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THE SITUATION ROOM
Americans Freed in Egypt; Blogger's Nightmare Story; Counter- protests in Egypt; Critical Medicare Cuts Loom; Gingrich vs. Romney on Education; A Boy Without A Country
Aired November 25, 2011 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Three freed American students are on their way out of Egypt. When will they get home? We're talking live with a family representative.
Plus, brutally beaten and sexually assaulted, a U.S. blogger tells us what happened when Egyptian police got their hands on her.
And a political battle brewing between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on immigration. We will show you the old clip now making new headlines. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with breaking news. Three American students who were caught up in the bloody Cairo protests are finally on their way out of a nightmare experience in Egypt.
Let's go straight to CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman in Cairo.
Ben, earlier today we heard the three American students would be released on Saturday. Now we're hearing it's already happened. Why?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we understand is, yesterday, the prosecutor general ordered their release, but it took until today for them to actually get out of detention here in Egypt.
We just learned from their lawyer that the three boys have been released and they are on their way to the airport to leave the country. They were attending the American university in Cairo. And according to the Egyptian police, they were involved in attacks on security forces during the demonstrations off of Tahrir Square.
Of course, their lawyers and their parents deny that they could have done that sort of thing and clearly the fact that the Egyptians who initially said that they were going to charge them for attacking the police have let them go -- Joe.
JOHNS: Now, what's the situation on the ground? We have heard of counter-protests. We have heard of a long night there. Fill us in.
WEDEMAN: Every night is long here in Cairo these days.
It is 11:00 p.m. and Tahrir Square is crowded with tens of thousands of people. Some of them will spend the night here, as they have since last Saturday. About three miles from here, there was another demonstration, a counterdemonstration, people who support the military council here. They say they are the silent majority here in Egypt who have watched from their homes and on television as Tahrir Square has become a political stage in which Egyptians are calling for the military to leave power.
They are attacking the Interior Ministry. These are the other Egyptians who are worried about the country's economy, which is in very bad shape since the revolution. They are worried about the lack of law and order in the streets. And they want to see the elections which are scheduled to begin on only go ahead as scheduled and they support the government. There are always two sides to this story. There are people here in Egypt who actually do support this government -- Joe.
JOHNS: You're seeing honest disagreements of point of view and not necessarily some type of a counterdemonstration that's been put out there by the generals?
WEDEMAN: No, it would appear that it was in fact a sincere demonstration of those Egyptians who don't sympathize, don't agree with the Tahrir demonstrations.
In the past, of course, under Mubarak, staged demonstrations in favor of the government, in favor of the president were quite common. But it was clear that these people do sincerely believe that there is another side, that they need to be heard, that it's not just Tahrir, that there are many Egyptians who do support the military council that took over from Hosni Mubarak last February -- Joe.
JOHNS: Thanks for your reporting. Stay safe, Ben Wedeman in Cairo.
Let's get now more on the release.
Joining me by phone is Ted Simon. He's the attorney for Gregory Porter, one of the freed students. As I understand, Gregory Porter is the Drexel University student.
Is that right?
TED SIMON, ATTORNEY: Yes, that's correct.
JOHNS: Have you talked to your client? What do you know about his return to United States?
Fortunately, we were able to arrange a phone call yesterday as well as today. I'm pleased to report that it was a really good call. I think Greg demonstrated an unusual calm and uncommon measured demeanor. I think he really showed and demonstrated a maturity well beyond his 19 years, given the extraordinary challenges he was facing. He's a fine young man.
JOHNS: Has he boarded a plane to the United States or do you know when he's going to do that?
SIMON: Well, what we do know is -- and we're extremely thankful and appreciative of (AUDIO GAP) we were able through our counterpart to object to the prosecution's request to extend detention for 15 days and hoped and went -- and the court ultimately with their release.
Thereafter, the prosecution also later agreed not to appeal. And we're very thankful and appreciative for that, which then ultimately provided an unrestrictive court order. There were a few administrative steps that had to take place, some hurdles that had to be overcome which took place during today and yesterday.
And that left the opportunity for them to be released from the Kezrel (ph) police station and that's what has happened.
JOHNS: We have been hearing a variety reports of people of American descent being detained there and facing some rough treatment. What kind of treatment has your client gotten while in the country? Do you know from the police?
SIMON: Well, I can only tell you I have spoken to my client and he was very -- he wanted to be very clear to tell his mom and dad that he was OK and we certainly communicated that. He was extremely thankful again for all of our efforts and he was particularly thankful for the unconditional support and love that his parents have extended to him.
And we're also very appreciative of the court's ruling in (INAUDIBLE) that agreed with us that required and issued the order to release them, as well as we're really thankful to my counterparts in the prosecution in agreeing not to appeal.
So there's much to be thankful for at this time of year. And we have taken all possible steps to secure their release. I have been involved since Tuesday. And we just look forward for all of this to continue in the positive course it has now taken.
JOHNS: What is next for him? Do you have any sense that he will want to return to Egypt after this experience?
SIMON: You know, these are issues that we have not discussed. He is a very academically-oriented individual, extremely well-read, very interested in international relations and culture.
And I think we know for sure his education will continue, and I'm sure there will great things in the future for him, but where he will continue his studies is something for him to decide.
JOHNS: I want to try just one more time on the issue of whether he's left the country. Do you know whether he has left the country or are you just not able to tell us?
SIMON: Well, I know exactly where he is. And he has left the police station.
One of the reasons that I was unable to go to you studio is I continue to monitor this with various individuals over in Egypt. And that's why I'm on the phone. But what I would just like to share with you, the family is extremely pleased at the place we're in right now and I'm happy to say he has left the police station in Kezrel (ph).
JOHNS: Do you know if the United States government has exerted a lot of pressure on this or have they sort of been in the background waiting to see how it all plays out?
SIMON: I would give the highest marks to the consular officials in Cairo. They have performed exceedingly well. They have demonstrated what they frequently do, appropriate care for Americans that have problems abroad.
However, they will tell you, as I will tell you, it's never a substitute for being an advocate or an attorney. And fortunately the Porter family thought it wise to engage us, as well as our counterparts. And I think that was all very helpful.
But the highest of marks should be given to the State Department, as well as the consular office and consul general in Cairo for ensuring the care of these young men.
JOHNS: All right. Ted Simon, thanks so much, an attorney for Gregory Porter. When you're able to tell us where your client is, if he's in the air, please get back to us and we will be checking with you.
SIMON: Thank you.
JOHNS: An official from the Mubarak era today took office as Egypt's transitional prime minister and elections for parliament will begin soon.
But after days of demonstrations and dozens of deaths, activists are demanding that the generals give up power now. And in a new twist, the White House today is pretty much saying the same thing.
Let's turn to CNN's foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Joe.
Over here at the State Department, it really does feel like deja vu. Demonstrators back on Tahrir Square demanding democracy, and the U.S. torn once again between the tidal wave of people power and concerns for security. And then, as now, some people are saying that the administration is simply being too cautious.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The protesters on Tahrir Square are calling it last chance Friday. And as the Egyptian-American Adel Iskandar checks his BlackBerry for the latest news from friends on the square, he believes it.
ADEL ISKANDAR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: But the next 24-hour period could be absolutely crucial for that.
DOUGHERTY: Parliamentary elections, the first since the revolution toppled President Hosni Mubarak, are scheduled to take place Monday.
But the protesters are fed up. They want the military to step aside and give real power to a civilian government. That cry is being heard at the White House. "The full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner," it said, "that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people as soon as possible."
The Obama administration is watching the exploding tensions in Egypt with alarm. Less than two months ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was praising the military.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would like to recognize the work of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been an institution of stability and continuity.
DOUGHERTY: But the violence against demonstrators and the resignation of Egypt's civilian government has changed that.
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We condemn the excessive force used by the police and we strongly urge the Egyptian government to exercise maximum restraint, to discipline its forces and to protect the universal rights of all Egyptians to peacefully express themselves.
DOUGHERTY: The White House still wants Monday's elections to go forward without violence or intimidation.
But Adel Iskandar says Egypt is in no condition to hold elections right now. He says the Obama administration should stop being cautious and come out and say that.
ISKANDAR: There's a failure to see that the street is really the only determinant of Egypt's future and that the United States government, as are -- as most governments, should support whatever the Egyptian people would like to see.
DOUGHERTY: And now many Egyptians are saying first things first. Get rid of military rule, stop it, and then go to elections. The White House seems to think that they can do both. But at this point, of course, it's the Egyptian people who are running this -- Joe.
JOHNS: So, Jill, is this impatience on the part of the administration or something else, this new statement?
DOUGHERTY: I think it's really caution, because it's extremely complex.
And don't forget Egypt is a big country. It's very significant what is going on there. And also one big factor is the economy is getting worse and worse. When you see things like that on the streets, very few people are going to go and be tourists in Egypt and that's where they get a lot of their money. The economy is very, very bad and that just exacerbates things. JOHNS: Jill Dougherty at the State Department, thanks so much.
Violence erupts at one of the busiest shopping days of the year, fist fights, pepper spray, and shootings on Black Friday.
Plus, the football player and the cheerleader. What happened after they collided in an NFL game?
JOHNS: Violence is marring Black Friday's kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe.
Well, here are a few of the examples:
In Porter Ranch, California, people say 15 people at a Wal-Mart store suffered minor injuries when a woman doused them with pepper spray. She reportedly wanted to get an Xbox video game console.
Shootings in northern California, and North and South Carolina have injured at least three people.
And a Florida man is under arrest after a breakout at a jewelry counter in Kissimmee, Florida.
The man suspected in the disappearance of American tourist in Aruba could go free as soon as Tuesday. An Aruban judge rejected prosecutor's request to hold U.S. citizen Gary Giordano for another 30 days. Giordano's traveling companion Robyn Gardner went missing in August. Prosecutors are appealing the judge's ruling.
And it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House. A horse-drawn wagon pulled a Christmas tree to the mansion today. First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha welcomed the 19-foot tree from Wisconsin.
And who says chivalry was dead. Tight end Jason Witten took down a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader when he caught a pass near the sidelines in a game against the Miami. It looks like it hurts. Melissa Kellerman was a four-year member of the squad and studying to be a teacher. Well, no harm, no foul. Whiten checked if she was OK. And by the way, the Cowboys won that 20-19.
JOHNS: Yes. Who -- you know, I've got to say, maybe the cheerleaders ought to start wearing helmets now, huh?
SYLVESTER: Yes, that looks like it hurts.
I stand corrected, Jason Wittens. Sorry, Dallas fans.
JOHNS: It's all good. It's all good. You're in Washington, D.C., we understand.
JOHNS: Thanks, Lisa.
Brutally beaten in Egypt, a prominent blogger tells us about her horrible assault by riot police.
And a boy without a country. Middle East tussle over Jerusalem takes center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court.
JOHNS: Deficit-reducing budget cuts are scheduled to take effect in just over a year and hospitals and doctors treating low-income patients could bear the brunt.
Let's find out more with Lisa Sylvester. She's right back here with that story.
SYLVESTER: Hi, Joe.
Well, the super committee had a task of coming up with more than a trillion dollars in deficit cuts. And they failed. So, now, we got to something called sequestration. These are automatic cuts that will have an impact on the defense industry but it will also affect Medicare.
DR. WILLIAM STRUDWICK, PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL: What's going on with this lady?
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Dr. William Strudwick is the director of the emergency department at Providence Hospital in northeast Washington, D.C., a neighborhood hospital with a patient base of the elderly and working poor.
STRUDWICK: About 70 percent of our patients that come through our doors rely on Medicare and Medicaid.
SYLVESTER: But Medicare payments to Providence Hospital and other medical providers are slated for a 2 percent cut over the next nine years, starting in 2013. This is after the congressional super committee failed to reach a deal on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. Medicare individual coverage is exempt. But Dr. Strudwick says it will have an impact on access to health care.
STRUDWICK: When we talk about a hospital of our size, a 2 percent cut is $1.5 million. OK. We're talking about a margin that is very, very thin for that hospital to survive -- $1.5 million pays for a lot of nurses. It pays for a lot of doctors. It pays for a lot of services.
SYLVESTER: The American Hospital Association estimates a $43 billion cuts in payments to hospitals going forward.
RICK POLLACK, AMERICAN HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: That comes on top of $155 billion that has already been legislated and cuts that have occurred at state level through Medicaid. What it really means is fewer nurses, longer waiting times in emergency departments, and less access to the newest treatments.
SYLVESTER: The cuts will happen unless Congress intervenes. The American Hospital Association is lobbying to stop the scheduled Medicare payment cuts.
But Pete Sepp with the National Taxpayer Union argues lawmakers need to make good on the promise to cut the deficit.
PETE SEPP, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: Reneging now on $1.2 trillion on automatic spending reductions would almost certainly result in a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
SYLVESTER: Sepp says Medicare spending is out of control. And even with the 2 percent cut, the program's overall budget will continue to grow.
But Dr. Strudwick says other hospitals with more privately insured patients can shift costs around. His facility doesn't have that option. So, that means tough choices ahead.
STRUDWICK: We'd have to make some decisions. And, unfortunately, that would affect patient care. That would affect the elderly patients in this neighborhood. That would affect these people that go to work every day, the working poor.
SYLVESTER: Now, doctors could face a double whammy. Physicians are slated for a 30 percent cut under the Medicare program on January 1st of next year, unless Congress acts.
Now, this is affixed to the Medicare reimbursement program that Congress routinely addresses each year, but with all of the partisan division and bickering going on, there is a real concern in the medical community that this could become a political football -- Joe.
JOHNS: And a political year, too, because you expect members of Congress, even t he presidential candidates are going to have to weigh in and talk about this. So, the voters can kind of decide what they want done.
SYLVESTER: Yes. And this is going to -- you know, we're going to see this on the defense side, what is going to happen next year. Are they going to roll back some of those cuts that have been proposed? Same thing with Medicare?
And you're right. All of this happens in the climate of it being an election year, Joe.
JOHNS: Congress has tried to do this so many times, and every time they run into trouble.
Thanks so much, Lisa Sylvester.
Coming up, my interview with Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian American beaten and assaulted by riot police in Cairo.
JOHNS: A well-known Egyptian American columnist and blogger says she suffered a brutal beating and sexual assault by Egyptian riot police at Tahrir Square, saying it was like being set upon by a bunch of wild beasts.
JOHNS: Mona Eltahawy joins me now.
And thank you so much for being here.
Could you sort of set the scene, if you will, for our viewers -- tell us what you were doing in Tahrir Square and what happened?
MONA ELTAHAWY, EGYPTIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Well, on Wednesday night, I spent a few hours in Tahrir Square and then I decided to go to Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which is one of the streets that leads into the square. And Mohamed Mahmoud Street was the scene of -- basically, the frontline between protesters who were trying to protect the Square from being invaded as it was last week by security forces and those security forces and two sides were kept apart by a small no man's land.
So, I made my way unto Mohamed Mahmoud Street up until basically the beginning of that no man's land. And as I was -- the security forces started firing, and so, I took cover with other people in an area right next to that edge of no man's land, and I didn't see the riot police had infiltrated unto our side basically.
And those around me who could get away, got away. They arrested one guy. I didn't see what happened to him and they cornered because I wasn't able to get out. And I was surrounded by about four to five riot police who just rained down these blows with their big sticks.
And then they dragged me on to -- into that no man's land that basically leads towards the Interior Ministry. As they were dragging me, they subjected me to the worst kind of sexual assault that I've ever experienced.
Their hands were all over my body, groping my breasts, and hands in between my legs, so many hands I lost count were put in between my belt and trying to get into my trousers. It was horrendous. They pulled my hair, called me all kinds of curses and dragged me all the way into the Interior Ministry where finally -- the groping continued all the way.
Where finally someone from the army told them to take me inside and I was put in a room where I basically spent the next five or six hours and there I was not physically abused, but I kept telling them my hand and my arm are broken. I need to see a doctor. No one came to give me medical care. They kept saying, you don't have your I.D. I left my passport with my friends in the square. So the pretext that they kept me there was that they're trying to determine my identity. But it doesn't take five hours to determine someone's identity.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: So what was their excuse for arresting you?
ELTAHAWY: Well, they said, what was I doing there? I told them, I'm a journalist. I'm taking pictures and I'm basically recording the scene for my writing. They said, how do we know that you're not a spy?
I said obviously I'm not a spy, but I don't have any identification papers with me because they are with my friends in the square. So that was the pretext that they said was keeping me there in the Ministry of the Interior.
And then after five hours, when I said to them, look, are you going -- someone had to decide what to do with me. They sent me to military intelligence.
JOHNS: The Interior Ministry seems to be denying that any of this has occurred, as far as I can tell. What is your response to that?
ELTAHAWY: Well, the Interior Ministry has said that the sexual assault and beating was an isolated incident, which is just laughable. Ask any Egyptian what it's like to confront or to face the riot police and they will tell you how brutal they are.
Police brutality in Egypt is legendary. This is one of the reasons that we started our revolution on January 25th and the riot police, especially, are known when it comes to women, whether it is female activists or female journalists, they are known to use these tactic of sexual assault.
Because it's tactic that comes from the very top. In 2005, we had so many incidents during demonstrations in that year, female activists and female journalists who are deliberately targeted using sexual assault, by the riot police and by others affiliated with security services.
Because they tried to use this to shame and humiliate women and scare them off the street. So the fact that they are calling this an isolated incident is just ridiculous. It's a lie. It's a sheer outright lie.
If you've asked other journalists who've experienced over the past few days especially, just yesterday a female journalist was dragged by her hair by the riot police. So my experience is by no means isolated.
Sadly my experience is the universal experience and I'm speaking out because I have a voice. I'm here on the show with you. There are thousands of other Egyptians who don't have a presence in media and whose voices you don't here and who were treated even worse than I was. I know if I was not the quote/unquote "respectable person" that they thought that I was and they knew that I was a journalist. I would have been tried a million times worse. This is by no means isolated. They're lying.
JOHNS: In your view and you certainly have a point of view about this, what does your experience, this experience say about the military rule in Egypt?
ELTAHAWY: My experience is one of the many clear examples of how military rule in Egypt has failed. It's time for the military to step aside and to hand over leadership of Egypt to a civilian group, a civilian body.
Egyptians, one of the main demands of our revolution from the very beginning was civilian rule for Egypt. The military took over and said they would hand over rule in six months they didn't do that. The military has claimed it was the guardian of our revolution. Clearly it's the guardian. The military and the police act as one. They broke my hand. They broke my arm. They have tortured and detained thousands of Egyptians.
The military subjected female activists to virginity testing, which again gives the lie to my incident that was isolated. My incident was from the riot police, but the military itself subjected women to virginity testing.
Ask the activists how many Egyptians are in jail? How many thousands of Egyptians have faced military tribunals? What is going on in the country? The military has categorically failed in its ability to rule Egypt and it's time for Egypt to come under civilian leadership. And that's the message from Tahrir Square today.
JOHNS: My interview with Mona Eltahawy continues in a moment with her take on how all of this is going to play out.
And the kid without a country. Why his passport is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
JOHNS: Let's get back now to my interview with Mona Eltahawy, the well known Egyptian-American journalist who says she was beaten and sexually assaulted by police at Cairo's Tahrir Square. She suffered a broken arm and hand in the process, but yet managed to tweet her ordeal to the outside world.
JOHNS: How do you see this uprising against the Egyptian government playing out at this stage? Where do you see this headed?
ELTAHAWY: Well, what I see clearly is that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the military hunta that currently runs Egypt has banked on the fact or counted on the fact that the revolution was running out of steam. That's where they are wrong. The revolution is very much alive. The revolution very much continues and being here in Tahrir Square today, that's very clear. Thousands upon thousands of people were touting. The people want to topple the field marshal meaning Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
The people were chanting, we won't leave, he must leave. That's the exact same chant that they were chanting during the 18 days that it took to topple Hosni Mubarak, which says to me that everybody recognizes that we are fighting against the same regime.
That's why I say the revolution continues. We got rid of Hosni Mubarak in 18 days and we want to get rid of military rule in Egypt and we will. And being in the crowd in Tahrir Square today, it is clear to me that the people's energy and the revolution's energy definitely continue and we will be freeing Egypt.
JOHNS: As I look at the tweets that you put out over a period of time here -- and there were a number of them -- you say, among other things, beaten and arrested in Interior Ministry, I am free.
I'd like to ask you sort of give us an idea of the chronology of these tweets. You said your phone was taken away. How were you able to do this?
ELTAHAWY: Right, well, you know, when I was being beaten by the riot police. I mean, the phone dropped out of my hand and I remember while the six were kind of raining down on my head, I had this one thought in my head and that was get your phone.
You know, where's my phone? I actually even at one point tried to bend down and get it as they were beating me with their sticks because life without a phone, when you're out there on the streets, when there's a lot of police and you know that they are arresting people left, right, and center, and beating them.
Your phone is your lifeline to the outside world. So when my phone was lost and they dragged me into the Ministry of Interior, you know, my main concern was, nobody knows where I am and nobody knows that I've been arrested.
I sat there for three hours wishing that I still had my phone and then two activists who are not detained, but had come to speak to the Ministry of the Interior of their own will about something else, came in with their own phones and I realized that was my chance.
So I asked one of them if I could use his phone and he got me on to Twitter and so that's when I put out that message beaten, arrested Interior Ministry. And right after it, his battery dies. Thank God I had a chance to do that.
And then I had no phone connection with the outside world until the military intelligence people finally released me and it wasn't until I got back into my hotel, that I sent out a tweet to say to the world that I'm free. Because that was the way that I could a message to my family because I knew my sister is on Twitter and she follows me. So I just wanted -- I knew that they would be worried sick. So I just thought, you know, just write, I am free. So that I can let them know that I am OK.
JOHNS: Quickly now, any determination by you to stay there or to leave and how are you physically, considering the fact that both of your hand and your arm was broken?
ELTAHAWY: Right, well, you know, after what happened, and I spoke to my family yesterday. Right now, my parents are in the U.S. They live between Egypt and the U.S., but my brother and his family and my sister live in the U.S.
They are all asking me to go back to the U.S. because they really worried about me. They're very proud of me and they said we're very proud of you. We're glad that you're speaking out, but please come home and let us take care of you.
I really appreciate that and I don't want to worry them anymore. But I have to be here in Tahrir today on Friday because Friday is always the highlight of the demonstrations in the square. Like I said this is the center of the universe.
But it's really impractical for me to be here alone and try to move around with the casts. So even though I wanted to stay until at least the first week of December, I might have to cut my trip short.
I haven't decided exactly when I will be going back to the U.S., but in a couple of days I will go back home to New York. Physically, I mean, a lot of pain in my left arm. That seems to be the one I'm suffering the most.
But honestly, it's just the practicalities like trying to brush my teeth and you can't imagine how long it took me to wear this blouse this morning. So it's just basically the practicalities of life with both arms broken.
JOHNS: Mona Eltahawy, thank you so much for your reporting and also thank you for spending some time in "THE SITUATION ROOM.
JOHNS: Stunning claims by Iran who says they have arrested a dozen CIA spies and now Washington may be weighing its next move that's coming up at the top of the hour.
And Newt Gingrich says he's ready to take the heat over his stance on immigration. But is it going to cost him his chance at the White House?
JOHNS: A battle is heating up between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on immigration. CNN's Jim Acosta has been looking into that. What do you know? JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Newt Gingrich is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in the next hour. We'll be watching for what, if anything, he has to say on the subject of illegal immigration.
Joe, you'll recall at the CNN national security debate, Gingrich said some undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for a long period of time should be allowed to stay in the U.S.
When he said that, his rivals, including frontrunner Mitt Romney, pounced calling that amnesty. So Newt Gingrich sent out this tweet. Let's point this out to our viewers. He invited his followers to take a trip down memory lane.
And then the tweet included a link to a clip from a 2007 Romney interview on "Meet the Press." Here's that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My own view is consistent with what you saw in the "Little Sun" that those people that have come here illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, we asked the Romney campaign for a response to that and they sent out basically a more complete quote from that interview. Let's put that up on the screen so we can read that to you.
Right after that clip that you just saw, Romney goes on to say in that same interview, quote, "But they should not be given a special path way, a special guarantee that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives, merely by virtue of having come here illegally."
So it appears, Joe, that the Gingrich campaign took Romney's quote out of context, but when asked if Gingrich did just that, the Romney campaign did not want to go there perhaps it's because the Romney campaign admitted that they took the president's words out of context for their own TV ad.
JOHNS: Right, so now we know that both of these candidates have expressed nuance views, if you will, on the subject, but Romney has seemed to drift to the right?
ACOSTA: That's right. So it really sets up a choice for Republican voters in places like Iowa where this is a big issue and the choice is this. Either you go with Newt Gingrich, who basically will speak his mind on this issue.
We knew Newt Gingrich is not afraid to do that or Mitt Romney, who as you said, used to have nuance view on illegal immigration, but is now tying himself to essentially a hard line conservative stance on the issue of illegal immigration now.
JOHNS: Very interesting to watch and I guess Romney does have to be pretty careful, given the fact that he kind of jumped out there.
ACOSTA: You don't want another issue to come up for the Romney campaign where they have to go back and explain a position that he took four or five years ago that is different than the one he is taking now.
JOHNS: Whenever you're explaining, you're always on defense.
ACOSTA: That's right.
JOHNS: Thank you so much, Jim Acosta.
ACOSTA: You bet.
JOHNS: Let's dig deeper into this. Here's a reminder of what Newt Gingrich said at Tuesday night's Republican debate moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago separate them from their families and expel them.
I do believe if you've been here recently and you have no ties to the U.S., we should deport you. And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be human and enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Joining me in today's "Strategy Session" to talk about that is Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Hilary Rosen and also joining us, CNN contributor, David Frum. He's the editor of frumforum.com.
So to both of you and I guess, Hilary, I'll start with you. You've seen this. Does this look like Mr. Gingrich is moving sort of over into the Democratic or even liberal territory like some of the Republican --
HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This story has like something for everyone in it, because it has multi-facets. Let's just focus on two of them. The first is, it highlights how much Mitt Romney has started to pander to the Republican conservatives to try and gain their support, voters who have historically not been very enthusiastic about him.
The second thing it's done is it's given a wide birth between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on an issue that inevitably in a general election you're going to have to move to the center on.
So Romney is going to hammer Gingrich on this and then when it - and President Obama and the Democrats are going to have all that footage of Romney being completely illogical and ridiculous on this.
And if he wins the nomination, we're going to have an awful lot of good stuff to go against Mitt Romney with. So this is kind of a gift with for Democrats all around.
JOHNS: So David, has he hurt himself, has hurt his ability to move towards the nomination?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Newt Gingrich, you're speaking up here?
FRUM: I think this does hurt him because what are we talking about when we talk about illegal immigration? Two things, one is it is a tremendous source of pressure on wages. It has been over the past 10 years.
This is a way that within the limits of the Republican debate, candidates can talk about middle class wages and also deteriorating public services. In places like North Carolina, for example, where there's been a rapid increase in the illegal population.
You got situations in which classrooms will have no or one English as a second language student to classrooms having one-third of their students being English as second language students.
And that is a big burden on people in communities like that. So it is a way for Republicans to talk about something that urgently needs to be talked about.
That this cannot be the sum and substance of your middle-class wage program, but I think it's a position that deserves a little bit more respect that it gets because at least it is the opening of a very important conversation.
ROSEN: And let's remember two things, one, John McCain had the most liberal Republican view on immigration last time and he won the nomination any way. So that's not necessarily a deal killer for Republicans.
And let's remember, the biggest, most important fact, which is we have 10 million people in this country. We are not going to lift them all up and kick them out of the country. So for Republicans, any Republicans to go out there and start sort, you know, sort of throwing the rhetorical bombs on this is just useless. I mean, Gingrich, David is right, has created a realistic conversation.
FRUM: I think Mitt Romney is the one who's created the realistic conversation. Enforcement is realism. Enforcement is the way that you begin to persuade people not to be deported, but to move voluntarily. Because otherwise, the downward pressure on the wages of working Americans continues.
ROSEN: We're not going to voluntarily, David, get 10 million people who are settled in this country, who many even have jobs and members of the community have children, have families to simply leave. It's not just realistic.
FRUM: Bear in mind that during the expansion period we were getting about a million, million and a half illegal immigrants a year. So that means and the flow continues. If you're getting a million a year, that means a million of them here for less than 12 months. You can get them to go home.
JOHNS: Rick Perry waded into this area and he took a lot of heat for it and now Newt Gingrich, in spite of that, has gone almost the very same route. Does Newt Gingrich know something that Rick Perry didn't?
FRUM: Newt Gingrich knows the same thing that Rick Perry does, which is the donor base of the Republican Party is empathically in favor of guest worker status, of amnesties of various kinds.
I mean, immigration is one of the few issues where you can totally do the getting case -- and yet applauded for your centrist humane sentiments. The check writers want this position. That's why Newt Gingrich has taken it. That's why Rick Perry has taken it.
Mitt Romney who doesn't need to raise money so badly, he's going for the voters and they have a different view.
ROSEN: It is unbelievably obvious that each Republican candidate has taken a position, not because they actually believe it, but because they are all seeking some advantage whether it's money or whether it's conservative votes. It's not comporting with the reality that President Obama is trying to solve this problem logistically.
JOHNS: Which is easier to defend, if you will? Mitt Romney's allege flip-flopping or Newt Gingrich's position on immigration? Which one is easier to defend in the general?
FRUM: Well, I think there's kind of a dense pack that Mitt Romney has, which is a lot of flip-flops and after a while this accusation cancels itself out so he might as well do one more.
JOHNS: Hilary, your thought real fast.
ROSEN: I think a more centrist position on immigration is the only right policy for this country. Romney just can't figure out what he believes, ever.
JOHNS: Thank you both very much. Happy holidays.
ROSEN: Same to you, Joe.
JOHNS: Those airline baggage fees. We'll tell you about a new effort under way on Capitol Hill aimed at helping passengers.
JOHNS: The Supreme Court is being drawn into the legal battle over the birth place of a 9-year-old boy. CNN's Kate Bouldan explains.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is shy 9-year-old boy, a boy without country, so to speak.
ARI ZIVOTOFSKY, FATHER: We moved to Israel and then we're very proud that our third child was born there and we wanted the documents to say that.
BOLDUAN: Ari Zivotofsky's son is at the center of a highly charge legal dispute potentially pitting one family's wish against the future of the mid-east peace process, all over a U.S. passport.
SARAH CLEVELAND, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: There have been 50,000 Americans in the last 10 years that were born in Jerusalem and many of them would like to have Israel indicated as their place of birth in the passports. But this is also an extremely important geopolitical issue.
BOLDUAN: Jerusalem is the holy center of three different religions, the United Nations and most of the world community do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Both Israelis and Palestinians consider this city their own.
Zivotofsky's are American citizens. When their son was born in Jerusalem, they requested his U.S. passport list Israel as the place of birth following the normal practice for Americans born outside the U.S.
But nothing is normal when it comes to this disputed city. The State Department refused the request listing only Jerusalem on the boy's passport, sparking this nearly decade long battle.
ALYZA LEWIN, ATTORNEY FOR THE ZIVOTOFSKYS: What is at stake is their deep personal pride and sense of identification with the state of Israel and their right given by Congress to express that on the passport.
BOLDUAN: The Zivotofskys are asking the court to enforce the law passed by Congress in 2002 giving their son and others the Israel option on passports.
But both the Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the law, saying it interferes with the president's power over foreign policy. While Zivotofskys recognized the complex and thorny issues surrounding this fight, the child's father argues their request is a simple one, where can his son call home?
ZIVOTOFSKY: Whatever else they decide, whatever the bigger issues, that's for them to decide. We're requesting just exactly what the lawsuit says, implement the law and write in the passport that he was born in Israel.
BOLDUAN: In court, the justices have tough questions for both sides. They seem to show little sympathy for the family involved, but also seem to struggle with the larger question of where does congressional authority begin and end with regard to foreign policy issues. They expect a ruling in the next few months. Kate Bolduan, CNN, at the Supreme Court.
JOHNS: The Supreme Court will reconvene on Monday and justices could take up a key case out of Virginia challenging President Obama's healthcare reform law.