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Erin Burnett Outfront

Oregon Justices Could Decide Trump Ballot Case at Anytime; Trump's GOP Rivals Take His Side In Ballot Removal Decisions; Russia Launches Biggest Air Assault on Ukraine Since Invasion; Israel Claims It Destroyed "Hideout" Apartment of Hamas Chief. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 29, 2023 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news: A major Trump legal ruling could come at any moment. The former president just filing court documents. Will he be thrown off the ballot in another state?

Plus, Russia launches the most massive aerial attack on Ukraine since the invasion began. President Zelenskyy says Russia used nearly every type of weapon in its arsenal.

And Dolly Parton grants a bucket list wish, surprising a very special fan with a personal phone call and making his dreams come true. You'll hear it for yourself.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news. We are waiting a major legal ruling for former President Trump.

Any minute now, the Oregon Supreme Court could decide whether Trump will remain on that state's 2024 ballot.

Moments ago, Trump's attorneys filing a brief with the court, urging them to keep him on the ballot. Right now, Trump is banned from the 2024 ballot in Maine and Colorado. Trump has not yet appealed either of those decisions but CNN also learning moments ago that Trump will file those appeals on Tuesday.

And with Republican voters set to start caucusing and voting in some states just days from now, the clock is truly ticking. Colorado's Republican Party has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to overturn the state ruling. The turmoil from the unprecedented legal and political situation unlikely to end until the dispute is settled by the high court.

One thing, though, is clear. The court will play a major role in the 2024 election, and not just on Trump's eligibility to remain on the 2024 ballot, but several other crucial cases as well. And today, a federal appeals court issuing a ruling that could have major implications for Trump's legal future, saying that Trump is not shielded by presidential immunity in a lawsuit brought against him by U.S. Capitol police officers related to January 6th.

I want to start tonight with Jessica Schneider OUTFRONT in Washington.

So, Jessica, a lot of legal decisions looming tonight that could have major consequences for Trump.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna, and we will likely be seeing really a flurry of filings, a flurry of appeals from Trump's team in the coming days in that first week in January. Like you said, we saw Trump file that opposition in Oregon to the lawsuit that is urging the state Supreme Court to order him taken off the ballot there. They'll decide soon.

And now, in addition to that, Trump's team will have to, in the coming days, appeal that Colorado Supreme Court ruling that ordered him off the ballot. Trump's team will also have to appeal that decision from the Maine secretary of state. That appeal in Maine when he does that, that will trigger a review by the Maine superior court before maybe then going to a higher court in the state and then the potential of it being appealed down the line to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So it is very likely at some point maybe in the next few weeks the Supreme Court could step in to decide if they are going to hear this issue and maybe decide one way or the other whether the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause means that Trump can be excluded from the ballot in various states. As you said, the clock is ticking here. A lot of these primary ballots have to be finalized in the coming days and weeks.

And Colorado, the state Supreme Court, they paused their ruling. So Trump will definitely be on the primary ballot there, but it's still uncertain if he will be on the Maine primary ballot and then there is the looming question in general of whether states can take Trump off the ballot if he is the eventual nominee in the general election.

So, a lot of legal issues swirling right now for Trump's team. Brianna, that doesn't even begin to include all of the looming trials that are scheduled right now to start the beginning, the first few months of 2024. First and foremost, being that defamation case, that civil trial from E. Jean Carroll against Trump slated for January 16, although Trump's team is looking for a way to delay that already.

So, they have a lot of work ahead of them. A lot of their strategy will be to delay, delay, delay as far they can into 2024, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah, certainly will be. Jessica, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now is Sean Grimsley, an attorney for the plaintiffs fighting to keep Trump off the ballot in Colorado.

Sean, thanks for being us with.

We were learning that Trump is expected to file his appeal of the Colorado decision to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The Colorado Republican Party, as you're well aware, has already filed its appeal.

Do you expect that this may be settled before the primary in March?

SEAN GRIMSLEY, ATTORNEY SPEAKING TO BAR TRUMP FROM COLORADO BALLOT IN SCOTUS APPEAL: That's what we are hoping for and thank you for having me on.

We filed a motion to expedite yesterday asking the court to set a briefing schedule that would allow for argument on January 19 or sometime around then, and, hopefully, a ruling by February 11 when people in Colorado start receiving their mail-in ballots.

So we're hoping this will be done by Super Tuesday, March 5th. In fact, the state Republican Party has asked for the court to decide these issues by March 5th.

KEILAR: But if that doesn't happen, if you have something before the primary but not as immediately as you're talking about, which think seems possible, you have those military and overseas ballots going out in Colorado, actually, January 20th. As you mentioned, the mail ballots for the primary, they're printed on February 2nd, mailed by February 12.

Are you concerned about the legal chaos this could create if those ballots are different from in-person voting?

GRIMSLEY: No, because, hopefully, the Supreme Court will resolve this issue far enough in advance of March 5 and even far enough advance of people receiving thundershower ballots that even though the name is on the ballot, people will know, because it's being covered by everybody, including CNN and other news outlets, that President Trump is not eligible to be elected in Colorado.

KEILAR: There are many legal experts, I'm sure you heard them. They think that ultimately the Supreme Court will side with Trump, not with the plaintiffs here.

Why do you think they're wrong?

GRIMSLEY: Well, I think we just have a strong constitutional case. Not only on the meeting of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, but on the facts. There are only three courts or other entities that have actually looked at the facts in this case and reached the merits and they have decided that President Trump engaged in an insurrection against the Constitution on January 6th.

The first was a trial court here in Colorado, then the Supreme Court. Now we just recently had the decision from the secretary of state in Maine.

And as far as the actual interpretation of the Section 3 of the 14th Amendment goes, I think we have much better of the historical argument.

KEILAR: So, you have heard Trump and others are arguing that his due process was violated. What do you say to that? GRIMSLEY: I say he is wrong. He received tremendous amount of

process, actually, here in Colorado. There was a five-day evidentiary hearing. That followed months in which the trial court gave him every opportunity to file motions to dismiss, motions to exclude our witnesses, gave him an opportunity to file to seek depositions of witnesses if he wanted to, to give him the opportunity to actually call witnesses after the hearing was over, and he didn't take advantage of that or many of the other things that the trial court afforded him. He simply waved his hands and said he didn't get enough process.

When it comes to the Supreme Court of the United States, he is going to have to articulate what process he believes was due and point to places in the record where he actually asked for it. I don't think he is going to be able to do that.

KEILAR: Sean, thank you so much for being us with tonight. Of course, we'll follow this very carefully.

GRIMSLEY: Thank you.

KEILAR: And now, I want to bring in Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former federal prosecutor who worked with special counsel Jack Smith, and also former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin with us.

Michael, I know you see some major issues with the rulings here against Trump in Colorado and Maine.

What do you make of what Sean just said?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he is well-spoken, but I think he is mistaken on the singular question of whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is self-executing, meaning it just goes into effect immediately.

I think that Section 5 requires Congress to pass implementing legislation that tells the parties what their rights and responsibilities are when faced with an allegation of insurrection. They didn't pass that legislation. And without it, I think Section 3 cannot be self-executing, cannot, in and of itself, be given the force of law.

And I think that Trump has the stronger argument here that Congress needed to have done that in the civil context. In the criminal context, they did do that. They passed an insurrection statute that says if you are charged with insurrection, then here are your rights and responsibilities. They did it do it on the simple side.

I think that's the greatest liability in their case, that without implementing legislation, Trump was not afforded fundamental due process.

KEILAR: Karen, CNN learned here just moments ago that Trump will be filing his appeals to the Colorado and Maine decisions Tuesday. How quickly do you think the Supreme Court could settle this?


KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think they are going to have to act quite quickly given the fact that you don't have want to have chaos across the country, right? And the fact that different courts are ruling differently.

And so, I think that they will rule very quickly whether or not Trump is going to be -- whether states can prohibit him from being on the ballot. I don't think they are going to necessarily touch the merits on whether he engaged in an insurrection.

I do think they will determine the question similar to what Michael Zeldin just said about whether or not -- whether or not the states are permitted to do this or whether Congress had to pass a law to allow them to do this.

KEILAR: Michael, a federal appeals court today saying that the U.S. Capitol police officers who are suing Donald Trump over the insurrection, that that lawsuit can proceed. Of course, Trump argued that he was shielded by presidential immunity.

How significant is it that that defense of his has been struck down repeatedly in light of the expectation of the Supreme Court is ultimately going to decide this issue?

ZELDIN: Right. I think it's significant in this respect. The Supreme Court decided not to take this case up on an immediate appeal. They wanted to hear from the U.S. court of appeals in the District of Columbia to educate them as to what their analysis of this question was.

So every time you have an intermediary court ruling on this ultimate question of immunity and ruling against Donald Trump, I think it informs the Supreme Court as to their analysis. And I think that another case against Trump gives the great weight of authority that the Supreme Court will look at to see whether or not he has immunity for criminal conduct, which I don't think he will end up having.

KEILAR: Karen, Trump keeps losing on this point of presidential immunity. Is his goal really just to delay?

AGNIFILO: I think so. I think he is trying -- he doesn't want the merits of any of these cases to ever be tried in court because the evidence is overwhelming against him, whether it's in the civil context or the criminal context.

So I think for him the win is delay. Try to get yourself into office and then not have to face any of these consequences at all, whether it's by getting the cases dismissed, pardoned, or just not proceeding with them. So I think delay is really his tactic.

KEILAR: And, Michael, while I have you here, Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, says in a court filing that he mistakenly sent his lawyer non-existent case citations generated by artificial intelligence, in a request for early termination of Cohen's super raised release related to a conviction over finance violations. Cohen was expected, of course, to be a witness in New York criminal case against Trump, already has credibility issues. How bad is this?

ZELDIN: Well, first, shame on the lawyer if he took those citations and filed them in a brief without reviewing them himself. So, if what Cohen said is true, bad for the lawyer. But for Alvin Bragg, looking at Michael Cohen as a witness in a case that really is a two-witness case, Peck and Cohen, I think you have to think long and hard about what you do about Cohen as a witness.

Can you make this case on the paper and just peck and leave Cohen out of it? I think it's a very big problem that Bragg has now in deciding how to go forward or whether to go forward with this case given all these mistakes that Cohen keeps making.

KEILAR: It's a pretty stunning one here.

Michael, Karen, thank you so much for both of you. I really appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT next, Trump's Republican opponents standing behind the former president and making team Trump very happy. We have our latest reporting from inside the campaign.

Plus, Russian massive air assault on Ukraine. It is the biggest since the war began. Will it bring Ukraine to its knees?

And Israel claiming tonight that it has destroyed a hideout belonging to Hamas' leader.



KEILAR: Tonight, Donald Trump's Republican rivals rallying around the former president, sort of. One after the other, all slamming Maine's Democratic secretary of state for taking Trump's name off the GOP primary ballot.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of the stuff they are doing now, like this stuff with like the Maine, it was ridiculous.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This should be decided by the voters of the United States. It should not be decided by courts.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not how we should want to win.


KEILAR: Kristen Holmes is OUTFRONT.

So, Kristen, what are you hearing from Trump's campaign about how they plan to use this to their advantage? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, publicly,

you're going to see a lot of the same that we have seen, which is essentially painting all of his legal battles as political, as being a pawn, Democrats, because they don't want him to run against Joe Biden. But, privately, some advisers believe that these pilot case are more advantageous than any of her other legal cases. Now, of course, to lay out, we know that Donald Trump has continued to preach that every single legal case against him is a product of political persecution.

But that message plays well with, yes, his base, some Republicans, but what they're seeing now with these ballot cases is a wire response of solidarity, of support, and they have been very pleased with the Republicans' response here. It's not just Republicans who backed Trump. They have been hearing from Republicans who don't like Trump, including some Democrats.

And they believe they can lay out a case that if you look across the country at all of the various dates, both Democratic and Republican, all the secretaries of state and courts who decided not to take this up, who decided to keep Donald Trump's name on the ballot and then juxtapose them to these two particular cases that have been ruled against Donald Trump, Colorado, where the justices were appointed by a Democrat as well as the secretary of state in Maine, who was a Democrat, that you can make this a more political case.

And what they're hearing again from Republicans who have not supported Donald Trump is that they should be -- voters should be able to pick who on the ballot. So that's the message they are going to continue to send. The one thing about this case in particular, these cases, the ballot cases, is that of all of Donald Trump's legal concerns, his team is least concerned about this.


They believe it's going to go to the Supreme Court and believe eventually Donald Trump's name will be on the ballot in 50 states.

KEILAR: Yeah, that is very interesting.

Kristen, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York state Democratic Party, also former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who, of course, was a member of the January 6th Select Committee, and David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama.

Congressman, to you first here. Trump's rivals, you heard them, they are backing him, they're saying he should not be taking off the ballot for 2024. Politically speaking, do they have any other choice?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. And that's a great observation, is they have to say this. I mean, I am not saying it's not principled. I think half are not principled in anything n Chris Christie's case, he has been clear of his feelings of Donald Trump. So this isn't, you know, some weak-kneed approach. But if you are running against the guy to beat him and you say that

these cases are the way to get rid of Donald Trump, it makes you look weak. It doesn't help you with the base, doesn't help you with the election. I think, you know, aside from the legal question, because ultimately that's a Supreme Court decision, I think this is probably good for Donald Trump politically because he is a professional victim, a professional whiner and belly acre, and this allows him to feed more into that.

He is such a poor victim narrative. I think his opponents are saying what they need to say on the campaign trail for now.

KEILAR: Yeah, well, to that point, let's listen to Chris Christie who is, as the congressman notes, the exception as a rule. He does not pull punches with Donald Trump. Let's listen to what he said about Trump when it comes to how this is helping him out.


CHRISTIE: It makes him a martyr. You know, he is very good at playing poor me, poor me. He is always complaining. The poor billionaire from New York who is spending everybody else's money to pay his legal fees. Poor me.


KEILAR: Do he see any other way around that, Basil, of this helping Trump when it comes to his opponents looking for some alternative?

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. I think to the Congress member's point, look, there is this rush for some of the Republican candidates to try to find some way to distance themselves from Donald Trump. Some have done it well like Chris Christie. Others, not so much.

So, when they come out and say that, in some way sort of support Donald Trump in this, they are acting as his surrogates. That's all good for Donald Trump. The fact that he, Trump, has said for so much time now, so many months that he is a martyr when he goes to his supporters and says I'm doing this for you, I am a going through this for you, that language, that narrative is what builds the case for him that he is being martyred and that the justice system is unfairly targeting him.

That is red meat for his base. I don't think that any of the GOP candidates for the nomination are going to -- they are not necessarily going to get any votes, but they are going to keep from getting lambasted by MAGA supporters by saying this. And so I just think that they look like Trump supporters in all of this and it's all good for Donald Trump.

KEILAR: David, I wonder if you have any concerns about the flip side of this, that we could start to see Republican states trying to keep Joe Biden off the ballot in 2024, maybe other Democrats in future elections? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, every

norm that you shred is hard to reassemble. So, you know, there is always that concern. But just generally here, I would say that I have always believed that Trump -- a lot of the motivation for his candidacy was as a legal defense strategy.

He knew that he was a in jeopardy of being indicted on a number of different things and he wanted to set up a construct that worked very well for him, which says that, you know, they are coming after him because he is running for president and prevent him from being president. This is the most blatant example in his telling that, you know, a state elected official in Maine can throw him off the ballot, that a court in Colorado can. All of this is strengthening him in the Republican primary.

We have run this experiment. You know, he's only gained since he started getting indicted, you know, what you thought might be kryptonite for him has been battery packs. This is a big one for him.

Presumably, the Supreme Court will deal with it fairly quickly and I expect that they will leave him on ballot. Yes, Brianna, I have very, very strong reservations about all of this. I do think it would rip the country apart if he were actually prevented from running because tens of millions of people want to vote for him. I think if you are going to beat Donald Trump, you are going to have to do it at the polls.


KEILAR: David, what about the issue -- you know, Ron DeSantis suggested today he would pardon Trump if he's elected. Nikki Haley also said yesterday she would pardon Trump to help move the country forward.

What do you think about that when you're worried about things ripping the country apart? I see the congressman shaking his head.

I want to get all of you in on this, but, David, you first real quick.

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that it's good politics for them because they are -- they are catering to the Trump base in saying that. And I think that is a large motivation for them.

I saw Adam shaking his head and I understand why. I know how he fascinated he is as I am about what Trump did to the country. I do think it's a question as to what it would need to imprison a former president and that's something that's going to weigh heavily on the next president's mind, and on the mind of sentencing judges if he is ever convicted. But, you know, one thing we should say when -- is that he may never get there if he is successful in delaying these trials until after the election. I think that's his strategy here.

KEILAR: And I want to get you all in on this. If you could answer quickly. Congressman, what do you think?

KINZINGER: Yeah, I mean, I just think, look, if you're going to pardon him, fine, whatever. The bottom -- they shouldn't. But the bottom line is, you know, Nikki Haley stressing she would pardon Trump not ruling out that she would be his VP, like, what is she running as? That's the point.

At least say, I'll give it some time and see the situation. Don't just like, oh, yeah, I'm going to pardon him. You don't know the evidence right now.

KEILAR: Basil, what do you think?

SMIKLE: Well, you know, if you are going to say that you are going to pardon him, but at the same time you are also saying that he is being treated unfairly in the court, my feeling is why run against him in the first place? Where are you differentiating yourself from him?

I think it would be horrible for the country if he were to be pardoned because ultimately where is the accountability for his actions? And voters are going to be thinking and paying attention to that.

KEILAR: Yeah, they certainly will be.

Basil, Congressman, David, thank you so much to all of you for the great discussion. Appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, Russia launching the most massive aerial attack on Ukraine since the invasion began, that's a quote there, targeting factories, schools and hospitals. We have the latest.

Plus, the California coast being hit with huge waves. See this one here. Some of them more than 20 feet tall. People running for their lives. And there could be bigger ones on the way.



KEILAR: Tonight, Russia launching the, quote, most massive aerial attack on Ukrainian since the invasion began. Russia fired 158 drones and missiles, including hypersonic Kinzhals at targets across Ukraine. The strikes hitting factories, hospitals and even schools.

Casualties being reported tonight in Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odessa. At least 31 civilians confirmed dead at this hour. More than 150 injured.

President Biden responding today saying Russian President Putin must be stopped.

Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): From Ukraine's center, Dnipro to all points, Kyiv in the north, Odesa in the south, Kharkiv in the Northeast, and to Lviv in the far west. Russia launched its biggest air attack since their ground invasion 22

months ago, 44 of 158 Russian missiles evading Ukraine's western support and air defenses, killing and wounding civilians. This man narrowly surviving, pulled from the rubble in Kharkiv. Schools, shopping malls, private homes and high-rises, even a maternity hospital hit in.

In the capital, this resident awoken by missiles at 7:30 a.m.

It was a horrible sound. It was so frightening. The missile was flying and everything was buzzing, whirring, she says. I didn't know what to do.

President Zelenskyy is accusing Russia of throwing nearly every type of weapon in its arsenal against Ukraine. Ukraine's air force describe a complex attack of interlocking waves of drones, bombers, fighters jets, cruise, hypersonic and other missiles intended to distract and stretch air defenses.

There was outrage and anger from European leaders, but Russia's complex assault appears intended not just to exploit weaknesses in Ukraine's air defense system, but its waning international support, highlighting Ukraine's need for European and U.S. monies held up by internal politicking.

In a week when Ukraine appeared to have turned its narrative to one of success, destroying a valuable Russian tank transporter ship in Crimea, reality appears to be a second winter under sustained systemic Russian bombardment.

Nothing changes. Russia's goal is the same, he says, to destroy Ukraine as a state and to destroy all rebellious Ukrainians as a nation.

Resilience now Ukrainians' best friend.


ROBERTSON: And, of course, it really is friends right now that Ukraine needs. I think it was interesting listening to President Zelenskyy earlier today, not only appealing for more support and more help, but by saying it heard from different leaders and it was very grateful for the support that it had given them. Of course, this a reminder of going back to last summer where Zelenskyy went to the NATO summit and he was criticized for not showing enough respect, if you will, enough thanks and gratitude for all the support he was getting.


Now, of course, he desperately needs that support and can see that it's potentially slipping away from him and, therefore, when he loses that support, Ukrainian people lose that support, and the Russian bombers get through -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly do. Nic Robertson, thanks for that report.

Let's bring in retired Army General Joseph Votel, former commander of CentCom.

General, thank you for being with us.

You just heard Nic note Zelenskyy saying today that Russia used nearly every type of weapon in its arsenal, including this hypersonic Kinzhals. What do you think Putin's objective and did he accomplish it?

GEN. JOSEPH L. VOTEL (RET.), FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: Yeah, thanks. It's great to be with you.

Well, I think from a tactical standpoint, it's kind of mentioned a little bit earlier, I think they are trying to test the air defense capabilities of Ukraine and cause them to expend a lot of pressures munitions that clearly the Ukrainians are dependent upon the NATO partners, the United States in particular, for providing them. So, from a tactical standpoint, it's focused on it that.

But more importantly, I think what Putin and the Russian federation forces are trying to do is really leverage the informational advantage going forward against this backdrop of internal U.S. domestic debate and, of course, stalemate campaigns in the east. And so what they accomplished here was, in addition to testing air defense, they reminded the Ukrainian people and government that they can do what they want when they want.

They attempted to impact Ukrainian morale. They have demonstrated their own strength and capability to domestic and international audiences and tried to portray themselves as winners and they've highlighted, you know, they tried to highlight the futility of continued fighting in the east, and they further undermine the international support for Ukraine. So, this is an important action and it does have some impacts here.

KEILAR: Zelenskyy making a surprise visit to troops today on the front lines. He has admitted Ukraine's offensive has not been the success that he hoped. Russia is controlling about 17 percent of Ukraine right now. Does he need a change in strategy?

VOTEL: Well, yeah. They do. I mean, ultimately, when you look at the various outcomes of this war, you know, in order for the Ukrainians to prevail, they have got to be able to manifest decisive maneuver in the east and demonstrate to the Russian Federation that they have an operational military advantage. And they have been unable to do that. That might be possible if they get fighter jets and they are able to bring together all of these capabilities.

But until they are able to do that, they won't substantially change the situation in the east, which will lead this in kind of a frozen conflict state that it finds itself right now. So, yes, they need to be searching for different ways to create more of an operational advantage.

KEILAR: One of these Russian missiles traveled through Poland, right? It entered Polish airspace for a few minutes before crossing back over into Ukraine. This is the latest in a series of violations of NATO airspace by Russia.

Poland tonight is requesting an explanation here. Russia's responding in the past hour saying that it will not give explanations. What are the implications here?

VOTEL: Well, you know, I think that the Polish are correct in demanding the facts and trying to figure that out and communicating what that is and Russia's response kind of speaks for itself. But I think that the implications here for not only Poland, but for NATO, the NATO alliance, is that we have to be prepared and we need to make sure that we don't allow Russia to set new norms.

They are constantly pushing the envelope here to try to redefine what the normal operating state is here, and I don't think you can dismiss the fact this may be something deliberate. Some of their weaponry is smart weaponry, and can be programmed to do this kind of stuff. So we can't dismiss that. But it needs to be addressed. We need to get the facts and need to be prepared to defend the NATO alliance.

KEILAR: Why would they do that on purpose, do you think?

VOTEL: I think they are testing limits. I think they are testing to responses. As we talked about a little bit earlier, part of the reason for this massive airstrike I think was to test the Ukrainians. But I think they are also testing the responsiveness of NATO in terms of this as well. So, to me, that would be a reason why they might be trying to put missiles or other things, targeting, encroaching on NATO territory just to see what the response of not only Poland, but the broader alliance might be.

KEILAR: Yeah, where is the line. How would you describe where the war is right now?


VOTEL: Well, I think -- I think it's very clear it's kind of stalemated. I think it's been described in some ways as kind of a frozen conflict here where there's neither side can gain an advantage and kind of the disputed territory. I think Russia controls somewhere 15, 16 percent of Ukrainian territory in the east, and it doesn't seem neither side seems to be able to make a breakthrough at this point. I would describe this very much as a stalemate, a frozen conflict.

KEILAR: General Votel, it is great to have you. Thank you so much. And happy New Year.

VOTEL: Happy New Year. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, George Beebe. He's the former head of Russia analysis at the CIA.

George, what does this indicate to you about what Putin is thinking and what he has planned here in the near term?

GEORGE BEEBE, DIRECTOR OF GRAND STRATEGY, QUINCY INSTITUTE: Well, Brianna, I think he has a couple of objectives in launching this strike on Ukraine. The first is retaliation. The Ukrainians recently sank a large Russian naval ship that was in port in Crimea. It was apparently carrying a lot of weaponry for Russian forces. And I think Putin wanted to show Ukraine, and I think show his critics inside Russia, his nationalist critics, long accused him of being too soft in dealing with Ukraine and the United States, that this kind of attack will bring massive Russian retaliation.

But I think the other thing he is trying to do is send a message to the United States and NATO that Russia is not running short of missiles or drones, that its ability to strike Ukraine is actually improving rather than weakening, and that the West and Ukraine can expect more of this the longer this war goes on.

KEILAR: As he planned for this, as Russia's military planned for this, how emboldened was he by this disagreement here in the U.S. over whether to fund Ukraine further?

BEEBE: Well, I think Putin thinks that he has the upper hand in this war right now, that things are going Russia's way. Far from being a stalemate, I think he looks at the correlation of forces, Russia's population advantage, the fact that Russia is out-producing the west right now in artillery shell production by a factor of some ten times.

And Ukraine is, in fact, running short of air defense weaponry. They, in the past, have been shooting down 90 percent or more of the Russian strikes that are coming in. This time it looks like only about 75 percent. That's a significant gap.

And I think Putin is thinking things are going his way and will continue to go his way over time. So I think Putin right now is sending a message that the longer this war goes on, the more it will be to Russia's advantage.

KEILAR: What can change his mind, what could change his calculus?

BEEBE: Well, I think no country wants to go into a negotiation and make concessions. The Ukrainians don't want to do that. The United States and NATO don't want to do that. I think Russia as well doesn't want to do that.

But the reason why countries do compromise and ending wars is because the alternatives look worse. And I think for Putin there are still some incentives to try to bring this war to a successful conclusion sooner rather than later. So I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that Putin would be willing to enter negotiations and make some concessions not over his fundamental goals in the war, not over whether Ukraine can be a member of NATO or not, but I think there is a prospect if the United States were to pursue it of finding some sort of compromise way out of this.

KEILAR: Very interesting. George, thank you so much for being us with tonight. And happy New Year to you.

BEEBE: Happy New Year. Thank you.

KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, Israel claiming it has found and destroyed a hideout belonging to Hamas' leader. But are they closer to actually capturing him?

And Dolly Parton with a holiday surprise for a dying fan.



KEILAR: Tonight, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar's hideout apartment destroyed. That is according to Israel defense forces. The IDF releasing this video that it says is the explosion that wiped out the tunnel network that led to the apartment.

One of the tunnels contained an electrical network. Ventilation and sewage infrastructure as well as prayer rooms, they said. This as conditions in Gaza are deteriorating.

Nada Bashir is OUTFRONT.


NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A seemingly endless stream of injuries. The wounded rushed to whatever hospitals are still able to treat patients. Day after day, the death toll climbs. There is no respite from Israel's widening offensive.

By daybreak, smoke rises above southern Gaza. Many of those who fled here for protection now watch as their loved ones are buried. Grief here is never ending.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas who they say are embedding themselves amongst civilians. But the innocent here are shown no mercy in this war, gripped with fear as Israeli forces strike residential buildings and even around hospitals.

NADEEN ABDULATIF, DISPLACED GAZAN: The house that we stayed in we thought it was good and found shelter finally. A house next to it was bombed. The house jiggled and the house went crazy and the windows broke.

BASHIR: Some 2.2 million people in Gaza are now said to be facing an acute hunger crisis prompting this sea of desperation, crowds grabbing at what little food aid has made it in, unsure of their next opportunity. With no safe place to turn, people continue to stream into Rafah, despite the bombardments now gripping the border city.



BASHIR (on camera): Well, Brianna, the situation in Gaza seems to only grow more desperate by the day and getting aid in Gaza is still proving to be a challenge.

Just today, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said its aid convoy was fired out by Israeli troops after passing a checkpoint into southern Gaza. While no one was injured, the U.N. agency has said that aid workers should never be a target.

Now, Israel says it is looking into the incident, but this has once again brought into security questions, aid agencies have repeatedly sought from Israel in order to provide the vital aid to millions of civilians in Gaza -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Nada, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Israel Defense Forces spokesman, Major Doron Spielman, with us.

Major, as you just heard in our report, there have been several strikes in Rafah, which is largely considered a safe zone. So many civilians have evacuated there. The instructions they've gotten have been very confusing. Communications has been a problem, when they're trying to navigate a complicated map like this.

What do you say to them?


First of all, the situation in Gaza is truly a very difficult situation for anybody to look at. And we have to understand that, in considering the civilian situation, including in Rafah, it cannot be considered without the main word, which is Hamas. Hamas is repeatedly firing from the Rafah crossing, from the Rafah humanitarian zone, from the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone. And in each of those cases, when Hamas is firing, even from a building, if that is an imminent threat towards Israeli civilians, it is our moral duty to respond and to try to eliminate them.

The problem is they're always surrounding themselves with either humanitarian aid agencies or civilians. So, this is constantly a scene that we see repeating itself. It could end in one day, Brianna, if Hamas would simply decide to get up and move away from their civilians and face Israel on the open battlefield and not cowardly hide behind families, then the humanitarian situation in Gaza would end right away.

KEILAR: It is true they're using human shields, and they have a history of doing that. That is a war crime. Israel certainly still has obligations under law. That is also very true.

And just today, the U.N. says one of its aid convoys was fired upon by the IDF. They were on a designated route. They had actually been in touch with the IDF about their route.

Why is the IDF firing on a designated route on a convoy like this, or do you dispute that this is how this happened?

SPIELMAN: I can tell you two things about this. First of all, as the former reporter said, we're investigating this. We take this very seriously.

The last thing we want to do is to fire on a humanitarian organization. We never ever intentionally fire on a humanitarian organization. The issue with Gaza is it is a hornets nest.

And if there is a convoy, we've seen Hamas stop these convoys numerous times. They steal the food, they steal the fuel. We have medical supplies going in today for 1.5 million people, to inoculate them. These are all targets for Hamas.

KEILAR: These are folks returning -- these were folks returning from a humanitarian run in vehicles clearly marked U.N. What are the rules and protocols and precautions that your soldiers are taking to use restraint in situations like this?

SPIELMAN: We are, as I mentioned, the entire strata of the IDF is aware that Gaza is full of civilians, humanitarian organizations, our own hostages, which are there beneath the ground, and Hamas militants.

In every single case, our soldiers, our aircraft, are directed to weigh each scenario. We have never, since this entire war began, struck a civilian target intentionally. Mistakes do happen. This is a difficult place.

If this was a mistake and if this is verified, we will come forward and say it. What I can say, though, is that the issue of Gaza is an unparalleled playing field. We are trying to not hit humanitarian convoys and civilians, and Hamas is constantly still shooting rockets at Israeli civilians. Each one of those rockets is a war crime.

So, we're in a difficult situation, but the last thing we want to do is to see any damage come through these humanitarian aid groups.

KEILAR: Major Spielman, thank you for your time this evening. We appreciate it.

SPIELMAN: Thank you for having me.

KIELAR: OUTFRONT next, monstrous waves, some of them 20 feet tall -- check this one out. The Pacific Ocean pounding the California coast, forcing people to scramble for safety.

And Dolly Parton surprising a dying fan with a personal phone call, granting a bucket list wish for Christmas. You'll hear it here next.



KEILAR: Tonight, walloped. Incredible new video out of California, as a massive wave crashing into onlookers and sending them for cover. Nearly 20 people here briefly swept away. And here's another view of it, after this wave jumped a beach barrier and washed 30 to 50 yards down the street.

Officials say eight people were taken to local hospitals because of this. Beachgoers even you will approximating a life guard to safety amid dangerously high surf. And more waves are coming. 15 to 20 foot waves coming through the jetty there, expected throughout the state's central coast bringing along excessive flooding and damage. Just look at this restaurant, as the wave crashes through that gate

there, the tables washed away. All Ventura County beaches are going to be closed through New Year's Eve, as these massive waves continue to pummel the California coastline.

And finally tonight, Dolly Parton, the superstar, granting a dying wish to one of her biggest fans.


DOLLY PARTON, SUPERSTAR (via telephone): You take care and just know that I will always love you.


PARTON: Okay. Well, I should have sung that, shouldn't I?

GOLD: Yeah, will you --

PARTON: I will always love you. I will always love L.G.


KEILAR: L.G. is Legrand Gold and he has stage four cancer. He put together a list of things that he hopes to do with the time he has left.

This is L.G.'s list of living, written on the napkin of black marker. See number seven there. Meet Dolly Parton. Well, this holiday season, he checked that off the list with a phone call from the legend herself. He is a lifelong fan, as so many of us are.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.