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U.S. Warns of ISIS Threats to Churches, Holiday Events; Israel Slams Obama Over U.N. Vote on Settlements; Trump to News Anchor: "Let It Be an Arms Race"; Israel Slams Obama over UN Vote on Settlements; Trump, Putin, and Nukes; Holiday Travel Forecast; 100M+ Expected To Travel Between Now and January 2; 12+ States under Winter Watches, Warnings or Advisories; Winter Storm Slams Western States, Threatens Travel. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 20:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

Tonight, the aftershocks from tonight's seismic event in this country's relationship with Israel.

[20:00:04] For the first time in 36 years, U.S. diplomats stood back and let the Security Council pass a measure condemning the Jewish state over settlements. This elicited a wave of criticism of the White House, not just from Israel, not just from Republicans, but also from many Democrats. And whatever else you think of it, it upends the world order when it comes to Israel, at least for the next 28 days, until Donald Trump becomes president.

We begin, though, with the immediate and the ominous, new warnings tonight about ISIS in the form of a new bulletin from the FBI and Homeland Security, warning that the terror group wants to target churches and other Christmas celebrations.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is working his sources, joins us now with the very latest.

Shimon, this new warning came out today. What did it say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRODUCER: Well, John, it said several things. And first and foremost, the FBI certainly is concerned that churches are a target. This comes on the heels of a pro-ISIS website which posted addresses and names of churches all across the United States, prompting the FBI today to go ahead with the Department of Homeland Security to issue this bulletin, reminding law enforcement that ISIS continues to want to attack us here and basically they have now set out this target for some of their sympathizers, hoping someone who perhaps is sitting on the edge, who has been radicalized or nearly radicalized would now act and attack churches.

Churches are considered to be soft targets, not a lot of security at churches and because of this pro-ISIS website, which the FBI is very familiar with and knows that ISIS sympathizers are reading their stuff, today, they decided to go ahead and just out of an abundance of caution let law enforcement out there know, let them that, hey, you know, we are taking this very seriously and you should, too.

BERMAN: I think the language people have come to know. Are there any specific imminent threats here?

PROKUPECZ: There is no specific imminent threat. But the concern here is that there is someone in this country, and we know there are people in this country who sympathize with ISIS, who are kind of sitting there on the edge, are these homegrown -- what we've come to know as homegrown violent extremists that the FBI has been concerned with. Specifically now around the holidays, they may now be reading this. This is a person who may be at home reading this and now will decide, "Hey, now is my time to act."

So that is the biggest concern for law enforcement around the country, and the bulletin just sort of this morning told the churches, told security personnel at churches and law enforcement across the country, what to look for. You know, what someone may be wearing who is planning some kind of an attack. Perhaps they're wearing clothing that's not appropriate for the weather. So, these are the kinds of things that law enforcement and the FBI today decided to remind security personnel about as well at churches and other soft targets.

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much for that report.

And, of course, this all comes just hours after the most hunted man in Europe was killed in a shootout. The only suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack is dead, a relief to many, but also concerning because it essentially happened by chance.

CNN's Nina dos Santos is where it al happened in northern Italy, and joins us now.

And, Nina, what can you tell us about this shootout?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John. Well, it was in this rather in this nondescript parking lot and a satellite town, just of the north of Milan, run down and shabby district just outside the train station that Europe's most wanted man was finally apprehended and shot dead.

Twenty-year-old Anis Amri, a Tunisian national, who was wanted for the Berlin truck attack was actually stopped at random by police officers over here, they say because he was behaving suspiciously during the early hours of the morning and they wanted to check his ID. Instead of producing his ID, he produced a 22 caliber pistol and began firing immediately.

Those police officers returned fire, sustaining gunshot wounds themselves, but eventually, when they did manage to bring him down and check his fingerprints, they realized those are the same fingerprints that were on the steering wheel of the truck that was used in the Berlin attack.

And thus, it seems as though the journey of this man's radicalization ended where it really began. This is an individual who was well known to the Italian authorities. He spent four years in jail in Italy, and his own family had even speculated that he might have been radicalized in Italy.

So, relief from Berlin to Milan, but finally, the most wanted man has been captured and brought down. But also unease about the number of questions that that in turn has been raised, John.

BERMAN: So, about those questions, what leads to you think investigators are looking into next?

DOS SANTOS: Well, the primary thing that people are going to be asking is, did he have help? We know that he was intercepted in this parking lot alone. He apparently didn't have a cell phone on him. So, it's not as though police were immediately look at who he was calling and he only had a few hundred euros.

[20:05:01] So, that's a few hundred dollars worth of cash on him at the time.

No evidence of any credit cards, and so on and so forth. The question that they have at the moment really is, why was he here? This isn't the center of Milan. He passed through France by train to get here, to Turin, another big city in Italy, and even the center of Milan itself, but he chose to come to this location.

Had he been seen here before? Was he heading towards the Balkans in the east where we know that jihadist networks exist over there? Or was he instead fleeing further afield towards North Africa?

There are a number of buses that leave from this very car park towards Morocco and also Algeria. I saw one leave an hour for Algeria. Could he have been heading there?

What we do know is that ISIS has released a video in which he is claiming allegiance ISIS today, but it makes no mention of the Berlin attack. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Interesting.

All right. Nina Dos Santos, thanks so much.

Perspective on this and especially this new ISIS threat in the United States, from "The Daily Beast" senior editor, Michael Weiss, author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror". Also, CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary of homeland security, and author of "Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Our Home".

Juliette, no specific imminent threat, yet the FBI and Homeland Security put out this bulletin today warning people at churches and Christmas celebrations. So, what goes into the consideration to do that?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, it's not taken lightly. There would be an interagency process that may have begun on Monday if not before that to determine what in fact the U.S. government wants to say to essentially local and state law enforcement entities and private sector ones that might be protecting churches or malls or anywhere else of how they should behave in the next couple of days.

So, look, there is rarely a specific threat. We have never seen a specific threat to be quite honest. And what they really are doing is they're saying there is just too much going on between the specific ISIS threat, the more general sort of holiday threat and that we're in a presidential transition time, a time when there is always increased threat levels, that would cause them to announce this.

I should say it's a bulletin. It's not an advisory. That may seem like bureaucratic nothingness, but this is actually statement to law enforcement. It's not telling the public to change their plan.

BERMAN: Just too much going on not to say something.

And one of those things going on, Michael Weiss, is the death today of Anis Amri, the only suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack. Do you get the sense that there are concerns that his death could serve as either a direct or indirect inspiration for ISIS to do more things, or is there generally a period of time after something like this where there is new concern?

MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": No. I mean, look, they will be speeding up any operations they might have had in mind. The fact he didn't commit an operation when he plowed into this Berlin Christmas market, you know, suggests that they were keeping him in reserve for another attack, right? We don't know when he recorded his last will and testament, was it after this Berlin massacre or was it before?

ISIS has a limited number of operatives and recruited agents in the field, in the continent of Europe simply because the border to get to Syria and Iraq has been completely interdicted now, you know, whether it's the Turkish intervention or U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. You really can't cross that border.

So, they're dealing with a finite number of people who have been dispatched back into Central and Western Europe. The question though is, you know, the network he was a part of, this Abu Walaa network in Europe, this is the number one, the most prominent ISIS recruitment network in Germany.

How many of those people had actually gone over to the Middle East and returned? We know that Abu Walaa was sending agents to Syria and then coming back. They were coming back and that's how he was identified as the number one recruiter.

But, you know, we -- in the media, we tend to kind of split hairs when it comes to lone wolf versus ISIS coordinated, or ISIS directed, right? During the Cold War, if you were recruited by a Soviet officer in Europe and you became an agent but you never gone to the Soviet Union, we wouldn't call you a lone wolf spy, right?

BERMAN: Let me ask you about the idea of lone wolf or acting alone here. This route that he took, you know, from Berlin into France, into Milan, the north of Milan, I mean, it's a strange way to go alone there. Do you think he had help? WEISS: Absolutely. I would be astounded if he managed to do this by

himself. I mean, going through France, which -- remember, the ISIS network in Europe, the most, you know, significant and well-populated network is the francophone network, those who live and grew up in France or in Belgium. We saw this in the Paris attacks, during the Brussels attacks. The headquarters in Molenbeek, that they were able to fan across Paris and all of France.

He absolutely had help. There is no question about that. The only question is to what extent was this network linked up with ISIS HQ in Raqqah? And I think that's what security forces are trying to figure out now.

BERMAN: Juliette, back to this bulletin, this warning that came out today here in the United States, if you are a church in the U.S. or if you are now in charge of some Christmas celebration, what can you do with a warning like this?

[20:10:11] KAYYEM: There is a number of things you actually can do. I mean, one is situational awareness. So, leaders of the church, probably already know their local law enforcement, reaching out to local law enforcement, seeing if there is any people or cars that are left behind, having members of the congregation also aware.

But, look, are these are soft targets, as we have infinite soft targets in this country. And so, what we'll try to do is minimize the risk.

This is also a statement to local and state law enforcement that as you prioritize the next five or six days of deployments, which is going to happen between the 25th and the 1st, you should do so in a way that essentially favors these softer targets because of this new announcement or because of this announcement by ISIS. So, in some ways, it's sort of helping them direct their own limited resources.

BERMAN: All right. Juliette Kayyem, Michael Weiss, you all have a happy and safe holiday.

KAYYEM: Thank you. You too.

BERMAN: All right. Next, with today's U.N. Security Council shocker, President Obama's parting shot at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll look closer at the personality and policy decisions tonight.

And later, they've gone from best buddies to Cold War re-enactors and back again. We'll tell you about Vladimir Putin's new letter to the president-elect and the president-elect's latest statement all but challenging Putin to an arm's race.


BERMAN: As we said at the top of the program -- just hours ago, an earthquake rocked the geopolitical world. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. U.S. diplomats, for the first time in more than three decades, did nothing to stop it. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, she abstained. She did so despite

unprecedented pressure from President-elect Trump who personally intervened on behalf of Israel leading up to the vote. Israel, no surprise is furious and so are many U.S. officials across party lines.

President-elect Trump reacted on Twitter posting, as to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott joins me now with the latest.

And, Elise, this move from the Obama administration -- look, this is a policy, you know have they been opposed to settlements for some time. But to take this action or official inaction in the United Nations, is this just sort of a capstone on a really rocky relationship between the president and the prime minister?

[20:10:08] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you can't see it as anything but a parting shot from this president to the prime minister. And you said it, they had a rocky relationship at best. But this was also a desire by the Obama administration to put their finger on the scale before they left office.

The settlement issue was something they felt from the last eight years, from the first weeks in President Obama's office they were trying to talk to the prime minister about stopping settlement construction, about a settlement freeze, this has really been a thorn in their side, and the administration has really concerned about how this affects Palestinians and they wanted to make a statement about it.

I don't know if necessarily going forward if this helps or hurts the Palestinians, but this is part of a larger effort for what the U.S. sees anyway, the Obama administration sees, is a way to put this on a more promising trajectory before they left office.

You remember, yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry was supposed to put this in the context of a vision for Middle East peace with a speech around the vote, that had to be canceled with when the vote was put on hold. But this is -- has to be not only seen as a parting shot but also a way for this administration to talk about issues that they felt were an impediment to peace.

BERMAN: You know, it's so interesting. You see the U.S. sees -- well, U.S. sees only for another 28 days until the U.S. sees very, very differently.

LABOTT: Right.

BERMAN: And as striking as what President Obama is doing on his way out is what President-elect Trump is doing on his way in. He was deeply involved and really conducting foreign policy a month before he takes office.

LABOTT: That's right. I mean, certainly, you know, everyone is saying it's unusual, but nothing in this campaign or in the election was unusual and President-elect Donald Trump has been speaking out on issues that he feels are important. His spokesman Sean Spicer, who is going to be the press secretary at the White House said today, look, he appreciates that there is one president but this is not a president-elect who is going to sit on the sidelines if he feels that he needs to weight in.

And what the Israelis feel and the Trump incoming administration feels is that a move like this really would hamper any efforts at peace on the way in and efforts by this president to make some changes. I mean, clearly, he is interested in the peace process. I don't know if it will be his top priority, but he has said that he wants to negotiate what he calls the ultimate deal.

And the Israelis were arguing to him when they asked him to intervene and he clearly agreed, that this would tie his hands. That is why he is saying, things will be different.

BERMAN: Elise Labott, thanks so much.

Joining us now, Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, and the author of "The Fierce Urgency of Now". Also, Aaron Miller, CNN global affairs analyst and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Aaron, I don't think there's any question that President Obama has consistently opposed settlements, but it's hard to read as anything but a parting shot at Prime Minister Netanyahu.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, I think that is basically right. Although it's driven, I think not so much by personal animus. It's by increasing frustration that all of his messages to the prime minister about constraining settlement activity, trying to create the best environment conducive for negotiation. The Palestinians have their problems in that regard as well have not been heeded.

And I think growing frustration and a certain amount of resentment over failure to move this process forward left, I guess, an opportunity to send a stronger message and a stronger signal with four weeks -- I think that's the problem, John -- with four weeks to go in his presidency.

BERMAN: And, Professor, you can also look at this in terms of President Obama's legacy, the message he wants to leave behind. It seems that he is trying to send a message that says, look, I'm against settlements and I'm going to say it loud and clear, and I want the world to know that going forward.

JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes, this has been something he has been pretty consistent on throughout his presidency. In fact, he started his presidency dealing with this issue and trying to get a curb on settlements. So, this is in part a message to Israel, in part, it's about his legacy and in part it comes out of the fear under President-elect Trump, the shift is going to be much more toward settlements and toward what Netanyahu wants. And I think he is trying to check that. I don't think it's going to

work. I actually think this might have the opposite effect, but I think that's what President Obama is trying to do.

BERMAN: The opposite effect.

And, Aaron, you feel the same way. You think this could actually end up backfiring on President Obama in a way.

MILLER: I think this is a big migraine headache, John, for the administration, because I think what's going to happen, the consequences of this will in fact be precisely the opposite of whatever the administration intended.

President-elect Trump is going to walk away from this. He already has in signaling that we're going to have a different policy toward the U.N., there will be much stronger statements I suspect in the days to come.

[20:20:06] The Israelis will feel emboldened because in the first paragraph in that resolution, they talk about the fact that settlements have no legal validity. And this is the first time in three administrations, two of which I have been a part of, three of which I have been a part, in which any administration chose language that addressed the illegality of the settlements question.

And, finally, I think, in large part, it will give the incoming administration, a wider margin, much more discretion, to demonstrate a sharp break with the Obama policy with respect to Israel and to ameliorate tensions and to give the Israelis more leeway on the ground to continue settlement expansion.

BERMAN: And, Professor, we like to say there is only one president at a time here, but he's only the president, Mr. Obama, for another 28 days, and to do something like this with this type of impact, I was having a hard time remembering when a president made such a bold -- and I'm not saying good or bad -- but bold move with so little time left.

ZELIZER: Yes, this is not just making a bold move with little time left, it's making a bold move with someone who is replacing him, who is going in a very different direction and won't really care about the messages that he sends. In fact, President-elect Trump is simulcasting as President Obama is trying to deal with this.

So, it's a high-risk maneuver when you lose control after doing something this controversial. And I do think it will embolden President-elect Trump, and it might win him some support here in the U.S. that he otherwise wouldn't have.

BERMAN: You would think that a lot of Democratic Jews who were pro- Israel who may all of a sudden look towards Donald Trump.

And, Aaron, along those lines, you know, President-elect Trump said, as to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th. Do you think -- you know, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested the U.S. should pull funding from the United Nations -- do you think that that's something that's a possibility now?

MILLER: You know, every president to a degree campaigns to the inefficiency of the United Nations. I don't think that's so much going to be the focus. I think the president-elect is going to make changes in policy with respect to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. I think you will see a much closer coordination and cooperation on Iran. I think there is a reasonable chance that the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv will be moved in symbolic or practical fashion to Jerusalem.

And I think, in part, they may well point to tensions in the Obama administration as laying the predicate for creating a different kind of relationship. And certainly, John, in the U.N., much long the lines of the Obama administration, until the end, there will be very little tolerance or support for any Palestinian or Arab state effort to isolate or delegitimize Israel in the international arena.

BERMAN: Aaron David Miller, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much. Appreciate it guys.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Much more ahead, including new chapters in what it times has seemed like a bromance between Russia and Trump. Lately, though, the word "frenemy" might be a better fit. I did use both of those words in the same tense.

We'll tell you about the flattering letter Vladimir Putin sent and what some consider another troubling statement from Mr. Trump almost welcoming a new arms race.


[20:26:42] BERMAN: The Security Council abstention that launched Middle East diplomacy into unchartered territory today was hardly the only development along those lines lately, especially from the Trump side. In just the last couple of weeks, we've seen one break with tradition after another, on China, on defense, and that's not all.

More from CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): A "Dear Mr. Trump" letter from Russia's Vladimir Putin released this morning by the transition team.

"I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America, we will be able by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation."

Today, Trump called it a very nice letter from Vladimir Putin, his thoughts are so correct.

The date on Putin's letter, December 15th, more than a week ago. Releasing it now could be designed to lower the temperature after his own explosive comments hours earlier, threatening to engage in a nuclear arms race.

During a commercial break, Trump called a pajama-clad MSNBC host sitting on an oddly cozy set to report something alarming, "Let it be an arm race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

Trump's incoming White House press secretary explains.

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are countries around the globe right now that are talking about increasing their nuclear capacity. The president is going to put our nation's security first and he is not going to worry about how -- he's going to do it.

BASH: Unorthodox approach to just about everything should be a surprise to no one. It's what Trump's campaign was all about.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Things to have change. And they have to change right now.

BASH: Now that change means threatening on roll back decades of diplomatic work on nuclear arms control, and shaking things up on the domestic front, too. Trump sent Lockheed into a momentary tail spend by tweeting about cost overruns for the Pentagon's new F-35 Strike Fighters.

TRUMP: These crooked people.

BASH: But some of Trump's harsh campaign rhetoric feels different now that the shoe is on the president-elect's foot.

TRUMP: You look at that foundation. It's pure theft and pure crookedness.

BASH: He relentless attacks Clintons on allegations of pay-per-play with their charitable foundation, which does good works like global health initiatives. Now, his son Eric suspended his own foundation to avoid allegations of pay-per-play which Trump lamented on Twitter, saying, "My wonderful son Eric will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency. Isn't this a ridiculous shame? He loves these kids. Has raised millions of dollars for them and now must stop. Wrong answer."

And then there is how Trump spent his morning, on the links with Tiger Woods. An enviable outing for any golf enthusiast, yet curious since Tiger was a regular part of Trump's anti-Obama campaign riff.

TRUMP: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. Now, think of it. We don't have time for this.


BERMAN: So, Dana, I mean, in all truth, Donald Trump who does love golf actually hasn't played all that much at least the last 16 or 18 months when he was running for president. [20:30:02] BASH: He really hasn't, as far as we know. Especially

considering John that his website says that there are 17 Trump-branded golf courses around the globe. So considering the options he has, he really has said it. Remember he said during the campaign that he loves golf, he thinks Tiger Woods is one of the greats, but just doesn't have time. But, you know, what a day like today is perhaps a reminder that presidents are people too. President-elects are people too. And, you know, sometimes even and maybe especially people like that, who have kind of the weight of the world on their shoulders need a mental break and golf is as good way to do it as any.

BERMAN: Now I'm sure there are Republicans who are critical if President Obama golfing will just be as critical of President-elect Trump.

BASH: Of course.

BERMAN: Or maybe not. Dana Bash, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

BASH: Thanks.

BERMAN: I want to bring in Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini, Trump supporter Alice Stewart and David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent at the "Washington Examiner".

David, let me start with you. You know, there are a lot of different ways for a president or president-elect to talk about nuclear weapons and nuclear policy. Let it be an arms race though is unusual and provocative language, no?

DAVID DRUCKEN, WASHINGTON EXAMINER SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well it's unusual to talk that way in a tweet at the very at least without them following through with context and a more elaborate discussion of what U.S. policy is. I mean the point of a nuclear arsenal that is robust and modernized is that it serves as a deterrent. This is how the U.S. won the Cold War.

We outlasted the Russians, we had more money than them, we had better military hardware than them and they could not keep up. There were a lot of voices during the Cold War that called for the U.S. to unilaterally tamp down on its nuclear arsenal to reduce it. And through Democratic and Republican administrations, we generally did not do that, and it worked out well.

The difference here is how Trump is choosing talk about it and then leaving it open ended. Which I don't think over the long-term send (ph) is good for our national security. Because our adversaries need to know exactly what we will do if they cross us and our allies need to know exactly what is going on so that they can trust us.

BERMAN: It's also weird -- this is actually the tweet was yesterday when he talked about strengthening the United States nuclear capability. Where he said let it be an arms race was at a phone call during a commercial to one of the host of the "Morning Joe" on their pajama party Christmas special. Now Alice Stewart, you know, I am unaware in the annals of the nuclear policy of something like that happening before.

ALICE STEWART, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Not necessarily the still (ph) or way to go about presenting some new idea through a pajama party. But that mean said, look, I think Jason Miller made it quite clear the original comments that Donald Trump made was about nuclear proliferation and his desire to put an end to it and make sure that things are safe. And he's always been clear where he stood with nuclear weapons and a nuclear triad is something critical to our arsenal and important to have it and it's important for it to be state of the art and continue to be the best of the best in that category.

But also at the same time, that is his means to having peace through strength. It's important to be strong in that area. But he also wants to maintain peace. And he also believes that having -- trying to have a good relationship with Russia is critical. But it must be a relationship in which there is bilateral benefit from both sides in order for it to work.

BERMAN: Jonathan what were you saying back then?

JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah. This is crazy. And I think this is what should concern the country and the world that Donald Trump ...

BERMAN: What's exactly?

TASINI: The notion that we're going to have a nuclear arms race. And that is what Donald Trump said. Let there be an arms race. And actually if you look back over the last 20, 25 years, Republican and Democratic administrations were working hard to reduce nuclear stockpiles, nuclear weapons, because they are inherently unstable.

BERMAN: We don't know that he wants to increase the nuclear stockpile by the way --

TASINI: He -- he is --

BERMAN: No, no, he said he wanted to strengthen the capabilities. And there are readings of that which means modernized which is something that President Obama has done.

TASINI: Though, I think what's clear, now they're back filling and they're trying to explain something that his initial reaction to this was and I think it's the way that Donald Trump acts like a 15-year-old which is he has no impulse control. And his actually not knowledgeable, he knows nothing about nuclear weapons or to try, and I think it was seen during the campaign. When he try to talk about foreign policy, it was a disaster.

Donald Trump not just a nuclear --

BERMAN: It was he answer how, he won the election?

TASINI: No, I'm saying, when during the debate, when you looked at Donald Trump trying to explain any kind of policy. Foreign policy or domestic. But certainly when it came to foreign policy, you go back and look at those debate. You can see this man was swimming and did not know how to talk about it. He does not have any ground yet. He has no background and I think that the concerns should be both in terms of the way he handled the call with Taiwan.

The question of how he reacted to nuclear weapons. Just now on the passes of the UN resolution which from my point of view is a smart thing that the Obama administration did.

[20:35:03] I think we have -- there's great concern about how Donald Trump is not capable of handling foreign policy and set to wait, that actually has some background and history both in Republican, Democratic administration.

BERMAN: Yeah, I'm going talk more about the nuclear question of the U.S.-Russia relations in a minute. But with all of you patients, all right I do want to shift to something Jonathan just talked about which was Israel. And David, let me ask you this, because there's been an enormous amount of criticism of President Obama and the fact that the U.S. abstained at the UN vote today, you know, from Republicans from Democrats, certainly from Israel.

But one of the things you hear sickly from Republicans is that President Obama is the least friendly president to Israel, you know, either that we've seen or in decades.

But in fact, you know, this was the one time during President Obama's administration that they exercised a -- or they abstained or they voted against Israel or they acted I should say against Israel at the United Nations when George W. Bush, it happened at his administration a few times. George H.W. Bush it happens in his administration a few types. Ronald Reagan, it happened in his administration several times.

So why is President Obama getting a worse rap from it -- for it than his predecessor did?

DRUCKEN: Well, I think you bring up some good points in that, yeah past presidents Republican and Democrat have had their moments where they weren't exactly friendly to Israel in terms of policy. And -- so this isn't necessarily something completely out of bounds. But I think what is out of bound, what is different here is that by abstaining on an issue like this as sensitive as this. And in a sense putting the burden on Israel, you know, for the failure for peace talks to work or to even exist at this point rubs a lot of people the wrong way, because, look you have a mess in Syria. You have a rising Iran with a questionable nuclear deal.

But all of the attention and all of the ire is sort of focus to Israel, which is the one liberal democracy in the region and an ally of ours. And I think that, that's what is so unique about this situation and the fact that it is done less than one month before Obama leaves office. So, it is seen as a parting shot, it's not like this is happening at the beginning of the Obama administration as the beginning of a shift in policy that he can see through.

BERMAN: Let me do this, Alice let me give you for 30 seconds and then Jonathan get 30 seconds but no more.

STEWART: Yeah, to David's point. Israel is a democracy in the region. In a sea of dictatorships and they should be close, close to the United States president. And Barack Obama has shunned him at every time he's had the opportunity to do so. One encouraging thing though is moving forward we do know that Donald Trump will have no daylight between the United States and Israel. They are our best ally in the region. And he's made it quite clear they will be no better friend to our allies and no worse enemy to our foes than Donald Trump and Israel is someone that we need to continue relationship we have.

BERMAN: I will say we have a -- you know, the real bomber as (inaudible) the pointed the foreign aid and ire down, we say we certainly haven't Israel there --

TASINI: And $35 billion over 10 years, that's been continuous. And look, as a Jew, and has someone who's lived there and has half the family who lives there. Thank God that Obama has done this. I think he should have done this 8 years. So let's be very clear. The United States has been a renegade

around the world on this question. The entire international community including our European allies see the settlements as an illegal occupation. And 60 percent of Israelis, in a recent poll said they think the settlements are a barrier and bad thing in terms of relationship to the United States. So Israelis themselves support this kind of move.

BERMAN: The incoming president-elect does not. We'll see where the policy is in 28 days. Jonathan Tasini, Alice Stewart, David Drucken, thanks so much.

STEWART: Thank you.

DRUCKEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next. We're going dig deeper into the nuclear issue and a look closer at what the president-elect's latest remarks and tweets could mean for the new world order we seem to be entering.


[20:42:30] BERMAN: Earlier in the program you re-tweeted decisive two news people in pajamas talking about a call they received from Donald Trump during a commercial break. The president elects talking about a nuclear arms race. Listen to this.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, "MORNING JOE" ANCHOR: He told me on the phone, "let it be an arms race, because we will outmatch them at every task and outlast them all".


BERMAN: For more what this means and what it says about that new world we seen to be entering here is CNN's Barbara Starr. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Russian President Vladimir Putin vowing today to stay neck and neck with the U.S. if President- elect Donald Trump does seek to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal after taking office.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT (Through Translator): If someone accelerates and speeds up the arm's race, it will not be us. I would say that we will never, if we are in an arm's race, we will never spend too much.

STARR: But Putin said he saw nothing new in Trump's tweet Thursday promising to strengthen and expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

PUTIN (Through Translator): I said that we are improving our nuclear capabilities and that Russia is stronger than any potential aggressor. It's very important. I use that word "aggressor." I do not use it accidentally. Who is an aggressor? An aggressor is someone who can potentially attack Russia. We are stronger than any potential aggressor.

STARR: Concern now that a new global nuclear arms race could quickly emerge.

JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARE FUND: If the U.S. and Russia who each have about 5,000 weapons in our active stockpile say they need more weapons, we have our China who has about 200 -- 250? Do they need more? What about India? What about Pakistan?

STARR: As a candidate, Trump struggled to speak precisely about nuclear weapons.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: But if you said in Japan, yes it's fine you get nuclear weapons South Korea you as well, and start to read it says we want we them too.

TRUMP: Can I be honest with you? It's going happen anyway. It's going happen anyway.

STARR: And while Trump has talked about the need to modernize a nuclear force he has not offered specific plans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The three legs of the triad that you have a priority? I want to go to Senator Rubio after that and --

TRUMP: I think nuclear just -- the power, the devastation is very important to me.


STARR: So it may be worth thinking about what does Vladimir Putin really want from Donald Trump? Most experts would tell you, Russia wants sanctions lifted. Oil prices are down. Russia needs revenue. It wants U.S. dollars. And if Putin has to be nice to Donald Trump to do it that may be a price he's willing to pay. John? [20:45:01] BERMAN: Right Barbara Starr. Thanks so much.

Now, in that clip, you heard wasn't the only thing that Donald Trump had to say about nuclear weapons during the campaign. Remember this?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF UNITED STATES: The biggest problem we have today is nuclear -- nuclear proliferation, and having some maniac, having some madman, go out and get a nuclear weapon.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You want to have a nuclear arms race on the Korean peninsula?

TRUMP: In many ways, and I say this, in many ways, the world is changing.

WALLACE: I'm just --

TRUMP: It's not like he wished (ph), nobody asked him.

I would like to end it. Just get rid of it. At the same time we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table.

Can we trust Donald Trump with nuclear? Can we trust him? I'll be the last one to use nuclear. I'd be the last one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States has not used nuclear weapons since 1945. When should it?

TRUMP: Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I used the world unpredictable. You want to be unpredictable.


BERMAN: A lot to discuss here. Joining us former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty. She is now a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Also Fred Kaplan, national security columnist in "Slate". And Fred, let me start with you. You posed a question in "Slate" today. You said, how much of this is mere bluster? And how much of it bodes return to the days of the Dr. Strangelove? What do you conclude?

FRED KAPLAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST SLATE: I think it is mainly bluster. First of all, I think it's a mistake to take these tweets, which he puts out there with some kind of disorder really, some compulsion disorder, and tweet them as some sort of some kind of commuted (ph) text to poor over like scholars.

That said, his latest tweets and we are to look at them literally and seriously, they don't really say that much. What's he say? He says we need to -- if -- we need to be able to strengthen and expand our nuclear capability, not nuclear weapons not -- capability.

Well, you know, on one level of President Obama has been doing there through modernization of components, reliability. That strengthens our capability. He says, you know, that this pajama phone call, let --


KAPLAN: Well that was in reaction to something Putin said. And Trump is saying, "Hey, let's have an arm's race, we'll drive you into bankruptcy like we did the last time."

Now, I would have been much more comfortable had he followed that by saying, but you know, instead of building a lot more weapons that neither of us needs anyway, why don't we tamp this down? But does this-- what he said signal the beginning or the resumption of a massive nuclear arms race?

And, you know, what about one-quarter, the number of nuclear weapons that we had 25 years ago.

BERMAN: Right.

KAPLAN: I don't see that yet, not through this.

BERMAN: So Jill, what about the Russian side of this? One of the things we heard today from Vladimir Putin. He said the Russia is stronger than any possible aggressor. Does he consider the United States in that category?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: I think he, at this point, does not. However, in the sense of nuclear war, I don't think he believes that the United States is going to attack Russia tomorrow. But what he's saying is if you don't take aggressive action against us, then you're not an aggressor. But if you are an aggressor, you know, it's a warning. If you are an aggressor, we can match you. We can pierce your shield, your missile shield, et cetera.

So you know, right I think he's kind of handing it back in a passive aggressive way to Donald Trump.

BERMAN: You know, if you have to say the last 24 hours, there's been a much difference dance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin than we saw during the campaign where it was more of a mutual admiration society. You have this back and forth on nuclear weapons, which you can read anyway you want but its different types of language that we heard.

And then we had this exchange of letters that we just learned about today or the letter from Vladimir Putin talking about wanting a new relationship congratulating Donald Trump being very gracious. You had Donald Trump saying he loved getting a letter, it made him feel good. But then also saying at the end of it, he hopes things between the United States and Russia go well so we don't have to follow an alternate path, which was language that seem to me saying, well, there is another way this can go.

DOUGHERTY: Yeah, and I think both of them are playing to domestic audiences. You know, Donald Trump wants to look like the person who's going to protect the United States. And there's nothing more important to him than nuclear weapons. So, of course, he's going to have to say, don't worry, on my watch, nothing is going to happen, watch out. And Vladimir Putin is saying a couple of things, you know, after -- at that very long four-hour news conference, after he talked about nuke, he said that I'm not going to spend too much on nukes.

Now, that's something the Russian people want to hear, because they don't -- their economy is not doing well.

BERMAN: Right.

DOUGHERTY: They don't want money spent on nuclear weapons. And I think, also, as Fred mentioned, the old -- remember, in the old days, the United States supposedly outspent Russia and won the Cold War. I don't agree with that theory, but it's part of it. So Putin is saying, we're not going to go back to those days where outspend us.

[20:50:14] BERMAN: Fred, you were talking about, you know, not needing to read Twitter like it sound like a test or, you know, or to parse it that way. Do you think that Donald Trump will take the policy more seriously when he gets into office than with Twitter? I mean, he certainly has serious people, a lot of generals around him, people with experience when it comes to weaponry?

KAPLAN: You know, I have no idea. You know, people say, "Oh well, when he gets the nomination, he's going to get very serious about this. Oh, when he's elected, he'll get very serious about this." We haven't seen it yet. He hasn't given one speech which kind of welcomes into the fold people who didn't vote for him, for example. So I have no idea.

But, you know, the whole thing about nuclear, the need to strengthen our nuclear force, however, he define it, you know, it should return to some basics. Each one of us, each side, U.S. and Russia, has about 2,000 nuclear weapons, each one of which is a lot more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As long as each side has the ability and demonstrates the will to retaliate in kind to a nuclear attack, then the numbers game doesn't really mean anything.

BERMAN: We'll see if they get back to the table as it were. Fred Kaplan, Jill Dougherty, thanks so much for being with us.

Just ahead, a winter storm smacks the west. Travelers across the country are braving the crowds and the lines to make it home for the holidays. We'll get the latest on how the weather could complicate things.


BERMAN: All right. Here's the season. Here's what the airways look like heading into one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Tonight, a major winter storm is hitting the west and hundreds of flights have been canceled or delayed. CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar is tracking it all from Atlanta.

Allison, you know, that it has estimated a third of the country will be traveling for the holidays, what can they expect? [20:55:01] ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I wish I had that on news John. But a lot of them are going to expect a lot of inclement weather in the way of snow and also into rain. So here's when we look at the radar. We've got snow coming down in Chicago, Saginaw, Michigan, down through Detroit, and then as you go farther south, it starts to transition into rain. But again, some of these areas, it's coming down very heavy. We've even got some purple in here indicating just a very heavy snow.

Now, the reason this is a concern, obviously, it's beginning to exit Chicago, but starting tomorrow, we're going to see that transition into D.C., New York, Boston. We're talking major cities that have a lot of travel expected in and out of them.

And then on the western half of the country, we're taking a look at our next big storm. We've got winter storm watches, warnings, even blizzard warnings. That's the bright orange color you see here.

And in effect, through the weekend, because the system it's going to move relatively quickly. And it's going to start in the west and make its way to the east.

We have the potentials in California for flash flooding, because these areas are picking up 1, even 2 inches of rain, which may not sound like a lot to folks in the eastern half of the country, but that is dangerous in the western half.

Then that system makes its way east, bringing even more participation to cities like Chicago on Christmas Day, even Minneapolis, and the potential for some severe weather across portions of the central U.S., as well.

Now, the main threats with this are going to be damaging winds, but we also have the potential, John, for tornadoes.

BERMAN: All right. Allison Chinchar, not good news. Thanks so much. We'll be right back.


[21:00:08] BERMAN: That does it for us. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and everyone celebrating into all, a good night. "This is Life with Lisa Ling" starts now.