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Trump Presidency; North Korea Committed to Nuclear Development; Assaults Targeting Egyptian Coptic Community; New Year Celebrations; Trump Doubts Climate Change. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired December 30, 217 - 02:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Low approval ratings that are historic put President Trump behind his predecessors, pretty much all of them.

North Korea says it won't tone down its nuclear plans in the coming year.

And arctic cold temps break records across the U.S.

These stories ahead here. I'm Natalie Allen. And this is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta.


ALLEN: U.S. President Donald Trump is wrapping up his first year in office with the lowest approval rating of any president in decades. CNN's own poll puts that figure at about one in three respondents, just 35 percent. In October, his numbers were at the very bottom compared to past similar presidents during the same period.

But that hasn't stopped Mr. Trump from claiming his rating matches that of former president Barack Obama. CNN's Sara Murray is in Florida.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump in full vacation mode and hosting Coast Guard members for golf at his Palm Beach club.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to come use my course. I didn't know I would be flooded, but that's OK. You guys go have a good time.

MURRAY: But pressing pause long enough to rail against the Russia investigation in an interview with "The New York Times." While he didn't call for an end to the special counsel's probe into potential collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials, the president insisted it's damaging. "I think it's a very bad thing for the country," he told "The Times," "because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country."

In the impromptu interview at his golf club, Trump insisted 16 times that no collusion has been uncovered in the various Russia investigations, reiterating the frustration he's aired publicly.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. There has been absolutely no collusion. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

MURRAY: Trump also lamenting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, insisting such a move wouldn't have happened under former Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that I will say this. Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him," Trump said.

But even as more Republicans take aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump predicted he will get a fair shake.

"There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I will be treated fairly."

Despite the swipe at Democrats, Trump appeared uninterested in trying to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e- mail server.

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter," he said of Clinton's e-mails.

Turning back to his legislative agenda, Trump said he is hoping to work with Democrats on health care, infrastructure and immigration, tweeting: "The Democrats have been told and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration et cetera. We must protect our Country at all costs!"

But Democrats may see little reason to cooperate with a president with a 35 percent approval rating, according to the latest CNN poll.

Even amid those low ratings, Trump is already gearing up for his reelection campaign, telling "The New York Times" he's sure to win another term because of his accomplishments in office,

"But another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because, without me, their ratings are going down the tubes." MURRAY: President Trump also took to Twitter to express his displeasure of the media's coverage of his approval ratings, insisting that his numbers are on par with where President Obama's were at the end of his first year in office.

But if you look at nearly every reputable poll, you can see that President Trump's numbers trail behind nearly every one of his predecessors, including President Obama -- Sara Murray, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.


ALLEN: Mr. Trump's comments about being able to tell the Justice Department what to do earned a sharp rebuke from the man who used to run that agency under President Obama.

Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder fired back on Twitter, calling Mr. Trump's remarks "Wrong/dangerous." As for what to expect in the New Year Mr. Trump has already set the tone with his America first policy.

Earlier I spoke about that with Robert English, who teaches international relations at the University of Southern California.


ROBERT ENGLISH, USC: We shouldn't forget that foreign policy begins at home. It begins with a strong economy and a united populace.


And tax policies that are going to increase polarization and perhaps weaken us in the long run and social policies that inflame and divide, you know, even backing, for goodness sake, an accused child molester, an apologist for slavery, these thing resonate abroad in the worst possible way.

That President Trump doesn't seem to appreciate. And when we need allies, as future junctures, a crisis in North Korea, the South China Sea, we may find that Japan, that England, Germany and others aren't there as they've been in the past.

ALLEN: Let's talk about the specifics if we can. We have time for one more, though. He pulled out of the climate accord. He's played really tough with North Korea, which s considered the most dangerous issue in the world. And now he is kind of stepping back and let China perhaps be the global leader.

What of these issues will you be looking for in year two with this president?

ENGLISH: North Korea, of course. The climate accord, what's happening environmentally, globally, is a tragedy and our abdication of leadership is another example of what I just said.

But North Korea is the most dangerous current issue. And so far, it's been saber rattling. Let's hope it doesn't get any worse. We are in a very dangerous situation. I have to acknowledge that behind the saber rattling, the Trump administration has fairly effectively tightened sanctions that limit the North Korean regime's access to financing through smuggling, contraband, money laundering and the like.

That's a small gain. But the big nuclear issue is unresolved and the path thereon will not resolve it in any fashion but the most dangerous one.


ALLEN: Yes, North Korea is, by the way, telling the world not to expect any changes so it looks like it could still be a dangerous 2018. The country remains committed to development its nuclear plan next year. A report in state media says as long as the U.S. and its allies remain a threat, the regime will push its program forward.

Pyongyang also boasted it can strike the U.S. with world-class nuclear power but it calls itself a responsible nuclear weapons state.

And as Barbara Starr reports for us, there are troubling signs North Korea may conduct yet another weapons test sometime right after the New Year.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are now telling me they are watching for the very real possibility that North Korea may launch another ballistic missile in yet another weapons test.

It is not imminent. The signs are still very preliminary. But right now, they don't think it's a satellite launch; much more likely to be a missile launch, if North Korea were to proceed with this.

Now in an end-of-the-year meeting with Pentagon reporters, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he was still very much on the page of diplomacy, buttressed by economic sanctions, trying to underscore that diplomacy will not be just words, that there will be real economic pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons program.

But, of course, no sign at this point that Kim Jong-un has any intention of doing that. So if there is a missile test, it comes at a very sensitive time after the New Year, when secretary of state Rex Tillerson is headed to Canada for meetings with the allies about North Korea.

And, of course, just weeks away from the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, a time when everyone is looking for a little stability and no drama in the region -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


ALLEN: Rare anti-government protests in Iran on Friday in the western city of Kermanshah. Similar protests spread through the country, including the capital. The demonstrations began on Thursday in response to surging prices but they have since adopted a more purely political tone, calling out government corruption and Iranian participation in conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Coptic church near the Egyptian capital. Nine people were killed Friday when gunmen opened fire as people left the church service. The local archbishop says worshipers inside could hear machine gun fire that lasted for almost 15 minutes. On Friday evening, grief-stricken families held a funeral for the victims. As CNN's Salma Abdelaziz reports, this is the latest in a string of attacks on minority Coptic Christians in Egypt this year.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: Egypt is reeling after another attack on its Christian minority today in Cairo. Let's go through what happened.

Shortly after Friday services ended at the St. Mina (ph) Coptic Church in Idlan (ph) in Greater Cairo, as worshippers were leaving the church, two gunmen opened fire on the crowd; armed with machine guns police fired back.


ABDELAZIZ: A gun battle ensued between them that lasted for about 15 minutes according to the archbishop of the church.

Nine people were killed. Among them, one police officer and separately one of those two gunmen was killed as well. The second one was arrested. He is the man that authorities have described as a known terrorist, one who has been involved in previous attacks.

And they say he had a bomb with him and he had intended to enter the church and detonate this explosive device.

Still, the attack was bloody and brazen, taking place during the day in Cairo. It is absolutely terrifying for residents but it is of particular concern to the Coptic Christian community in Egypt. Remember this is a minority group that makes up about 10 percent of the country's population. And they have long said that they're treated as second class citizens in Egypt.

But the past few years have been particularly bloody for the Coptic minority in Egypt. As President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has waged war on his opponents, as ISIS has taken a hold in the Sinai, as terrorism has been on the rise in the country, more and more of these types of attacks on Coptic Christians have taken place.

Remember one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in Egypt's history happened this year on Palm Sunday. That was in April; two churches were bombed, almost 50 people killed.

But it's important to remember that it's not just Egypt's Christian community that is suffering terrorism. Just last month, a mosque was attacked by ISIS. Almost 300 people lost their lives.

The entire country really reeling from terrorism. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has issued his condolences to the victims of this attack. He has said it will only strengthen the country's resolve in the face of terrorism.

But during this holiday season, when people are on edge, of course Christmas for the orthodox community will be coming up in January. During these times they want to feel safe. But they're going to point to attacks like this one to say the state isn't doing enough to protect them -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, Paris.


ALLEN: In Syria, antigovernment rebels are evacuating the Beit Jin area near Damascus. State media report it's part of a deal with the government. Some of the rebels and their families are supposed to go to Idlib province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says many of the Beit Jin rebels are part of an Al Qaeda-linked group.

Ringing in 2018. Next, we'll show you how the world is getting ready to celebrate.

Also if you're ringing it in outdoors, prepare to bundle up. A numbing cold wave hits much of the eastern U.S.




ALLEN: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

Pressure is growing on South African president Jacob Zuma to resign. On Friday, a South African court said parliament failed to hold --


ALLEN: -- the president accountable for misusing $15 million in public funds to upgrade his private home. And now parliament must launch impeachment proceedings against him.

The ruling is a setback for Mr. Zuma, who has faced public pressure to step down before the country's 2019 elections.

The ruling African National Congress party which Mr. Zuma belongs to says it will discuss the court's judgment next month.

Thursday's fatal fire in New York started with a 3-year-old boy playing with a stove in his first floor apartment. That's according to officials. His mother apparently did not realize there was a fire until the boy screamed. They were fine but in their hurry to escape, they left the door open, allowing the flames to spread throughout the building.

At least 12 people were killed. The deadliest fire the city has seen in decades.

The countdown is on, people around the world preparing to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, in some places like New York City, where there will be throngs of people in Times Square while security is strengthening. CNN's Zain Asher has that for us.


ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's almost time to ring in the New Year and cities around the world are getting ready for the party. In Germany, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is the usual centered of festivities.

But people all over the country are putting on their own shows, spending as much as $164 million on fireworks according to one pyrotechnic company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I got some rockets, firecrackers, two pieces, a few. that is it, sparkling things, just to celebrate New Year's Eve.

ASHER (voice-over): But along with all the preparations, cities are taking precautions as well. Berlin is adding 1,600 more police officers and erecting barricades and fences to control the crowds.

The Red Cross is also setting up a safe area there for women who feel unsafe after hundreds of women were robbed or sexually assaulted in another German city, Cologne, two years ago.

Paris is beefing up its security, too, after a gunman had killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees this April, temporarily shutting down the iconic tourist spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be over 10,500 men and women, who will be deployed in and around Paris to ensure the safety of Parisians, Paris suburban residents and the tourists and visitors, which are always plentiful in the capital for this occasion.

ASHER (voice-over): Two million people are expected to watch the fireworks in another city known for its revelry. Rio is putting the finishing touches on its show at Copacabana Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's going to be the biggest fireworks display ever seen in Rio de Janeiro. There will be 17 minutes long with 25 tons of fireworks, 17,000 explosives, lots of technology and structure that was specially made for this great show.

ASHER (voice-over): But leave it to the man who's currently starring in the movie, "The Greatest Showman," to help Sydney, Australia, put on a command performance this New Year's Eve.

Actor Hugh Jackman helped design about 20 seconds of its fireworks display. And that's sure to put some star power in the sky in one of the first places to celebrate 2018 -- Zain Asher, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: Well, bundle up if you're going outside to celebrate in some places of the United States. It's dangerously cold but strikingly beautiful. Ahead, bitter temps turn Niagara Falls into a frozen winter wonderland.





ALLEN: The White House stance on climate change has been hard to read on one hand. The Trump administration is obviously skeptical, withdrawing from the Paris accord and touting so-called "clean coal." On the other, it has hesitated to outright deny the existence of climate change, even approving a study concluding humans are indeed driving shifts in the planet's environment.

Now we're getting some new clarity straight from the president's Twitter account. Here's CNN's Rene Marsh in Washington.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president using the cold snap in the U.S. to cast doubt on climate change, tweeting, "In the East, it could be the coldest New Year's Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country but not other countries was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up."

It's the same argument Senator Jim Inhofe made on the Senate floor.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: We keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record and I asked the chair, you know what this is?

It's a snowball. It's just from outside here, so it's very, very cold out.

MARSH: Inhofe and the president mistakenly suggesting cold weather means climate change is, in the president's words, a hoax.

PETER FRUMHOFF, CHIEF CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: It's a little bit like saying that if everybody around me is wealthy, then poverty is not a problem. It misses the bigger picture. Local weather is not an indicator of changes in local climate.

MARSH (voice-over): NASA says 2017 was one of the warmest years on record and 97 percent of climate scientists agree: climate change is real and poses a threat.

This map from the University of Maine shows, while we are in a deep freeze, the rest of the planet is above average right now. Scientists say devastating hurricanes from Florida to Texas to Puerto Rico and deadly wildfires out west were exacerbated by rising temperatures.

FRUMHOFF: For the president to dismiss the seriousness of global warming, something that's really causing hardship to Americans today and will continue to do so in the future is completely irresponsible.

MARSH (voice-over): The effort to undermine science has been ongoing since Trump took office. His EPA has sidelined climate science and scientists, wiping references to climate change from its website, removing scientists from the agency's advisory boards...

TRUMP: My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.

MARSH (voice-over): -- and rolling back many environmental regulations, including the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, an initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.

And rejecting an international agreement to climate change.

TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

MARSH (voice-over): The trillions of dollars in Trump's Thursday tweet was an apparent reference to the potential cost of the Paris climate accord to the U.S. economy, an estimate that's been disputed.

MARSH: The president says he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement to save the U.S. jobs and money. But Government Accountability Office released a report in October that said the U.S. government has spent more than $350 billion over the past decade in response to extreme weather and predicted that number would go higher if the U.S. didn't curb greenhouse gases -- Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.




ALLEN: China is welcoming the Year of the Dog and a mall there is marking the occasion in an interesting way. We'll let you decide but looks like this larger-than-life canine bears a striking resemblance to U.S. president Donald Trump. The red scarf maybe even looks a little like one of the president's famous red ties. He's got kind of a scowl on his face. It's not the first time the mall has paid tribute to Mr. Trump. Last year it marked the Year of the Rooster with -- well, there you have it.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: People with a lot of time on hands.

ALLEN: Yes, sirree, Bob.

That's CNN NEWSROOM but I'll be right back with our top stories. Thanks for watching.