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Protesters Take To Streets In Iran; Prank Call Leads To Police Shooting Of Innocent Man; Four Kids Among 12 Killed in NYC Apartment Fire; Putin Seeks For Fourth Term In 2018; California Legalized Recreational Pots. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 30, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good day. It's good to have you accompanied today. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Well, good morning to you.

After meddling in the 2016 election and being sanctioned, Russia is now calling for cooperation with the U.S.

PAUL: Yes, this is in the New Year message for President Trump. President Vladimir Putin says he wants both nations to engage in long- term, constructive dialogue. But in the same speech, he was quick to remind the world that Russia continues to back the Syrian dictator, President Bashar al Assad, who has in the past called in the past all Americans in Syria "illegal invader forces".

BLACKWELL: We're going to add this to the growing list of foreign policy challenges for President Trump heading 2018. North Korea's New Year's resolution, more nukes. The regime is vowing it will not back down from building its nuclear arsenal. And this, of course, comes as U.S. officials predict another ballistic missile test from North Korea sometimes shortly after New Year's Day.

PAUL: Also, President Trump is warning Iran the world is watching. These are dozens of peaceful antigovernment protesters who were hauled away for reportedly chanting harsh slogans, or at least some of them were. Iran is responding, releasing a strongly worded statement last hour, saying Trump, the president is the "main source of ill will toward Iran."

BLACKWELL: All right, let's start this morning with CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Noble. He is live from West Palm Beach near where the president is at Mar-a-Lago on Palm Beach Island.

Ryan, how's the White House responding to what they're seeing in Iran?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Victor, good morning from South Florida. And the White House is not mincing words here. They are siding with those protesters that have taken to the streets of Iran to voice their displeasure with their government. And the president actually doing it himself, through his Twitter feed in a statement that he put out there late last night, he said, "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad. The Iranian government should respect their people's right, including their right to express themselves. The world is watching," and he used the hashtag, Iranprotests.

And the president statement on Twitter follows a statement put out by the State Department earlier in the day where they essentially get echoed the same sentiment saying that the Iranian people should be respected for their demands for basic human rights and an end to corruption. And it's not really that much of a surprise that this White House is taking such a bold step of siding with the protesters. There's been quite a bit of tension between the Trump administration and the Iranian regime, the United States believes it that Iran has been meddling in the conflicts in between Yemen and Syria. And Donald Trump himself has been very critical of the Iran nuclear deal that was hatched during the Obama administration.

So, this White House, this Administration making it clear that they support those protesters and that their voices should be heard. Victor?

BLACKWELL: So there's also a response from the Iranian government to the president's tweet?

NOBLES: Yes, that's right, Victor. And the Iranian foreign ministry pushing back pretty harshly against Donald Trump, not backing down in any way, shape, or form. This is a statement they put out a couple of hours ago.

It says, "The people of Iran give no value or credibility to such opportunistic expressions by the government or the person of Mr. Trump. American officials through their conduct have not earned a place from which they can express masked sentiments as sympathies for the aware and engaged people of Iran."

And we should also point out the Iranian foreign ministry has suggested that these protesters are not, you know, authentic -- I don't know if the right word is authentic Iranians, but they've believed that they have been propped up in certain respects by foreign governments and that they are not necessarily that engaged in understanding of what's happening in Iran. So they're dismissing those protesters as being of something that they should pay attention to. So this is clearly a very important showdown happening in that part of the world in the United States, just pick aside. Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll watch to see if the President has a response to what we're hearing from Iran. Ryan Nobles there in West Palm Beach, thank you.

PAUL: Sarah Westwood, White House Correspondent for the Washington Examiner, and Andre Bauer, CNN Political Commentator and Former Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina with us now. Thank you both for being here.

Sarah, you can't help but recognized that President Trump has been very, as Ryan said, skeptical of this 2015 nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran. Is that at stake in any way, is that the state of that aggravated by what we're seeing this back in forth this morning.

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT,"WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well certainly, the deal is something President Trump has wanted to tear off since day one, he said that on the campaign trail. And although he recertified it earlier in his administration, he since declared that the administration is no longer going to certify Iran's compliance now. He's kicked it over to Congress, hoping they'll take some kind of action on it. But obviously Congress is not great at getting things done so it's just sat there.

[09:05:05] But this approach to criticizing Iran is kind of consistent with what he laid out during his speech before the U.N. General Assembly in September when he started drawing this distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people and trying to put a lot of focus on the discontent that some of the Iranian people feel about the corruption of the regime as he put it. So this is not a new approach. This is only sort of underscoring the kind of sentiments that he highlighted in that controversial U.N. General Assembly speech.

PAUL: And that's the question, Andre, will the approach with Iran evolved beyond a tweet?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I do. You know, I don't have any answer for you on that. I hope it does. I hope we continue to move forward.

The fact that people are getting out and protesting to insult government is nothing new. I mean, we had it right here in this country in the last election. And so the fact that they're out there and engaging can't help but improved the situation where the leaders know that there are people watching them around the world and they're watching their actions and there could be repercussion.

PAUL: I want to move here real quickly if I could to North Korea, because as we were saying they're threatening a ballistic missile test sometime after the first of the year, and we are waiting to hear form Kim Jong-un. He's expected to speak tomorrow. And if we remember at the beginning of last year, his New Year's Day speech was a pledge to expedite their nuclear weapons development. He has done just that, 15 ballistic missile test so far this year.

Sarah, do -- is there an expectation that he will specifically mention the U.S. and President Trump in his speech this year?

WESTWOOD: Well, there's certainly a possibility. He's been particularly antagonistic towards President Trump. And if you talk to folks around the White House, they'll tell you that their number one priority in terms of foreign policy heading into 2018 is North Korea, even with the situation with Iran, even with Trump's dissatisfaction with trade deals around the country.

What he's most focused on is countering North Korea's nuclear ambitions because essentially we're heading towards a binary choice where either the Trump Administration has to accept the fact that North Korea has become a nuclearized nation or they have to do something to get rid of those nuclear weapons and that could mean a military strikes. So that's the kinds of decisions that is facing the Trump Administration right now and it's not clear which way President Trump will lean.

PAUL: All right. I want to get real quickly, too, Andre, if I could, to the -- to what's being said this morning from President Putin. As he said that he's stressing an importance of the U.S. and Russia to have long-term conversations and dialogue, and yet at the same time and the same speech, he's talking about how they will continue to render every assistance to Syria. How can those two things be reconciled for the U.S. with Russia?

BAUER: Well, there's still a very powerful voice in the world, and because we don't agree with them on one issue doesn't mean we don't need to try to see what we can work with them on other issues like North Korea. And so, Syria is a problem and we definitely don't have an agreement on that, but I wouldn't say that we should preclude ourselves from the rest of negotiations or discussions where we have universal problems that we might, can solve in working together.

Look, we've always got to be cautious to Russia but there are times when we need their help.

PAUL: Sarah Westwood, Andre Bauer, thank you both so much. Glad to have you here.

BAUER: Thank you. Yes.

BLACKWELL: All right. It's almost 2018, and New York police are increasing security ahead of the iconic Times Square New Year celebration. Live pictures here for you of Times Square. Barricades are up. You can see a few of them there.

We know that parking garages are now being closed or will be closed soon. Sniper teams are mobilized to keep everyone safe as we approached midnight tomorrow. Security is not the only concern, of course, but we know the extreme temperatures throughout the weekend are going to be of the up most concern, police there as well. But doubles -- down to zero, below zero, maybe.

PAUL: Yes. It's not going to be pretty. You hope that everybody packed in there and might warm it up just a smidge.


PAUL: But let's go to CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She's watching these frigid temperatures, and we should point out not just in New York.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. And it's very important to pay attention to that other region because where the frigid air is right now in the Midwest, that's moving into the northeast. So, just because it may not be happening where you are right now doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention. Over 70 million people right now under some type of wind chill advisory, watch, or warning.

This is what it feels like outside right now. Minus 36 in Minneapolis. Minus 15 is it feels like temperature in Chicago. It is minus three right now in Boston. But that colder air, again, you notice pushing from the Midwest into the northeast starting tomorrow and carrying into Monday. And then even after that, we get yet another wave of cold air. So there's really not much of a break in between.

[09:10:00] But here's the thing, we even talked about how far South ends up going down into portions of the south, 31 on Monday for areas of Dallas, who may not even make it to the freezing mark. But all eyes tend to be on New York City since so many people will be gathered there. We talked about this earlier, the forecast temperature the time the ball drops is supposed to be around 11 degrees with a feels like temperature, Victor and Christi, of minus five.

BLACKWELL: So it's not just the cold temperatures because that would be enough, right, like that would be enough. There's also more snow coming.

CHINCHAR: Yes. Yes, you're right. We have snow that's moving form the Midwest into the northeast. And here's the thing, Erie, we've talked all about Erie, Pennsylvania the last few days because of how much snow they've had, they could be getting an extra foot of snow on top of what they've already had by the time we get to New Years.

PAUL: I don't know even how you function with that. Allison Chinchar --

BLACKWELL: We already had.

PAUL: -- thank you so much.


PAUL: And live from Times Square as well Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, they'll be bundled up but they will be there hosting CNN's New Year's Eve special. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm assuming there is blip machine that is ready to go with them as well right here on CNN. It's going to be a good one.

BLACKWELL: All right. New developments following an alleged online gaming prank that went too far and now an innocent man, he had nothing to do with this, he is dead. We'll tell you what happened.


BLACKWELL: An online gaming dispute between two people turned deadly after a swatting prank. Now our affiliate, KWCH, is reporting that Los Angeles police have made an arrest.

Now, swatting is when someone makes a prank call about a bogus crime to get police to go to someone's house.

PAUL: So in this case, a man in Los Angeles allegedly called police in Kansas and told dispatchers there that he was there, that he shot his father and was holding his mother and sibling hostage.


[09:15:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just pointing the gun at them, making sure they stay on the closet, my mom and my little brother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Is there anywhere you could put the gun up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Are you guys sending someone over here, because I'm definitely not going to put it away?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I'm just going to go ahead and stay on the phone with you, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine. Until they get here, or?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As long as you need me to, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm thinking about -- I already poured gasoline all over the house. I might just set it on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well, we don't need to that, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a little bit I might.


BLACKWELL: Well, police responded to the call and surrounded that house in Kansas. But when 28-year-old Andrew Finch came to the door. Police say, he move suddenly, and then the officer open fire. Finch was unarmed.

And again, he had nothing to do with this online gaming dispute

PAUL: The officer involved in the shooting we know has been placed on leave. And that incident is still under investigation.

But Nicole Manna, crime reporter for the Wichita Eagle is with us via phone right now. And Nicole, I'm wondering how was this family doing? And what are they telling you about where they go from here?

NICOLE MANNA, WICHITA CRIME REPORTER: As you can imagine, I mean, they're really heartbroken right now. They don't really know where to go from here. Like you said, Andrew Finch had nothing to do with this call. They had no idea why the police were surrounding their house.

So, right now they're just trying to wrap their around what happened. They, you know, they have no idea where to go from here.

They told me yesterday that Andrew was very kind, who were a caring man. He was trying to make his life better for him and two children. They are two and seven. They are not home at the time when this was happen.

So, you know, right now they don't know where to go. They're kind of dealing with all of this. They're being interviewed with the police. They're being interviewed with state police. The last I heard is that they just want to see somebody being held accountable. BLACKWELL: So, Nicole, help us to understand when the SWAT team arrived, did they have any conversation with him? Does the family say that officers explained why they were there, what the call was about?

MANNA: What his mother Lisa told us is that she was in her back room when they saw the red light and the blue lights. Andrew being curious opened his door. The next thing she know as she heard some scream, she got up and see what was happening. She heard the shots. And then an officer came through the side door, told her to put her hands up and get out of the house. They cleared the four other people that were inside the house. Put them in their patrol cars separately.

Officer say when they have gotten there, she didn't hear them give any commands. They say that they gave him commands and they could hear that and the seven second video of what happened that they have reviewed yesterday. They sent a man to put his hands up and to walk forward. They say that he put his hands back down towards his waistline. He was told again to put his hands up.

He put his hands up and then made a sudden move towards officers around the east side of his house, and officer that was across the street on the north side took this as he hold the gun from his waistline, he pulled up from his pants. That's when the shot was fired.

BLACKWELL: All right. Nicole Manna, thank you so much for helping us to understand. It really a bazaar story here. But you gave us some insight to what the family says happen inside that home in Kansas. Thank you.

PAUL: And we'll keep posted on what happened with the situation as we learn more.

But there was a vigil we want to show you that was held last night near the Bronx apartment building where 12 people died including four children. This was a fast-moving fire. Community members were to light candles, to say prayers for the people that were lost and to people that are still recovering.

Officials said the fire was caused by a young boy who was playing with the burners on the stove. Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "This was worst fire tragedy the city has seen in 25 years."

BLACKWELL: All right. 2018, we're coming up on that year of the midterms here. And there are hundreds of seats up for grabs in Congress.

Next, what the election could mean for the country and for the White House?


[09:23:35] PAUL: So, glad to have your company as always. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good Saturday morning too. 2018 means one thing in the political world. Its midterm elections.

PAUL: More than 450 seats are up for grabs in Congress.

Here's CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, Chris Cilliza, will look at how some of those racist could change the political landscape.


CHRIS CILLIZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Here is what were looking for to in politics in 2018, well, it's an even number of the year, which means midterm elections. And midterm elections are almost always bad for the president's party. They almost always lose seats in the House and in the Senate. That goes double when the presidents' approval rating is under 50%. And Donald Trump is way under 50% now.

The House is absolutely in play. Republican told the majority, but there are not Democratic opportunities out there to make it a real possibility. Democrats retake the House on November 2018.

The Senate, a tougher thing for Democrats. There are 26 Democratic seats, so just nine for Republicans. But Democrats have oddly a little bit of a chance here. They've got in a lot of good breaks. And remember, Donald Trump is not very popular which makes taking over the Senate a very slight, but still a real possibility.


BLACKWELL: Andre Bauer, our CNN Political Commentator and Former Republican Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, and Michael Nutter, CNN Political Contributor and Former Democratic Mayor of Philadelphia. Gentlemen, good morning to you.

[09:25:04] BAUER: Good morning.


BLACKWELL: I want to talk about legislation in just a moment, but let me start with you, Andre, about something Axios reported this week that someone close to the president said that in 2018, expect full Trump. What is full Trump?

BAUER: Right. He's going to engage in the process like, in the full (ph), I think he loves it, I think he loves being on the trail. He feeds off the energy and there are definitely districts and congressional seats that he can help bring folks out, get them inspired, get them -- help them fundraise and really be an addition to what they might be able to do.

Look, this is going to be a big year. He's going to decide where a lot of his policies are able to be carried out or not. And so if he can't maintain the Republicans in Congress, he's going to have a much more difficult time getting anything done.

BLACKWELL: Is the water too muddy now, Michael, for -- if full Trump means, and we don't know what it means, it could mean that he's doubling down --

NUTTER: Right.

BLACKWELL: -- on his priorities of the wall and ending chain migration and other things that he promised his base, or it could be, you know, sitting down with it as he calls them Chuck and Nancy and trying to be the negotiator and the dealmaker. But, is the water too muddy now to begin this bipartisan era that the president is calling for in 2018?

NUTTER: Well, first, Victor, I have no idea what full Trump is. I thought we were seeing that. I can't imagine that there's much more, but in any event, the water here is pretty muddy. The things that the president has done, the things that he has said, his overused bizarre at times of Twitter and other social media, is going to make it very difficult in an election year, in a midterm cycle as was pointed out. For him to suddenly now, you know, kumbaya with the senator, minority leader in the Senate and in the House. And so I don't know what he's talking about. But it's going to be a very competitive as Andre talked about.

But, Democrats are fired up. We know what we need to do. We demonstrated that certainly in Alabama and there are a number of other locations where having the right candidate well supported, going after both traditional voters and bringing some back home is going to be a great year for Democrats in 2018.

BLACKWELL: So mayor, let me stay with you on legislation, let's go to infrastructure. The president says that this --


BLACKWELL: -- could be a bipartisan effort. But I want to read something this week that one of the president's policy advisers on this specifically said, the part of what we want to do with our incentive program is say, listen, if you are as a state or local elected official are willing to create a new revenue stream for infrastructure, we, as the federal government, want to partner with you in doing that for cash drop municipalities that are already struggling.

NUTTER: Right.

BLACKWELL: Now, to create this new revenue stream to try to attract federal dollars, what does that mean to a city that needs the money to rebuild roads and infrastructure?

NUTTER: Sure. Well, the translation there, Victor, is that the federal government is trying to offload cost that they would normally pick up on to local governments, possibly states. All that really is, is the potential raising of taxes, these municipalities access the bond market for much of their infrastructure and really can't, in many instances, borrow more. That's why the federal government in using federal resources especially for infrastructure and transportation projects is so critically important and all they're trying to do is shift all those costs back over to local governments who can't afford them.

BLACKWELL: So, Andre, how do you pay for this? I mean, some of the available pay fors (ph) were used to -- were used in the tax reform bill and now when it comes to infrastructure, initially, it was a trillion-dollar plan, we're hearing 200 billion of federal investments trying to get a partnership from some private entities for the additional moneys. How do you pay for this?

BAUER: Victor, number one, I think it's a good thing when you say, hey, state city, other governments, you got to come to the table. Look, in South Carolina, we are a poor rural state. We're a donor state as well. We pay for other rich states for their tax, for their road systems. But when we wanted to build a bridge, we brought the county together, the city together, the state together and the federal government together because it was a big project and we all work together in unison because we thought it was that important.

When cities, counties, any municipality doesn't want to -- at least bring something to the table and say, hey, we're willing to work with you, federal government. In other words, we're just saying, hey, federal government, give us all you can give us but we're not willing to put any of our own tax dollars to (INAUDIBLE). That's not a partnership. That's not working together and that's what we're going to have to do to being creative bond (INAUDIBLE).

BLACKWELL: Andre, listen.

NUTTER: Come on, Andre.

BLACKWELL: Andre, let me -- let's talk about something real here.

NUTTER: Come on, Andre, you know better than that.

BLACKWELL: Andre, let's talk about something real here because -- hold on.

BAUER: (INAUDIBLE) all. I don't --

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you this, Andre, I hear you. But let me ask you this.

NUTTER: I'm not --.

[09:30:02] BLACKWELL: -- one of the options -- one of the options here that the President said he will certainly consider is increasing the gas tax. It's about 18.5 cents per galloon right now, hasn't been increased in 25 years. I think the last time was 1993. Some Republicans are pushing back against that. Do you think that that's an option? It should be a viable option to pay for this infrastructure investment to raise the gas tax?

BAUER: It's a viable option. I don't support it. I don't support raising taxes. I try to find a way to use the current revenue string we have and use it more effectively and efficiently but I still believe that --

BLACKWELL: Why was that argument there in the tax cut debate?

BAUER: I was again -- I know, I'm not for raising taxes, period.

BLACKWELL: No, but using --

BAUER: So, I don't --

BLACKWELL: -- using the resources we have to pay for it when the JCT, the Joint Commission on Taxation says, that the tax bill will even dynamically scored will add a $3 trillion of the deficit over 10 years.

BAUER: I don't know. Look --

BLACKWELL: What's --

BAUER: Look at the robust economy now. Look at the stock market right now. Look at unemployment right now. I know you don't like to factor that in. But what we have as growth in the economy, a growth in the job market, jobs coming back in this country and all that all sets. And I've never seen so many budget hawks in all my life. When Obama was given out phones, clash for conquers, continued to give away and raise $8 trillion.

And now all of the sudden, 1 trillion that really isn't going to happen, everybody is so alarmed by it, it's amazing to me that when we get taxpayers their money back, everybody is so concerned but when we give out free telephones to folks, nobody cares.


NUTTER: Andre, you must so forgotten that think of the great recession that was going on but --

BAUER: But so --

NUTTER: President Obama walked into -- let me finish. Let me finish, OK. I'm getting distract about phones.

There was this great recession thing and the president within a month, started to rescue the country from going into an even deeper recession. And so, you know, you're not for raising taxes, OK, fine. You're talking about using current resources. The level of investment that's needed are for deteriorating bridges and roads. There's no way in the world that any local government and even states by themselves can cover the amount of devastation to our national infrastructure system.

And whether you are contributor state or Pennsylvania is so whatever, you ride or may or family member may ride on our roads, I might ride on yours. It's a national transportation network that we use to get people and goods and services moving all across the United States of America.

The problem at times with the Republican is, you love infrastructure, you just don't want to pay for it. BLACKWELL: So, Michael, let me ask you the question I asked Andre here, do you support increasing the gas tax that pay for infrastructure spending?

NUTTER: I think it's a viable source of revenue. But I mean you shouldn't just look at one source. This is, again, should be a national discussion. There will be states where, maybe that's OK, or they've got their additional local taxes on the gas tax.

But I think, Victor, as you pointed out, it hasn't been raised in 25 years or so. It certainly should be look at as one component of a larger strategy to not just shift cost over to cities and states. But this is a part of the responsibility of a national government. It's a national network. It should be look at by the national government with the variety of funding sources.

And, Andre, without a respect to you, you know that there is virtually no project that gets done without a combination of local states and federal funding. The South Street Bridge here in Philadelphia, 80 percent funded by the Feds, 15 percent by the State of Pennsylvania, 5 percent by the City of Philadelphia. It is a fantastic example of a great partnership of that infrastructure.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about DACA. Another issue the President has tweet about this week. And he said through tweet, "Democrats had been told and fully understand that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall." Of course, DACA speaking about other protections for about 800,000 undocumented peoples here, this Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, no fault of their own, they're brought here.

We know that Jeff Flake, senator who voted for the tax cut bill said that, he is secure assurances from both Senate leadership and the White House to work with him to as he wrote, "An act fair and permanent protection for DACA recipients."

Do you expect, first to Andre, that there will be a deal on DACA by the deadline of President has set is?

BAUER: I don't know, Victor. I think it's important to him to deliver what he -- what so many of Americans wanted that is a separation between two countries that stops or substantially reduces the amount of folks coming into the country, which a lot of countries do. People do that with their front door when the lock it. And so, I think this is part of his deal.

Look, you got to get me the wall or I'm not going to play ball. And I think that's fair and reasonable because he got elected and that was one of the big promises he made to the American people.

BLACKWELL: And if for so that the prospect to the wall is very unpopular. Mr. Mayor, Michael let me come to you --

[09:35:05] NUTTER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: -- the Skype situation is terrible to hear. But let me ask you this question, the President says there's no DACA protections without the wall. Should Democrats take that deal? Funding for the wall if they get no protections?

NUTTER: No. Victor, first of all, that's a ignorant proposition. The one has nothing to do with the other. These are folks who are already here. Again, as you highlighted when you lead into this, children who came whether they have a choice or not most didn't because something years ago where their parents go. They are here. They're not going anywhere. It has nothing to do with the wall.

And by the way, there is already a wall in a variety of places between the United States and Mexico. This is Donald Trump, again, just thrown out the red meat to his constituency in conflating two issues that have nothing to do with each other. It is punitive, it is literally non-humanitarian and anti-American.

BLACKWELL: All right. Michael Nutter, Andre Bauer --

BAUER: And perhaps --

BLACKWELL: We got to wrap it there. They gave me additional time. But we got to wrap it up there. Thank you both.

BAUER: Thank you.

NUTTER: Thank you, Victor.

PAUL: Well, after decades in office, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to extend his reign. He announced that he's running in March for a fourth term. What makes him so powerful? Also, we're going to talk about what he said just this morning about the U.S. and Russia.


BLACKWELL: Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced he will seek a fourth term as president in March. And expert say he has little opposition.

[09:40:07] Our Phil Black takes a look at what makes Putin so powerful.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some have argued Vladimir Putin could be the most powerful man in the world. But what are the sources of this power?

Putin has tricky tools, cyber power, military might, and the cult of personality. Together, they form an often an effective web of influence. While Moscow denies its highly skilled hackers interfered in the U.S. election, they've also been accused of causing big disruptions in other countries like, Estonia and Ukraine, claims Russia also rejects.

Russia's enormous hacking power in state and criminal isn't new. It traces back to the USSR, when its universities were designed to produce world class engineers.

Putin's power is also hugely enhanced by his personal control of Russia's vast military, much of it, including the nukes, is also a Soviet legacy.

So, Putin has been pumping extraordinary amounts of money into its modernization. But most experts agree Russian conventional forces have a limited ability to project military power far from the countries borders.

One of the biggest sources of Putin's power is his own extraordinary popularity at home. The more his behavior attracts criticism from other world leaders. The more Russians celebrate their president.

His approval figures soared with Ukraine and spiked again with Syria. The reason, many Russians really care about their country's ability to influence world events even if it comes to sanctions and a hit to their own quality of life.

Putin also benefits some of political system and the media landscape with zero tolerance for criticizing the president. So, no doubt, Vladimir Putin is powerful and unpredictable. But he is also limited by some pretty big problems. The Russian economy isn't going anywhere. That's why there's another popular theory about Putin and his web of influence, he's someone who plays a weak hand very well.


PAUL: Jack Barsky joins us now from Washington for more on Putin's political power. He's the author of the book "Deep Undercover", about his life as KJB spy. So, I saw you shaking your head, actually nodding your head very often during that piece.


PAUL: What stood up to you about it?

BARSKY: That was really very well done. Particularly, and I was waiting for that. When we're talking about power, what makes Putin so viable over the long term is that he has dialed into the Russian psyche extremely well.

When you look at his popularity rating no matter what's going on the country, Putin is always been in the 60s, 70s, 80s, one of the most popular political figures in the history of the world.

PAUL: Are those numbers accurate, do you believe?

BARSKY: I believe they are because, you know, I've always, you know, it's not a surprise that I've studied Russia and the history of Russia and the Soviet Union and so forth. There is something about the Russian psyche that he is manipulating extremely well. Russia from its very beginning was an expansionist country. It was a country that always felt it was surrounded by enemies. And it's just actually the truth. And so, and then it was always -- Russia always -- the Russian people are always looking for a strong person and they have that in Putin. He is a strong man. And you know, he is sort like a stallion without the communism.

PAUL: So, without fail you believe, I mean, he is going to win this next election --

BARSKY: Oh, yes.

PAUL: -- even though there's only three months. In America, you think three months to prepare for an election, how could that possibly work? But there, of course, it does. Do -- Are those elections authentic?

BARSKY: They are authentically managed. At the race track, if you would have bet, there would be a one to 10 prohibited favored. There's no way that he was going to lose this thing. He -- What they have is the trappings of democracy. It's a managed situation. It's a managed autocracy. That's it, I mean, game over.

PAUL: So, what do you make today of, you know, there have been so much back and forth between -- especially as we are looking at there, the hacking issue. Today, President Putin came out in a New Year's Day speech and said he wanted to stress the importance of the U.S. and Russia engaging in the long term constructive dialogue and talked about cooperation. Is that likely?

BARSKY: He is -- you got to understand. Everything he says has a purpose. He is playing the world and he is playing to his own audience. This statement is to the world. He wants to have peer statements like, he wants to remain a valuable player.

Internally, he has a strong interest in retaining America as a enemy. The spunk of mentality that, you know, we are being attacked, there's a lot of problems that we have really originate with the United States. So, he is playing both sides. And it depends upon the audience. This was directed at external -- the external way.

[09:45:05] PAUL: External. They talk in that piece too about the strength of technology. Do you believe the U.S midterm elections are at risk from some hacking from Russia?

BARSKY: A risk, but we manage the risk, I believe. We're doing all the right things to make sure that there's no undo influence.

Now, the one thing that we have a problem with the social media, right, you know, how do you control social media which you really do. It's a, you know, if you limit social media, you're limiting freedom. So, we are between a rock and a hard place. That's the danger. If you are free society, you better let stuff in that that you really don't want. But --

PAUL: Is there proof, do you believe that they -- that Russia has hacked not just elections here in the U.S. but elsewhere?


PAUL: As it's reported?

BARSKY: Yes, particularly in France and Germany, sure.

PAUL: And they have -- and there's no chance that's going to waiver?

BARSKY: No, I don't think so, if you can you do it. And the way that the Russians have set this up, there's layers and layers of organizations and loosely some constructed networks that do the work on behalf of the government. You got plausible deniability. We didn't do it.

Well, there's some people in the basement, they're doing it. But, yes, they keep on doing it. As long as you can, they will.

PAUL: This was something I read that was interesting, Russia's election is March 18, that coincides with the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. That was an event that was condemned by world leaders. I mean, the E.U. and the U.S. actually enacted sanctions. What is his message to the world when he is holding -- when he's holding elections on a date that was by far not celebrated by the world? And that they were seen as being wrong. Is there a message that he's trying to send by doing that?

BARSKY: The message is that, you know, I'm the biggest, I'm the strongest. And I agree with the statement that was made in the previous -- in the report that he may well be the most powerful person on the planet today because the America president, even though we say he is the most powerful, he has a lot of limitations, restrictions.

You know when some circuit judge some place in Hawaii you can make a ruling that shuts down a presidential order. That doesn't happen to Putin.

PAUL: So your prediction for U.S.-Russia relations in 2018.

BARSKY: Not much of a change. It's going to be tight. It's going to be -- it's going to be very adversarial, let's put it this way. It needs to be tightly managed. The only reason I believe that we have to pay a lot of attention to Russia is the fact that they have 50 percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet. That is where the ultimate power of Russia comes from.

PAUL: All right. Jack Barsky, thank you so much.


PAUL: We always appreciate having you here.

BARSKY: My pleasure.

PAUL: Absolutely. Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. California is preparing for a green rush in 2018. Recreation of marijuana set to be legal there. And we will hear from dispensary owners eager for the new law to kick in. And we'll hear just how much it's going to cost them to start selling to recreational customers.


[09:52:22] PAUL: Well, guess what, the New Year is going to bring new bring new legalized cash crop to California. Of course, we're talking about marijuana.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Recreational pot becomes legal in the nation's most populous state. That happens on Monday.

CNN's Miguel Marquez spoke with owners of dispensaries ready for this new law to kick in.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The cannabis gold rush is on. Legal, medical and recreational marijuana comes to the Golden State, Monday.

JERRED KILOH, OWNER, THE HIGHER PATH: We're looking to expand into a 6,000 square foot dispensary because we think that we'll be able to serve close to 1,000 to 1,500 patients a day.

MARQUEZ: Today, Jerred Kiloh's medical dispensary, The Higher Path, in suburb in Los Angeles, serves about 200 people a day. He employs 25 full-time workers making at least $18 an hour. With legalization, he expects to employ 70.

KILOH: Just this year alone, or at least the 2017 harvest season, I tripled the size of my cultivation in an effort to be able to supply may increase as the dispensary.

MARQUEZ: The market in Los Angeles alone projected to be ginormous.

When it happens in Los Angeles, how big will it be?

KILOH: Well, I mean, right now, Los Angeles has market as bigger than Colorado and Washington combined. So, you're looking at one market that's the largest in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a drug dealer.

MARQUEZ: California in pop culture long portrayed as a pot smoker's paradise, sales of medical marijuana, legal or at least allowed in many towns and cities across the State for more than 20 years. What's different now, the entire State will be regulated, licensed and taxed like any other business, except more.

So, come the 1st of the year, the regulatory regime for marijuana businesses across California will change dramatically, everything from child-proofed caps to security system for every single business.

For places like The Higher Path that are already playing by the rules, the cost of legalization, enormous, taxes on retail marijuana, up to 45 percent. And license fees to cultivate, distribute and sell medical and recreational pot for just this one business in just its first year, $280,000.

Has California moves into legal marijuana finally, what is your feeling?

KILOH: I'm still excited for the State. I mean, on an individual level, I can be a little bit disappointed that I won't be a part of the party on January 1st, but it's not going to be long before I am up and running and legal.

[09:55:07] MARQUEZ: On day one, while pot will be legal it won't be available everywhere, only a few smaller localities of approved licenses to start recreational sales on January 1st. Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, won't be ready for a legal sales under the new regulations for days or weeks.

ARIEL CLARK, CANNABIS LAWYER, CLARK NEUBERT, LLP: We're talking about an unregulated industry that's been thriving for at least 22 years. That now you have this set of rules and track and trace system, and taxation, and all of these local agencies and bureaucrats and state regulators and licenses. It's a totally different beast.

MARQUEZ: Bumps in the road ahead for California, but legal pot here is expected to spur massive growth for the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. and around the world.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLACKWELL: Well, coming up at the top of the hour.

Growing protests in Iran the largest since 2009, President Trump warns the world is watching. And Iran issues a stern response. We'll have a live report.

PAUL: We'll have a live report.