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New Level of Fear from Pyongyang; President Trump Lashing Out Opponents via Twitter; Three Cities Filed Suit Against DOD; Russian Ships Passing Over U.K. Territorial Waters. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:00] RICHARD QUEST, HOST, CNN: The U.S. president attacking the FBI again. This time using words like, "tainted" and "bogus" to describe their work.

Moscow offering up diplomatic services. Why Russia says it's ready to mediate between the U.S. and North Korea.

And the whiteout conditions in part of the United States. An extreme winter storm that's buried one city in five feet of snow in only three days.

A very good day to you. Welcome to viewers joining us in the United States and around the world. I'm Richard Quest in London. And you're in the CNN newsroom.

Wherever in the world you're watching and joining us, a very good day to you.

Donald Trump has promised to get back to work on the day after Christmas and then on Tuesday he headed for the golf course instead. Mr. Trump spent time on Twitter lashing out over the Russian dossier, calling it a pile of garbage.

It was a document compiled by a former British spy and has become part of the FBI and special counsel's investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

CNN's Ryan Nobles reports.

RYAN NOBLES, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: There were no events on the president's public schedule on Tuesday. So the only way we can see what he was thinking or working on is through his Twitter feed. As a result we know he was thinking about healthcare and taxes and he was also working to discredit Robert Mueller and his investigation.




NOBLES: After tweeting on Christmas day tomorrow it's back to work, President Trump spent today on the golf course. The 110th day of his presidency that he has spent at one of his personally branded properties. He hit the links with PGA Tour pro Bryson DeChambeau and former PGA golfer Dana Quigley but there may have been some work discussed as well.

Also joining the foursome, Georgia Senator David Perdue, a loyal republican vote for the administration but someone hoping to forge a bipartisan solution on immigration. A solution that could prove to be more difficult.

After a New York Times story that quotes the president grumbling in an Oval Office meeting that immigrants from countries like Haiti, quote, "all have AIDS" and that 40,000 immigrants from Nigeria would never, quote, "go back to their huts."

White House officials strongly deny the report and Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs, argues that there needs to be a plan for people living in the United States under temporary protected status.


MARC SHORT, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Congress needs to change these laws opposed to continual six-month extensions of people that are here from 10 and 20 years ago.


NOBLES: But while immigration including a promise fix for the so- called DREAMers, government spending, entitlement reforms and infrastructure have all been pointed to as priorities in 2018.

On Tuesday, the president was focused on a failure from 2017. Tweeting, quote, "Based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate has been terminated as part of our tax cut bill, which essentially repeals over time Obamacare, the democrats and republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new healthcare plan."

Republicans were unable to come up with a replacement to Obamacare, but as part of their new broad tax reform bill they struck the individual mandate, which requires Americans to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. Those fines equal billions of dollars and help keep the Affordable Care Act insurance market stable.

Despite the elimination of the tax penalty, Obamacare remains in place and some nine million Americans have just signed up for Obamacare healthcare plans, exceeding expectations in a shortened enrollment period. Regardless of the president's pleas, there are no signs of progress on a new healthcare deal.


BERNIE SANDERS, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Instead of bragging about more Americans without health insurance, we should join every other major country on earth, guarantee healthcare to all people, and end the absurdity of paying twice as much per capita.


NOBLES: And despite the sunny West Palm Beach skies, the president and his agenda remain under the cloud of the Mueller investigation, something Mr. Trump continues to attempt to discredit.

Today, on Twitter, he suggested that the dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer, which the president called a quote, "pile of garbage" was the basis for the special counsel's investigation.

While the dossier has been used in the investigation, it is far from the entire basis of Mueller's inquiry.

And speaking of taxes, the president continuing to take a victory lap after signing that tax reform bill into law just before coming here to Florida.

In a tweet he said, quote, "All signs are that business is looking really good for the next year. Only to be helped further by our tax cut bill. It will be a great year for companies and jobs. Stock market is poised for another year of success."

The president wanting to make sure the American people know about this big legislative victory as he heads in to 2018.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

[03:05:01] QUEST: Doug Heye is a republican strategist and CNN political commentator. Far from home but delighted to have you with us.

DOUG HEYE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Good morning. It's good to be with you.

QUEST: Good morning. Yes, right. The president's -- the president's tweets over the last day or so about the Mueller investigation and the Russia dossier, what purpose does it serve to remind other than to discredit it.

HEYE: Well, it's all about discrediting. If you (TECHNICAL PROBLEM)

QUEST: ... about when you go back to your state.

HEYE: Yes.

QUEST: What people are telling you that they are telling their politicians?

HEYE: Within the Republican Party he has very broad support. They're signing up for Trump on whatever his issues or his agendas are, that's what they sign up for. It's more about the person than it is the policy. So Donald Trump could come out tomorrow with something very different from what he's campaigned on as he's done in the past and they'll support that. QUEST: So how do you -- how do you reconcile that with the polls that

show a very high disapproval, very low approval numbers? I mean, the latest approval numbers in the low 30s.

HEYE: Yes.

QUEST: How do you reconcile that? If the republicans themselves are saying, hey, we like what he's doing.

HEYE: Well, there are less and less registered republicans throughout the country. As party I.D. is falling, it's falling for democrats as well, what you're seeing is a shoring up within the parties as the parties are cracking up themselves.

QUEST: Does the passage of the tax bill, the significance of that, having singly failed on several occasions to pass anything to do with healthcare, not only has he got his tax bill, he has also done serious damage to the healthcare legislation by repealing the mandate.

HEYE: It's very significant. One, it shows that he can move something through the House and the Senate into passage. The event that he had in the White House had a couple hundred members of Congress and republican senators behind him in unison. That's important for Trump moving forward.

But it also highlights the other things that he's done that they can point their fingers at and why these tweets are distractions. They need to get out of their own way.

QUEST: So as we push forward into 2018, what for you and the republican movement, what is the next big fight that you have to go into?

HEYE: What they're looking for is potentially not a next big fight. Infrastructure is what the president's priority at least now will be moving into 2018, if they can do that in a bipartisan fashion. It's questionable as to whether or not they'll be able to.

QUEST: I mean, on that -- on that score it's questionable whether economically the country needs an infrastructure package. Physically yes, it certainly does.

HEYE: Right.

QUEST: But it certainly doesn't need it on the basis of economic stimulus.

HEYE: Absolutely. And this is one of the challenges for republicans. If you've campaigned for years and years against higher deficits, certainly in the Obama years republicans were very much deficit hawks, what we're seeing now is with the tax bill it's not such a big concern.

If they get behind a $1 trillion stimulus package or transportation infrastructure package, it means that deficit reduction doesn't exist in the Republican Party anymore. That should be a problem long-term. QUEST: A wonderful New Year.

HEYE: Absolutely. Thank you.

[03:09:58] QUEST: As we continue, the United States is trying to put more pressure on North Korea. Washington is imposing new sanctions on two officials believed to have been crucial in improving North Korea's nuclear weapons.

At the same time, Russia is also offering to mediate talks between the U.S. and North Korea if both sides agree.

Fred Pleitgen reports from Moscow.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Richard, the Russians are continuing what they've been saying is their push to try and deescalate that situation there around North Korea. Of course, between the United States and the North Koreans.

And a lot of this in the form of a phone call between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Rex Tillerson of the United States. And according to the Russian version of events, both men agree, quote, "that the parties were unanimous in the opinion that nuclear missile development in the DPRK, that is of course North Korea, violated the requirements of the U.N. Security Council."

However, the Russians then apparently, and again, this is according to their version of events, "urged the United States to tone down their rhetoric, said they needed to get away from a rhetoric of sanctions towards a rhetoric of negotiations."

Now, of course, Richard, this is something we've been hearing quite a bit, especially from Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, over the past couple of days where he said that the Russians would be able or would be willing to mediate between the U.S. and North Korea.

Now, it's really an interesting development on the part of the Russians. On the one hand, of course they're trying to take a swipe at the United States. A lot of the things that Sergei Lavrov has been saying over the past couple of days was laced with criticism of the United States.

For instance, saying that the U.S. had told the Russians to relay a message to the North Koreans saying that the U.S. would try and deescalate the situation by cutting down on military maneuvers around the Korean Peninsula and then the U.S. held those military maneuvers in any case.

However, the Russians certainly also have a very real interest in the situation around North Korea not getting out of control. They have a border with North Korea. Certainly they wouldn't want a huge influx of people going through that border if indeed there was a big confrontation between the U.S. and the North Koreans.

And they have some trade with North Korea as well, and that of course gives them sway with Pyongyang, with Kim Jong-un, that they could potentially use to help out with the situation and to try and help tone things down and get that situation under control, Richard.

QUEST: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow. Now, experts are warning that North Korea may be planning a biological attack. Pyongyang is feared to be developing chemical and biological weapons along with its nuclear ambitions. The country is denying those reports.

CNN's Brian Todd reports from Washington.

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: We're learning tonight that Kim Jong- un has the capability to weaponize more than a dozen biological agents within just a few days if he wants to wreak havoc on the Korean Peninsula.

There are reports that Kim has been methodical but unrelenting in getting his scientists to figure out how to deploy deadly agents like anthrax, which killed several Americans right after 9/11.

There are new concerns that Kim Jong-un's deadly ambitions go beyond nuclear weapons. South Korean officials and independent weapons experts are growing increasingly concerned that Kim's regime has the intent and capability to develop biological weapons.


GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: They are a weapon of terror in a sense because we have in our own minds these thoughts about the horror of biologicals, outbreaks of disease. This is something that frightens us.


TODD: South Korean government reports recently cited by Harvard University say North Korea has 13 types of biological agents which it can weaponize within 10 days. They say anthrax and smallpox are the most likely agents they would deploy.


JOSHUA POLLACK, WMD EXPERT, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Anthrax is virtually the ideal biological agent for weapons purposes. It's a bacterium that is very hard to -- it can survive all kinds of conditions. It can persist. It is very deadly. You can aerosolize it and spread it around with sprayers.


TODD: June 2015, Kim Jong-un tours the Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute. The North Koreans said it was a factory which manufactured pesticides but some machinery on display raised alarm.


POLLACK: It seems that they have invested a lot in imported equipment that cost them a lot and is I think unreasonable for any civilian application. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Equipment like what analysts say are industrial-scale fermenters which could produce anthrax on a large scale and other machinery used to convert biological agents into sprayable form.

South Koreans would be in the direct line of fire, a threat taken seriously enough that South Korea holds mock drills for WMD attacks. But American troops in South Korea could also be hit.


TONY SHAFFER, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: A small aircraft basically overflying them, individuals who are infected infecting them. There's just no way to guarantee and protect U.S. troops from this.


[03:15:02] TODD: Officials say there's no evidence North Korea has yet produced a biological weapon. But with the assassination of his half-brother this year, Kim Jong-un has shown the willingness to use his chemical weapons arsenal.

And having the capability for a biological attack with the difficulties in tracing those weapons, experts say, adds another dimension to Kim's threat.


CHANG: With biological there's a slight element of deniability. There could be an outbreak of disease in South Korea. It would take us weeks, maybe even longer, to trace it back to North Korea. And during that time he could kill South Koreans.


TODD: Experts say another advantage this gives Kim is that for every dollar the U.S. and South Korea spend on preparing for an anthrax, smallpox, or other biological outbreak that's a dollar they don't spend on preparing for a possible conventional or nuclear attack from North Korea.

QUEST: Brian Todd reporting.

As we continue in the newsroom from London, the British military says Russian ships are getting more and more bold. They're now skirting the U.K. waters and Washington is paying close attention.

Also, Vladimir Putin seeking another presidential term, while the man who wants to be his opponent is now telling Russians boycott the elections. We're going to explain that decision.

And three major U.S. cities are suing the Defense Department in the aftermath of a horrific mass shooting in Texas. The details are ahead.


QUEST: Twice in the past few days British ships have escorted Russian ships passing near the U.K.'s territorial waters. Some are calling it a show of military force from an emboldened Kremlin.

CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon explains why Washington is now paying such close attention.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, CNN: A British royal navy helicopter's infrared camera tracks a Russian warship Christmas Day as it sailed close to U.K. territorial waters. The latest in what the British government is calling an upsurge in Russian warships too close to its coastline.

It's all part of a message from Moscow to Washington. The Russian military will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018.


MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: The Russians are certainly pushing the envelope. A lot of their activities in the naval and aerial arena are certainly hard-edged and they're designed to push us to the limits.


STARR: The question now, how much confrontation will President Trump risk? He has taken an unexpected step, allowing the export of anti- tank weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed rebels in a country where pro-Russia rebels frequently clash with Ukrainian armed forces.


BEN CARDIN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: It's important for the United States to tell Russia that we will support Ukraine's ability to defend itself.


STARR: But it's also a risky step.


ALLEN: If Putin decides that this is sort of a hostile act and a new U.S. policy to push back on Russia, Russia has everything from covert operatives across the region in Ukraine and they're able to push back and escalate very significantly.


STARR: Vladimir Putin's military has also flown aggressively against the U.S. pilots in Syria. The Pentagon openly calling it a deliberate violation of an agreement to prevent accidents. After that, Moscow appears to have backed off a bit. Putin personally challenging the president's new national security strategy.


TRUMP: We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Diplomatically speaking, if I can put it in two words, it is of an attack nature, and if we use military terms it's no doubt aggressive. We need to take that into account in our practical work.


STARR: There is some U.S. leverage. Moscow may be nervous that new congressionally backed sanctioned could be strengthened even further.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

QUEST: Hundreds of Russian celebrities, athletes, and politicians have gathered to formally nominate President Vladimir Putin for re- election next year. The ruling United Russia Party and the Just Russia Party have both said they will support him. And polls show Mr. Putin winning the March 18th election.

The Kremlin's plans to investigate a Russian opposition leader who is urging people not to vote is Aleksei Navalny, who was barred from the race because of a previous embezzlement conviction. Navalny says the conviction was a political move to keep him from running next year.

Three U.S. cities are suing the U.S. Defense Department over failures to report convictions to a data base that's being used for background checks in firearm purchases. They're New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and they're filing the lawsuit together.

The suit follows the recent mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs in Texas. The suspected shooter should have been legally barred from buying a gun after he was convicted of domestic assault whilst in the air force.

That conviction wasn't reported. Ultimately, 26 people at the church were killed. The shooting has left lasting scars on the community. This was the first holiday season since the tragedy, and it proved to be an important time to heal together.

Our affiliate KSAT has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hugging, holding hands, and praying. A Sunday service filled with emotion. The congregation of Sutherland Springs' First Baptist living with the memories of the day that changed their world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where the shooter parked that day. Because when I first looked out over my husband's shoulder, I saw that. I saw his vehicle there. That's what's hard for me. [03:25:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathleen Curnow and her husband live

across the street from the church. With so many members of their small church now gone, these are difficult days. But they say the pastor expressed the town's faith perfectly, saying, quote, "Sutherland Springs looks to the light and looks for hope."

It's been less than two months since the shooting happened here at the church and memorials like these continue to pop up. When you speak to people from the church, they want to make sure what happened here and those victims are never forgotten.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to remember the 26 people and the 20 survivors. And you know, there were a lot of people affected by this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many churchgoers I spoke with couldn't thank Pastor Frank Pomeroy enough. His daughter one of these 26 killed on November 5th. But still they know he's always there for everyone else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a hard time with the noises. And he praise with me. And for him to lose everything he lost and then stop and pray with me that, you know, I can get a peaceful night's sleep and that the images that they will leave and, you know, be replaced by good ones, you know, I almost feel selfish. But that's the kind of person he is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Curnows say today and this Christmas is about faith and always looking towards the light.


QUEST: And if you want to donate to the victims and their families, you can give directly to the church at

This is a strange story to bring to your attention. An Al Nippon Airways, ANA flight, it was going from Los Angeles to Tokyo and it turned back to LAX four hours into the flight. Apparently, there was an administrative mix-up according to an aviation source.

The model Christie Teigen and her husband the musician John Legend were on board. She tweeted that the plane turned around because an unauthorized passenger was on the aircraft. It's not clear what happened, how it happened, or why it forced the plane that was four hours into an 11-hour flight back. Teigen made sure to thank Legend for the vacation.


CHRISSY TEIGEN, MODEL: Thank you so much for taking me on this awesome vacation, babe.

JOHN LEGEND, MUSICIAN: Welcome to Los Angeles.

TEIGEN: That dinner was so good.

(END VIDEO CLIP) QUEST: You can see they're not sitting in economy. Well, counting down to the biggest political stories of 2017, it's no surprise that one man is at the center of most of them. The details are ahead.

And Prince Harry's extraordinary interview. It's the first interview with Barack Obama since he left office. Anna Stewart has been listening and will tell you what the two men talked about.



[03:31:04] RICHARD QUEST, CNN NEWSROOM: And a very good day. A warm welcome. Viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, wherever you are. I'm Richard Quest in London. And allow me, please, to update you on the top stories that we're following at this hour. Russia is offering to mediate talks between the U.S. and North Korea if both sides agree. The Russian foreign minister told the U.S. Secretary of State to fast-track negotiations with Pyongyang. Sergei Lavrov also told Rex Tillerson that aggressive rhetoric from Washington is not helpful. Meanwhile, the United States is slapping more sanctions on North Korea by targeting two key figures of the country's missile program. The U.S. says the official on the left has been crucial in developing intercontinental missiles and the rocket scientist on the right was behind the fuel technology used to launch the missiles faster.

The international Red Cross has evacuated four critically ill patients from a rebel-held suburb of Syria's capital Damascus. Another 25 people will be moved out of eastern Gotha over the coming days. A Syrian medical group says more than 600 other people are very sick and also need to be evacuated and soon.

President Trump's twitter pledge to get back to work after the Christmas day apparently meant go golfing. He also found time to tweet his disapproval of the Russia investigation. He called the FBI tainted and said the now famous Russia dossier is in his words a pile of garbage.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama is warning that irresponsible use of social media is distorting the public's understanding of important issues. It comes out of an interview he is had with Britain's Prince Harry. Anna Stewart is here with the details and has just listened to this interview which has been broadcast on BBC radio 4's "today" program. What is Barack Obama saying?

ANNA STEWART, CNN PRODUCER: He is essentially saying, he is warning that people in positions of power, and this is the interesting part of the language, Richard, shouldn't abuse their position by tweeting things, by using social media in a way that could, you know, disrupt civil discourse, that could distort facts. It's a --

QUEST: He doesn't mention President Trump by name when he talks about people in power. But clearly, I mean, look, my words, not yours, Anna. Clearly, if he is warning against irresponsible tweeting by people in power, as far as I'm aware, Angela Merkel and Theresa May are not irresponsibly tweeting in some people's view.

STEWART: Exactly. It would seem to be pointed in that direction. But he doesn't say, he doesn't mention President Trump by name. It is just people in positions of power. Essentially, he is saying think before you speak and think before you tweet and don't distort facts and don't -- he is worried about distortion of facts, that people are sort of reading their own bias again, it's just reaffirming biases, distorted facts throughout social media.

QUEST: He warned that such actions distorting understanding of complex information.

STEWART: Well, quite. What can you do in 120 characters to portray the U.S.'s position on Russia, for instance? Is that something that should be immediately put into a tweet? This is what we're looking at. Should people in positions of power head to twitter?

QUEST: Why was the President, the former President, speaking to Prince Harry?

STEWART: So Prince Harry is the guest editor today on the "today" program. It's something they do every year. Not Prince Harry but a new guest each year. And this year it's President Obama. They have a really good relationship. It was done at the Invictus games in Toronto back in September. It's been heavily teased ahead. We've been looking forward to this for a few months now.

QUEST: But no mention of the engagement of course. because it was before the engagement.

STEWART: It was before the engagement, although one wonders whether President Obama knew it was heading that way. He mentioned in this interview how important Michelle Obama was to him throughout his time as President. There's a big focus on how important a relationship is.

QUEST: I need to ask you about the reports and particularly since it is Prince Harry, the wedding. Barack Obama, with whom he has a long- standing friendship.

[03:35:10] This report that Harry is being pressured not to invite Obama to the wedding next may because Donald Trump wasn't going to be invited anyway and it would be difficult for Trump if Obama's invited. Any credence to this story that has absolutely blown up yesterday?

STEWART: It did. It was an absolute storm over the internet. This is a tabloid story on unnamed sources. It's hard to know where this story has begun, but as far as CNN is concerned, royal aides will never pressure Harry to invite or not invite anyone to this wedding. It is not a state wedding. Heads of state are not invited by rote. And the U.K. government doesn't have a role to play in that sense. You know, they're a consulting body.

QUEST: Go back to the rest of the interview, please, and come back and report at the top of the hour. Interesting stuff. Thank you.

Ahead, as we continue on CNN, from the travel ban to the me-too movement, we're counting down the top political stories of the year. It all continues. You are in the "CNN newsroom," and we are in London.


QUEST: President Donald Trump came to Washington promising to drain the swamp. And whether or not you believe he is keeping that promise, he stands front and center in the year's most important political stories. Whichever way you look at it, Donald Trump remains at the center. Here's CNN's Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, AMERICAN JOURNALIST CARTOONIST: Gather round, family and friends. You'll be talking about 2017 for generations to come. The first year of the Trump presidency shattered the status quo. Cultures of harassment were exposed. Travel bans were debated. Protests erupted. And I seem to recall something about Russia. Here are in our view the top seven political stories of 2017.


[03:40:04] TAPPER: President Trump signed executive orders banning U.S. entry from seven Muslim majority nations which sparked worldwide protests and disagreement among the courts before a revised version was upheld.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go including all the way up to the Supreme Court.


TAPPER: The administration also ended the DACA program, affecting some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The DACA policy produced by the last administration could not be sustained.


TAPPER: The fate of the so-called dreamers was left in the hands of congress.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully now congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.


TAPPER: In 2017 some Republicans went rogue, openly expressing disdain for the President of their own Party.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for.


TAPPER: Critics such as Jeff Flake of Arizona and former Trump supporter Bob Corker of Tennessee announced they would not seek re- election to the senate.


SEN JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA: It's not enough to be conservative anymore. It seems that you have to be angry about it.


TAPPER: Both will remain in office until November, working with Republican Senators John McCain, Ben Sasse, and Cory Gardner, who have expressed condemnation of Trump at different times as well.


TRUMP: We're going to get a health bill passed. We're going to get health care taken care of in this country.


TAPPER: Republicans tried to repeal and replace Obamacare. Received insufficient support. Removed the bill. Regrouped and were left reeling after repeat defeats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.


TAPPER: The most dramatic courtesy of Republican John McCain.


SEN JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: We promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and we failed.


TAPPER: The GOP had no major legislative victory all year until December.


TRUMP: Merry Christmas, America.


TAPPER: A $1.5 trillion GOP tax plan passed with a partial repeal of Obamacare, handwritten ethics and absolutely no Democratic support. A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia began with a torch-lit march around a confederate monument. One of these white supremacists rammed his car into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The President initially failed to call out the white supremacists.


TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides.


TAPPER: Even strong conservatives condemned his response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Trump did today was a moral disgrace.


TAPPER: Passionate demonstrations filled the streets.


(CHANTING): Nazis are not welcome here!


TAPPER: And nationwide symbols of the confederacy were vandalized or officially removed.


TRUMP: You're fired.


TAPPER: It was more than a catchphrase. Just ask Press Secretary Sean Spicer or communications Director Anthony Scaramucci or Chief of Staff Reince Priebus or Chief Strategist Steve Bannon or National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and, of course --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe you were fired?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I take the President at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.


TAPPER: The Trump administration had more than a dozen resignations, firings, and reassignments in its first year. The me-too movement ushered in an era of accountability, ending

careers and launching a battle for moral high ground. Allegations that Republican Roy Moore sexually assaulted teen girls as an adult led Alabama voters to elect their first Democratic Senator in 25 years.


SEN AL FRANKEN, (R) MINNESOTA: I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the oval office.


TAPPER: Fellow Democrats forced Senator Al Franken to announce his resignation after several women said he acted inappropriately.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just mashes his mouth to my lips.


TAPPER: Several others in congress including Trent Franks, John Conyers, Ruben Cuen, and Blake Farenthold resigned or announced early retirements after facing accusations of their own. But in response to accusations about the President's past actions the White House was defiant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system.


TAPPER: The leaders of U.S. Intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that Russia interfered in the Presidential election. But did President Trump's campaign help them in their effort?


TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia.


TAPPER: FBI Director James Comey was leading the investigation until he was fired. Now an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller is digging deeper. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI and campaign chairman Paul Manafort was indicted. The senate intelligence committee questioned Donald Trump Jr. for hours about his meetings with Russians in Trump tower.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he being forthcoming?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of legitimate questions that this individual needs to answer.


TAPPER: All this as the President and his supporters playing defense tried to accuse the Mueller investigation of bias.


TAPPER: Those were our top seven political stories of 2017. But with the Russia investigation still ongoing and control of the senate at stake, 2018 is sure to present unprecedented political headlines of its own. I'm Jake Tapper. Stay tuned.

[03:45:14] QUEST: Not a white Christmas but a white alt Christmas literally. That is what parts of the U.S. Midwest and northeast got this year. Look at this. Erie, Pennsylvania where many of you are suffering with heavy snow. Now, heavy snow's not rare. However, this year's snowfall has broken records. In three days the city has got more than five feet of snow, and that is more than 1 1/2 meters. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now from the world weather center with the details. That is a serious amount of snow.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And it's not going anywhere anytime soon, Richard. Across that region we have a significant shift in the weather across parts of North America here. And we're going to show you exactly how it's playing out, because the amount of snowfall as Richard said is not one to be messed with. We're talking 40, 50, 60 inches in spots in a matter of just a couple of days. A lot of that frankly coming down on Christmas day and the day after Christmas. In fact, a way to depict that, a nice way to put in perspective, is on Sunday on Christmas Eve about two inches fell. 34 inches fell on Christmas day. That is an all-time record for the day. And then 24 more followed on the 26th. And all of this being lake effect snow. We have all the elements in place with the cold arctic Canadian air going directly over a warm body of water. Relatively warm body of water being the great lakes. The difference in temperature, the energy transfer that takes place allows tremendous amounts of moisture to be transferred from the great lakes directly over some of the communities on the shores there. And that is where we have tremendous snowfall come down.

In fact, very much a similar pattern plays out across the east sea, or the Sea of Japan, with parts of Japan seeing more snow than anywhere else on earth. A lot of people surprised that northwestern Japan gets more snow than anywhere else on earth on the order of 100 feet in a few spots, because of a similar pattern. But again, there is a perspective right there. Could see a few more inches out of this before it's all said and done with over the next couple of days. But the big story becomes parts of 20 states here, upwards of almost 50 million people dealing with wind chills 15 below to as cold as 40 below zero over the next couple of days.

Step outside it feels almost 40 at this hour across northern Minnesota. As impressive as it gets. In fact, high temperatures in spots across the northern tier of the U.S. Will struggle to get above the 0 degree Fahrenheit mark. You notice any light breeze and it goes downhill quickly. For a little fascination here, how about this? In international falls, Minnesota high temperature going from minus 8 on the surface of mars, Richard, this is from the mars rover, right now on the surface reporting a temperature around minus 9. So again, we're talking serious cold in place. And this is all expected to linger and eventually spill toward the northeast, which would put it right around New York City for New Year's Eve. At least you're not there this year, right, Richard?

QUEST: Not so fast. I'll be in Times Square with Anderson and Andy.

JAVAHERI: Oh, my goodness.

QUEST: What temperatures for New Year's Eve in Times Square?

JAVAHERI: In Fahrenheit we're looking at well below 0. Minus 20 or so Celsius is what the wind chill could be across is that region. We're at least four layers, Richard.

QUEST: Thermals upon thermals.

JAVAHERI: Exactly, yeah.

QUEST: Thank you. I think bits of me will freeze. Right. There we go. Pedram. Not to put you off your breakfast or dinner wherever you are in the world. As we continue in the "CNN newsroom," it wasn't too cold for a round of golf at President Trump's Florida resort. We'll show you just how much time Mr. Trump has spent at his properties this year. First of all, a White House landmark soon to be consigned to the history books.


[03:54:12] QUEST: Donald Trump has taken his presidency on the road for nearly a third of his first year in office. And when he is away from Washington, he spends much of his time at Trump-owned properties. Now, 110 days so far this year. Over the summer it was his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. There was 40 days spent there. He is visited the Trump national golf course in northern Virginia. He was there 23 times. And he is currently at his private club in Mar-a- Lago, where he spent 39 days and counting. Now, that is fair enough. But it is pretty ironic when you consider how during the election campaign it was Donald Trump, candidate Trump, who arranged President Obama for playing too much golf. Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Golf digest" called him the golfer in chief. But because he used to slam President Obama --

[03:55:07] TRUMP: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

MOOS: Trump is getting heat, because he himself has been doing so much golfing. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the Tiger Woods of hypocrisy.

MOOS: Before he was President Trump posted tweets like "can you believe that with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S. President Obama spent the day playing golf?"

TRUMP: Because I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to play golf. Believe me.

MOOS: Hard to believe President Trump seems to have played golf -- we say seems, because the White House avoids talking about it. As a CBS reporter tweeted, "White House press aide wouldn't say if POTUS played golf. Told of twitter photo of POTUS in golf attire he said he may have hit a few balls." Reporters have resorted to poring over photographs like this looking for telltale signs. A-ha! He is wearing a golf glove. Trump has said it's best for a President to play with other leaders.

TRUMP: I would not have made certain deals if it weren't for golf. Big deals.

MOOS: The time we saw him playing golf as a leader, the President gave Japan's Prime Minister a pat on the shoulder. Golf diplomacy?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Help foster deeper relationships in Southeast Asia -- in Asia, rather.

MOOS: So who is the better golfer, Obama or Trump? "Golf digest" calls Trump the best golfer to ever hold the presidency, with a 2.8 handicap, compared to Obama's 13. And look who else golfs. There's Ivanka in a dress billowing like Marilyn Monroe's and high heels instead of golf shoes. But with the President sneaking off, we're going to need a little birdie to tell us when he is gone golfing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump for the birdie.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.


QUEST: Silly game. Never liked golf. I'm Richard Quest. "Early Start" is next for viewers in the United States. For everybody else in the world I'll be back in a moment in the "CNN Newsroom."