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American Hostage Rescued; Syria's Chemical Threat

Aired December 10, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The elite Navy SEALs trained for dangerous missions lose one of their own saving a hostage's life.

After Mitt Romney's loss, Republicans launch a new campaign to repair their party. We're going to find out what they want to fix first.

And Christmas in Washington goes "Gangnam Style" putting President Obama in a sensitive position.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An American doctor abducted in Afghanistan is alive and safe right now thanks to a dangerous rescue mission by U.S. special forces, but his freedom came with a price. We're now learning the identity of an elite Navy SEAL who was killed in the raid.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is taking us inside this secret operation.

What is going on, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start with you. If you think the war in Afghanistan is wrapping up, 305 American troops lost their lives so far this year, three Navy SEALs in the last three weeks in various combat missions, the latest, this young man who gave his life for another American he did not know.


STARR (voice-over): It was a daring high-stakes raid to free American Delip Joseph, who had gone to Afghanistan to help provide medical care in one of the most dangerous regions in the war-torn country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're really hoping that we can instill hope into a country that has been dealing with conflict over the last 30 years.

STARR: Joseph was one of three staffers from the relief organization Morning Star Development kidnapped last Wednesday, while returning from a visit to a rural medical clinic in Eastern Kabul Province.

They were stopped by armed men and taken to an area about 50 miles from the Pakistan border. Then, this weekend, Joseph was freed from captivity by the same unit of Navy SEALs that killed Osama Bin Laden.

It's not clear if any of the SEALs on this raid were on the Bin Laden mission, but in rescuing Joseph, tragedy. The 28-year-old Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Checque was killed in the ensuing fire fight. Checque, a 10-year veteran, part of the legendary SEAL Team Six, an elite counterterrorism team specially trained for hostage rescue. Seth Jones was an adviser to special operations forces in Afghanistan.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: These are the kinds of situations that individuals like SEALs have been in, whether it's Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq or off the coast of Somalia. They're putting themselves in harm's way and sometimes they die.

STARR: But it was a risk General John Allen, the top commander, took in ordering the rescue when intelligence showed that Joseph was in imminent danger of injury or death. Jones says there are several things the SEALs would have known before they went in.

JONES: You need to collect intelligence on the target to see where they're at, who's guarding it, what the terrain is like. Second, you've got to look at how you're going to insert into that area and then you're going to look at how to actually get on to the target.


STARR: And the threat of kidnapping of American civilians and other foreigners may only grow in the coming months as there are less American combat troops there to help rescue them when they do get detained or they get into trouble.

The State Department estimates, Wolf, that since 2007, some three dozen foreigners have been kidnapped by insurgents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about the role of these elite special forces in rescuing hostages.

We're joined by our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She's the former Bush homeland security adviser and a member of the CIA's External Advisory Committee.

You heard Barbara say that it went all the way up to General Allen, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to approve this kind of rescue operation. Is that normal, normally the case when they hear that an American is being held hostage and they think they have a chance of rescuing this individual?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Wolf, especially when it's in a war zone, it would have gone up to General Allen, the ISAF commander of the security forces in the region. And, frankly, Wolf, I sat in on many meetings at the White House, inside the president's Situation Room, where we talked about hostage rescue missions outside of a war zone. These things go to the highest level of government and the highest levels of operational command. They want to look at proof of life. They want to look at the tactical advantage. Does the U.S. military have the tactical advantage, is there a likelihood of success that they can extract this hostage without having the hostage be killed and without incurring the sort of tragedy that we have seen here?

BLITZER: How often do these rescue missions happen?

TOWNSEND: Not as often as you might think, Wolf, because, of course, if you know someone is alive and they are being held, but you don't think there's an imminent threat to life, what you look for is time. Time becomes an advantage for the U.S. military because they can pick the time of their choosing when they have the best advantage. What we have heard here is that there was an imminent threat to the doctor and so they chose to launch the mission understanding the very serious risk involved.

BLITZER: I know Dr. Joseph was doing important humanitarian work in Afghanistan. He obviously wanted to do the best for especially young people there, but he was in a very, very dangerous environment. Take us behind the scenes. What do folks in government tell these humanitarian workers when they go out there, because obviously they know the danger is involved?

TOWNSEND: Well, of course, Wolf.

All Americans are warned not to travel to various countries, but especially to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. But they have a right to travel if they wish to. You encourage them to register with the State Department, to check in with embassy and to let the embassy know of their movements when they're traveling outside secure areas, but there's not much you can do.

Then when you're confronted with this sort of dilemma, it's always a calculation. Right? You're always looking at, what is the U.S. national interest? Look, here we have U.S. forces on the ground. We are trying to establish safe zones so that the Afghan people can get back to some sort of a normal civilian life. So a calculation was made that it was in the U.S. national interest to try and rescue this doctor.

But it really is -- when you see a tragedy like this, you understand, these calculations, these risks that you must assess and sort of balance can have tragic outcomes.

BLITZER: Because I know there's another American who's being held in Pakistan, a U.S. aid worker who was there for a long time trying to do his best, Warren Weinstein, and he's still being held some place that we have no idea where.

TOWNSEND: Wolf, normally outs -- that's why I mentioned outside of a war zone you rely on the host government who has got principal responsibility to work as a partner with the U.S. government to try and get your citizen freed.

You know, in this case, I think because we have combat troops on the ground, we -- the U.S. forces were the most capable of doing that because, of course, in any one of these missions, whether it's inside or outside of a war zone, you run the risk that the hostage themselves are killed in the mission and so you are looking for who is most capable, who has got the best intelligence and what is the likelihood of success.

BLITZER: Fran, thanks very much for that. Appreciate it very much.

President Obama, by the way, just got back to Washington from the heart of union country where his backers and organized labor are on the brink of a huge defeat.

Kate Bolduan is here. She's picking up this part of the story -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A huge story not just in Michigan, but all across the country really, Wolf.

Michigan's Republican-led legislature is moving towards final approval of a ban on mandatory union dues. That cuts into labor's financial power and its political influence, mostly in favor, which historically has mostly been in favor of Democrats. So the president is now taking sides and weighing into this fight.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, for more on this.

Jessica, is it surprising that President Obama is jumping into this union issue?


we know how the president feels about this issue. He opposes these laws. But this is the first time he's weighed in on this law in Michigan and I suppose the surprise is just how forcefully he spoke out against the Michigan law and, you know, in part it's you could say maybe because his political considerations are different. With the election over, one can see how he could now be more candid. Here's what the president had to say earlier today, Kate.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics.


OBAMA: What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. You only have to look to Michigan where workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class but a stronger America. .


YELLIN: Now, compare that to the president's posture before he was reelected, when Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was facing a recall for his anti-union legislation. At that time, the president supported the recall effort. He stood with the unions, but the president took a lot of heat from Democrats who accused the president of not doing enough to back the Democratic challenger.

Well, now that the president has won both Wisconsin and Michigan, it sounds like he's a lot more outspoken in favor of the unions, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And so is there political impact here for the president? Is it risky for him to, as you said, be speaking out so forcefully on this issue now?

YELLIN: Well, the politics of this are pretty straightforward. It's no secret that the unions are with the Democrats and with the president. Let's look at the results of the 2012 election.

The president won the union vote pretty easily; 58 percent of union voters backed the president, compared to 40 percent who backed Governor Romney. Unions were heavy contributors across elections. They ponied up $143 million total in the 2012 elections. Only 4 percent went to Republican candidates.

The rest went to Democrats or outside spending groups. So they were major players for the Democrats in general. And then if you look at this anti this what is so-called right-to-work laws, Michigan wouldn't be the first state; 23 other states already have right-to- work laws. So Michigan would be the 24th, but meaningful because that is the home, the birthplace of the union movement in the U.S., so it would be a body blow symbolically to the labor movement in the U.S., Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, a lot of symbols in here.

Jessica Yellin at the White House for us this evening, thank you so much, Jessica.

YELLIN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thousands of protesters are expected in the Michigan capitol tomorrow when the state legislature is taking up final passage of the right-to-work law. At least two Detroit area school districts say they will close tomorrow because hundreds of teachers are going to Lansing to join in the demonstrations. Big story.

BLITZER: And right to -- law is now in effect in Indiana, neighbor Michigan.

BOLDUAN: Right-to-work in Indiana. BLITZER: So that put some pressure on Michigan. They were competing for jobs and stuff like that.

BOLDUAN: Businesses and jobs. There's a lot at play here.

BLITZER: Thank you.

A new move by the U.S. to entrust Syrian rebels in case the Bashar al-Assad regime launches a chemical weapons attack.

Also, the deejays behind the prank on the British royals break their silence about the death of a nurse who took their phony call.


BLITZER: The U.S. and its European allies are taking new precautions in the case of a chemical weapons attack by Syria.

CNN has learned that defense contractors are being used to train Syrian rebels on ways to secure chemical weapons stockpiled in various parts of the country. U.S. officials say the training is taking place in Jordan and Turkey.

Our Brian Todd spoke with a chemical weapons expert.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How dicey is it to train Syrian rebels on actually handling the materials?

LEONARD SPECTOR, MONTEREY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think on the one hand these may be individuals that are going to be the first ones into some of these sites and they have to know what safety precautions to take. Otherwise, they are not going to want to go in and they also have to know what to look for.


BLITZER: Let's bring in the author and analyst who also knows a lot about weapons of mass destruction.

Joseph Cirincione is the president of Ploughshares Fund, the author of the book "Bomb Scare."

Joe, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: If, what, 30 or 40 percent are now about to designated by the U.S. as part of a terrorist organization, how dangerous is it to start training them these people in dealing with chemical weapons?

CIRINCIONE: You are not training them. Obviously, what the U.S. is trying to do is forge closer operational contacts with the rebel forces that are closer to the U.S. that are more sympathetic... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But can you separate them out?

CIRINCIONE: You will have to separate them out. And the answer is yes. The coalition of rebel forces is diverse. What the U.S. is trying to do is cut off the more al Qaeda-like elements and do cooperative operations with the ones who are more sympathetic to our needs.

You're going to have to operate this way. If Assad falls and that appears to be a matter of weeks or months, you can't send in the 82nd Airborne to secure this. You're going to have to use the forces that are on the ground, the rebel forces, to go after these chemical weapons sites.

BLITZER: But this is pretty sophisticated to secure a chemical weapons site. How do you train these people, who basically don't have the expertise?

CIRINCIONE: Actually, it's one of the things that is working in our advantage. So if a terrorist group were to get ahold of these chemical weapons stockpiles, it's not at all easy to know what to do with it, how to handle it. You might actually end up killing yourself, rather than killing others.

You want to take the people that are closest to us, give them the skills that they need to secure the site, stand back until we can get more trained personnel in.

BOLDUAN: And there's so much concern over the chemical weapons and their security right now. Walk us through the kinds of chemical weapons that the Assad regime has, how much, and where the real concern is.


There's major uncertainties as to location, quantities, and toxicity. Some of this agent could be quite old. But the intelligence over decades has been quite clear, we're talking about hundreds of tons of blister agent, such as mustard gas, and deadly nerve agents, like sarin, possibly V.X.

A drop on your skin can kill you. It's deliverable in dozens of different ways, including warheads for Scud missiles. We believe they have between 100 and 200 of those. Air-dropping munitions and even artillery shells. While we have some uncertainty about this, you do not want to take this threat lightly. This is an arsenal that could kill hundreds of thousands.

BOLDUAN: Hundreds of thousands of people.

BLITZER: We know Saddam Hussein used chemical poison gas in his war against Iran, in his war against Iraqi Kurds.

CIRINCIONE: Yes. BLITZER: Do you believe having studied this for a long time Bashar al-Assad if he sees himself on the ropes would use chemical weapons against his own people?

CIRINCIONE: It's possible. He doesn't need to do this.

Obviously he killed 40,000 people already. He doesn't need chemical weapons to kill. But these weapons have a unique sort of terror aspect to them. They can terrorize urban areas, even if the actual casualties are only measured in the hundreds. He is desperate. This is why you heard the president of the United States just a week ago today go on and warn him and those under his command, if you use these, there will be consequences. You hope that even if Assad is crazy enough to give the order, those around him will have a self- preservation principle and won't execute that order.

BLITZER: Now, just to repeat, you think Bashar al-Assad is toast within a matter of weeks or a few months?

CIRINCIONE: Clearly, he is losing the battle on the ground. Rebel forces are battling are on the outskirts of Damascus now. Rebels are taking over major military bases, increasingly well-armed.

You can see that we're in the endgame right now and that's why you worry that Assad might do a desperation move. That's one bad scenario. The equally bad scenario is that he falls, the entire regime collapses and terrorists scoop into those chemical weapons before we can secure and destroy them.

BOLDUAN: Fall into the wrong hands.


BLITZER: Scary stuff, all around. Joe Cirincione, thanks very much.


CIRINCIONE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Another big story in the Middle East, we're expecting mass rallies in Egypt tomorrow by supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi. The area around the presidential palace already is a mess after days of violent protests. This coming Saturday, Egyptians vote on a constitution that Morsi's critics say will move Egypt back to the Dark Ages.


MOHAMED ELBARADEI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE: I'm not for confrontation. I have spent all of my life for dialogue, but we are not going to dialogue and compromise on our principles.

We are at the cross of the road. Either we're going a country that is civil, country that respects women rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, children's rights, balance of power, or we're going to have a new dictatorship with a religious favor. And obviously that is not the way we would like to accept and will never accept.

I'm not talking about, you know, people going to the streets or, you know, saying that the media is blasphemous. That's not the kind of Egypt that we would like to see. It's really a question between whether we're going forward, catching up with the 21st century or going back to the Dark Ages.


BOLDUAN: Over the weekend, President Morsi canceled an edict that gave him virtually unchecked power. But this story is far from over.

BLITZER: Certainly is.

Have you noticed that gas prices are down and they may keep falling? We're going to show you why.



BLITZER: So what went wrong for Republicans on Election Day? The GOP is now planning what some are calling an autopsy with prominent members in charge of trying to pinpoint problem areas -- that next.


BLITZER: Happening now: a tearful apology from the deejays behind a prank call on the British royals. Some say they are now targets of a witch-hunt.

Republicans face up to serious mistakes after the losing the White House again -- their new campaign to try to fix their party.

And Washington gets a taste of "Gangnam Style." Should the president have kept his distance? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Earlier today, the Republican Party announced a major effort to figure out why the 2012 election went so very wrong for so many of their candidates, including their presidential nominee.

The eight-part effort will look at failures in the party's ground game, as well as its message, its fund-raising, other campaign finance issues. It will also take a closer look at the racial changes in the U.S. electorate, the impact of third-party groups, the presidential primaries and what the Democrats did right.

One of the co-chairs who will leave the efforts, former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who's also a CNN contributor.

Ari, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: The RNC launches a new initiative to grow the party and win. All of these were, like, technical issues, though. The eight points that I just pointed out -- I don't see the effort to rethink policy matters on sensitive issues, some of which clearly hurt Republicans, including the presidential nominee this time. Is your mandate also to look at changes in sensitive policy areas?

FLEISCHER: Well, I would say that, when you look at overall messaging, that's a technical issue. That's a very important, major issue. It's one of the things that either pulls people toward a party or drives people away from a party.

In terms of specific policies, Congress has the lead on that. The Republican National Committee does not. But I think you can assume there's going to be some messaging around the things that conservatives believe in that we need to do better and do stronger.

BLITZER: So for example, on the sensitive issue like same-sex marriage, guy marriage, will it be your mandate to take a look and see whether or not Republicans should rethink their opposition to gay marriage?

FLEISCHER: Wolf, as I said, that's Congress' purview, is to make the laws and make the policies. Parties don't make the policies, and we're not going to go down that road.

But let me give you an example. It's been said in the past that -- President Bush is the one who said this -- family values don't stop at the Rio Grande. That was his approach to Hispanic issues, and then he got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

In this cycle we got 27 percent. I happen to believe, Wolf, and I think a lot of Republicans do, that there's a lot you can do to attract people, to talk to people, to identify with the needs and the concerns of people in a way that grows a party. You don't have to change your ideology.

And the ideological issue is important, because the exit polls found out 35 percent of Americans identify as conservative, just 25 percent is liberal. We remain a center right country, but Republicans are losing elections. Republicans have -- and I think we have an intellectual and political responsibility to examine ourselves and find out why.

BLITZER: Because every four years the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, they have a platform in which they do spell out the Republican Party's position on these sensitive issues.

One of the most sensitive, you raised it, immigration reform. Will -- should the Republican Party, in order to attract more Hispanics, for example, reach out and support comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants here in the United States? FLEISCHER: Yes, nothing has changed since my last answer. The policy issues are going to be handled through the Congress and through the elected representatives of the people. We still have an obligation, though, to look at the party mechanics, the voter database, the fundraising, and the overall messaging. That's the charge of this group.

BLITZER: You know, I'll read to you a line from Maureen Dowd's column in "The New York Times" yesterday. She was talking about the future of the Republican Party, and you guys are going to be taking a close look at how to improve the Republican Party.

She writes this. She writes, "The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world. The GOP universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled bossy, retrogressive white guys."

The point she was trying to make is that, when it came to Hispanics, African-Americans, women, for example, young people, Republicans didn't do that well. When it came to white guys, the Republicans still do well.

FLEISCHER: And that's why I salute Chairman Reince Priebus for forming this community to take a look at these very heart-and-soul issues of what makes a party win.

And America is changing, and if you don't change with a country while maintaining your principles and your ideology, but making those principles more sellable, more believable, more heartfelt to people in the middle of the country and in all wings of the country, you're not doing your job.

And you know, Ronald Reagan was able to do that, Wolf. Ronald Reagan was able to keep a very conservative base and make it attractive to the middle.

I think there's room in the Republican Party to be a conservative party that has ideas that sell, not only with a conservative base but sells with a group that's much bigger, because our ideas are good ones. And so we cannot be a party of just white people. That's not going to cut it. And when Ronald Reagan was elected, 88 percent of the voters were white. Today it's 72 percent. You do the math.

BLITZER: So how do you go out and reassure nonwhites out there, whether Hispanics, African-Americans, that the Republican Party is a big-tent, all-inclusive kind of party, what for example, Ronald Reagan, you point out, what he used to talk about?

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, you have to have candidates who don't make tragic mistakes. And I'll go right to Indiana and Missouri. We repelled women, our candidates there did, with the statements that they made.

BLITZER: About rape?

FLEISCHER: And we lost elections that absolutely should have been won by the Republican candidates with the statements they made about rape in Missouri and the mistakes they made in Missouri. That's a part of this, too.

The way Republicans present their ideas, we have the best ideas. We have the ideas that give people a chance to climb the economic ladder and make it in this country. That's our message, and that's a message that resonates everywhere, but you have to let people know that you care about them. You have to let them know that their life is important to you and that the things that they're going through, the suffering and difficulties, are things that you can identify with, and you have the best solution to them.

That's where Republicans -- my issue sometimes, as we talk too much like accountants and not enough about people who care about other futures. And that's where the Republican Party has got to keep its ears open. We have to learn, Wolf. We lost in 2012 not only in the presidential but Senate races we should have won with both Tea Party candidates and with mainstream candidates.

BLITZER: So when will you -- when will you come up with your recommendations?


FLEISCHER: ... 2010.

BLITZER: This new group?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: When are you going to come up with your recommendations to the chairman of the party?

FLEISCHER: We're going to do this for about three or four months or so. I think our recommendations are going to be ready to go to the chairman probably in the late winter, early springtime.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to see what you guys come up with. Ari Fleischer, our CNN contributor, thanks very much.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Wolf.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, a Christmas concert attended by President Obama and performance by Psy, performing his hit, "Gangnam Style." Details of the controversy over anti-American lyrics from another song he recorded years ago.





BLITZER: President Obama got a firsthand look at a pop culture phenomenon, and he got a taste of some controversy along with it. Check this out. The president of the United States, he's shaking the hand of the performer called Psy. He's the face of the music and dance craze, "Gangnam Style." Entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner is joining us now. She's got more on what's going on and why some eyebrows were raised. Nischelle, update our viewers.

NISCHELLE TURNER, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Definite eyebrow raising here, Wolf. It's almost impossible to not have heard his song, "Gangnam Style." The rapper performed the hit Sunday at the Christmas in Washington concert, which was, as we saw, attended by President Obama.

But his appearance was shrouded in controversy. That's because a performance video by Psy that was shot roughly eight years ago of a song called "Dear America" recently popped up online. In it, the rapper calls for the death of American troops serving in Iraq. Now, this was not long after the news of the slaying of a South Korea hostage by Iraqi insurgents.

Now, Wolf, I want to give you an idea of why this has struck such a chord with people. Here's some of the lyrics from that performance back in 2004. CNN was able to translate them, and they are pretty shocking.

Now, the song goes in part, "Kill those f'ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives and those who ordered them to torture." It also goes on to say, "Kill them all slowly and painfully, as well as their daughters, mothers, daughter-in-laws and fathers."

Now, you can see why this has gotten a lot of attention. Psy did apologize on Friday, saying that, while it's important to express our opinions, he does regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language he used. He released a statement that said, in part, "I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world."

He also added that the song was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean school girls that was part of the overall anti-war sentiment shared by others around the world at that time.

Now, those school girls that he mentioned were struck and killed by a U.S. military vehicle. Psy also added, Wolf, that he will be forever sorry for any of the pain that the lyrics in that song caused.

BLITZER: Caused some pain. Nischelle, there were some who went -- who believed he shouldn't even have performed...


BLITZER: ... at this annual Christmas in Washington event. Tell us about that.

TURNER: Yes. You know, there was this petition that was posted on, and it requested that Psy not attend, but it was removed, because it violated the site's terms of participation. And as we saw, Wolf, you know, the show went on. Psy actually got to meet the president, and he shook his hand like we saw in that picture there.

BLITZER: Nischelle, thanks very much for that. Kate and I were at the event, Christmas in Washington. It's going to be televised December 21...

BOLDUAN: December 21.

BLITZER: ... 8 p.m. Friday on our sister network, TNT. I go every single year. It's such a lovely event.

BOLDUAN: I look forward to it every year.

BLITZER: And I watched the president. I was sitting right behind him.

BOLDUAN: You were sitting close to him, yes.

BLITZER: He was there with the first lady and their two daughters. They clearly enjoyed what was going on. Psy was, I'll say, from my perspective, amazing as usual.

BOLDUAN: It's hard not to smile when you see that bright red sequined sweater he was wearing at this performance.

BLITZER: Do we have any more of that? Could we play a little bit of that video, "Gangnam Style," at the Christmas in Washington event last night here in Washington? Let's listen.


PSY, RAPPER (singing): ... on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks...

(speaking) No. This is not the reason why I'm here. Let's dance, everybody. Come on.

(singing) Gangnam Style. Gangnam Style.


BLITZER: I tell you, he got the crowd going over there. High- powered people in the audience there. You enjoyed it, right?

BOLDUAN: I absolutely enjoyed the performance.

BLITZER: Look, he apologized. He says he made a horrible mistake. He's a phenomenon, you've got to admit.

BOLDUAN: All right.

BLITZER: Before we go, can you do a little bit of that "Gangnam Style" for our viewers? I've been practicing all day.

BOLDUAN: We both need a more practice.

BLITZER: Not happening.

BOLDUAN: OK. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: U.S. officials are joining the investigation into the plane crash that killed one of the most popular Latina performers in the world.

Jenni Rivera and six others died yesterday when an aging Leer jet went down in a remote mountainous area of northern Mexico. Rivera was a top selling Spanish-language recording artist and a reality TV star in Mexico, as well.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio spoke today about Rivera and her huge fan base in Latin America.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I know that today there are millions of people around the world and in this country that are mourning the loss of a singer by the name of Jenni Rivera, who was a huge star, particularly here in Latin America but in the United States.

She died yesterday evening in a plane crash in northern Mexico. Jenni was a real American success story. She was born in California to immigrants from Mexico. She started working in her father's small record label in Long Beach, California, and she recorded from there, made a number of top hits that made all the charts around the world.

She was recently in Florida to receive a Billboard Award and performed at the Billboard Awards. We saw that on TV. My mom is a huge fan of hers. She's also one of the -- kind of the equivalent of "The Voice" in Mexico on the Telemundo network. And she passed away last night.

Her calling card was she was a singer in a genre of music that's largely dominated by males and yet, she brought a powerful voice to that genre where she sung frankly about her struggles to give her children a better life in this country.

So her death is a real tragedy at a young age, and I know that there are millions of people across the country and around the world mourning her loss today. And she's survived by her five children and her two grandchildren. And our prayers go out to her that God may grant her family the peace to deal with this difficult circumstance.


BOLDUAN: Jenni Rivera was 43 years old. A beautiful, beautiful voice.

BLITZER: Certainly a great tragedy. Meanwhile, tearful apologies today from the two Australian deejays who made last week's prank call to the Duchess of Cambridge's hospital. The nurse who took the call and gave out personal information about the pregnant duchess later died in an apparent suicide. The Australian radio network is shutting down their show.


BLITZER: And Max Foster is joining us now from London. Max, what are these two deejays saying?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying something deeply emotional. They did a round of TV interviews for the Australian TV media. And it was pretty hard to watch in places. They finally broke their silence.

And one of the presenters actually had to ask them if they were stable enough to answer these questions. But they did answer the questions, and here's a bit of sound from one of the interviews they did.


MICHAEL CHRISTIAN, AUSTRALIAN DJ INVOLVED IN PRANK CALL: Shattered, gutted, heartbroken, and obviously, you know, our thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected. And you know, obviously, we're incredibly sorry for the situation and what's happened. And you know, we hope they're doing OK and they're getting support that they need right now. Personally, I'm -- got it.


FOSTER: Well, they're under a huge amount of pressure, Wolf. And if you look at the social media comments around them, the comments on the session's (ph) Facebook book, it's really, really powerful stuff. You can see how they've been affected by this. They didn't intend to kill this nurse, but they are part of this story, and they're struggling to deal with it. They're getting the support of the radio station. The show has been canceled.

BLITZER: Has the nurse's family, Max, reacted?

FOSTER: The nurse's family are asking for privacy, but they did come up to London today. The British MP, Keith Vaz, has taken up their case and has been speaking on their behalf.

And it was -- it was another emotional occasion. You saw, actually, Keith and the husband of Jacintha and her two children standing there. And you can imagine what's going through their minds.

And Keith Vaz is actually quite tough on the hospital here. The MP talked about how the deejays in Australia are getting a lot of support from their bosses. But the hospital hadn't offered support to Jacintha's family in the same way, and they need counseling and psychological support. They need media help, as well. A huge amount of media pressure on them. The hospital denies all of this, saying they have offered support; they just haven't had a response from the family. So a big blame game going on here, and a lot of people are suggesting a witch hunt against the deejays involved here and a bit of a war of words, I have to say, between the British and Australian media about this, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Max Foster on top of this story for us. Max, thanks very much.


BOLDUAN: Very, very tough. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." Check them out.

In Wisconsin, a CNN i-Reporter takes a picture of snow-covered trees.

In China, Christmas tree ornaments are on display in Beijing.

In Florida, FedEx employees sort through packages to be shipped on what they expect to be the busiest day of the year.

And in Japan -- look at this -- Japanese snow monkeys huddle together next to a hot spring in the cold.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

BOLDUAN: If you can even believe it, those monkeys in Japan, not the only monkeys in the news today. Our Jeanne Moos has proof that nothing perks up a humdrum shopping day like a stray monkey in a fancy coat.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You go to IKEA expecting cheap furniture, not expensively dressed monkeys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so bizarre. Like, why is there a monkey at IKEA?

MOOS: There he was, running around in an outfit outside an entrance of the Toronto IKEA in an outfit that freaked everyone out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely faux fur, not a shearling. It's like a faux shearling.

MOOS: Double breasted, no less. The tweets started to fly. "Anyone lose their monkey at IKEA?"

Well, actually, yes. The owner was shopping inside the store when the monkey managed to get out of his crate and then out of the car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the people were trying to, like, call it towards them, but it was very scared. It was darting all over the place. They were trying to get it away from cars.

MOOS: His diaper only detracted a little from what was later described as his favorite jacket. We asked stylist to the stars Robert Verdi to critique the look.

(on camera) How stylish a simian is he?

ROBERT VERDI, STYLIST: I thought for a second that it was an editor that I've seen at Fashion Week.

MOOS (voice-over): OK, it wasn't quite as formal as the red- carpet outfit worn by the primate star of "Hangover, Part 2," but who dresses up to shop at IKEA?

Animal control folks eventually captured the 7-month-old primate. Unfortunately for the monkey's owner, this shopping trip ended with a no-return policy. Because monkeys are prohibited as pets, the owner was fined $240 and had to permanently hand over the little guy, identified as Darwin. He stayed briefly as Toronto Animal Services.

MARY LOU LEIHER, TORONTO ANIMAL SERVICES: He's not happy right now. He's having kind of a bad day.

MOOS: Separation anxiety. He was moved to an Ontario primate sanctuary, where it's hoped Darwin will live happily ever after, but his name will live on as IKEA monkey. He instantly acquired parody Twitter accounts, describing him as lover of fashion. A Connie Stevens song was dedicated to him.

Some speculated he headed for IKEA in search of Swedish meatballs. His image was inserted in an ad for IKEA bedroom furniture.

As for the jacket...

VERDI: I bet he's going to start a trend, and we'll be able to find a version of it at H&M next week.

MOOS: Now, that's evolution.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Nice jacket.

BOLDUAN: You know what?

BLITZER: Is that a jacket or a coat?

BOLDUAN: It's a coat. It's a little fuller. You know, a monkey should be able to look fantastic while shopping, as well. BLITZER: You would look great in that. It gets cold here in Washington.

BOLDUAN: It may be a little small, but...

BLITZER: Well, a bigger size.

BOLDUAN: I'll take anything on my holiday list. You know that. All right. So now I know what Wolf is getting me.

BLITZER: By the way, we forgot to mention Diana Ross was great last night...

BOLDUAN: Fantastic last night.

BLITZER: ... at the Christmas in Washington event. December 21, TNT...

BOLDUAN: Eight p.m.

BLITZER: ... Diana Ross. She's one of my heroes.

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUT FRONT" starts right now.