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Expelled Russian Preparing to Leave U.S.; Trump Praises 'Great Move' by 'Very Smart' Putin; Court Reinstates Kennedy Relative's Murder Conviction; NY Mayor: "Extraordinary" Security For Times Square; Expelled Russians Preparing To Leave U.S. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Great move. Donald Trump praises Vladimir Putin for putting off any payback for newly-imposed U.S. sanctions, punishing Russia for meddling in the presidential election. Putin says his response will depend on what happens after Trump is sworn in.

[17:00:21] Spy games. The expulsion of Russian spies ratchets up tensions between Moscow and Washington as Russian intelligence operatives pack up to lead the U.S. Are more spies hiding here in plain sight?

On alert. Cities around the world beefing up security ahead of New Year's Eve. In New York, officials say the security operations around Times Square will be the most extensive ever. Is it enough to keep trouble away?

And conviction reinstated. A judge's order writes a shocking new chapter in the saga of the Kennedy family. Will Michael Skakel have to go back to prison for a murder that happened some 41 years ago?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And we are following breaking news. Donald Trump praising President Vladimir Putin for delaying Russia's response to the new round of U.S. sanctions. Putin says it will depend on what Trump does once he becomes president.

This afternoon, the president-elect tweeted, "Great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

Already today, we've seen vans leaving the Russian compound outside Washington, D.C. President Obama ordered its closing and expelled nearly three dozen Russians, claiming they were spies; part of the payback for Russia's cyberattacks and meddling in the presidential election.

We're also keeping our eyes on the extraordinary security setting up around New York's Times Square where millions are expected to celebrate the start of the new year. Cities around the world are beefing up security to head off any terrorist attacks. Our correspondents, analysts, and guests have full coverage of the

day's top stories. Let's begin with the breaking news and CNN's Athena Jones. She's in Hawaii with the president. Is there any reaction yet to Trump's praise of Vladimir Putin?


In fact, the White House isn't responding to that or to this nonresponse from the Russian president. But those Russian operatives, those intelligence operatives ordered out appear to be complying with that order.


JONES (voice-over): A caravan of vehicles spotted leaving this Maryland compound used by Russian diplomats, headed for the Russian embassy in Washington. The evacuation comes after the Obama administration ordered the shuttering of the site, along with a similar compound in New York and told 35 alleged Russian spies to leave the country within 72 hours.

In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to shrug off the administration's actions after Russian officials promised a series of, quote, "countermeasures" would be announced today, Putin changed course, saying in a statement, "We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not send anyone away," even extending this unusual invitation to the children of U.S. diplomats there, saying in a tweet, "I invite all children of the U.S. diplomats to the new year and Christmas children's show at the Kremlin," signed, "Yours sincerely, Vladimir Putin."

The Russian president's decision not to retaliate contradicting his foreign minister, who proposed expelling U.S. diplomats in response.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The U.S. administration without any facts, without any proof, declared a new wave of sanctions against the Russian federation. We cannot let such escapades happen without a response.

JONES: Putin appears to be waiting for President-elect Trump to take office, signaling once again that he expects to have warmer relations with President Obama's successor.

Meanwhile, the White House is defending and explaining its moves.

LISA MONACO, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: What these individuals were doing were basically collecting intelligence. They were intelligence officers operating here and using these compounds.

We're putting forward a set of actions that are designed to respond to and impose consequences for Russia's aggressive activity. So included in that is this expulsion of these intelligence officers.

JONES: As for the operatives being kicked out of the U.S., the Russian embassy said Russia was sending a plane to bring them back home. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And among those being expelled, some based on the West Coast. The Russian consulate in San Francisco tweeting a statement condemning what they call an unfriendly and completely unjustified step being taken by the outgoing administration.

And speaking of the outgoing administration, President Obama's critics on Capitol Hill have been slamming him for what they call years of failed policy toward Russia, starting with his attempt at a reset of relations between the two countries.

[17:05:09] Meanwhile, you have President Putin, who appears to be pushing for another reset with the incoming Trump administration. All of this presenting a foreign policy challenge for Obama's successor even before day one -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Athena Jones with the president in Hawaii, thank you.

Even before Donald Trump's tweet praising Putin, one of his top aides suggested that it was a domestic political agenda behind the Obama administration's decision to sanction Russia now.

CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, she has more on that. So they're really saying this is all Democratic politics.

And Trump and his transition team are in lock step with the talking points, the main one being here that the U.S. intelligence blaming Russia, and President Putin specifically, is faulty and incomplete. Despite the intelligence briefings that Trump has received, and the additional ones that he can request, Trump continues to express skepticism over Russia's involvement while at the same time lavishing praise on Putin.



MALVEAUX: Donald Trump tonight praising Russia's Vladimir Putin, tweeting, "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

Trump applauding Putin's remarkable move to wait for Trump to take office before responding to President Obama's decision to expel Russian diplomats and new sanctions.

TRUMP: I think we ought to get on with our lives.

MALVEAUX: In a statement Thursday, Trump urged the country to move on to bigger and better things as President Obama announced sanctions against Russia.

TRUMP: I just want to thank everybody.

MALVEAUX: The president-elect and his team characterizing the current White House's showdown with Russia as politically motivated.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, CHIEF TRUMP ADVISOR: Even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to, quote, "box in" President-elect Trump. That would be very unfortunate if that were -- if politics were the motivating factor here.

MALVEAUX: Trump's team continuing to dismiss the U.S. intelligence assessment on Russian cyberattacks.

CONWAY: We've been talking about this for a while. I think that, you know, all we heard all through the election was Russia, Russia, Russia. Whenever it came to anything Donald Trump said or did, it seemed, most days. And now, you know, since the election, it's just this fever pitch of accusations and insinuations.

TRUMP: These are amazing people.

MALVEAUX: Trump says he'll meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week for a briefing on the hacking matter. But Trump supporter, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani suggesting the president-elect not bother.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I would urge President Trump, when he becomes President Trump, have his own intelligence people do their own report. Let's find out who did it, and let's bang them back really hard.

MALVEAUX: Trump is now set for a direct confrontation with his own party, as top Senate Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham prepare to hold hearings and consider harsher sanctions against Russia when the new Congress returns.

But Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, warns the American people may not have the appetite for another conflict.


REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: They may be privy to information that we don't know, but I also know that we're not interested in going to war all over the world either.


MALVEAUX: Meanwhile, the political theater continues to play out over twitter. Trump immediately pinning his tweet, praising Putin to the top of his profile so it's the first thing people see visiting his page. The official account of the Russian embassy has retweeted Trump's tweet -- Jim.

Officially on talking points. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. With us is former U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra, a Republican, the past chairman of the House intelligence committee. Nice to have you back.


SCIUTTO: So let me begin with Trump's tweet. Not the first time you've seen it today. "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

I have to ask you this. Why does the president-elect insist on praising a leader who we know has committed atrocities within his own country and across the world?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think he's just making a very clear statement and distinguishing between the behavior of the United States, of the president of the United States, that made a petty decision yesterday with the decision to expel 35 Russians from the United States and saying the better behavior is that modeled by President Putin. Putin didn't take the bait.

SCIUTTO: What better behavior -- what better behavior did he demonstrate by hacking the U.S. election, annexing Crimea, backing a stealth invasion of Ukraine, violating negotiated U.S./Russian nuclear weapons treaties? How is that model behavior?

HOEKSTRA: That's not model behavior, but Donald Trump was talking specifically about the decision that Putin made last night, this morning, not to get into a tit-for-tat with President Obama.

He recognizes the bad behavior of Putin in Crimea, Ukraine, and all of these types of things. He also understands the wild west of cybersecurity, this new cyber warfare, this new cyberspace or battlefield better than President Obama. He recognizes...

SCIUTTO: Does he? Wait, wait, wait.

HOEKSTRA: ... it's important. He also recognizes...

SCIUTTO: How does he know it better? Because what's interesting here, Congressman Hoekstra, is that Donald Trump and his closest circle of advisers are isolated, not opposed just to the Democrats and the Obama administration, but virtually their -- the leadership of their entire party.

The House speaker, Republican, the House majority leader, Republican, senior House -- Senate Republicans pushing for even stronger sanctions against Russia. They all say Russia hacked the election and the U.S. needs even stronger responses.

You have a president-elect who has not even granted the premise that Russia was behind this cyberattack.

HOEKSTRA: Well, let's start at the beginning here. We all know that espionage is something that the United States engages in versus Russia, China, Iran, North Korea. Snowden even demonstrated that we do this against people like -- excuse me, like the Germans and the French. They do it back to us.

This is going on each and every day. It's the espionage business. It's no different than what it's been for the last 40 or 50 years. In cyber, it's a whole new battlefield. The rules are not that well-

written. And it's much easier to go after tremendous amounts of information with a much lower-risk profile in cyber than what you ever saw in the old James Bond films and movies.

And so Donald Trump understands that, and what Donald Trump, when he comes into office, what he'll do is he'll sit down with the folks in -- Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, and develop a cyber strategy that will keep America safe and secure, a battlefield that President Obama has ignored the last eight years.

SCIUTTO: How exactly will -- I just wonder, because as you know, there are many countries that have tremendous cyber-capabilities, not just Russia. China, we've seen it with China; North Korea, Iran. Why would those countries look at what Russia's interference in this election, see a president-elect who is saying we should let bygones be bygones, move on to bigger and better things? He has given no indication of punishment for Russia. Why would those other nations, including Russia, look at that and be deterred at all from attacking the U.S. via cyber means again?

HOEKSTRA: The -- what the Russians did with the political campaign -- and the report that came out from the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI this week was pathetic in trying to create a compelling case that the Russians' influence -- all it said is the Russians most likely hacked into a political party's database, into their cyberspace. They most likely extracted or took tremendous amounts of information, and most likely they leaked it to media for public disclosure. That's it. They didn't get into voting.

SCIUTTO: But that's not...

HOEKSTRA: They didn't get into intent or anything else.

SCIUTTO: That's quite a throw-away lie -- that's quite a throw-away line there, Congressman Hoekstra, because I'm an American, and I listen to that, I hear foreign actor hacked into political organizations in the U.S., and they strategically leaked it out during an election campaign.

And I heard that, whether it's Republican or Democrat or any other party, that sounds to me like something serious. Are you saying that that's just -- heck, it's another part of this wild west in the cyberspace; and we as a country should let that pass?

HOEKSTRA: I'm not saying we should let it pass. Remember, Snowden clearly demonstrated that the United States hacked into Angela Merkel's cell phone, and we were listening to her conversations.

So no, what happens in cyber is very, very important. We need to be very conscious of that. But the thing...

SCIUTTO: But the U.S. -- Congressman Hoekstra, the U.S. didn't leak those conversations every day leading up to a crucial German election. I mean, this is the difference here. It's just odd for an American to be equating its own actions with the actions of a foreign adversary, to justify them, in fact.

HOEKSTRA: Jim -- Jim, if you don't believe that we have gathered information from the Russians in cyberspace.

SCIUTTO: I'm not talking about the gathering. I'm not talking about the gathering. I'm talking about the selective use of it in the context of a campaign and targeting, let's be frank, targeting one party during that campaign. That's the difference.

[17:15:08] The U.S. -- the U.S. -- and here's the thing. There are distinctions in the cyberspace. Look at China, for instance. China -- the U.S., I'm sure, hacks China; China hacks the U.S. But China hacks U.S. companies, steals intellectual property, and uses it for economic gain. The U.S. does not do that. OK?

And with Russia, I'm sure the U.S. hacks Russia and yes, it's true the U.S. was eavesdropping on leaders of foreign allies; but it didn't take the step that the U.S. intelligence community says that Russia takes and that your Republican colleagues, such as the Grahams and McCains of the world and Paul Ryan and McConnells of the world say that Russia did. I mean, is that not a different question?

HOEKSTRA: Jim, the American public, you and I do not know what American -- what the American intelligence community has done with information that we may have successfully exfiltrated from the Russians and where we may have used that to damage their national interests, whether it's in their homeland, whether it's in Syria, or whether it's at some of their relationships with their allies.

SCIUTTO: Is that your job? Is that your job? Is that the president's job, to say, "Well, heck, we're just as bad as all the other folks"? Isn't it the president's job to put U.S. national security and the strength and defense of its systems, including its elections systems, at the forefront?

HOEKSTRA: Absolutely, and this is where President Obama has absolutely failed. He has not made cybersecurity of our government institution, of the private sector. He has not made it a priority of his administration.

And I've talked with people on the transition team, and I'm fairly confident, I'm very confident that Donald Trump is going to make cybersecurity a -- very much a priority for our military, for our political system, and for our private sector, because he understands the vulnerabilities.

That is something that President Obama has never understood or not even put a strategy in place to try to protect America's national security and Americans' national interests in cyberspace. This is exactly where the Obama administration has failed. You're exactly making my point.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Hoekstra, it's a fair point. We appreciate you taking the time for a second time this week. Thanks for coming on.

HOEKSTRA: Yes. Great. Thank you. SCIUTTO: And a happy new year to you.

Coming up next, more reaction to Donald Trump's praise of Vladimir Putin. Are U.S./Russian relations heading for better days instead of a new Cold War? We're also following breaking news affecting the Kennedy family. A court today reinstating Michael Skakel's murder conviction. Will he have to go back to prison?


[17:21:41] SCIUTTO: We're following the breaking news. President- elect Donald Trump praising Russian President Putin for putting off any retaliation for sanctions slapped on Russia by the Obama administration, sanctions meant to punish Russia for meddling in the presidential election.

With us now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Congressman Kinzinger, we appreciate you coming on today. I know you were listening to that interview with the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra there, where he, in effect, it seemed, equated U.S. cyber-actions abroad with Russian meddling in this election. What's your reaction?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You know, first thing, thank God he's a former congressman right now. I listened to that, and my blood was boiling. I mean, I couldn't imagine a Republican, or a Democrat for that matter, saying that, well, our actions have been worse. Or an action against our country is justified by things we have done.

By the way, Edward Snowden, in essence, he called him a hero by revealing all this stuff.

I mean, look, Jim, here's the basic premise of this. I was thinking about this the other day. It really clicked to me. I'm like -- I'm going to swear in again in a few more days. I've sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Russia is attempting to undermine the very base of what makes the Constitution work, which is the belief in a free and fair election system. So we are compelled by our oath to protect and defend the Constitution, to defend it right now, and to justify any attack on our political system is unbelievably beyond the pale. And I can't -- I have no more words for it besides I was dumbfounded.

SCIUTTO: Now, you can argue that Donald Trump has made a similar argument by dismissing this interference in the election. This is a difficult question. I'll ask you, in 21 days, Donald Trump is going to put his hand on a Bible and vow to protect and defend the Constitution. Do you have doubt that he will do that in relation to the threat from Russia?

KINZINGER: So, however anybody perceives defending the Constitution is, you know -- like I said, I see this as an issue. Some people will not agree with me on that. I think Donald Trump means and intends well. Look, there's going to

be a lot more that I agree with Donald Trump on than I disagree with on, but this is a big one, the Russia issue.

My hope is -- again, he's new to politics, new to international affairs -- is as he's getting his sea legs under him and when he's sworn in, the weight of the world sobers him up to this reality.

There's nothing wrong -- there's nothing wrong with Donald Trump saying, "I want a new relationship with Russia. I want to reach out. I want to have conversation." Each administration in the past has tried to do it and failed, by the way. There's nothing wrong with that.

But then to praise Putin, to come out and say that, A, this never happened and if it did, it's not a big deal and we've done way worse, is a totally different thing. And I hope that tone changes, because I look forward to working with the new president. I'm a Republican. There's a lot of great things we're going to achieve domestically. This is a big concern.

SCIUTTO: So it appears that Donald Trump was watching our interview earlier with Congressman Hoekstra, because he tweeted just moments later -- I'm going to put it up on the air -- "Russians are playing CNN and NBC News for such fools. Funny to watch. They don't have a clue!" Exclamation point. "FOX News totally gets it!" Exclamation point.

[17:25:00] Adam Kinzinger, if Donald Trump is still watching, I wonder if you have a message to him on how you see the seriousness of Russia meddling in the election.

KINZINGER: Look, I've been a military pilot for a while, a congressman now for I'll be starting my seventh year. And ever since I've been in office, we've seen the Russians progress in terms of pushing back against America.

Donald Trump has made very strong statements -- and I think he means it -- about America reclaiming its role in the world; but the Russians have been the key -- our chief adversary in pushing us out in those areas.

There are dead innocent civilians in Syria, children. Right? You can say all the adults are terrorists. Not true. But if you want to make that broad statement, whatever. There are children dead in Syria today because of Russia propping up an evil dictator with Iran, with Iran.

So to say that somehow Russia is our friend -- you know, I hope the president-elect -- I look forward to working with him internationally and domestically, but I hope he sees that this Russia is a real thing and not something to take lightly or trivially.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, heartfelt words. Thanks very much.

KINZINGER: Thanks. See you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, Donald Trump praises Vladimir Putin. Is it the start of a new era in U.S./Russian relations or a dangerous precedent that will embolden the Russian leader?

Later, breaking news: a court reinstating the murder conviction of a Kennedy family relative. Will Michael Skakel have to go back to prison?


[17:30:00] SCIUTTO: At this hour's breaking news, Donald Trump praising Vladimir Putin for putting off retaliation for sanctions meant to punish Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. Putin says his response will depend on what Trump does after he is sworn in. But Trump tweet this afternoon says, quote, "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart." Let's bring in our experts. Evelyn Farkas, you've covered Russia a long time. I'd like your reaction to this tweet, phrasing Putin.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I mean, first, I'm laughing because he's grading the Russian leader's diplomatic homework. It's very weird. I mean, we haven't really ever seen that.


FARKAS: Second I'm befuddled because I vacillate between thinking he's got this great plan where he's going to butter up Vladimir Putin, you know, but he's going to hold the line somehow. Two, the other side where I get scared, and I think does he have an arrangement with Vladimir Putin where we dismiss what he just did to the United States, what he did, meddling in our elections, how he treated our diplomats, you know, the cybercrimes that these two gentlemen in particular committed against our banks and our financial industry. So I don't really know-- I honestly am confused about where this is all headed.

SCIUTTO: Flabbergasted. Ron Brownstein, you know, it's fair to say that Trump's going to take a friendlier position against Russia, but it's also clear that he's becoming increasingly isolated. Let's forget the democrats, let's forget the Obama administration. I'm talking about congressional republicans, leadership on down. How is that going to play out when he takes office?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: I think you're heading for a collision. You know, there are at the far borders of the Populist, the Nativist right both in the U.S. and Europe. There are voices that praise Putin who see him as kind of a bulwark of traditional cultural values against a Muslim and Islamic threat from outside and a secular liberal- cultural liberal threat from inside, you can hear that in the 2014 speech that Steve Bannon gave at the Vatican, for example, or in some of the writing of Pat Buchanan, who is in many ways kind of a, you know, precursor of Donald Trump. But once you get beyond that into more of the mainstream of the Republican Party, there simply is no audience for a radically different relationship with Russia. There is the view we even heard from Paul Ryan this week that Russia

is a geopolitical threat. And, you know, not only-not only here of course, but the meddling that was effective for Russia in the 2016 could be the model for them in important elections in France and Germany in 2017. If the goal of Vladimir Putin is to kind of pull up the moorings of the western alliance from both sides of the Atlantic, it's hard to see how you can discourage them from doing that except if there is a price to be paid. And I think there are going to be a lot of Republicans who are uneasy with the kind of sentiment that Donald Trump expressed today.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point. It can't be forgotten. This is - this is - this is a strategy that Russia has followed in multiple countries, multiple times. Jeffrey Toobin, this would be an outlandish question except for the track record here. Donald Trump has a history of toying with, even propagating conspiracy theories from the birther conspiracy about President Obama for some 5 years. Ted's father was involved in the Kennedy Assassination, you name it. Is it possible that Trump, perhaps relying on alternative sources of information, doesn't believe that Russia's behind this hack?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Oh, I think it's entirely possible. I mean, he said as much. I mean, he has said he doesn't believe the intelligence communities about Russia. But I think also, you know, we do so much analyzing of what Trump says. I think we should just listen to what he says. I mean, this is someone who is a supporter and admirer of Vladimir Putin. I mean, period. That, he's been saying it for a year and you know, we try to say, well maybe he's strategizing, maybe he's planning something. He keeps saying it over and over again, and I think it's time that we believe what he says, which is he is a supporter and admirer of the President of Russia, who has nuclear missiles pointed at us, who is an adversary of ours around the world, and whose values are appalling.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, there's a lot of talk from the Trump Camp and even Trump himself; you hear this concern that this is being used to delegitimize him. I mean, in your view, is that a major driving force of this sort of constant expression of skepticism and doubt?

[17:34:50] REBECCA BERG, CNN ANALYST: On their side, absolutely that's part of this for them. For Donald Trump, I do agree with Jeffrey that this is perhaps his world view. That there's more at play here than just political motivations and I think the real test of that will come later whenever Russia makes its next move, and based on recent history, there will be a next move for them and they will provoke the United States in some way further. And the question is what does Donald Trump do then when we're separated from the context of this Presidential Election and he's no longer looking at this through that lens? Does he act in the same way towards them?

SCIUTTO: Evelyn, I'm going to ask you a difficult question. When I speak to folks in the intelligence community, not just about the election hacking but a whole host of threats from Russia but also the U.S. military, you know, violations of missile treaties, the behavior of Russian nuclear armed submarines off the coast, a whole host of threats from Russia. They say it's very real; it's not a party issue. They say it's very real. Are you concerned that Donald Trump as President of the United States, the most powerful man, leader in the land, will because of this affinity for Vladimir Putin, take steps and make decisions that will be a danger?

FARKAS: Yes, I am. I mean, we all should be. Again, as I said, I have a part of me that's hopeful, but the other part of me, the part that, you know, grew up in the defense community, I've been in that world for 20 years now, and we are trained to look at the worst-case scenario. And so looking through that prism, I'm quite afraid. And because everything that Donald Trump does is not just about American interests, which are considerable as you mentioned, but it's also about the world order and the rest of the countries that rely on us to stand up to Russia and to tell them cut it out but with a little more oomph behind it.

SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein, it's a remarkable statement. Evelyn knows her stuff. She served in the Defense Department, right? We're not talking about, you know - we're not -- she's seen the intelligence on Russia. What happens, right? I mean, what happens in that situation? We talked a lot about -- well, Mattis is a reliable guy; you know, Tillerson, well, he's got these ties but he's got a lot of experience. You know, you talk about people around Donald Trump. He's made some - he made some good hires there, but at the end of the day, Trump is the decision maker. Are American checks and balances enough to balance decisions that could endanger the country?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, potentially we will find out. I mean, I don't know if we're at the point of endangering the country yet, but there's no question as Jeffrey said that Donald Trump has told us over and over again -- and this is such a provocative moment to do this after, you know, the Obama Administration has taken probably the sternest steps even if they were not as strong as some would have liked that we've seen in response to kind of cyber intrusions to immediately go out and praise Putin is to be deliberately provocative. You know, as I said, if you look at the populist, nativist, nationalist movements that are emerging in Europe and which are-- many of those strains are in the Donald Trump campaign.

They see three big overriding threats to the west. They see kind of, Islamic Radicalism, they see kind of secular cultural liberalism undermining the kind of the values of the societies and they see globalization, economically. On the last one, they view Putin as kind of irrelevant on the first two they view him as more ally than adversary. It completely shifts the access of foreign policy away from the traditional issues that we have been focusing on and it leads them toward a very different place than most people in both parties today are, and I think you're going to have some serious conflicts and we can't predict exactly how they're going to play out.

SCIUTTO: You cannot predict--


SCIUTTO: We are going to have to leave it there.

BROWNSETIN: OK. SCIUTTO: But thanks to all of you. Coming up next, a shocking change of fortune for a member of the Kennedy family. Three years after getting out of prison, will Michael Skakel be going back behind bars for murder?


[17:40:00] SCIUTTO: Breaking news. Connecticut Supreme Court today reinstated the murder conviction of a member of the politically prominent Kennedy family. Michael Skakel is a relative of the widow of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In 2002, you may remember, Skakel was convicted in the 1975 murder of a teenager named Martha Moxley. The conviction was thrown out in 2013 when Skakel was then released on bond but that conviction was reinstated today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were two -

SCIUTTO: Let's bring in our Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin who covered this case as it was under way. Jeffrey, give us the nuts and bolts of this reversal. Why now?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, this is really just such an astonishing long-term saga. The short version is that Michael Skakel was convicted in 2002, then many years later, just or earlier in 2016, the Intermediate Appeals Court in Connecticut overturned the conviction on the very unusual ground that Skakel had been denied effective assistance of counsel -- that his lawyer, Mickey Sherman, was so incompetent that Skakel didn't get a fair trial. The Supreme Court of Connecticut today said that conclusion was wrong, his defense was adequate, so the conviction is reinstated. I think, having sat through that whole trial, the Connecticut Supreme Court today was correct. Mickey Sherman made some difficult, perhaps incorrect decisions about how to defend Michael Skakel, but the reason Michael Skakel was convicted is because he actually was guilty, in my opinion, and I think that's the correct result in this case.

SCIUTTO: So you -- and sitting in that trial room, you believe that the evidence was convincing?

TOOBIN: I do. I absolutely do. And in the idea as -- that Mickey Sherman, who was a well-known lawyer in Connecticut and a frequent guest on CNN and other talk shows, was constitutionally inadequate. If you look at this quality of defense in the United States, Mickey Sherman was far from the worst that someone would get. Clearly, what I thought was going on was that the intermediate appeals court thought Skakel was innocent and they used the ineffective assistance of counsel argument as a way to get Michael Skakel out of prison. But I don't think Michael Skakel was innocent, neither did the jury and neither did I think the Connecticut Supreme Court today.

[17:45:02] SCIUTTO: Does he have another chance for appeal now?

TOOBIN: He does. I mean, he can now take this to the United States Supreme Court. It is extremely unlikely in my opinion that the United States Supreme Court will agree to review this case, but the interesting question now is whether his bond will be revoked and he'll be forced back to prison after almost a year. I really wouldn't venture a guess. I think that's really a tough call right now.

SCIUTTO: Well, Fascinating and sad case as well. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much. And coming up, the extraordinary security precautions as New York City gears up for more than a million revelers in Times Square. Will dump trucks and police keep would-be terrorists away? And as the Russians follow Rresident Obama's orders to empty out two compounds in the U.S., how many spies will be left behind?


SCIUTTO: Tonight, New York Police are putting the final touches on the extraordinary security around New York's Times Square, where more than a million people are expected to celebrate the start of the New Year. CNN's Brynn Gingras is there. So Brynn, as you watch that all get set up, are there any known threats about tomorrow night?

[17:50:00] BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the NYPD says no credible threats for the celebration tomorrow night. But as the Police Commissioner said, everyone here at the Department is going to be on their toes. And the security plan that they have in place, you know, this wasn't thought of yesterday, this is something that they started conceptualizing when the ball dropped earlier this year. And it's a plan with multi layers that are constantly evolving as new terror threats pop up around the world.


UNIDENTIFIED: Ten, nine --

GINGRAS: New York City is on high alert in anticipation of one of the biggest New Year's Eve celebrations in the world. Securing it takes an army. 7,000 NYPD officers are just one part of the enhanced measures being taken to protect the city.

JAMES O'NEIL, NEW YORK POLICE COMISSIONER: This is where everybody has got to be on their toes. I know complacency can set in at times, but certainly not in an event like this.

GINGRAS: In the wake of the ISIS inspired attacks in Berlin and Nice, 65 sand trucks and 100 blockers will be stationed around the city, most being used as a protective barrier around the perimeter of Times Square to ward off a truck-style attack.

O'NEIL: We live in a changing world now. And again, as I said before, it can't just be about what happened in New York

GINGRAS: The NYPD is in constant communication with Foreign Departments, gaining intelligence and sharing police strategy with cities abroad. In London, there's added security at the changing of the guards. Heavily armed police were unavoidable in Berlin as they stood post behind concrete barriers at a Christmas concert. Czech holiday markets were heavily patrolled and in France, the government announced the boost of 10,000 soldiers on the Parisian streets over the holiday period, adding to the officers working around the clock.

LUC POIGNANT, PARIS POLICE UNION REPRESENTATIVE (through translator): We are really giving of ourselves, of our time, at a cost to us and to our families.

GINGRAS: Nearly 2 million people are expected in Times Square. The extra police presence, a noticeable addition to keep New York City safe.

O'NEIL: If you're coming down to Times Square, rest assured it will be a safe venue.


GINGRAS: And even most recently, I'm told, members of the NYPD have been visiting hotels, talking to managers and owners. They have been securing parking garages in this area and even visiting truck rental centers. I got to tell you, Jim, there's actually a manhole next to me and it has been welded shut. All of them will be, again, more layers to keep everyone safe as they bring in this New Year, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras, thanks very much in Times Square. We're also watching as Russia follows President Obama's orders to close down two of its compounds here in the U.S. 35 Russian diplomats being expelled as retaliation for Russia's meddling in the Presidential Election but, they're likely are more that are being left behind.

Let's bring in our CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. So both nations have certainly in the past kicked out each other's spies before.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This has been a cat and mouse game going on really for decades. It's been immortalized in television and in movies. But the reality can be quite vicious and dangerous.


STARR: FBI cameras captured Russian operative Anna Chapman and a Federal Undercover agent meeting in a New York coffee shop in June 2010. 17 days later, Chapman and nine other Russian sleeper agents were arrested in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, charged with conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of Russia, spies who had burrowed deep into American society for years, trying to steal secrets and recruit agents.

The FBI had watched Chapman and the others for months, recording drop- offs of packages, meetings on staircases, even one meeting just yards from CNN's offices in New York . The U.S. believes the group never got its hands on classified information. But the Russian infiltration into the U.S- a classic Moscow move.

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: What they do is more than just collect. They actually try to influence events to the benefit of Russia, all over the world. And this is something that they have done for decades.

STARR: Within days at the airport in Vienna, an elaborately choreographed transfer. The 10 Russians traded back for 4 other Russians charged with being in touch with Western Intelligence Services. Now, the state department is expelling 35 Russian officials. It says violated their diplomatic status this, after the U.S. claim of interference in the Presidential Election and harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas.

Vladamir Putin, of course, a former Russian Intelligence Officer, well acquainted with the so-called "illegals" program, putting agents into U.S. society.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that they would continue to do that, to establish these American legends and cover stories for these people trying to pose as Americans in the United States, shows how serious they are.

[17:55:03] STARR: But the U.S. has also been caught in the act. In 2013, Ryan Fogle, a Political Secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was arrested. The Russians claim they caught him with wigs, dark glasses, and cash trying to recruit a Russian agent. Fogle was expelled. It was never clear if he was set up by the Russians. Earlier this year, a U.S. diplomat was tackled and beaten by a uniformed Russian police officer as he tried to enter the American Embassy in Moscow.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee.


STARR: And Jim, that latest incident, the U.S. wound up expelling two Russian diplomats, Jim?

SCIUTTO: And that's one of the incidents they mentioned as they carried out these sanctions. Barbara Starr, thanks very much. Coming up, more on the breaking news. Donald Trump praising Vladamir Putin saying, he always knew Putin was, quote, "very smart." But, what's really behind Putin's decision to put off retaliation for election related sanctions?


SCIUTTO: Happening now, breaking news. Very smart. Donald Trump is singing Vladimir Putin's praises after the Russian leader said that he won't order tit for tat expulsions of American diplomats.

Tonight, the Kremlin leader seems to be counting on the President- Elect to reverse the new U.S. sanctions.

Forced out, Russians who got the boot from President Obama are on the move as the sanctions sink in. Why is Putin refusing to respond in kind? We'll have a live report from Moscow.