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CNN Gets Rare, Independent Access to War-Torn Southern Gaza; Jury Wraps Day One of Deliberations in Giuliani Defamation Damages Trial; Dow Closes at Record High for Second Day in a Row; Putin Holds First Major News Conference Since Start Of The Conflict In Ukraine. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a CNN team gets rare independent access to war-torn Southern Gaza, sharing an extraordinary first-hand look at the humanitarian crisis there. This as the U.S. is wrapping up pressure on Israel to limit civilian casualties and avoid what President Biden has called indiscriminate bombing.

Also tonight, it's now up to a jury to decide how much Rudy Giuliani must pay two former Georgia election workers for the harm he caused by spreading conspiracy theories about them. The first day of deliberations wrapping up a short while ago after Giuliani opted not to take the stand.

And Vladimir Putin is vowing there will be no peace in Ukraine until Russia's military goals are achieved. CNN was inside the Russian President's marathon end of the year news conference, his first since the start of the war.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

We begin tonight with the war in Gaza. President Biden stressing just a short while ago that he wants Israel to, quote, be focused on how to save civilian lives. We'll have more on the mounting U.S. pressure on Israel to be more targeted in his battle against Hamas.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is standing by for his life in Tel Aviv. But, first, I want to go to Clarissa Ward, who just made a truly extraordinary excursion into Gaza.

Clarissa, CNN is the first western media outlet to gain independent access to Southern Gaza without an IDFS court. Tell our viewers what you saw.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We have been trying for weeks and weeks to get inside Gaza. It has not been possible up until Tuesday when we were finally able to go inside with a contingent of medical volunteers from a newly established UAE-run field hospital.

Up until now, it's really been the journalists inside Gaza who have been risking their lives and often paying with their lives to keep telling these stories. But still, even the drive-in Wolf, just that 20 minutes to get to the field hospital from the border, offered a rare glimpse, a window onto the conditions on the ground. Take a look.


WARD (voice over): You don't have to search for tragedy in Gaza. It finds you on every street, strewn with trash and stagnant water, desolate and foreboding.

So, we've just crossed the border into Southern Gaza. This is the first time we've actually been able to get into Gaza since October 7th and we are now driving to a field hospital that has been set up by the UAE.

Up until now, Israel and Egypt have made access for international journalists next to impossible, and you can see why.

Since October 7th, the Israeli military says it has hit Gaza with more than 22,000 strikes. That by far surpasses anything we've seen in modern warfare in terms of intensity and ferocity. And we really, honestly, are just getting a glimpse of it here.

Despite Israel's heavy bombardment, there are people out on the streets. A crowd outside a bakery, where else can they go? Nowhere is safe in Gaza.


WARD (on camera): And, Wolf, you know, you really have a sense when you see the people on the streets that they're there primarily because there's nowhere for them to go. There's no place in Gaza that is safe right now. And so they have to go about the task every day of working out how they're going to survive, how they're going to source food, how they're going to source drinking water, how they're going to source decent or even any kind of medical care. Every single day is a fight for survival for people.

BLITZER: Clarissa, tell us about some of the patients, especially the children being treated at that hospital you visited.

WARD: Yes. I mean, it was really harrowing, Wolf. I have to be honest with you. We knew the statistics before going in. The U.N. has said two-thirds of the casualties in this war have been women and children.

But to see what we saw, a 20-month-year-old little boy, Amir (ph), who has been disfigured, who lost his entire family, to talk to eight- year-old Jinan (ph), who is in a full body cast and will be for the next six weeks because her house was hit, and 20-year-old Lama, a university student studying engineering, who was busy planning her sister's wedding before the house where she was seeking shelter, got hit by a strike and she lost her right leg in the process.


Take a look at one of those clips.


WARD (voice over): In every bed, another gut-punch. Less than two years old, Amir still doesn't know that his parents and siblings were killed in the strike that disfigured him.

Yesterday he saw a nurse that looked like his father, his Aunt Nahaya tells us. He kept screaming, dad, dad, dad.

Amir is still too young to comprehend the horror all around him.


WARD: And, Wolf, we arrived at that field hospital and literally within moments, there was a large strike nearby some ten minutes after that. I should say, the doctor didn't even flinch. He said, this happens 20 times a day. And ten minutes after that, two casualties were brought in. One was a man in his mid 40s who had lost half of his leg. The other was a 13-year-old boy whose foot was basically dangling off. Both of those legs had to be amputated in the end.

And this was just a brief glimpse, a small window onto the horrors that are taking place in Gaza every single day and onto the reality that it is the civilians of Gaza who are bearing the brunt of that.

BLITZER: And, Clarissa, how are scenes like that galvanizing people across the Middle East right now? You've covered this region for a long time.

WARD: Wolf, it's not just the Middle East. It's not just the Muslim world. It's across the world. You see a huge sense of global outrage and despair. When people look at these images, when they look at the fact that people in Gaza are basically, hermetically sealed into this very tiny, densely packed, very urban population, the fact that they have nowhere to go, that there is no real safe space, the fact that the munitions that are being used are not precise and are often vast bombs that are really designed to take out, for example, a Hamas tunnel, but are not designed to try to spare civilian lives.

And I think that is why you are seeing such a high level of anger, really global anger. One security official describing to me that this is the most radicalizing moment he can think of since 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward reporting for us, very courageously indeed. So happy you're safe and out of there right now. Clarissa, thank you very, very much.

I want to go to see it as Alex Marquardt right now. He's in Israel.

Alex. President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has been in talks today with top Israeli leaders. What are you learning about these key meetings? ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sullivan really did meet with the senior most leaders here, from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the defense minister and the head of intelligence. Sullivan and the administration don't want to be seen as telling Israel what to do or being seen as applying too much pressure on Israel. They're framing this trip as coming here to ask hard questions.

But it's clear so much of the discussion today, Wolf, was about the conflict where things stand now, where Israel sees things going forward. The administration really wants to see a transition in this conflict soon for Israel to move from what they're calling a high intensity phase, which is what we're seeing right now, to a lower intensity phase, where you'll see much more sort of targeted, you know, counterterrorism operations against leaders inside Gaza.

When that transition will happen, no one is going to say publicly. The White House's John Kirby said earlier today he hopes it will happen in the near future. My colleagues and I have spoken to several officials who believe that that could happen in weeks, not months.

And President Biden today was asked whether he would like to see a low intensity phase. Here's what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.


MARQUARDT: And, Wolf, the administration continues to insist that Israel has the intent to keep civilians safe. But of course, there's a different reality on the ground. And we heard President Biden saying just yesterday that Israel was carrying out what he called indiscriminate bombing.

The million-dollar question is what Israel sees as its timeframe, when it might make that transition, if it will.


We heard Prime Minister Netanyahu after his meeting with Jake Sullivan saying that they are more determined than ever to continue fighting until absolute victory, he said, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Alex, there's a new U.S. intelligence assessment that sheds light on how Israel is conducting this war. Tell our viewers about that.

MARQUARDT: And it sheds light on why we are seeing the scenes that we are with such utter destruction and a huge number of civilians killed. This is an assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that my colleagues, Katie Bo Lillis and Natasha Bertrand, were told about. And in it, it says that some 29,000 bombs have been dropped from the air on Gaza, and almost half of them are imprecise, unguided, so-called dumb bombs, 40 to 45 percent. So, that would mean 12,000 to 13,000 of these bombs are not precise. And, of course, that kind of thing can wreak havoc in such a densely populated area.

Now, one U.S. official defended Israel, saying that they've used dive bombing tactics where the planes will swoop down low and drop those bombs from a low altitude. But that is no substitute for a laser- guided or GPS-guided rocket.

We did ask the IDF for a response. They initially told me that they don't talk about the munitions that they use. But then once they saw the attention that this report was getting, they came back to me saying that Israel only uses high-quality munitions that are operated by skilled pilots and advanced systems. They went on to say that the munitions used in each strike is determined according to the target, the operational need, and the effort to mitigate harm to civilians.

So, you'll notice there that Israel not denying that they're using these dumb bombs. We should note that the U.S. has phased out its own use of dumb bombs but has actually offered thousands of their own to Israel. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv for us, Alex, thank you very much.

Just ahead, a jury begins deliberating how much Rudy Giuliani might have to pay two Georgia election workers for defaming them after the 2020 presidential election.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: A jury has just wrapped up the first day of deliberations in Rudy Giuliani's defamation damages trial. Their decision will determine how much he will have to pay two Georgia election workers in damages for spreading conspiracy theories about them in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is joining us. She's just outside of the courthouse here in Washington, D.C. So, Katelyn, tell us what happened. What's the latest?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, this jury has been deliberating for about three and a half hours looking at the numbers. They're going to have to determine exactly how much Rudy Giuliani should have to pay two women, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, two Georgia election workers, that he spread several lies about and that became part of a viral, sustained campaign, that's according to their attorneys, after the 2020 election, where he essentially said they switched votes. They did not do that.

And, Wolf, I should remind you of what these two women went through because that is central to what the jury is looking at now. And that could amount to giving them an award of tens of millions of dollars. What they went through was death threats, harassing phone calls, voicemails left repeatedly on their phones, calling them racist names, telling them to be afraid because of what they were doing. They were doxed. They felt that their names were complete mud because of what had happened.

Ruby Freeman, she had to change the name of her business. She was afraid to use her I.D. to introduce herself to people. Her daughter, Shaye Moss, she had to essentially have conversations about racism with her 14-year-old son and tell him that she was very afraid of what was happening. He would see her phone and see racist text messages coming into it.

And so all of that put together is the type of damages that the jury is looking at to compensate them, to compensate for the reputational harm, the emotional distress, also potentially to punish Giuliani.

BLITZER: And, Katelyn, tell us about Giuliani's approach. What has it been?

POLANTZ: Well, Rudy Giuliani, at the beginning of this week, Wolf, had pledged that he was going to take the stand in his defense. He did not, ultimately today. After hinting he might, he didn't because his lawyer said and told the jury that they wanted to show respect to these women, that they had been through enough, that their emotional testimony was something the jury should be considering.

However, his attorney argued that Giuliani is a good man. He wasn't the only person that was putting forward this information. There were other places, like news outlets, that were spreading these lies as well, and so that they should have compassion for the former mayor of New York.

Now, we did see him in court all day today throughout this week. At times, he was very much looking intently on, but through much of the arguments that Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss' lawyers made today, the closing arguments to the jury, he was barely paying attention. He was on his iPad reading the New York Post outlining things there, barely even looking at the jury and definitely not at the two women who he had defamed.

BLITZER: Interesting. Katelyn, thank you very much for your reporting, Katelyn Polantz outside the courthouse here in Washington.

I want to bring in our legal experts right now, and, Joey, let me start with you. The jury heard the truly racist threats to these two election workers. I want to remind our viewers of one very disturbing voicemail to them that was actually played in court. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eat (BLEEP) and die you (BLEEP). You are (BLEEP) done you (BLEEP).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to burn your store down.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: How does the jury process this, Joey, as they deliberate?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think in a very emotional way, Wolf, in a very relatable way. Trials are about telling stories. Remember what this is about. It's about defamation. And that means that your reputation was damaged, and you were damaged as a result of false statements that were made about you.


And when you go to the issue of damages and injury, you look at how were you harmed. You play messages like this, but for the jury, this is not just two workers, Shaye Moss and her mom, saying, you know, we were harmed, this is actual people saying, we're going to harm you, we're going to do this to you.

You match that Wolf against what Mr. Trump, former president, said, mentioning her name over and over and over again. That was played before the jury in a conversation, right, with Georgia election officials with respect to trying to overturn the election and what they did, and they went through a horrifying experience.

Final point, and then you look at the defense. The defense attorney talks about compassion, where your client doesn't testify, doesn't own what you did, doesn't have any compassion for them, and refers to them and saying that they just saw a deep pocket in Giuliani, meaning a person who can give them a payday. I think a tone deaf defense mixed with a very compelling narrative means multiple millions in damages, from my perspective.

BLITZER: Well, Andrew, what do you think? Do you see the jury awarding reputational damages? And how likely is it that they'll award emotional and punitive damages as well?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I think all of that is on the table, and I think it's likely their award will address each one of those points.

I think Joey is exactly right in his assessment of the sort of case that went in front of them. There is only one issue for them to decide, and that is how much of a penalty to assess on Giuliani. The fact that he defamed them has already been established in this court proceeding previously, and there's no universal understanding of how much defamation is worth.

And so every jury comes to it in their own way. They've seen some incredibly powerful evidence. Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman are, we know, very strong and very compelling witnesses. So, I think there's every reason to believe that the jury is going to lean in their direction in a significant, monumental way.

BLITZER: Carrie, Giuliani's lawyer said he doesn't have deep, deep pockets. How do you read that?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what they're trying to say is to discourage the jury from awarding a very high amount on the theory that he wouldn't be able to pay it anyway. But I suspect that's not going to be so persuasive.

There have been some other circumstances in other cases that Mr. Giuliani has been involved with, where he's hosted fundraisers, he's had third parties pay off some of his debts. So, he has found ways in other contexts to be able to pay.

Now, if they come back with tens of millions of dollars, then that certainly will be challenging for him to have to pay.

But there is a wide range of what this, in terms of dollar amounts, of what this jury might come back with, both in terms of trying to compensate the plaintiffs for the actual reputational harm that they suffered, as well as in terms of punitive damages to punish him and to send a message that this type of activity against people like them, just individuals working on elections, trying to make our elections work seamlessly and smoothly is not okay.

BLITZER: And, Joey, Giuliani, as we heard, didn't even seem to be paying attention during the closing arguments today. And he didn't testify, even though he repeatedly promised that he would be testifying. And he repeated his baseless defamatory lies outside the courtroom on Monday. So how much does that totally undermine his case?

JACKSON: I just think it does, Wolf. That's very compelling, particularly when your attorney has the gall to talk about half- compassion, you act disinterested and disconnected, right, with respect to the proceedings. You're playing with your iPad. You're looking at the news or whatever you're doing, reading the newspaper.

How about taking a stand and owning it and saying, I'm sorry, it didn't have to go this far, but you don't do that. Instead, a couple of days hence, right or before, you're out there saying, you know what, this is really true. And the reality is, is that I don't regret anything that I did.

I just think it's a really tough climb and a tough lift. And I think when you're this tone deaf, the jury has to -- it has to resonate with them that you know what, we're going to punish you. Punitive damages are an element of that. I'd look to -- for them to be significant.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree. Let's see what happens when the jury reconvenes tomorrow.

Coming up, another record day on Wall Street amid signs of an improving U.S. economy. Why aren't voters giving President Biden credit for that? I'll ask the veteran Democratic strategist, James Carville. He's standing by live.



BLITZER: Tonight, a new sign of economic optimism on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrials closing at a record high for the second day in a row. CNN Business and Politics Correspondent Vanessa Yurkevich is joining us from New York right now. Vanessa, what's behind the stock market boom and what does it say about the state of the U.S. economy?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another record day on Wall Street, the Dow closing up 158 points, beating the record it set just yesterday. And that record was because the Federal Reserve announced that they were holding rates steady and that they were projecting three rate cuts next year.

And today we saw the Dow pop on better than expected retail sales and the fact that mortgage rates dip below 7 percent for the first time since August. This is obviously welcome news for anyone who has money in the stock market or who has a 401(k), but also for folks who do not.


Retail sales coming in better than expected signals a strong us consumer. And mortgage rates coming down below 7 percent will likely get some first time homebuyers off the sidelines who have been holding out, unable to pay those 7 percent, nearly 8 percent mortgage rates.

And, Wolf, it's worth pointing out that this economic data that we got today does not include the Fed's announcement from yesterday. So, if the Fed, particularly on mortgage rates, goes ahead and cuts rates next year, that will make mortgage rates more affordable. It will also help cool interest rates on things like student loans, car loans and credit cards, something that Americans need badly right now, especially because, Wolf, it's important to point out that the fight against inflation is not over yet. There is still more work to be done. Prices are still too high. And we heard from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell yesterday saying that we should not declare victory yet. But, Wolf, we are certainly moving in the right direction.

BLITZER: It certainly looks like that. Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you very much.

Joining us now, the veteran Democratic strategist, James Carville, who famously coined the phrase, it's the economy, stupid, during Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. James, that's where you and I met, in Little Rock, Arkansas, back in 1992.

In addition to this booming stock market, inflation is cooling, gas prices are going down, but in a recent CNN poll of two key battleground states, by a more than two to one margin, voters said that economic conditions have worsened under President Biden. Why do you think voters aren't crediting the president with an improving us economy?

JAMES CARVILLE, FORMER LEAD STRATEGIST, CLINTON'S 1992 CAMPAIGN: Well, we had the same situation in 1995 with President Clinton. And, you know, the hope is that as this recovery matures, it digs down deeper and deeper. And the numbers that you were just quoting from today give some hope to that. What people worry about is the president's age have an opaque effect on the better economic numbers we're seeing, and these are questions that will have to be answered going forward this year. But these are undoubtedly very favorable numbers.

BLITZER: Just hours after yesterday's all-time high for the Dow, Donald Trump said this. Watch this and listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: During this holiday season, families all across America are struggling under the brutal weight of Bidenomics, you know, Bidenomics, it means a lot of bad things.

If we're not elected, we'll have a depression the likes of which I don't believe anybody has ever seen, maybe 1929. That's what's going to happen.


BLITZER: Trump also predicted that the stock market would crash under Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Is President Biden doing enough to tout these positive economic trends that are clearly unfolding right now?

CARVILLE: Well, so far, not so much. But, again, the idea is it takes hold, it penetrates deep and deep into the economy. And I see this stuff about Bidenomics, and people said, oh, it was a mistake to call it Obamacare. Well, now no one wants to get rid of Obamacare. I mean, public opinion is fickle and it changes, but the stock market numbers are just good.

Now, it's a mistake. Secretary Bob Rubin never allowed us to use the term stock market. He said, you don't know why markets go up. You don't know why they go down. You can talk about job numbers. You can talk about GDP growth. And my own sense is Trump might be making a mistake talking about the stock market because it goes in a different direction, and he's saying it makes him not look like that knowledgeable economic analyst, if you will.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Just yesterday, James, you told CNN's Kasie Hunt you thought it was still possible someone other than Joe Biden could be the Democratic nominee. Do you think that should happen? And can Democrats still win with Biden?

CARVILLE: Well, yes, they can win. I think the number of people in this country that want a choice other than Donald Trump and President Biden is like over 70 percent.

So, will that happen? I'd have to say it's doubtful, but anything is possible going forward. And the third party vote is just as high as I've ever seen it. So, it promises to be a pretty rocky year for someone like you, strap in, it's going to be pretty interesting, and it's going to be pretty hard to predict.

But I take polls right now in light of these really improving economic numbers with slight skepticism. But we'll see if it digs down or the concerns about the president's age just penetrate so deeply that you can't move it. And I don't know the answer to that, and I don't think anybody else does.


BLITZER: Before I let you go, James, despite the election lies, the indictments, his desire to be dictator for a day, Trump is in his strongest position yet to win the Iowa caucuses next month and is leading President Biden in general election polling as well. What do you attribute that to?

CARVILLE: Well, I think within the Republican Party, it's just as important to look at Trump as a theological figure as it is a political. I mean, he's kind of almost a religion. Now, as the year progresses and other things, it's hard to say that you don't have an accretion or some of this stuff starts piling up. Let's wait and see.

I try not to try to affect elections as much as predict them, but there's still a lot of uncertainty. The people that say we're just destined to have a Biden-Trump election, and that's just the way it's going to be, I don't agree with that. I mean, it might be that, but it's going to be No Labels, it's going to be a Cornell West and it's going to be a Bobby Kennedy, it's going to be Jill Stein. There's a lot of football left here. That's all I could say.

And anybody thinks that they know where this ends, my hat's off to you, but I don't, and I don't have any idea.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think any of us have any idea where this thing is going.

James, let's continue this conversation down the road, as we always do. Thanks so much for joining us.

CARVILLE: Thank you, Wolf. Go, Saints. Go, Pelicans.

BLITZER: Go, Bills. That's what I'd say.

CARVILLE: Take care.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, European officials arrest four suspected Hamas members who were planning attacks on Jewish targets. We have new information and details and we'll share them with you right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Tonight, European officials say they thwarted a terror plot involving four suspected Hamas members who were planning attacks on Jewish targets in Europe. Brian Todd is monitoring this story for us. Brian, how serious is this threat?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, German officials say it was very serious, involving specific planning, weapons and orders from the highest ranks of Hamas.


TODD (voice over): The terror group, waging war on Israel, allegedly attempts strikes at Jewish targets in Europe. Germany's federal prosecutor says three people just arrested in Germany were longstanding members of Hamas and are suspected of having planned attacks on Jewish institutions in Europe. A fourth person was arrested in connection with the same case in the Netherlands.

Their alleged mission was to locate an underground cache of weapons and bring them to Berlin for attacks on Jewish sites in Europe.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So far, Hamas has tended to focus exclusively on Israel guards at the West Bank. So, to me ,this is surprising, it's kind of new. It suggests a new development of Hamas' ambitions.

TODD: German prosecutors saying the three in Germany were closely linked to Hamas' military leadership and receiving orders from Hamas leaders in Lebanon.

BERGEN: That would imply to me that they were ordered by the military leadership of Hamas to go to Europe and try and do something.

TODD: In addition, at least four other arrests were reported in Denmark and the Netherlands as well, authorities saying they are not directly related to the other case, but Israeli intelligence saying those arrested in Denmark were terrorists acting on behalf of Hamas, and the arrests thwarted an attack, the goal of which was to kill innocent civilians.

Security at synagogues, Jewish centers and Jewish schools has already been dialed up in Europe since the Israel-Hamas War began, and American officials recently warning of an increased threat of terrorism against the U.S. as well.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil.

TODD: All of this comes as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI this week warned Americans more broadly of threats around the holidays, saying the war could heighten the threat of lone actor violence targeting large public gatherings throughout the winter, including holiday-related and faith-based events.

The agencies did note the public bulletin was not in response to any specific plotting activity. DONELL HARVIN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF, WASHINGTON, D.C.: It's the holidays. So, people are congregating and malls, people are going to shopping centers, people are going to houses of worship which are particularly vulnerable and are having targeted before we know.

TODD: Terrorists have targeted holiday festivals before in Europe. And a year ago on New Year's Eve in New York's Times Square, a man with a machete attacked police officers.


TODD (on camera): Now, as for Hamas's possible reach inside the U.S., terrorism experts we spoke to say, traditionally, Hamas' activities in the U.S. have been more along the lines of things like fundraising and logistics. But right now, they say the group's most realistic threat to America is its ability to simply inspire lone actors to commit violence.

Wolf, we will keep an eye on what happens over the holiday.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Brian Todd, thanks for that report.

Coming up, Vladimir Putin answers questions for hours. And CNN is there. We'll go live to Moscow. That's coming up next.



BLITZER: Russian President Vladimir Putin held a marathon question and answer session today, his first formal end of the year news conference since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.

CNN's chief global affairs correspondent Matthew Chance was at the news conference in Moscow. He's joining us now live.

Matthew, what message is Putin trying to convey with this event?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he covered a whole range of topics in this press conference that lasted more than four hours. And one of the main points that he was talking about was the conflict in Ukraine, of course, what Russia calls the special military operation. He revealed for the first time that Russia had about 600,000 just over that figure troops in the conflict zone, we have not heard that before, they did not talk about losses, although we know from our reporting at CNN that those losses according to U.S. intelligence are likely to be very high indeed.

He did go over again what the objectives were for Russia inside Ukraine, wants to denazify it, you know, Putin still is obsessed with the idea of falsely that Ukraine is run by the Nazis, wants to make sure that it was a neutral country that did not join the NATO alliance, and make sure it was demilitarized as well. He said that that could be achieved either through diplomacy, or by force. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Either we will agree on demilitarization, agree on certain parameters.


And, by the way, during the negotiations in Istanbul, we agreed on them. But then they threw these agreements into the oven, but we had agreed on them.

Or there are other possibilities, either to reach an agreement, or to resolve it by using force. This is what we will strive for.


CHANCE : Now, this was a carefully choreographed event, and the questions were closely vetted, but some managed to get through that were quite challenging, there was a live stream of a text message feed in which the general public could post, questions and that threw up some really -- kind of, you know, personal challenges, one of them asking, how many yachts does Putin have, another saying what reality do you live in, the reality you're talking about is different from the reality of Russia.

And so, it's not clear how those got through those questions, but it perhaps gave us a glimpse into what Russians in reality are actually thinking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you for that report.

Joining us now, the Russia expert and historian, Anne Applebaum.

Anne, thanks so much for joining us.

How much does this event in Moscow today with Putin reflect Putin's growing confidence in his positioning?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: You know, it reflects not so much as confidence in his ability to win the war on the ground, the Russians are still losing incredible numbers of troops, they are not making much progress but it may reflect his belief that the Western coalition behind Ukraine is splintering, and in particular that U.S. support for Ukraine is not going to be there, because of the Republican objection to passing a bill, and giving Ukrainians more money.

So, it's more that he has the confidence based on his belief that he can outlast us. If you watched events in Washington over the last few days, you can see why you might believe that.

BLITZER: Let me follow on that, how does Putin benefits, Anne, from the U.S. stalemates over providing more military aid to Ukraine right now?

APPLEBAUM: Well, remember, as I said, this is a war of nerves, you know? And it's partly psychological. So, the Russians are losing incredible numbers of people, but they think if they just stick it out, you know, we'll divide, we'll prove Putin right.

You know, he's been saying for years that, you know, the West is degenerate, divided, it can't do anything, and he's waiting for us to prove that to be the case. And even by delaying this vote, by delaying this bill on aid for Ukraine, we are giving him the confidence that he is right. So, he's going to stay on the ground, despite his losses, despite the fact that Ukrainians have taken back 50 percent of the territory that he conquered originally, despite the fact that he's lost an enormous portion of his, army that he's spending 40 percent of his budget on the military, he'll keep doing all of that until we -- he outlasts us.

And by delaying, by having this public argument about the American border, you know, we are giving him the feeling that he can keep going.

BLITZER: On those tough questions that were imposed to Putin, but actually showed up on the screens, is that a sign of deeper discontent? Or is Putin orchestrating this?

APPLEBAUM: So that I don't know. Some of them were very weird indeed. There was one of them that essentially asked Putin -- the Putin on the stage, whether he was about a body double, sort of implied that he wasn't really Putin, which weirdly is something that gets repeated a lot -- and a lot of people now believe.

So, I don't know whether that was a desire to air something -- to give it a sense of authenticity, whether it was a mistake. You know, they do orchestrates these things very carefully, and they actually -- you know, the Russian propagandists like to show some kind of conflict or arguments, you know, because then they can defeat those arguments.

I mean, we know from many sources that there is a lot of discontent, both in the Russian population, but also among the elite who matter. With the war, you know, it wasn't a war, people really wanted to fight, people are ambivalent about it, nobody is signing up to join it, you know? So, that obviously, exists and that might have been their way of trying to mitigate it for turn down or maybe it was an accident. I don't know -- I don't know.

BLITZER: Anne Applebaum, thanks so much for joining us, and we'll be right back with more news.



BLITZER: Tonight, there's a new push in the U.S. Senate to keep working to resolve the standoff over new U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is up on Capitol Hill. She's got details.

Melanie, update us on the negotiations, and whether something might actually get passed before the holidays. MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Chuck Schumer has

decide to keep the Senate in next week, and part of this last stitch effort to try to keep a deal on the border, which could unlock additional aid for both Ukraine and Israel. Schumer says he's hoping for a deal in principle by Monday, and he has already pulled a vote on aid package no matter what next week.

And, Wolf, there have been some signs of serious progress of the last 24 hours or so, with the White House now signaling they are willing to make some significant concessions on the border. That has Democratic negotiators like Kyrsten Sinema feeling a lot more encouraged about where they are in this process.

But, Republican negotiations are far more skeptical that they are going to be able to finalize a deal this week, given how complicated this issue is, and given where they are in the process. Just listen.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): Well, the fact of the White House is fully engaged in negotiations has definitely made a difference. It's communicated to Senate Republicans that this is serious, and that we've got a deal in the future. So, that's been really helpful. And we're also beginning to talk in more detail about what some of the elements of a potential deal would look like.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): There is no legislative texts, the White House just got involved three days ago. You expect to run up the clock, and get it done. Well, I think the best thing to do is to keep talking, try to find a deal that we can all live with that would get through the House, come back in January, and do it.


ZANONA: And even if the Senate is able to pass something, the House has already left for the end of the year. So that means something can be signed into law until January at the earliest, Wolf.

BLITZER: Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.