove Donald Trump from the ballot in Michigan, Oregon, and Minnesota.

Ron, good to have you with us tonight. So, let's go back to Michigan, if we could. Michigan now the fourth state to reject a bid to remove Donald Trump from that primary ballot. I know you're not done though in that state. So what is next here for you?

RON FEIN, LEGAL DIRECTOR, FREE SPPECH FOR PEOPLE: Well, the Michigan Supreme Court's decision actually left it open for us to refile after the primary. It was a very narrow ruling. The Michigan's court did not say that Donald Trump didn't engage in insurrection. It did not say that Michigan can't decide whether he's disqualified under the 14th Amendment.

All it said is that that challenge needs to come after the primary. And so, we'll be ready to refile.

HILL: Okay, so you're ready to refile. The former president, as I'm sure you saw, was pretty quick to celebrate the decision on social media, praising it, calling your efforts, a, quote, pathetic gambit to rig the election, which has failed all across the country. You are also unsuccessful with a similar effort in Minnesota.

Do you see, at this point, any state that's likely wins for you right now?

FEIN: We have a case pending in the Oregon Supreme Court right now. We're going to be filing several more cases and other states, and the key point is that these decisions that have gone against us have not addressed anything about Donald Trump's engagement and insurrection. All they've said is that state law doesn't allow those challenges to be brought until after the primary.

Now we've preferred to address these issues before the primary, but if these courts want to kick the can down the road, we'll be ready to re- litigate these same issues after the primary, and in the meantime, the Colorado decision is apparently going up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

HILL: Do you want to see the Supreme Court take this up?

FEIN: The U.S. Supreme Court is most likely going to take it, and we don't oppose that. We think it's important to get a prompt decision. It's best for the country. It's why we filed our challenges before the primary, in order to allow the courts as much time as they needed to be able to decide this properly because it's obvious that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection on January 6th. We all saw it on national television, and that's exactly what the constitution is designed to exclude, someone who did that, from public office.

HILL: We'll wait to see now if the court in fact picks it up, and what that decision will be. Lot's happening in the coming months, which, of course, I don't need to tell you, Ron. I appreciate it. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, former chief assistant district attorney in the Manhattan D.A.'s office. She also works with Jack Smith.

And Anthony Michael Kreis, law professor at Georgia State University.

Good to have you both with us tonight.

Anthony, when we look at what happened in Michigan, the state Supreme Court there, keeping Trump on the primary ballot for 2024. We just saw, right, this appeal from the GOP in Colorado, Paula's new reporting here, this breaking news.

What do you think all of this means for both Colorado and Michigan as this moves potentially to the Supreme Court?

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, it's really hard to make a lot out of the Michigan case, particularly because, as previous guests noted, this was really basically a question about the vehicle in which state law provides to challenge the eligibility of a candidate. And Michigan Supreme Court essentially ratified a ruling that said the secretary of state doesn't have the discretion to challenge the eligibility or to look into the eligibility of a candidate at this particular stage. So, it's not really a loss or win for anyone. It's just kind of a status quo, very similar to the Minnesota case.

But in all, I think it's untenable to have a scenario where you have this patchwork of eligibility determinations. And so, ultimately, the Supreme Court will, I think, have to take this up. HILL: I just want to point out, the secretary of state in Michigan, a

Democrat, who said -- she agreed essentially with the findings, but really calling for some clarity and finality in her words, from the Supreme Court, is what she's hoping for.

Karen, also in Michigan, "The New York Times" obtaining an interview that investigators did with the fake elector from 2020.


His name is James Renner. CNN had previously reported that he was the first and the only fake electorate to agree to cooperate. He said, in part, in that interview from "The Times", I can't overemphasize how I once -- once I read the information in the January 6th transcripts, how upset I was that the legitimate process had not been followed. I felt that I had been walked into a situation I shouldn't have ever been involved in.

How significant is this type of testimony in this cooperation?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is an insider, right? This is somebody who's going to be able to provide information to prosecutors, whether it's in Michigan or to Jack Smith, or any other case where Donald Trump's intent, and the fact that they intended to install these fake electors, and the pressure campaign that he put on. This could be a very significant witness to talk about how it wasn't just an alternative slate just in case. This was -- they were lied to. And I think that could be very powerful to a jury.

HILL: Speaking of Jack Smith, we do have this new filing from the special counsel's team where he does want to prohibit Donald Trump from pushing disinformation from turning this trial political, for making political talking points in that election subversion trial. How delicate, Anthony, is this line between keeping Trump to the facts and allowing him to claim he's being silenced? Where do you see that going?

KREIS: Well, the job of a trial court is to ensure that the jury is able to weigh facts and evidence. Not conjecture, not speculation. Not political talking points.

At the same time, the court has to give some latitude to the defense to make the case that they want to make before the jury. And so, it's this very delicate balance of determining what has more prohibitive value, versus what is more prejudicial in nature. And so, while Donald Trump and his team, I think, will have considerable ability to create the narrative that they want to create in their own defense, there will be limitations, and there will be -- I think the court will put, you know, again, limitations on the kind of political commentary that we've seen run rampant from the Trump campaign so far.

HILL: Karen, it really -- it really seems that when you read this, as a non-lawyer over here, it's really just saying, hey, we want you to enforce the rules, and the way things are normally done for a jury. Am I reading that correctly? KREIS: Yeah. Well, so, 100 percent. I mean, really the only thing that

can be admissible at a trial where there's a jury is relevant admissible evidence. And so, that's the main part that Jack Smith in his filing as asked the court to consider. But remember, the court cannot consider it right now because the cases on pause, and it's being stayed while it's being appealed.

But Jack Smith is hoping that the D.C. Circuit goes quickly, and the Supreme Court goes quickly. So he's getting all his ducks in a row and putting everyone on notice about what his arguments are going to be. And that's what the filing was, is he's basically saying, keep it relevant. Just if it's about the facts of the case, or about any defenses that Trump has, that's what should come in. And everything else that's extraneous, whether he wants to talk about how it's political, or it's a witch hunt, all of that, that's not really relevant to a jury.

So, Jack Smith is really making sure that the judge has on those -- the types of information, I wouldn't even caught evidence, but the type of information that he's seeking to keep out at a trial.

HILL: Karen, Anthony, good to have both of you with us tonight. Thank you so much.

OUTFRONT next, the top level immigration meeting between two Biden cabinet members and the president of Mexico just wrapping up after more than three hours. So, what happens now? Can Mexico help the U.S. stem the tide of migrants at the border?

Plus, disturbing new images out of Gaza and a major accusation against the IDF. We're going to go live to Israel for those details.

And stunning new satellite images showing what appears to be a missile strike on a Russian warship. Ukraine is claiming credit. What does Russia say?



HILL: Tonight, a high stakes meeting. Biden's top diplomat and its homeland security chief in Mexico, appealing directly to Mexico's president in an effort to help reduce the surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border. The meeting itself lasting more than three hours wrapped up just moments ago.

All of this as around 6,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border on Tuesday alone. And officials say they are now bracing for the coming days. Some warning that the border is that a, quote, breaking point.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT at the southern border.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As border authorities near a breaking point from the weeks-long migrant surge, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas meet with Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City to discuss ways to drive down the unprecedented number of illegal migrant crossings, the seven-day average earlier this month, 9,600.

Blinken and Mayorkas are expected to ask Mexico to move migrants south, used migrants to move north, and provide migrants incentives to stay in Mexico like visas. In Eagle Pass, Texas, although migrant apprehensions drop from about 3,000 daily encounters last week to about 2,000 Monday, according to a law enforcement source, one of two international bridges are still closed to vehicle traffic to re-direct personnel to process migrants. The wait time to cross by car Wednesday afternoon, an astounding 15 hours.

Many Americans who frequently drive back and forth are opting to cross on foot, like Minerva Castro. She says that when she ditched her car in Mexico, she saw a group of about 100 migrants walking towards Eagle Pass, some with children. One Eagle Pass business owner says the migrant surge is tearing the community apart.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell that tempers are flaring. Everywhere you go. That's why I'm hoping that there is a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

FLORES: Would you like to see President Biden visit Eagle Pass?


FLORES: Texas State Representative Eddie Morales, a Democrat, who represents residents from 11 west Texas counties along the state's border with Mexico says the federal government's ongoing closure of the bridge and the recent five-day closure of the international railway cost the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars.

MORALES: Every day taxpayers are the ones that end up suffering.

FLORES: Morales says he's hopeful that the top level talks in Mexico City will pave the way for realistic change at the border, but says he would've liked to see Texas Governor Greg Abbott have a seat at the table.

MORALES: We're only going to get there if there's communication between these two countries, and also, with the state of Texas.

FLORES: Texas recently passed its own immigration bill and has come under fire for Abbott's border security tactics, like busing in flying migrants to blue states, separating migrant families, and deploying controversial border buoys and concertina wire.

Morales initially supported Abbott's border security push, which has cost billions of dollars, but now says those efforts have fallen short. MORALES: We have nothing positive to show to our taxpayers for the

amount of money that we've invested.


FLORES: Now, if you take a look behind me, you'll see an open field with no migrants. You might think there is no border crisis. Well here's the thing, the U.S. federal government has gotten really good at something called decompression, because they've had a lot of practice. That's when migrants are moved from an area where there is overcapacity to an area where there's processing space.

Now, Erica, when it comes to the talks in Mexico City, one of the things I'll be looking for as a possible clue for the outcome of those talks is a posture of law enforcement on the Mexico side of the border -- Erica.

HILL: Important to have that to watch. Rosa, appreciate the reporting as always. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Democrat Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, whose district includes a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. Good to have you with us tonight, congressman.

We just heard what Rosa said she's going to be looking for. Do you think this meeting tonight between Mexico's president and Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas will, in fact, impact the migrant surge at the southern border?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): You know, I text both the Mexicans and the Americans that are at the meeting, and I've got some responses from them. I'm hoping that what they finalize will be something that we can use, and we can use right away.

I'll tell you this, when the Mexicans stopped people at their southern road (ph), Guatemala, that numbers slow down. It's just a straightforward thing. They've got to do their job on the Mexican side.

The only problem is that the Mexicans don't want to be seeing doing Americans' dirty job, that is stopping migrants over there. They've got their own internal politics like we have in our politics also in the U.S.

HILL: So as we wait and as we watch, I'm sure you're hearing so much of this, and, you know, we have spoken a number of times over the years. Last night I spoke with the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, who says, frankly, they just feel forgotten by the federal government. Take a listen.


MAYOR ROLANDO SALINAS, EAGLE PASS, TEXAS: Our city here in Eagle Pass, we've been getting slammed with 2,000 to 3,000 people a day, and it's just an unfair, unethical situation, what's going on here in Eagle Pass. We feel ignored by the federal government. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: As I understand it, it's been nearly a year since January, since you had a real substantive conversation with the president about immigration. Do you also feel ignored by the administration?

CUELLAR: Well, I think for many years, I don't think they've listened to people who live here at the border and understand the border. I think the mayor from Eagle Pass is right. I mean, you know, what they're doing is just processing people. They get people from Eagle Pass, Del Rio, send them over to San Antonio, flying from San Antonio into the interior of the U.S.

We are good at processing people but we've got to go back to what worked. If you look at the numbers, straightforward, for the last 25 years, for the last 25 years, when somebody goes in front of immigration judge, 13 percent will be accepted, and the rest will be rejected. Why are we processing hundreds of thousands of people were at the end of the day, which I'm talking about four or five years from now, they're not going to be a citizen?

So I agree. You know, the border has been ignored. They're listening too much to the immigration activists. The White House and a lot of members of Congress in the Senate listen to the immigration advocates. But who's listening to the border communities?

HILL: They also may be losing members of their own party. If we look at this recent poll, nearly half of Democrats disapprove of Biden's handling of immigration. That's actually up 17 points over the past year. Why do you think he is losing so much support from Democrats?

CUELLAR: You know, it's -- the appeal (ph) of policy doing the right thing, and then you've got the appeal of politics. On the politics part, and I'll focus on your question, we're -- we're losing Democrats.


People -- they are frustrated -- frustrated because they're not seeing what should be done at the border.

Look, we want to see law and order at the border and still treat the migrants with respect and dignity. But they've got to follow the rules. Right now, they feel that all they have to do is get to the border, and then they'll be processed and sent to the interior, and then wait four, five, six years to have a hearing where 87 percent will be rejected. And that's why we're losing Democrats.

They feel that the Democratic Party, that the president is not doing enough. And we're going to lose a lot of Democrats, and it's because we're not doing the right thing at the border.

HILL: Based on what you like to see done, I'm guessing that would be our message to the president. If you had another substantive conversation -- again, it's been nearly a year. Do you think the president, this administration, has the appetite for that? Especially in an election year?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, it depends who he wants to lose. He wants to lose folks here at the border, does he -- is he worried about other folks? But look, keep in mind, Democrats are divided in New York. Democrats are divided in Chicago.

There are people that feel that there's just too many people coming in. Yes, we can bring in water buckets to help the border. But it's not bringing water buckets. What we've got to do is turn off the faucet.

And the only way you can do this, with all due respect, as you've got to be paying people, give them the quick hearing, and if they have to be deported, with all due respect, get them deported because at the end of the day, 87 percent will be rejected.

So why are we delaying this for four or five years? A lot of them are not going to show up.

HILL: Congressman Henry Cuellar, good to have you with us tonight. I'll be interested to see if those text messages from the folks who say we're in the meeting, what comes to pass out of that. Feel free to keep us posted. Thank you.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

HILL: OUTFRONT now, Democratic strategist Basil Smikle and former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, who's now the director of Mission Democracy.

Basil, I want to start with you because I was -- I was watching you out of the corner of my as I was talking to the congressman, and you're shaking your head in agreement with a lot of what he said, specifically when it comes to losing Democratic support, losing the support for President Biden of his own party.

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. I mean, you can hear the frustration in his voice. And when you look at, even today, the mayors of New York City, of Denver, and of Chicago met, because they're trying to figure out what to do with the migrants that are already in this country they're having difficulty trying to manage, trying to move through the process, trying to find, actually, adequate shelter as we're getting deeper into the winter.

So this is a concern that is drawing on the budgets of these major cities. There are people going to the Congress members point -- there are people who are more recent migrants that are upset that so much attention is being paid to the new migrants and not to the ones who have already been here that are still struggling. You have a lot of voters who are saying, you've got all this money from migrants, what about us? We've been here, we are looking for support as well.

So it is very contentious within the Democratic Party, and that's something that the mayors of the cities and governors of those states are trying to wrestle with. But all the while that they're doing that, they're going to the federal government and saying, please help us. I think that's what's dragging down the administration on this issue.

HILL: Right, is that they're not -- they're not responding to those cries for help. And when we look at this, Joe, when you look at this from a political perspective, look, this is the kind that gets kicked down the road all the time, because it's not an easy fix. There's no one solution to fixing this very broad immigration problem.

That said, going into an election year, is there any incentive here, given what Biden and Democrats are facing for Republicans to work with them to try to come up with a solution? At least one small solution that they can get behind.

JOE WALSH, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Oh, God, no, Erica. Look, Republicans have zero incentive to help. I say this as a former Republican who never, ever, ever wants to see Donald Trump back into the White House.

This issue, the border, and it is a crisis, and it's been a crisis for two to three years, Erica, this issue could cost Joe Biden the election in 2024. Democrats have ignored this issue. Joe Biden, when he first got elected, he said I'm going to be the anti-Donald Trump, and he welcomed all these people up, and they came up.

And now, our border is being flooded, and it's being flooded on a daily basis, and Basil is right. Look, Democratic mayor says in the interior of this country are crying for help now. For the life of me, I don't know why Joe Biden has not done more on this, because this issue could cost him his presidency.

HILL: Well, just to put it in perspective, too, in terms of voters, a recent Fox News poll finds that immigration for voters is the second most important issue facing the U.S. right now behind the economy. To just point, Basil, and actually what we heard from the congressman, who said he believes that President Biden is listening too much to immigration activists, not paying attention to the problem.


So, if Democrats want to try to fix their message at this point, knowing how important immigration is to voters, how do they do that? What is the message?

SMIKLE: Yeah. You know, I tell you, it's a little bit of a nuanced problem here because I think immigration in some ways is a proxy for a larger economic concern. I think what Donald Trump was masterful at doing, you're right, this issue is never really been solvable in recent history, but what Donald Trump was really good at doing is conflating economic nationalism and ethnic nationalism.

So, the concern about immigrants is also a concern about economy. Are they taking our jobs? Do we have enough resources to go around? And what I think the administration needs to do is hit the economic message, not so much the immigration message because there's no easy solve for that.

WALSH: No. HILL: Joe -- you may hear Joe. Joe is -- Joe is -- Joe is definitely disagreeing with you on that.

SMIKLE: No, but I tell -- there's no just very quickly --

WALSH: No, no, no, no.


SMIKLE: There's no easy solve.

HILL: Right.

SMIKLE: There's no easy solve.

And if you're going to hit this, hit the economic issue to just be able to say to voters that you can plan for the future that you're economic aspirations can be solved.

WALSH: No, look, Erica, I love my friend Basil, and Basil, merry Christmas, happy New Year.

But no, no. This is not a freaking nuanced issue. This is simple. And it's an amazing opportunity for Biden.

Secure the damn border, period. If Joe Biden, over the next 8 to 10 months took this issue seriously, and became a border hawk (AUDIO GAP) in a way, it's not nuanced. Secure the border. If he leads this charge, he'll get reelected.

SMIKLE: Yeah, but the issue is, again, how many years have we've been talking about how simple this problem is, it could be easily fixed if there was a better immigration hawk in office? It just doesn't solve itself that way.

We have to deal with the folks that are here.


SMIKLE: Correct, we have to deal with the folks that are here now. And I will say this, and I will concede this, that when we talk about the individuals, the migrants, that are here now, what do you hearing from a lot of Republicans is a little fear, because they're sort of concerned that a lot of what's happening in the urban centers is going to go now into the suburb, and even the rural communities. And that's the one thing that a lot of those suburban and rural voters, those independent voters that Democrats really need, that's the big concern.

It's not the Democrats themselves, but it's a lot of the suburban voters, and it's a lot of independent voters that Democrats are afraid of losing, because this issue is not something that can be so easily contained.

HILL: It is also --

WALSH: Well, no -- HILL: Sorry, Joe, go ahead. Last word.

WALSH: I was just going to say, Erica, the border -- Basil is right. Immigration reform is difficult, but securing the border, leading on that is not difficult.

And look, we've got Donald Trump out there saying I will be a dictator to secure the border. And let me tell you something, that plays with a much more than just his crazy base. Biden has got to be -- lean into this issue, big time.

HILL: Great to have both of you with us tonight. Thank you. It will not be the last time we discuss it.

OUTFRONT next, Israel warns there are many more months of war ahead. So, will there ever be an end in sight?

And new before and after satellite images of a Russian warship damaged by a missile. We're going to dissect those images to show you what really happened.



HILL: Tonight, many more months. That's how long Israel's military chief warns the war in Gaza could last. It comes as new video circulating online tonight purportedly showing at least two Palestinian children stripped and held at gunpoint by the IDF in Gaza.

CNN is unable to verify when that video was taken.

I want to bring in Will Ripley, though, who joins us from Tel Aviv tonight.

Will, what more do you know about this video?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this video, Erica, was posted by an Israeli journalist on Christmas Eve. But as you said, even though we geolocated it so we know it was in northern Gaza at a stadium, we don't know exactly when it was taken. We can't independently verify that.

But what you can see clearly in the video, and we blurred the faces for you, there are two children among this group of Palestinian men who have been, you know, their hands tied, standing in the stadium, strip down to their underwear. Israel has not responded to our request for specific comment about this video. But in the past, they have said the reason that they strip detainees as because they need to check whether they are wearing explosive belts.

And in fact, just in the last week, Israel is going house to house in Gaza, and they claimed that they found explosive belts that had been modified for children to wear. Now, we don't know if that's any connection to the two children that we see detained in this video. But certainly, it is a very dire situation for children across Gaza right now.

You know, those who are, you know, out of school now for ten weeks, some of them, actually, are taking classes just impromptu classes and the schools that are packed with families that are sheltering. But one of the schools was hit by artillery fire just within the last couple of days.

And we also know that there was an attack, and Israeli attack, an airstrike near a hospital that left at least 20 people dead. And the video, it's just absolutely horrific. You have, right outside this hospital, the sidewalk covered in blood, mangled bodies of men, women and children, and inside the hospital, just a scene of absolute pandemonium.

There is a team of international surgeons that was able to get access into Gaza, and they visited the handful of hospitals that are still functioning right now, and they describe the situation where doctors are getting flooded with patients, more than 55,000 people reported injured in this conflict, which is now at its 80th day, 55,000. And they barely have enough medical supplies to offer the most minimal care, never mind some of the traumatic, you know, really critical injuries that they're seeing in the hospitals. That's the reason why the world health organization has warned a lot of patients are dying just waiting to see a doctor.

And then, of course, the death toll has now surpassed 21,000 people, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. That is a number we can't independently verify, Erica, but certainly, the pictures paints a very grim picture of this war that Israel says will last for many months to come.


HILL: Will, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

With us now is Seth Jones, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. government relies heavily on assessments, Seth, from you and your colleagues, and he just returned from Israel. I know you spent considerable time there with U.S. and Israeli officials.

The videos, as Will just was talking about, the videos that we're seeing out of Gaza, the utter destruction that people around the world are seeing, is that impacting the decision-making at all?

SETH JONES, FORMER ADVISER TO COMMANDING GNEERAL: Well, I think it's impact the decision in one important sense, and that is that the U.S. government led by President Biden has been putting additional pressure on the Israelis to move from this phase of the operation, which I saw on the ground about a week and a half ago and Gaza, which is mostly ground forces, to a new phase, which relies on a much more limited ground presence, and strikes from the air, from drones, and from some artillery, which limits, or hopefully limits, civilian casualties.

But I don't think the Israeli population is pushing the Netanyahu government to decrease the types of attacks it's conducted so far. At least, not -- not many interviews with Israeli citizens.

HILL: OK. So, that's -- the public perception -- rather, I shouldn't say that, public support in Israel. Talking about though those conversations, right? We know that one of Netanyahu's top advisers, Ron Dermer, met for a number of hours with officials from the Biden administration in Washington yesterday about Israel's plans for scaling down the war.

Is that the sort of plan that you believe they are likely talking about?

JONES: Yeah, so I've seen the Israeli governments phases of the operation. The IDF's faces, they showed it to me, at IDF headquarters.

I think what is important and what they're laying out, even in the U.S. government, is they're not arguing this war is going to end anytime soon. What they're looking at is a long war, one that is if not months, potentially even years, much more like Operation Defensive Shield.

I think the reality for the Israelis as they have, according to Israeli estimates, that I've seen, only killed 8,000 to 10,000 Hamas operatives out of a total Hamas population of operatives of somewhere between 24,000 and 40,000. That is a quarter to a fifth.

I mean, they're not even close to accomplishing some of their strategic objectives. They have not captured or killed Hamas leaders, including the leader, Sinwar, in Gaza, or the head of the military wing. So, they have a long way to go in that respect.

HILL: And there's that concern, too, about the other battle that's being waged against this ideology, not just about people. What about these concerns that have become more and more part of the conversation, I think, in the U.S., when it comes to the widening war in the region? How real do believe that threat is at this point?

JONES: I think it's a serious concern. I mean, I talk to U.S. officials and Israel as well, and just the number of attacks, what the Pentagon gave to me yesterday, was over 100 attacks against U.S. infrastructure targets in Iraq and Syria. Over 100 targets against commercial vessels in the Red Sea coming out of the Houthis in Yemen, and well over 1,000 strikes on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border right now.

So I think this is a role the U.S. has to play and deterring an escalation of this conflict by Iranian-backed groups in the region. Because, boy, that would really increase the level of casualties to much more significant levels if this were to get out of control.

HILL: Seth, really appreciate your insight and your expertise. Thank you.

JONES: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, new satellite images reveal extensive damage to a Russian warship, which Ukraine says is the responsible for. So, just big of a hit is this for the Russian navy?

Plus, an update on a story we brought you last night. The latest on this Apple watch ban. A federal appeals court now weighing in.



HILL: Tonight, new stunning before and after images from an airstrike that Ukraine claims destroyed a Russian warship. Ukraine says the ship was carrying a tech drones. Russia says only one person reportedly killed here. It's important to note, this is a ship that carries a crew of nearly 90 people.

Russia perhaps unsurprisingly trying to downplay the incident. But when you look at the images, you can see the ship just produces smoke and ash. Already, 20 percent of Russia's Black Sea fleet has been destroyed in the span of four months.

So, where does the fight stand?

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russia's most recent claimed battlefield victory driving Ukrainian forces to the outskirts of Marinka on the eastern front. The prize, though, dust and rubble as the fish is fighting his turned the town into a wasteland.

Still, Russia's defense minister claiming this is significant progress for Moscow. That

The Russian army is constantly taking more favorable positions and expanding control territories in all directions, he said. We are consistently moving forward, achieving the stated goals of the special operation. Russia says its forces are now pressing in the entire east, looking to encircle that Ukrainians in Avdiivka, increasingly laying waste to that city as well, Ukrainian authorities still operating in their show.

We have been bringing humanitarian aid and food here for a long time, he says. People have already left. I hope there were no casualties. This is what Avdiivka, looks like. There is nothing here.

Kyiv says that Russian army is suffering catastrophic losses during their assault. But Ukraine's military also acknowledges their own large counteroffensive started this summer has essentially stalled.

The situation compounded by severe ammo shortages. Ukraine desperately hoping Congress will end its impasse and greenlight further U.S. military aid after months of delays.

Ukraine's top general in a rare press conference says he's confident the assistance will come and that on the whole foreign military help for Ukraine has made a huge difference.


We have rather ambitious goals in 2023, he says. I was not disappointed by the level of assistance in 2023. Of course, it was not everything but allowed us to conduct confident military operations.

While gains on the ground remain incremental for both sides, the air war continues. Russian missiles and drones striking in Kherson and in Odessa, killing two people.

And Moscow now admits Kyiv's air force managed to strike a large Russian landing ship, but only vaguely says the vessel suffered damage. Ukraine, though, claimed the ship and its cargo were completely destroyed.

Footage on air now is impressive, indeed, the Air Force spokesman says. A warship was destroyed, most likely a warship with a set of ammunition, powerful ammo.

A key strike for Ukraine, but on the front lines, that war grinds on in the harsh eastern European winter, little territory changing hands but many soldiers on both sides killed and wounded.


PLEITGEN: And, Erica, that Ukrainians do acknowledge that Russians really are pressing along the eastern front. But they also say the Russians are suffering immense casualties, saying the Russians lost about 3,000 soldiers in just a weeks-time with 1,000 of those killed. Russians themselves, of course, not giving any exact numbers -- Erica.

HILL: Fred with the reporting tonight, appreciate it.

Also with us, CNN military analyst, Colonel Cedric Leighton who is at the magic wall.

So, Colonel, when we look at this, going back to the ship. Russia confirmed the ship had been damaged. But really stopped short of admitting it had been head beyond repair. When you look at those images, what did they tell you?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, let's take a look at those images, Erica, because this is actually quite instructive. What we're seeing here, this is the before picture of the Novocherkassk. This is the transport ship that's in question right here. And here it is in the before picture, and its port, in Crimea.

Let's take a look at what it looks like after the strike. This is completely destroyed. So that Ukrainian battle assessment of this is accurate, appears to be accurate. What we're seeing here is a ship that is going to be really, really hard to repair if, in fact, it can be repaired.

HILL: When we see those images, and then you have Russian officials saying one person was killed, two were injured in these strikes, it's pretty remarkable. According to the U.S. military, that should carry -- I think its crew of around 90 people, about 87, can hold upwards of 237 troops. Do you believe that death toll could actually be higher?

LEIGHTON: I do. Let's take a look at the statistics for the Novocherkassk. Like you mentioned, 87 crew is the compliment that is slated for, 237 troops can be carried on this transport. Can hold 10 main battle tanks. And this particular case, it's refuted to have been carrying Shahed drones, the Iranian made drones that have become kind of infamous around here.

It stands to reason this is one of the key things that I think we should really focus on here, with an explosion of this type, Erica, it really, I think, is impossible but only one person was killed in this situation. Not only was there a strike on the ship, but any type of damage that occurred peripheral to the ship would have impacted people in the immediate vicinity.

So I think the death toll is much higher than one. And I think the total of injured is also pretty high in this case.

HILL: When we look at where things stand on the ground, and we saw some of this and for a space, and from Ukrainian officials. The war seems to be at somewhat of a stalemate for the last several months.

When you look at what is happening on the battlefield, what do you see at this point?

LEIGHTON: Well, Erica, I think one of the key things to look at is what is happening and the town of Avdiivka, which is right here. Fred mentioned that in his piece. Notice that Russian forces are basically surrounding Avdiivka on three sides. What they're trying to do is very similar to what they did in Bakhmut, which is right here.

That town was surrounded by the Russians as well. And I took a while for the Russians to take Bakhmut many months after, not months. Avdiivka is kind of facing the same fate here. The Russians have never been able to capture this town. And now that they are moving their forces into this particular area, it's almost been kind of on the borderline between Russian forces and the Ukrainian forces.

The next move for the Russians will probably be to cut things off and in essence encircled this town. They're also having issues in Marinka, at the town to the southwest here. This area right here on the confluence of the eastern and southern front is going to be critical, kind of a pivot point for the Russians.

What they're going to try to do is they're going to try to consolidate their gains in the Donetsk region and also in the Luhansk region. That's important for Putin because he says that these territories are now independent of Ukraine, and in fact are affiliated with Russia.


Of course, the Ukrainians beg to differ with that. But that is the Russian goal. They're trying to take over all of this and consolidate their gains in these areas. HILL: So, as we keep an eye on that in the coming weeks and months,

we're also approaching the two-year mark at this point. Where do you see this war headed? Is it going to be more focused simply in those areas at this point?

LEIGHTON: So, I think what you're going to see is you are going to see some spectacular actions, like we saw in Crimea with the Novocherkassk, the ship blew up. But you're also going to see movements here on the ground.

And these movements are going to be fairly static. So, during this wintertime period, unless something breaks within the front lines here, we're going to say a very static picture with maybe a few incremental gains here and a few incremental gains by the Russians here. But the Ukrainians are going to be able to hold this, at least for the time being.

HILL: Colonel Leighton, always appreciate it. Good to see you. Thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Erica.

OUTFRONT next, an update on the Apple Watch story we told you about last night. So, it turns out they will stay on shelves for now. Another court weighing in tonight.


HILL: An update now on a story we brought you last night. If you are still in the market for that latest Apple watch, your luck. A federal court has temporarily blocked the sweeping import ban on the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models, which the International Trade Commission found violated another company's technology patent. Important to note, though, this isn't the end. So stay tuned for further updates.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts right now.