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Farenthold Accused of Improperly Using House Resources; Haley Invites Some Countries to Reception, Snubs Others on U.N. Jerusalem Vote; North Korea Bold in Face of Sanctions; Trump's Mar-a-Largo Raising Ticket Prices for New Year's Eve Party; Trump Sends Out Giant Christmas Cards. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:38] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a CNN exclusive. The controversy surrounding Texas Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold is going beyond sexual harassment allegations. Facing brand new ethics accusations, this time improperly using House resources, including staff time, for campaign purposes. New accusations come from a former aide to Farenthold who served as communications director from May of 2015 until March of this year.

So with me now CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, who broke the story wide open.

M.J., tell me who this farmer aide is and what did she tell this Ethics Committee.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONA POLITICS REPORTER: So her name is Elizabeth Peace, former communication director. And spoke with the House Ethics Committee last week about Congressman Farenthold told that him and his chief of staff regularly asked her to perform campaign regularly duties even though she was paid for or volunteered with his congressional campaign. According to the source, told the Ethics Committee she sometimes received these campaign-related requests on her House e-mail and work hours when she was physically on Capitol Hill and sometimes used a House computer to do campaign work. The source says Peace also claims that at least one occasion, Farenthold's chief of staff yelled at her to help with campaign efforts and she felt pressure to do what she was asked. This is potentially significant because there are strict rules prohibiting these for campaign purposes. And we did reach out to his office multiple times and no response to our comments.

[14:35:25] BALDWIN: No comment yet. What could this mean for him, possible campaign finance violations?

LEE: It's possible. If Peace's allegations to the Ethics Committee are found to be true, that could mean that Farenthold committed campaign finance violations. But I want to strongly say CNN has not independently confirmed Peace's allegations. Some important context. The Ethics Committee was looking into Farenthold for harassment allegations and announced yesterday broadening the ongoing investigation. And now the committee says also looking into allegations that Congressman Farenthold's congressional staff may have used House resources, including staff time, to benefit his congressional campaign, as well as allegations that Congressman Farenthold or any person acting on his behalf may have required members of his staff to work on his congressional campaign.

I should also note in the big picture, Brooke, these could complicate Farenthold's political future. Remember, he announced last week he will not run for re-election. And House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he agreed with that decision but has not called on him to immediately resign.

BALDWIN: Stay on it.

M.J., thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Good to see you.

Coming up here, after a humiliating vote at the U.N., Ambassador Nikki Haley makes good on the threat the U.S. is taking names. She's holding a friendship party, and some major allies not on the invite list.

Plus, the president's Mar-a-Lago estate reportedly increasing prices for tickets to New Year's Eve party. The one that president traditionally attends. So is that even OK? Conflict of interest? Let's find out next.


[14:41:25] BALDWIN: Countries that voted against the United States have been threatened with cuts to their funding while the countries that stood with the U.S. get a party invite. Ambassador Nikki Haley throwing a bit of a party for nations that abstained or opposed the U.N. vote to condemn President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli's capitol. Most of the countries abstained from the vote, but these are the countries, most island nations, that actually sided with the president's decision. Ambassador Haley says moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the will of the people. But polls show Americans are pretty split on that decision.

With me now, Aaron David Miller, CNN global affairs analyst, who served for two decades as State Department analyst, negotiator on Middle East issues.

Aaron David Miller, always a pleasure.


BALDWIN: Thank you.

So this whole notion of this invitation for a friendship gathering, what do you make of that? MILLER: I think it's an effort, Brooke, to save face and avoid

walking over a cliff. If you believe the president, we are going to save money, Nikki Haley taking names, one of the implications is we are actually going to follow-through on reducing economic and or military assistance to every nation, 128, or the most important ones that voted against the resolution, and talking Iraq, Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance to Yemen, Jordan, that's in our interests, not just in theirs. And I doubt frankly whether the president or Nikki Haley are serious and are going to go through with that. So failing that, let's have a friendship party, friends of the peace process, or the United States party. But think about it, I mean Micronesia, these countries, even if you lump in the big ones, Australia, Canada, Mexico, won't have much impact on the Peace process, frankly. I think it makes us look silly.

BALDWIN: OK. Saving face, I hear you.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with Oren Liebermann, our correspondent there in Israel, after this vote. And this is what the P.M. said.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We are now talking to several countries who are seriously considering now saying exactly the same thing as the United States and moving their embassies to Jerusalem.


NETANYAHU: I could tell you that, but I won't because I want it to succeed and there is a good chance it will.


BALDWIN: These are the only eight countries -- we have a full screen -- that voted with the U.S. on this, eight. Do you think Netanyahu is overstating here?

MILLER: You know, I think there were indications, Hungarians, Czechs, maybe, conservative governments that have close ties might consider it, excuse me, there are no embassies in Jerusalem since the early '80s. And the paradox here, Brooke, is the state of Israel now enjoys relations I think with about 146 countries, some form of relationship out of 193 that sit in the U.N. But pushing Jerusalem to the top of the pile, as the Trump administration has done, I think is not going to gather a lot of credibility or a lot of support on the part of any of these countries. So, yes, I think one or two might actually follow-through. But that's simply going to highlight the obvious that most of the international community does not.

[14:44:53] BALDWIN: Just put a button this, and I'll ask about North Korea. We know the former CIA director, he writes, "The Trump administration's threats to retaliate against nations that sovereign reading on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous, and shows President Trump requires subservience from everyone."

The U.N. has voted on this stanchions for North Korea, but since 2006, we have seen rounds of sanctions, North Korea seems to get even more bold. What's the difference this time?

MILLER: I mean, there may not be one. I'm hesitant to predict how the unpredictable Kim Jong-Un is going to behave in the wake of.

BALDWIN: Impossible.

MILLER: Impossible to predict, for sure. I mean the good news for the Trump administration is after a year, they actually have pushed the issue of North Korean nukes to the top of the pile, and mobilized significant pressure. The problem is, and look at Mr. Brennan's former agency, public assessment now on the impact of the sanctions is that it will not fundamentally alter Kim Jong-Un's decision to continue testing missiles and nukes and to retain his nuclear stockpile.

BALDWIN: He's been threatening this for a long, long time.

Aaron David Miller, as you well know, thank you so much. Happy holidays.

MILLER: Thank you, Brooke. All the same.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up here, President Trump is now officially in sunny Florida for the holidays. As we have learned, Mar-a-Lago is reportedly increasing the price of admission, if you want to go to their New Year's Eve party. We'll talk about that, and any kind of ethical concerns that might arise.


[14:51:18] BALDWIN: President Trump has officially touched down there in Florida, spending his Christmas holiday with his family at Mar-a-Lago. Of course, he is there after the big, massive Republican tax bill that he signed into law earlier this morning.

The president also planning to ring in 2018 at the Winter White House. And those who would like to party at the lavish Mar-a-Lago New Year's Eve bash that the president often attends, the price for tickets is reportedly going up. The cost, if you're a member, $600 bucks. But if you are not, it is $750.

So on that, let's bring in Dan Merica, our CNN politics reporter.

When I heard about this, when he became president, the membership fee to join Mar-a-Lago, that went up as well. Critics saying this is the president cashing in on the presidency. But ethically, is this kosher?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It depends on who you ask. Democrats and critics have been sure to focus on issues like this, noting the president has made it a habit to visit properties that bear his name, or his company owns. He spent 106 days during his presidency at one or two or, in some cases, three properties per day that at the owns and spent 36 days, today, is his 36th day at Mar-a- Lago. He has spent 40 days at New Jersey golf course. And you are right, Democrats, critics have put a focus on these trips saying that businesses in the area cannot compete with the presidential stamp of approval that President Trump gives to his own properties.

It's important to note those these properties have changed as Trump has been president. Mar-a-Lago is a club been here a long time in Palm Springs (sic) and anchored the community, especially the philanthropic events. But you remember earlier this year, about 13 charity it is canceled because of the president, saying that they didn't feel comfortable holding them there anymore. That has kind of changed now. And now more Republican events are being hosted here. So even as the president is highlighting his properties, the clientele of these properties are changing.

Another issue is that we don't know who is at Mar-a-Lago when President Trump is there. The Secret Service has not released logs. And Democrats have tried to get hands on those names. They asked the GAO to check into it and the GAO told me yesterday they plan on releasing that report in the spring -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: We'll look for that.

In the meantime, Dan Mercia, there are Christmas cards, and there are Christmas cards. I know I plaster all of my friend's cute kids and dogs all over my fridge. I think the president's Christmas card would take up like half of the space. Can you tell me about this?

MERICA: Yes. My fridge would not be able to hold that Christmas card. This was sent to members of Congress. Aide to one of these members that received it told us that it was as big as his computer monitor. President Trump is excited about Christmas, been saying it throughout November and into December, bragged about saying he's allowing people to say merry Christmas again, which is an odd thing to brag about. But clearly, in the holiday spirit when he sent them out. What we are told is a Christmas card that is about four times bigger than most Christmas cards those members of Congress have received -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Well, you know what they say about big Christmas cards. No, I'm just kidding. I don't know what they say.

MERICA: I don't know if I want to go there.

[14:54:46] BALDWIN: How much postage would be required on a Christmas card that big? I have so many questions about this. I'm fascinated by the size of this Christmas card.

But I appreciate the enthusiasm, Mr. President.

Dan Merica, thank you very much. Enjoy Palm Beach.

Coming up here, an exodus from the EPA. A new report on the hundreds of workers who have left the agency. When we say workers, scientists, right, since the Trump administration took over. The reason, we are being told, poor moral and deep disappointment over the EPA's direction. We have someone on that.

Also, an ugly scandal involving the Miss America Pageant. Shocking e- mails allegedly sent by the pageant's CEO mocking their appearance, intelligence, and sex lives of previous winners.


[15:00:01] BALDWIN: It is Friday afternoon. You are watching CNN with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. I appreciate it. For the first time in 15 years, the President of the United States held no end-of-the-year news conference.