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E-mails And Recordings Provide Behind-The-Scenes Look At Chaotic Last-Minutes Effort To Keep Trump In Office; Nikki Haley Now Says "Of Course" The Civil War Was About Slavery After Not Mentioning It At NH Event; IDF Warns Central Gaza Residents To Evacuate To Shelters; Whelan To CNN: Biden Should Use Every Resource To Free Him, As If "Your Own Son Had Been Taken Hostage"; Justice Department Threatens To Use Texas Over Immigration Law. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 28, 2023 - 17:00   ET


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: The debate is live from Des Moines at 09:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. And this weekend, holiday tradition continues right here on CNN, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will host their seventh New Year's Eve live coverage starts Sunday night at 08:00 Eastern as they count down to midnight from Times Square.

And if you ever missed an episode of the lead, you can listen to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Happening now, breaking news, new revelations about the frantic 11th hour efforts to keep Donald Trump in office, recordings detailing how Trump operatives scrambled to get fake electoral ballots to Washington in time for January 6. Standby for CNN's exclusive reporting. Also this hour Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley trying to clarify her comments about the Civil War after she failed to mention slavery as a cause for the conflict. The backlash tonight is growing as her Republican opponents are pouncing. Also tonight, American Paul Whelan speaking exclusively with CNN, as he marks five years of being wrongfully detained in Russia. He's now pleading for President Biden to do more to try to win his release as if he were the President's own son.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Kaitlan Collins, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

COLLINS: And I want to get right to the breaking news tonight because we have extraordinary behind the scenes details of the Trump team's efforts to carry out a fake electoral scheme as then President Trump was trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat and hold on to the White House. CNN's Zachary Cohen is part of the team behind this exclusive new reporting from CNN.

Zachary, what are these recordings obtained by CNN reveal about just how far his 2020 fake electors plot really went?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Kaitlan, these e- mails and audio recordings really do shed new light on what was really a mad scramble that took place on the eve of January 6, 2021. And they come by way of Ken Chesebro who's been described as the -- in many ways, the architect of the fake electors plot. And Chesebro has recently sat down with state level investigators in Michigan and other key battleground states. But when he sat down with the Michigan investigators he laid out the document and also in his proper interview how the Trump campaign including Trump campaign officials are at the top of the hierarchy were intimately involved in trying to get these fake electric certificates to Washington, D.C. on January 6, and specifically, the certificates from two key battleground states Michigan and Wisconsin, when they learned that those certificates had been stuck in the mail.

Now take a listen to what Chesebro told investigators in Michigan when he sat for an interview a few weeks ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this stage, the Trump campaign is still actively involved?

KENNETH CHESEBRO, PRO-TRUMP LAWYER: Yes, that is the general counsel of the Trump campaign is freaked out that Roman reported that the Michigan votes are still in the sorting facility in Michigan, which doesn't look like they're going to get to Pence in time.


COHEN: So why were they freaked out? Well, these certificates that were signed by the fake electors on December 14, they had to be physically brought to the floor of Congress on January 6 in order for Mike Pence to throw out the legitimate electors for Biden and replace them with the fake electors for Donald Trump. That was sort of the plan that was in the works. You know, these are the lengths to which Trump campaign officials were really making sure that these certificates got there on time. And it's -- you got to notice, too, that this specific episode is vaguely referenced in Jack Smith's federal indictment of Trump under the section about pressuring Mike Pence to throw out legitimate electors.

So, really, it underscores sort of the connective tissue between two key parts of Jack Smith's federal indictment and the allegations of broader conspiracy.

COLLINS: So they're freaking out thinking that fake electors aren't going to make it to Washington. They do eventually make it to Washington. But Kenneth Chesebro also had a lot to say about how involved Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill were in this last minute scramble to actually get these fake electors to the vice president.

COHEN: Yes, you're exactly right, Kaitlan. He really does describe sort of this handoff process where the certificates exchanged hands multiple times, and it's really orchestrated and facilitated by members of Congress. And the goal seems to be, according to these e- mails and Chesebro, to get the certificates in the hands of Senator Ron Johnson, who I know you've asked about his role and his responses to questions about, you know, his involvement in the fake elector's plot before, you know, Ron Johnson was clearly identified based on these e-mails and based on Chesebro's proper interview as the person who they needed to get the certificates to in order to get them to Pence. Obviously a staffer for Ron Johnson did ultimately contact Mike Pence's office asking if you could bring by these certificates. That offer was rejected, as we know, and Pence ultimately certified the legitimate election results.


But again, it does sort of underscore this idea that there were members of Congress involved in sort of a last minute push to make sure these certificates got to D.C. on time for January 6 and in the hands of Mike Pence.

COLLINS: Yes, great to have this reporting. I mean, it is fascinating to read into the details of this. We'll continue to delve into it. Zachary Cohen, good job by you and your team.

We have our legal experts here to break all of this down. And Norm Eisen, just reading through this reporting, I mean, what do you make of the fact that it goes into so many details of how extensive these efforts were that they were even considering chartering a private plane to ensure that these files, these fake electors reached Washington in time for January 6?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kaitlan, those details are going to be very important for Jack Smith to prove his case for state prosecutors like Fani Willis who has charged this same conduct to prove their case. And the reason those details about the elaborate plan to get all the materials to Washington for January 6 matters so much as they go directly to the intent here. This wasn't just as it started out a preventive measure in case Trump won court cases. This was an active alleged conspiracy to have Mike Pence in Congress blocked the rightful winner of the election from taking office. And Jack Smith has said that that is a criminal conspiracy.

And it's hard to understand how lawyers and other professionals couldn't see why that was wrong.

COLLINS: Well, Norm, just quickly on that, if this is so important to Jack Smith, then what about this detail on the reporting that Kenneth Chesebro's attorneys reached out to Jack Smith's team before he took this guilty plea and they say that they still have not heard back from them. What does that indicate?

EISEN: It indicates that Smith has questions about Chesebro's candor, perhaps, that he may not think he's a valuable witnesses -- witness. Kaitlan, one of the other striking things about this reporting is that Chesebro is pointing fingers at others and saying he feels that he was not well treated, including Mr. Morgan, the Trump campaign's top lawyer. So there's questions about whether Mr. Chesebro was fully accepting responsibility. There may be concerns of that kind that Smith had.

COLLINS: Yes. Well, I'm glad you brought up Matt Morgan, because Michael Moore, I mean, this is a top Trump campaign attorney. And the reporting here, essentially, seems to indicate that he was more involved than previously known in these 11th hour efforts to get these fake electors delivered to Washington. But when he testified before the January 6 committee, I mean, I remember Liz Cheney and the other members playing that at their hearings, he seemed to distance himself quite a bit from this entire effort, saying it was Rudy Giuliani and his team that were handling this.

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm glad to be with all of you. I think that's right. And I think really, this reporting and this evidence is probably more of a problem for players like Mr. Morgan and other people who are really sort of in the weeds on how this was going to happen. I mean, as far as the Trump -- the charges against Trump in the Smith case, if you think about Jack Smith trying to prove a drug case, it doesn't really matter if the drugs get there by Chevrolet or Ford. And so, the details of how they got there, what it does is it gives some color, and it gives some context, and it explains part of the scheme and the depth of the scheme.

It doesn't necessarily change the crime but it certainly adds more to it. And even though Trump is not really mentioned in the reporting, it's always campaign people and lawyers and such as that. The question will be, does it now solely the credibility of folks who have testified before the January 6 committee or in other judicial settings and cause some problems there or does it simply give Jack Smith another pressure point to get people to come forward and tell what they knew about this scheme? And essentially, you know, who was involved and what the plan was and how was ultimately to be carried out how high the planning went for this type of activity?

COLLINS: Well, and Paul Reid, I mean, we're certainly seeing how at least wide the planning went because kind of Chesebro is naming Congressman Perry, Senator Ron Johnson, the Matt Morgan, the other top Trump campaign attorneys, I just want to listen to what it is that he told investigators about their role in this plot.


CHESEBRO: So he finds the representative Perry, whoever it was, from Pennsylvania, and who gets a staffer to agree to meet us at like 3:45 p.m. And so, and I don't know why we did that. So Mike Brown -- you know, I had the Wisconsin stuff, Mike Brown had the Michigan stuff. We walked to the Longworth office building, and the guy with Perry, or whatever his name is, and some other fellow, that were like staff members of the House, took them and said, we're going to walk them over to the Senate and give it to a Senate staffer. Who I guess was the same staffer for Johnson.


And -- so that's how -- I don't know why logistically, we didn't take it directly to Johnson. But that's how we did it.


COLLINS: Paula, what do you make of that testimony, and what that reveals to investigators?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly significant that he is naming U.S. lawmakers here. Now, I do want to note that Senator Johnson insists that his involvement only spend a matter of seconds. But anyone who may have engaged in potential criminal activity with Ken Chesebro should be extremely worried. Clearly, this guy is talking. He is sharing everything he knows.

He entered a plea deal down in Georgia. We also know that he's spoken with prosecutors in Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin who are investigating sham GOP electors in their own states, but only the people who should probably be the most concern based on what we've heard here are these Trump lawyers because Chesebro seems to have some real bitterness towards them, saying that he has, quote, "No warm feelings" towards them, that they hid things from them, lied to him, and then lied to Congress. They should not be sleeping well. It's notable that he is naming these lawmakers. He clearly has it in for these Trump lawyers who would have to support any claims that he makes with evidence, would have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But those folks should not be sleeping well right now.

COLLINS: Yes. And their legal team certainly are paying close attention to this. Paula Reid, Norm Eisen, Michael Moore, thank you all.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, has Nikki Haley jeopardized her new momentum, her latest momentum in the Republican presidential race? New reaction to her failure to mention slavery last night when asked about the cause of the Civil War as she is attempting to clean up the controversy.



COLLINS: Tonight, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is trying to clean up remarks she made about the Civil War when she failed to mention that slavery was a source of the conflict. CNN's Eva McKend is in New Hampshire where Haley made these comments last night and is now doing damage control.

Eva, first, what did she say? How long did it take her to clean up these remarks that she made last night just before 09:00 p.m.? And what has she been saying about it today?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, this all erupted last night in northern New Hampshire when she got an atypical question. Typically she might be asked about Social Security, immigration, the border ,the fentanyl crisis, former President Trump, President Biden, and we typically see pretty rehearsed answers from her on those issues that she might anticipate she'll get. This time though, she was asked about the Civil War. Take a listen to her response. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the cause of the United States Civil War?

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, don't come with an easy question, right? I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run the freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. And in the year 2023, it's astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word slavery.

HALEY: What do you want me to say about slavery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've answered my question. Thank you.

HALEY: Next question.


MCKEND: So you see there, she reflexively did not respond that it was about slavery, and it was a bit of a testy exchange. But she's singing a different tune today. Take a listen to what she's saying now.


HALEY: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery. But it was also more than that.

It was about the freedoms of every individual. It was about the role of government. For 80 years, America had the decision and the moral question of whether slavery was a good thing. And whether government, economically, culturally, any other reasons, had a role to play in that. But by the grace of God, we did the right thing, and slavery is no more.


MCKEND: But her opponents, Kaitlan, still latching on to that initial response. Really aiming and attacking at her that they have long made. They argue, Governor DeSantis for instance, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, that she does too such things to try to be all things to everybody that sometimes when she's talking about abortion, for instance, it might sound different in New Hampshire than it does in Iowa. And so this controversy allows them to continue to make those sorts of arguments. Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. And she hasn't stumbled much. So clearly, they are trying to take advantage of it. Eva McKend, thank you for that.

I want to dig deeper on this with our political experts who are here tonight. And Alice Stewart, Nikki Haley this morning, if you saw her there at that second event in New Hampshire, she came out unprompted and addressed this. She said she wanted to nip it in the bud. But do you think that her comments today have helped?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTOR: Well, it certainly helped with the people in the room that wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. But the problem is, while this may have been an atypical question that she got last night, I don't see this as a trick question and it certainly was not a hard question. And the answer to this question is unequivocally the Civil War was a result of slavery and trying to end slavery. And she should have further gone on to say, I think slavery is wrong. And I agree with what Abraham Lincoln said at the time in the Gettysburg address that all men should be created equal.

And as president, I will make sure and further that idea. She didn't do that. She's making this even worse by saying that this is a Democratic plant and even blaming this on President Biden, that is not the best way to respond to this and certainly not the best way to nip it in the bud because we're blaming it on Democrats and Biden just encourages them to respond and encourages her opponents to attack her as well.


The last thing you want 18 days out from the Iowa caucuses is a lead in the Des Moines Register about responding to this and certainly in New Hampshire. That's what the news is about today as well.

COLLINS: Well, and Tia Mitchell, I think, when you look at this from a bigger picture, not even just this one moment with, you know, Haley supporters will say, if this was one comment, she didn't handle it well. But when you look at the bigger picture, I mean, she has struggled on this issue in the past. You know, in 2010 CNN KFILE did an investigation where she said the Civil War was, you know, a fight for tradition versus change. And she said the Confederate flag was not racist, but part of heritage and tradition. Obviously, years later, as the governor of South Carolina, she took down the Confederate flag after that deadly shooting at a historically black church in Charleston. What do you make of how she's handled not just this issue in this moment last night in New Hampshire, but overall on the campaign trail?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPINDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTE: Yes, it kind of boils down to a point Eva just made, which it sometimes comes across that she crafts her message to fit the audience. And quite frankly, she's being perceived with as cracking her message on issues of race in the Civil War in ways that can speak to conservatives but also speak towards the center when she's trying to run more of a general election type campaign. So you know, when she talks about the Civil War, the Confederate flag in ways that whitewash or gloss over some of the racist implications of fighting to own people, fighting to own black slaves, so you can't avoid the race part of that. You can't avoid the race part that white supremacist organizations use the Confederate battle flag as a symbol. You can't ignore the race implications that Civil War and the Lost Cause became a tool during Jim Crow era and later during the Civil Rights era, a tool to attempt to intimidate black people who were fighting for segregation. Those are just truth, those are parts of American history.

And when she doesn't hit those head on, she's being perceived as trying to speak to audiences so she doesn't make anyone mad. And what I think she's learning today that sometimes when you try that you end up not pleasing anyone.

COLLINS: She accused, Maria, this questioner of being a Democratic plant. We don't know this person. Eva McKend later reported would not identify themselves when reporter asked for their name after the event. But even if that is true, I mean, does that really change how you answer that kind of a question?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely not, Kaitlan. And in fact, when you try to throw something like that out, it just speaks to how desperate you are, and how embarrassed you are about how much you really screwed up that answer. And I think what this has betrayed, Kaitlan, is that she not only is completely inauthentic trying to, as Eva said, trying to be all things to all people but she's betrayed that in fact, she is as extremist a MAGA candidate as everyone else in that GOP primary to -- that wants to delegitimize slavery, minimize racism, take away rights and freedoms, which ironically, she was trying to say that it's something that we need to give people, whereas her party is trying to take them away. And I think what it underscores especially to the Independents who might have been looking someplace else other than Trump, they're going to now rethink, well, you know, if I support somebody like Trump, I'm going to support Trump. If I wanted somebody completely different than Trump, she's not it because she had the opportunity, perhaps in this specific area to really differentiate herself from Trump and her other competitors, and she couldn't do it, she bumbled it completely.

And it's also ironic that somebody like DeSantis is coming after her because DeSantis is no better. He's the one who's trying to whitewash American -- African-American history and Florida. So it doesn't work for anyone, really, but it certainly is not working for her.

COLLINS: I'm glad you brought up Governor DeSantis because he has been responding to this today. This is what he said about Haley's comments and her subsequent attempts to clean it up.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I noticed that Nikki Haley has had some problems with some basic American history. Yes, she's asked a very simple question and responded with just a really incomprehensible word salad about this and that. The abolition of slavery was, to this day, remains the party's top achievement. That's something that you should acknowledge and be proud of as a Republican.


COLLINS: Now, Alice, obviously what Maria's referencing there is DeSantis facing his own issues with Florida's education laws back in his home state earlier on the campaign trail. But him using this moment for a Nikki Haley candidate who was very scripted and coordinated and doesn't stumble much on the campaign trail, they are both trying to go after those more moderate voters who are not supporting Trump or don't want to support Trump. What do you make of his response to this?


STEWART: Look, here's the way that -- what this boils down to, Nikki Haley has been rising in the polls, she has the momentum at her back heading into the primary and the caucuses. If she was in the toilet in her polling numbers, we would have never heard anything about this after this event. The moment this comment got out on social media yesterday, every other campaign sent this to me and flagged this and said pay attention to this, is because she is a threat to these other candidates is why they're talking about it. But that being said, I think they're completely correct to use this as an opportunity to highlight of what a blunder this is and how she flubbed this answer to this question and take this as an opportunity to separate themselves from her on this issue. But at the end of the day, I think this was a terrible answer to a question that could have very easily been answered.

And as Tia had mentioned, there are some times that Nikki Haley has been perceived as trying to please everyone and be everything to everyone. But in this situation, there's only one answer to this and what caused the Civil War and slavery. And that's the best answer to this. And unfortunately, she's spending an entire new cycle and probably many more talking about this, instead of what people in the Live Free or Die state want to talk about.

COLLINS: Thanks to you all. I also want to get perspective on this from a former Republican presidential candidate who was running against Nikki Haley, Will Hurd, former U.S. congressman from the state of Texas.

Congressman, I just wonder what was your reaction when you heard that comment from Nikki Haley last night?

WILL HURD, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the first comment I heard was her comments this morning, when she's made it very clear that the Civil War was because of slavery. She's made that clear. She doesn't think slavery is a jobs program like other people that are running in this race. Her opinion has been very clear. Her record on this is very clear.

And I think your last speaker is correct. People are trying to use this as a thing because she has momentum. And that momentum is not going to change. This race is between two people, Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, and Nikki Haley is still the best person, the best Republican to beat Donald Trump.

And of course, Joe Biden loves the fact that everybody's talking about this today. Because we're talking about this, we're not talking about the crisis at the border, where he had to send his Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security down to Mexico City to beg for help. So, again, Nikki Haley has been very clear on her position on the Civil War and that it was because of slavery. COLLINS: That's interesting. And I want to get to the border with you in a moment, but you don't have any -- you don't see any issue with how she answered it last night and had the chance to mention slavery but did not.

HURD: Look, she said it was for freedom, right? It was a freedom of black people. And again, was it an imprecise answer? Of course, could the answer had been better, of course. And but, you know, she's a leader has come in and clarified her message today.

And that's something that other people in this race have failed to do, or they double down on crazy conspiracy theories. So, again, long day, in precise answer. She's made it very clear where her position is, and her record speaks for itself.

COLLINS: I think you've probably had the most generous response to her yet on how this went. Are you voting for Nikki Haley in this primary?

HURD: Of course, I am. I think she's the best person that's in the race to beat Donald Trump. She has a real momentum. She's the one.

And look, you know, we always talked about how Donald Trump is leading Joe Biden in the polls, with Nikki Haley's lead over Joe Biden is even bigger. It's in double digits. I think that's a CNN polling that has shown that. So, Ambassador Haley, I think has our best chance. She's a new generation of leader that the country needs. And as part of the Republican wing, that is going to appeal to Democrats that are sick and tired of President Biden.

COLLINS: But do you think -- are you worried at all given your support for her that this hurts her efforts to win over those more moderate voters in the Republican Party not being able to clearly define a pretty easy question on the first time?

HURD: Well, she's clearly defined it, right? I don't think this is going to be a issue for her. I don't think voters the -- is not going to hurt her momentum. And she is clear. OK. You know, misspeaking at an event that was probably the 10th one that she had during the day, but she's made it very clear what her position is. Nikki Haley knows and believes a Civil War was about slavery. She's said that herself. She said that on CNN this morning a couple of times.

So I think this is onward and upwards and people are going to continue to use something to try to attack her because momentum is on her side. Democrats are afraid of her. Republicans -- her Republican opponents are afraid of her. And of course they're going to try to use anything to try to attack her because she is -- she's continually consistently been rising in the polls.

COLLINS: Former Congressman Will Hurd thank you for your time tonight.

HURD: Of course.

COLLINS: Up next, we are getting news about an Israeli-American woman abducted by Hamas on October 7th who has now been confirmed is dead. And wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan also tonight, speaking exclusively with CNN on the five year anniversary of his detention, those exclusive comments right after a quick break.



COLLINS: What you're looking at right now is some dramatic new video out of Gaza, a desperate scene that is playing out based on the reporting that we've been talking about for months, thousands of desperate civilians here are swarming, this one relief a truck that is coming through because they are so desperate to get some of that aid.

This this video that you're seeing here is coming as the Israeli military is warning residents in parts of central Gaza to evacuate immediately as its forces are continuing to target Hamas. For more on this story we are joined by Elliott Gotkine live in Tel Aviv tonight. Elliot, I mean, obviously we've been hearing about just how terrible and tragic the conditions in Gaza are. And this image just really seems to encapsulate that just how desperate people are for food, for water, for basic human necessities at this point.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN JOURNALIST: That's right, Kaitlan, nothing says desperation quiet like the sight of thousands if not tens of thousands of Palestinians engulfing these two aid trucks, the first eight trucks to get to the northern part of the Gaza Strip since the truce between Israel and Hamas broke down on December the 1st. As you can see thousands of them trying to get to the front of the queue, they were only carrying flour and water but they were all so desperate for sustenance that they were actually fights, we understand, that broke out in some parts as people were trying to get to the front of the queue or to ensure that they were not the ones that went without.

Now we know that not enough aid has been getting through into the Gaza Strip. It's far short of where it needs to be today, fewer than 100 trucks got through from the rougher crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Now there were hopes that when Israel agreed to allow aid to go directly from Israel into the Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, that this would significantly boost the amount of aid that was going through to Gaza.

But according to COGAT, at least, that's the Israeli body that administers that's in charge of civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It says that it was asked to close the crossing today because of logistical issues on the other side of the border in the Gaza Strip. So there are also logistical issues in addition to just getting enough aid through when it's so desperately needed, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And Elliott, we're also getting disturbing news tonight about an American Israeli woman who was believed to be being held hostage. What are we hearing?

GOTKINE: Yes, we now hear from Kibbutz Nir Oz, which is where Judi Weinstein was from, that she is now dead. She was believed to be alive, held hostage. We know that she was wounded on October the 7th when she was abducted by Hamas as part of its massacre of October the 7th when it killed 1,200 people inside Israel. It seems now that she died on that day perhaps are coming to her wounds. Her husband was also killed that day. Now Judi Weinstein, 70-year-old grandmother, she had four children, seven grandchildren. She even leaves her 95-year- old grandmother. She was the last living American female hostage being held in Gaza.

There are still six male American citizens being held hostage in Gaza, we understand, that out of 100 plus hostages still being held and although talks are continuing attempt efforts to try to broker another truce that would see hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. That doesn't seem any sign of that on the horizon. Even President Biden just the other day, speaking with the Emir of Qatar to try to help with these talks push them along, but no signs of another deal anytime soon at least not yet, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Just heartbreaking news for her family who was surely holding out hope Elliott Gotkine in Tel Aviv, thank you.

Also tonight, we have a CNN exclusive as wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan is now calling on President Biden to use every resource that is available to him to get him out of Russia saying to act as if he were the President's own son. I'm joined tonight by CNN State Department reporter Jenny Hansler who spoke with Paul Whelan, on the five year anniversary of his detention. How did he sound, I know that you've been covering the story, you know, every single step of the way. How did he sound when you talk to him and how was he reflecting on this anniversary?

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Well, Kaitlan, in some ways, he sounded sort of quietly resigned to the fact that he is marking this very grim milestone of five years in Russian detention. I spoke to him just last week as well and he was you know very frustrated and exasperated at the fact that he was going to mark this milestone. He thought it was surreal that he was still behind bars in Russia. He couldn't believe that no success had been want to get him out of prison. But today, he had a very clear message about what he wants the Biden administration to do. Take a listen to what he told me.



PAUL WHELAN, MILITARY PERSONNEL: I'm more than past ready to return home and I'm counting on the U.S. government to come for me and soon. The time is now to take decisive action and bring this debacle to a close. President Biden, please use every resource available to secure my release, as you would do if your own son has been taken hostage.


HANSLER: So we hear a very clear message there, Kaitlan, for the President to do whatever it takes to bring him home. He told me he is worried that he's going to be abandoned there in Russia. He was not included in two prisoner swaps that brought home Brittney Griner and Trevor Reed last year. He is worried he is not going to be able to see his elderly parents again. He says he's always already lost friends. He's lost his beloved pets. So today was a very difficult day for him. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes. I can't even imagine how difficult it is for his family to not only have every day but to mark this milestone. Jennifer Hansler, thank you for that reporting.

Just to head here, the White House is slamming Texas's new immigration law as incredibly extreme. But now the Justice Department is taking another step threatening to sue as thousands of migrants are now being apprehended at the U.S. border each day.



COLLINS: Tonight, the U.S. Justice Department is threatening to sue the state of Texas over its new immigration law. Just making this the latest escalation between the Biden administration and Texas Governor Greg Abbott over the handling of the U.S.-Mexico southern border. I want to get details now from CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. Priscilla, obviously, this is something that the White House was unhappy about. They put out a statement when Governor Abbott signed this new law. But what are they threatening to do is a part of this potential lawsuit?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We'll simply put, Kaitlan, they're threatening to take Texas to court over this matter, essentially saying that enforcing immigration law is a federal responsibility and that this measure by Texas that allows local law enforcement to arrest migrants interferes with the federal government's operations on the U.S. southern border. And this is what they had to say in the letter to Abbott. It goes says SB 4, which is what the measure is known, is preempted and violates the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the United States intends to file suit to enjoin the enforcement of SB 4 unless Texas agrees to refrain from enforcing the law.

So the Justice Department essentially saying in this letter to Texas, that they will work, they will sue to block this measure from taking effect in March if the governor doesn't pull it back. But as you mentioned there, this is part of an ongoing saga between President Biden and the Texas governor over the handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. But now it's starting to play out in the courts.

COLLINS: Well, and all this is going on, as we saw Biden's top officials in Mexico yesterday meeting with the Mexican president, we were waiting to get a joint statement about what progress if any was made during that meeting. Was there anything tangible anything new that's coming out of that meeting between those two sides?

ALVAREZ: Well, officials on both sides are calling those talks productive. They're very -- there aren't many concrete details in their joint statement, but we do know some of what was agreed to and that includes, for example, cracking down on smugglers who facilitate the travel of migrants to the U.S. southern border, repatriations or deportations as they're often known of migrants as well as decongesting the northern part of the border, so essentially taking those migrants who are waiting to cross into the United States further south into Mexico.

But more broadly, what they also agreed to was working on the root causes of immigration and their economic partnership because that's what's key here, Kaitlan, they want to keep trade flowing, and so they need to get a handle on the U.S.-Mexico border to ensure that.

COLLINS: Priscilla Alvarez, thank you.


Coming up here on THE SITUATION ROOM, a celebrity party with the theme almost naked has sparked outrage in Russia. We'll tell you why and how it all went wrong, next.


COLLINS: Tonight, some Russian celebrities are facing intense backlash for showing up barely clothed at an almost naked themed party. As the country is carrying out its ultra conservative agenda as it wages its war against Ukraine. CNN's Bianca Nobilo has the story.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dress code optional, quite literally, an almost naked themed party hosted by a popular blogger in the lead up to the holidays in Moscow has gone viral in Russia, blogger Anastasia Ivleeva, organize the party in the heart of Moscow's nightclub district on December 21st. Party goers showed up half clothed or with barely anything on with outfits made of mesh lingerie and other creative materials to strategically cover limited parts of their body.

But photos of the almost naked party goers have sparked outrage across some parts of Russian society. Internal criticism has mounted about how a party of this nature could go ahead as Russians continue fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine. Orthodox Church officials, pro war activists and pro Kremlin lawmakers have all denounced the scantily clad party goers. Attendees are now facing legal action.

A court verdict against the party said the event was aimed at propagating non-traditional sexual relationships. Rapper Vacio who showed up wearing a sock covering his intimate areas, and not much else, has been found guilty of petty hooliganism by the Russian courts. He has been sentenced to 15 days in jail and fined 200,000 rubles or roughly $2,200. Planned New Year's parties organized by celebrities who attended the party have been replaced with other stars.

Ivleeva apologized by her Instagram page, posting a 21-minute video asking for forgiveness and a second chance. Other celebrity party goers have followed suit. In a previous video, Ivleeva, claimed the event was an opportunity to showcase photos created during her tenure as the chief editor of the now defunct Russian edition of Playboy. Ivleeva also faces legal action and hefty fines, a collective lawsuit filed against Ivleeva on Tuesday by 22 people and initiated by a Russian actor seeks compensation of 1 billion rubles. That's $11 million for moral damages.


Backlash against the party comes as authorities in the country are pushing an increasingly conservative and homophobic agenda. Just last month, Russia's LGBTQ community movement was deemed an extremist organization by the country's Supreme Court.

Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


COLLINS: Our thanks to CNN's Bianca Nobilo for that report.

Coming up here on THE SITUATION ROOM, more on CNN exclusive reporting tonight that reveals recordings, which offer an inside look at just how frantic the efforts were in the last days of the Trump administration by his campaign and others to carry out that fake electors plot aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election.