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Budget Deal, DACA Fix Facing Lawmakers in New Year; President Has Visited His Properties 107 Days in 2017; How A Football Coach Changed The Life of His Star Player. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired December 23, 2017 - 12:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Merry Christmas, Fred. Yes, we actually were able to see the president on the golf course a short while ago. He was near some golf carts. When we've asked, the White House has declined to confirm that the president is actually golfing today.

Though, when he departed the White House yesterday for Mar-A-Lago, he did tell reporters that this would be a working vacation, that there were several areas of concern that he really wanted to drill down with his advisers on, including North Korea and tensions that are rising in the Middle East.

The president is also expected to work on his state of the union address while he was down here in Mar-A-Lago. That as you know, Fred, is expected to be delivered to the nation by the end of January.

Beyond that, the president now has to weigh the legislative agenda and the next steps going into 2018. There are two major options for the president and the Republicans right now when it comes to the legislative agenda.

On one hand, you have a push for entitlement reform, for welfare reform, something that House Speaker Paul Ryan has hinted should be the next step for Republicans following their victory on tax reform.

On the other hand, you had something the president talked about again to reporters before he left the White House yesterday, an infrastructure plan. Something that he admitted likely would have made the early days of his administration easier if he had pursued it because he believes there is fertile ground for bipartisanship on an infrastructure plan. Here's more of what the president said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done and maybe we start with infrastructure because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.


SANCHEZ: Yes. He says that he believes Democrats will be enthusiastic about getting something done on infrastructure. Beyond that, the president really has to take a close look at the changing political climate.

For one, you have rumors that have been swirling for weeks that some of his top cabinet officials may be departing from his team, including rumors that have been swirling about Rex Tillerson's potential departure, something that the secretary of state has denied.

And beyond that, also the continuing intraparty fighting within the Republican Party. CNN has learned from sources that earlier this week there was some tense meetings at the White House when discussing a strategy going into 2018 for the midterm elections when discussing the president's support of Roy Moore, and the continuing rift between Steve Bannon and establishment Republicans, certainly, something to watch for as the year moves on -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez, pull out that sunscreen, you're going to need it down there for a while. Happy holidays.

All right. The Russia investigation is hanging over President Trump's Christmas vacation. Yesterday, House investigators actually questioned the president's longtime personal assistant, Rhona Graff.

Despite the president telling allies that he expects the special counsel to exonerate him and soon, there is no sign the investigation is close to ending. Here now is CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's longtime secretary, Rhona Graff, is the latest member of his inner circle to face questions from lawmakers in the Russia investigation.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Rhona, come on, I'm going to make you a star.

SCIUTTO: Graff has been at Trump's side for decades, long considered his gatekeeper -- including sending and receiving e-mails on behalf of Mr. Trump, who has avoided them. Graff was mentioned by name in the June 2016 e-mails between Donald Trump Jr. and British publicist, Ron Goldstone in which the two discussed connecting the campaign with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Goldstone writing, quote, "I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra-sensitive so wanted to send to you first." Also, this week, lawmakers from three House committees questioned FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for more than 16 hours on a range of topics including the Russia probe of special interest to Democrats and the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.

Notable for Republicans. McCabe was also grilled on his inner actions with fired FBI Director James Comey who McCabe told lawmakers informed him of conversations he had with President Donald Trump soon after they happened. This according to three sources with knowledge of the matter. Democrats meanwhile are again warning President Trump not to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

SENATOR MARK WARNER (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Firing Mr. Mueller or any other of the top brass involved in this investigation would not only call into question this administration's commitment to the truth, but also to our most basic concept rule of law. It also has the potential to provoke a constitutional crisis.

SCIUTTO: That is a warning the White House quickly shrugged off.

[12:05:02] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I want to be very clear and make sure that I address senator warner's concern for the 1,000th time. We have no intentions of firing Bob Mueller. We're continuing to work closely and cooperate with him. We look forward to seeing this hoax wrap up very soon.

SCIUTTO: Despite the reassurances from the White House, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi penned a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday urging the senior House Republican to protect Mueller.

Pelosi writing, quote, "Democrats are deeply concerned by the majority's efforts to curtail the House Intelligence Committee investigation and its overall failure to address Russia's meddling in the 2016 election."

Speaker Ryan's spokeswoman responded with a statement saying, quote, "to suit her political attention, Leader Pelosi would like to see this investigation go on forever." That impatience with the investigation is shared by the White House. Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk more about the Russia investigation and where the president turns after this legislative win on taxes. Joining me right now to discuss, Basel Smikle, a New York State Democratic Party senior adviser, good to see you. Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator, good to see you as well. Merry Christmas to both of you.

All right. So, Alice, you first, this ongoing Russia probe that may linger deep into 2018 no doubt. So, can the president and his fellow Republicans pull off more legislative wins with this cloud of the investigation hanging over the administration or, you know, is there a way in which the White House can use all of this to his advantage?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we've seen that they can actually get things done despite what's going on with regard to the Russia investigation. I think they would be best to let Mueller do his investigation. Let him do his job. Provide all the information that he possibly needs so we can wrap this up.

I think the good thing is that there's been so much media coverage and talk and conversations about the Russia investigation, but at the same time, they're able to walk and chew gum at the same time, as Speaker Ryan so often says.

I think the takeaway from this week and certainly this month and this year is that Republicans in Washington have been able to work bicamerally in the House and the Senate and get meaningful tax reform legislation passed.

In addition to that, what also gets lost in this is the repealing of the individual mandate and drilling in ANWR, which are keys to unleashing American energy. So, this is the key, big takeaway as we near the end of the year. I think the Russia investigation in my view and in many people's mind is far, far, far back, way down in the headlines compared to tax reform.

WHITFIELD: So, Basil, we end 2017 with this big legislative win, you know, for the president and the president also says, you know, that he sees that there will be a real bipartisan consensus on other things in the new year, particularly as it pertains to infrastructure.

And he says, you know, everyone should be on board with that. But is it your feeling that, you know, 2018 will be something different or that there might be some sort of consensus, a bipartisan consensus?

BASIL SMIKLE, SENIOR ADVISER, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think 2018 will be different in this sense. Republicans can walk and chew gum and also bash Hillary Clinton at the same time. They're already talking about dragging her through another investigation or her name through another investigation.

I actually think that that's a key part of this strategy for the midterm elections, number one. Number two, I don't see a tremendous amount of opportunity for bipartisanship. I would like there to be.

But when you have in this tax reform measure states like New Jersey and New York being hit particularly hard with caps on the SALT tax and so on, that actually hurts the ability for real dialogue around infrastructure and the ability to get a number of projects often with the next couple of years.

So, I do think that it's a good conversation to have, particularly if voters are looking for Republicans to be more bipartisan because there's already polling that says a lot of -- a number of voters want to see more Democrats in office because there's a sense we want to work with Republicans, but they don't necessarily want to work with us.

If that is the case, then it's to their benefit to say they want to be bipartisan but nothing in the tax measure really indicates that they have the willingness to do that.

WHITFIELD: All right, 2018 also, Alice, you know, a big one. We've got these midterm elections and there have been many expressed concerns coming from Republicans who say, you know, they are concerned about how an unpopular president just might impact midterm. There have been a number of missteps, you know, that could cost the House and Senate GOP seats. [12:10:04] And it doesn't help that the president, you know, finally backed Alabama's, you know, Roy Moore unsuccessfully. Former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, has vowed to mount challenges to most incumbent Republicans but suffered, you know, that big loss. He too was behind Roy Moore.

Here is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reacting to some of that.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The political genius on display throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America is hard to ignore.


WHITFIELD: Boy, so Alice, what -- those are some challenging words coming from McConnell.

STEWART: Yes. It's not easy to hear, but he's completely correct. Alabama should have been a shoo-in for the GOP. The problem is the nominee was a tremendously flawed candidate. And moving forward to the midterm elections, I think it's critical that the GOP look at all the candidates they're putting out.

Specifically, new ones, and make sure there's a proper vetting process, to make sure we don't have any more accused child molesters and others with shady past get on the ticket because we need to focus on the economy, creating jobs and working on building infrastructure and immigration, the key issues that those who are currently in Washington campaigned on and are working on.

And we need to continue to drive those messages in the midterm. Hopefully, the president's approval rating will tick-up, being in the low 30s is not a good place to be, if he's planning on campaigning for some of these GOP candidates.

Hopefully, that will pick up as the economy picks up with regard to tax reform and I do see it being a strong midterm for the GOP, if we can do all those things, vet the candidates better, improve the economy and the president approval rating. I think that will be a win-win for the GOP.

WHITFIELD: So, if that's the strategy, for Republicans, Basil, what is the strategy likely to be for Democrats? Can it be primarily anti- Trump or does there have to be something else?

SMIKLE: Well, I do think they'll be something else, but I think a big part of the strategy will be going to Trump voters and really asking them, did you -- is this what you voted for? And I take a couple of things.

One, in this tax bill, because of the deficit that it will create, you're going to have cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They're already talking about changes to entitlement reform. You look at the way net neutrality and rollback of Obama era policies will actually help or hurt, excuse me, rural voters, small farmers. You look at the fact that we're talking, again, about DACA and immigration reform and we just cannot get that done.

And to me there's this sort of the combination of all of this leads me to this sort of malevolent incrementalism. Yes, there are the big gaffes that the president makes with his tweets, that gets a lot of attention, but it's these little issues that are actually really big issues.

We hear on tax -- on steal tariffs that foreign steal is being flooded into our market and steelworkers may actually get laid off because of that. So, going to voters that said they wanted to try out Donald Trump and see where this experiment would take us.

Going back to those voters and saying, you know what, he's not really following through on anything he promised. Give the Democrats an opportunity to get back to good policy and put you back to work.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it right there. Basil Smikle, Alice Stewart, see you again very soon. Thank you.

Still ahead, President Trump has hinted he's open to working with Democrats in 2018 to get his agenda passed, but are there any items that Democrats can get behind given the charged political rhetoric? I'll talk to a Democrat on the House Budget Committee next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back this Saturday. The massive tax overall that President Trump signed promises tax breaks for corporations and some individuals and also changes a range of tax breaks from child tax credits to the estate tax. Most of the plan kicking in in January.

I want to bring in Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat from New York and a member of the House Judiciary and Budget Committees. Congressman Jeffries, good to see you. Merry Christmas.

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Same to you. Good afternoon. Good to be with you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, as you headed into the House floor to vote, you tweeted out saying, "Headed to the floor to vote hell no on GOP tax scam. We will tattoo this vote on the foreheads of every New York member who vote for it."

So now that these tax cuts are law, are you and fellow Democrats, you know, taking kind of a wait and see approach to see if the tax law becomes popular or even delivers more money and the jobs promise for the middle class?

JEFFRIES: I think what's going to be clear to the American people increasingly even though this bill is currently very unpopular, is you'll have millions and millions of middle class Americans, particularly here in New York City, who are going to experience a tax increase, not a tax cut, because of the limitations on state and local tax deductibility and the limitations on property tax deductibility.

That is incredibly unfair. Same will be the case as it relates to middle class taxpayers in California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania and many other parts of the country.

And we also know that this was essentially done in order to provide massive tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, special interest corporations and to rich wealthy donors of the Republican Party. That is not meaningful tax reform. That is rewarding people who expect Republicans to do their bidding and that is very unfortunate.

[12:20:10] WHITFIELD: So, is it a primary plan for you and fellow Democrats to try to turn these tax cuts, you know, to your advantage in the next year's midterm elections, not just in the House but perhaps the Senate as well?

JEFFRIES: Well, I don't think it's a question of political strategy, it's a question of what is right in terms of public policy for the American people. Democrats have taken a very clear position that we should be focused on providing better jobs, better wages, a better future for the American people, raising their pay, lowering their costs and providing them with tools to succeed in the 21st Century economy.

We are going to make it clear that what this tax scam represents is another raw deal for working families, every day Americans and middle- class Americans. We're going to try to offer them a better deal. Again, focused on good paying jobs, strong economic growth.

WHITFIELD: So, after that tax vote, you know, Democrats did agree to this temporary spending bill to keep the government running until mid- January. You've been very outspoken about Republicans getting to immigration issues, especially DACA, the Dream Act. Have Democrats kind of lost their leverage on that issue by not forcing a government shutdown fight?

JEFFRIES: Well, we're going to confront another deadline on January 19th and we want our colleagues to approach this in a responsible fashion. Clearly, they weren't interested in addressing the serious issues around protecting Dreamers, extending funding for community health centers.

And also making sure that we can protect the child health insurance program otherwise known as CHIP. There is a bipartisan program and has always received strong support from Democrats and Republicans.

But apparently, Fredricka, it's problematic in the era of Donald Trump. If Donald Trump really is interested in working with Democrats, we'll start on the Dreamer question, as well as it relates to community health centers and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and then we'll be able to determine if he's serious or not about bringing the country together. WHITFIELD: He just said on a bipartisan effort he felt that he was confident that infrastructure will be that thing that brings both parties together. Do you agree?

JEFFRIES: I'm not sure where the money is to do a meaningful infrastructure program after you have just extended the debt by $1.5 trillion, saddling our children and grandchildren with massive amounts simply to reward millionaires and billionaires and special interest corporations.

And so while I'm confident that people are willing to approach this and listen to what any infrastructure proposal will be, where can we possibly find the resources to do something that really improves our bridge, roads, tunnels, public mass transportation system, given what the Republicans just did in terms of exploding the deficit even further.

WHITFIELD: That cloud that continues to hover over the White House that Russia probe, you know, Mark Warner, your Democratic colleague in the Senate warned the president and really warned Congress about the possibilities of a firing of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Is that a concern that you share?

JEFFRIES: That's a serious concern that I think all reasonable Americans will share in terms of making sure the integrity of our democracy --

WHITFIELD: Even though the president said recently, he said, you know, it's not a consideration, something he's not thinking about, you don't buy it?

JEFFRIES: The president says a lot of things that don't turn out to be true and so I'm hopeful that in this particular case, he has no intention of firing Bob Mueller who himself, Bob Mueller, being a registered Republican, who has been a well-respected law enforcement professor known throughout his entire career.

And it's only now that the Trump campaign, Trump allies, Trump associates are in the cross hairs of the special counsel's investigation, which is all about Russia's interference with our election, that all of a sudden Bob Mueller has been turned into a partisan hack.

It is shameless attempt to undermine a legitimate criminal investigation and it should not be tolerated. If he fires Bob Mueller, that would be crossing a red line that would provoke a constitutional crisis.

WHITFIELD: Is it equally concerning to you that there are these hypothetical, the hypothetical of his firing, that it would potentially be a crisis that that too is an issue that is very concerning, that despite the president saying it's not a consideration?

JEFFRIES: Well, we've seen the president in the early part of the year fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she explained to the White House that the Department of Justice was concerned that Michael Flynn could be a Russian asset susceptible to blackmail.

He fired the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Prett Bharara, after it was revealed that the office was investigating close allies of the Trump administration.

[12:25:05] And of course, he famously fired the FBI director who was leading the criminal investigation in the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian spies.

So it's not clear, if you look at the pattern that has been followed during the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, that he is preparing to do anything other than terminate the special counsel because of what would clearly be an effort to abuse power and obstruct justice in the context of a criminal investigation.

WHITFIELD: All right, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, we'll leave it there. Merry Christmas. Have a great holiday.

JEFFRIES: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.


[12:30:17] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back.

Republicans riding high after the passage of their tax bill and they're hoping to keep the momentum going into the New Year. President Trump signed the bill yesterday before leaving for Mar-a- Lago for the Christmas holiday. And now, it appears the president is turning his attention toward infrastructure and opening the door to working with Democrats to get that deal done.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done and maybe we start with infrastructure because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk more about all of this. Joining me right now again, Basil Smikle is back with us and Alice Stewart. OK.

So, Alice, you first. The president says infrastructure can be a bipartisan effort. He feels confident but given that Republicans got no support from Democrats on taxes or health care, do you see that infrastructure is something different?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It should be. It's no surprise Democrats like to spend money. So this is a good opportunity to help -- to give them the opportunity to spend money.

Look, if we were able to have more Democrats come to the table and work, I think that would be the third ring of a very successful three prong approach that has happened over the last several months. First off, we cleared a major hurdle in getting just Republicans to work together as we saw with tax reform. And second off, bicameral cooperation between the House and the Senate to work out their differences in tax reform and get that done.

But now I think the next big hurdle is for Republicans and Democrats to work across the aisle and get something done. And keep in mind there are a lot of Democrats who are running in red states that they do need to show some willingness to work with Republicans and get things done. So I'm hopeful that we will see working across the aisle on both sides to get things done in 2018.

WHITFIELD: So Alice, something tells me some Democrats are going to take issue with that spending money when you talk about that $1.5 trillion added to the deficit as a result of that tax plan according to the CBO. So Basil, you know, Republicans were able to pass the tax reform without Democrats because they used a procedural tactic that can only be used once every fiscal year or so from here on. They're going to need Democrats, right?

BASIL SMIKLE, SENIOR ADVISER, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Right. Absolutely right. And, you know, I'll agree with Alice in this respect. I do think infrastructure is one issue that could garner bipartisan support particularly as both parties go into the midterm elections.

But that's -- then it goes back to the point that I made and even Congressman Jeffries made a little earlier, that we just have not seen from the president, certainly from Republicans who are trying to bring their own party together, the willingness, desire, to bring Democrats to the table. I would just point to the fact that even in this tax reform bill, one of the most important tax reform bills and biggest reforms of the last 30 years, there were no hearings on this issue.

So, it's not just about being bipartisan, there's an issue in terms of whether or not the Republicans want to clue the public, the general public into their plans for how they want to spend taxpayer dollars. So it's concerning to me that there's all this talk about bipartisanship. Democrats have indicated they want to be at the table, well, we don't see that willingness coming from Republicans.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, so while the tax bill, you know, mission accomplished, check mark on that one, there's still other outstanding issues that lawmakers will need to be facing. Let's take a look what Senator Lindsey Graham sees on the horizon.

He has said that there will be another effort to repeal ObamaCare in 2018. Of course there's infrastructure, we just talk about that. And then Paul Ryan has said that he wants to tackle about welfare and entitlement.

So, Alice, how is Congress, you know, going to get these things done when that recurring issue of ObamaCare, repealing and replace, just doesn't seem to go away? But, will that still be an underlying theme in all of these other issues that members of Congress want to tackle? STEWART: Sure. And we've seen that and heard that several times from Speaker Ryan over the past several weeks that welfare reform is critical. And I think it's important not only because this is something that the base has supported with regard to some type of work for welfare types of program that Clinton was -- President Bill Clinton was instrumental in implementing when he was president but those are the kinds of things that Republicans and the Republican base would support, so I can see us making progress in that regard.

Now, if we were to touch social security, there will be a heck of a lot of pushback on that. But I know that is another issue that Speaker Ryan has said he wants to address incrementally with regard to helping to cut some of the funding.

[12:35:03] But I think more than anything that what we're going to see is we need to also address immigration which is another campaign promise. But once the economy starts to rebound as a result of tax reform and corporations are already showing signs that this is beneficial to them. We're seeing paying employees Christmas bonuses or year-end bonuses as a result of the anticipation of a booming economy. I think this will help Republicans and Democrats realize some of these ideas that have been put forth by Republicans are working and successful. And Republicans and Democrats realize that continued effort on these fronts will be beneficial to both sides.

WHITFIELD: So Basil, you know, the president, perhaps he misspoke when he said, you know, look, I promise we're going to get rid of ObamaCare and we just did. You know, the individual mandate is what he was referring to but it doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, ObamaCare is gone. Millions of people are benefiting from now.

But do you see 2018 as being a little bit more smooth sailing as it pertains to the promise of bipartisanship, ObamaCare removal or, you know, damage or not?

SMIKLE: I don't see it being smoother in part because I just -- I actually don't believe that Donald Trump and others, despite what he talks about in terms of him -- his wealth and the wealth of a lot of his colleagues. I don't think they fundamentally understand the American economy today. Yes, as Alice said, some businesses are giving Christmas bonuses to their workers but their cuts and benefits are permanent. The ones for the workers are not.

So will those companies continue their largess into the next 10 to 15 years, number one? And number two, with respect to the economy that we have today, this gig economy, where ObamaCare is really important to a lot of those types of workers. Entitlements are really important. That sort of reform effort will actually hurt a lot of those types of workers.

So I think that these really important battles are going to continue into 2018 but I don't know how that grows the Republican Party's base of support. What I do see is that Democrats have an opportunity to be what Congressman Keith Ellison, the deputy chair of party has said, that we can be a party of social and economic justice.

WHITFIELD: Basil Smikle, Alice Stewart -- you have something else to say, Alice?

STEWART: Just quickly, he touched on the fact that the individual tax cuts are temporary and they will go out in a few years. That is 100 percent true.

However, the only way they won't be re-enacted is if Democrats vote against it. Republicans want to continue the individual tax cuts. It's something they fought very hard for and they have all vowed once it's up in that time. The Republican Party will be behind continuing the tax cuts for individuals and the only way that won't happen is if Democrats say, no (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: But then you heard the argument, why not just -- why not have made that permanent like it was done for, you know, the corporate tax breaks? Something to ponder. Maybe in 2018. Unless I see you back here tomorrow, Basil and Alice.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. If I don't see you here back tomorrow, then, you know, back to Merry Christmas. All right. Good to see you both.

STEWART: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you. We'll be right back.


[12:42:29] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back, and Merry Christmas.

President Trump golfing on his first full day of Christmas vacation at his international golf club in West Palm Beach. The president arrived yesterday after signing the GOP tax bill into law, marking the first major legislative win of his presidency.

And guess what, today marks the 107th day that the president is visiting one of his properties since taking office. CNN's Tom Foreman has details.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once every three days, that is almost how often President Trump has stopped by his privately owned property since taking office. Resorts, hotels, and golf courses from Hawaii to the East Coast.

This holiday weekend, the getaway spot is South Florida. Where cheering crowd greet him on his way to his Mar-a-Lago club just hours after he signed the Republican tax bill.

TRUMP: I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.

FOREMAN (voice-over): This is the tenth visit to the place he has dubbed the winter White House. And a good bit of business has unfolded there.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The president has used the Mar-a-Lago trips to push a Supreme Court pick, to host foreign dignitaries, to unleash military forces.

TRUMP: Tonight, I order a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

FOREMAN (voice-over): When North Korea launched an unexpected missile, he and the Japanese prime minister discussed it on a terrace as visitors snapped photos, making joint statements inside moments later.

TRUMP: That the United States of America stands behind japan, it's great ally, 100 percent.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's response, "There is no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.

But the biggest question about the business of Mar-a-Lago concerns what Trump and his team knew in private about dealings with Russia when they gathered at the resort during Trump's transition to power. Investigators say during a few pivotal days, then Trump security adviser Michael Flynn was talking to a Russian ambassador even as outgoing President Obama was preparing to sanction Russia. This is what authorities say Flynn lied about to the FBI.


[12:45:04] WHITFIELD: All right, Tom Foreman, thank you so much. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, a real story of inspiration this holiday season. Now, to a story of a North Carolina football coach who turned a losing high school team into champions. But his real victory was off the field when he forever changed the life of one of his star players.

Here's CNN's Dianne Gallagher.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A senior quarterback with a 95-yard touchdown run to win the state championship game.

[12:50:07] Leading a team that just two years ago had a 1-10 record to their first state title in more than 60 years.

CROWD: Champions!

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Historic. Impressive. But this is a story about much more than football. This is a story about a coach, a quarterback, and a little but loaded question that changed their lives.

Late summer 2015, Harding University High School, Charlotte, North Carolina.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Sam Greiner, a first-year head coach tasked with turning around the Rams of (INAUDIBLE) underfunded program and breaking some bad news to sophomore Braheam Murphy.

S. GREINER: The athletic director come to me and says, by the way, Braheam Murphy and some other guys are not eligible. I was like, Braheam is not eligible. I was like blown away because he's so smart.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But he didn't have the grades to play.

BRAHEAM MURPHY, HARDING UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL QUARTERBACK, SENIOR: When he told me that, I didn't show any emotion. But once I got home, I just cried for two days straight.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Home, a complicated word in Braheam's life back then.

MURPHY: I had to be on my own at times. Sometimes I stay at my friends' house. Me and my sister stay at my friend's house, going back and forth.

GALLAGHER (on camera): You're homeless?

MURPHY: Yes, you bet. I wasn't in a stable home.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): When he was five years old, Braheam lost his mother to a brain aneurysm.

MURPHY: And after that, everything went downhill. My dad loves me and everything but we was just going through problems.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Coach Greiner started to notice that when he dropped Braheam off at home, it was never the same place twice.

S. GREINER: Eventually he just opened up to me and he was, like, you know, I have to stay with my sister from place to place. I didn't know what to do at times. So I'd go into my office and I'd start thinking, I'm like something's tugging at my heart.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And now Sam Greiner has spent years talking faith, family, and football. So he called his wife Connie, it was time to practice what he preached.

CONNIE GREINER, COACH'S WIFE: So he stayed with us. We had dinner a couple times with him. And -- I mean, I fell in love.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And their daughters, Charlie (ph) and Journey (ph), just two and three years old at the time, absolutely smitten with the new big brother. So when it came down to that little life changing question --

S. GREINER: He's like, is it OK if I just stay here with you guys for a little bit? I said, you can stay here as long as you want. And two years later.

Will you do me a favor?


S. GREINER: Will you --

GALLAGHER (voice-over): It was an adjustment but it worked.

MURPHY: I just felt that when I have someone caring for me, I felt like it made me do better in school and it made me want to do better in life, you know?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): His grades shot up, straight A's. Braheam said in finding a family, he also found faith.

MURPHY: Once I met God, that's a main turn in my life also.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And football, well, that fell into place. But the story, it's far from finished. Braheam will leave for college in the summer. He earned a scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

MURPHY: I shed some tears. Because Connie made me -- they're going to make me cry.

C. GREINER: Oh, my gosh.

S. GREINER: What you're going to tell Braheam on graduation day?

C. GREINER: That I love him. That I couldn't be more proud of him.

S. GREINER: He's doing a family tree changer. I never had an opportunity to go to West Point. He's better than me. Connie's trying to go to college right now to do her career. And one day we'll probably be working for our own son.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dianne Gallagher, CNN.


WHITFIELD: That is a beautiful story. What a tear jerker. So much straight ahead in the NEWSROOM but first -- and here's how you can help our 2017 top 10 CNN Heroes continue their very important work.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of these year's top 10 CNN heroes proves that one person really can make a difference. And again, this year we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to and click donate beneath any 2017 top 10 CNN Hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fundraiser on (INAUDIBLE). You'll receive an e-mail confirming your donation which is tax deductible in the United States.

No matter the amount, you can make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life changing work. And right now through January 7th, your donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's honorees.

CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all these every day people changing the world. You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Just go to Your donation in any amount will help them help others. Thanks.


WHITFIELD: Wow, hard to believe, it's time to start thinking about the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year.

[12:55:03] Tell us at who you think should be among those honored. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Hello, again, everyone, and welcome back. Thanks for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

President Trump golfing on his first full day of Christmas vacation at his international golf club in West Palm Beach. This marks the 107th day he has visited one of his Trump properties. This, after signing a sweeping tax cut bill into law ensuring what he calls the largest tax cut in history.