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Depardieu to Renounce French Citizenship?; Husband Donates Kidney to Move Wife Up Receiving List; Colorado Theater Invites Victim Families to Reopening; New Congress Gets Underway

Aired January 3, 2013 - 15:30   ET



JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Russia's president is taking one French actor's tax revolt to a new level. Gerard Depardieu, recently seen in the film "Life of Pi," denounced his native country over France's plans for a 75 percent tax on millionaires.

And now, President Vladimir Putin has officially offered Depardieu a country to call home. CNN's Jim Bitterman has the story from Paris. Jim?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Vladimir Putin says that if, in fact, Gerard Depardieu wants to come to Russia, good on him and they'll be happy to either give him a passport or some kind of a residency permit if that's what he wants.

He's very well-known in Russia. He's -- had been involved in a number of publicity campaigns and advertising campaigns and very recently he made a film called "Rasputin" about the mad monk of Russia.

And in that -- course of making that film, he is said to have intervened personally with Vladimir Putin who's an old friend of his in order to get permission for the film company to shoot in some of the imperial palaces in Russia.

So, the two men have got a longstanding relationship and, in fact, Depardieu has a relationship with Russia. So, it's probably not so unusual that this proposal would have come down.

It is, however, a little bit of a shock for some French. They have said that -- the kind of things you hear on the street is that, you know, Depardieu may be something of a coward for trying to avoid taxes and leaving the country.

His response, which was contained in a letter that he sent to the prime minister here back before Christmas -- his response was, look, I spent over the last 45 year, 145 million euros on taxes. No one can shame me about how much taxes that I have been paying. I've certainly been done a lot for this country.

He also outlined how many people he employs in his various activities which includes some vineyards and two restaurants and a number of other things.

So, Depardieu, looking like he might accept that offer of Russian nationality and, in fact, leave the country. Joe?

JOHNS: Jim Bitterman in Paris. Thanks for that.

A husband offers up his kidney for donation so his wife would move up on the list of those to receive a kidney and cameras were following the real story on real time. You'll see the video, next.


JOHNS: When Janna Daniels was born with just half a kidney, her parents were told she wouldn't live more than a few days. Amazingly, she survived, but as an adult, was forced to spend 20 hours a week on dialysis.

No one in her family was a donor match and the national waiting list for a new kidney was four-to-five years.

But just two years later, she had a new kidney.

As WTAE's Sheldon Ingram reports, it was all thanks to her husband and a unique program that swaps a kidney for a kidney.


SHELDON INGRAM, REPORTER, WTAE: It's called the shared-donor program. It cuts the time on the waiting list from years to just two.

This is how it works. A person like Janna receives a new kidney as long as she has a relative willing to donate a kidney to someone else anywhere in the United States. You give one to receive one.

So, who will step up for Janna? It's her husband, Shaun. He is a mechanic for Penn DOT.

CORE told Shaun that if he donates a kidney to someone, his wife comes off the waiting list immediately to receive a new kidney in return.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only am helping my loved one, but I get the chance to extend a helping hand to somebody else who's in the exact same situation.

INGRAM: You get to give someone in San Diego a kidney so that your wife can receive one from Wisconsin. How good of a deal is that?

SHAUN DANIELS, JANNA'S HUSBAND: It's a good -- I mean, it's a real good deal.

INGRAM: Not really. After signing up, doctors hit Shaun with horrible news. He was told he was 50 pounds overweight, had high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The ex-Marine was useless as an organ donor and left to feel helpless.

S. DANIELS: They said, you're done. We can't do anything with you.

Devastated, I was pretty hurt. INGRAM: But Shaun spent the next year changing his body and diet. He lost the 50 pounds. Doctors marvel at his effort to give his wife hope.

INGRAM: Her coming off the waiting list as early as she did ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is a big deal. It makes a big difference.

INGRAM: Shaun is rolled into the operating room at AGH at 7:00 a.m. Nearly two hours later, doctors remove his right kidney. A member of CORE carefully wraps the organ and prepares it for flight in San Diego.

With someone else waiting to receive it, Shaun upheld his part of the deal and, now, doctors await the arrival of Janna's new kidney on American Airlines Flight 4133 coming in from Wisconsin through Chicago.

A courier receives the organ and heads to AGH. This brings us into the operating room where we now look in on Janna.

The kidney transplant team is charged with saving Janna's life. The new kidney is in their hands. And after two hours and 40 minutes, Janna's new kidney is in place.


INGRAM: It's now 16 months after the transplant. Janna and Shaun are both healthy, happy and grateful.

For Jana, no more dialysis nor the intrusive grind on her body. She's even book Facebook friends with the kidney donor and what's so special about this story is that when Shaun donated his kidney so that Jana could receive one in return, the couple was actually part of a chain of identical donations across the country that included 60 people.


JOHNS: That was Sheldon Ingram from our affiliate WTAE in Pittsburgh.

The Aurora movie theater where 12 people were killed last summer is reopening, but get this. An invitation went out to families of the victims to attend. One of those family members is pretty upset about it. She's going to join me next.


JOHNS: Disgusting and wholly offensive, that's what families of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre victims are calling an invitation to the reopening of the movie theater to where their loved ones were gunned down.

The renovated theater is scheduled to reopen January 17th with a remembrance ceremony and a movie theater. Families of the victims are invited, but several have responded with a resounding no. They write that the theater company, Cinemark, has shown, quote, "zero compassion for the families of the vehicles whose loved ones were killed in their theater." They call the offer of a free movie ticket "despicable" and say, "Our family members paid for their ticket with their lives."

Sandy Phillips signed that letter to Cinemark. Her daughter, Jessica, was one of the 12 people killed in the Aurora shooting.

Sandy, first, tell us a little bit about Jessica.

SANDY PHILLIPS, MOTHER OF JESSICA GHAWI: Jessie (ph) was an aspiring broadcaster and sports journalist living her dream, working part-time, going to school full-time and had three internships to get her to her goal which was to be a sports journalist and broadcaster in the hockey area.

So, she was a delight. She was a ball of energy. She cared deeply about other people. She was a good kid and a very funny, feisty redhead that we miss very, very much.

JOHNS: Your family and your community still recovering from this tragedy. Do you think this theater should have reopened at all?

PHILLIPS: It's a business and it's a large theater in an area that doesn't have a lot of theaters around. We -- I think most of the families realized it would reopen, but the fact that we were excluded from any input whatsoever -- we still just hear rumors of how it's been redesigned. We don't know.

And we were never asked for any of our -- any of the families were never asked for any input, so we reached out early on to Cinemark, several of the families, before lawsuits were filed and never received a phone call, never received any condolence letters, nothing from Cinemark at all.

So, now, it's very ironic that now that they would want us to participate in a re-opening that none of us would want to participate in.

JOHNS: We asked Cinemark to respond. We were told the theater has no immediate comment.

Is there anything at this point they could do to make it right at this point?

PHILLIPS: They've been so hurtful to us from the very beginning that I don't think there's anything that they could do to make it better.

What they could have done, they should have done months ago from the night of the massacre and they chose not to.

And, now, I think this is just a media ploy to get the families or some of the families perhaps to participate in making them look good and we don't want anything to do with it. It was in poor taste. Most of us have never -- in fact, most of us will never go back into a theater. The scars are way too deep and painful. Maybe perhaps some of those that were wounded, that would be a sense of closure for them and an ability to let them move forward.

For us, it's not. And to not have that sensitivity beforehand and to think through what they were suggesting is really kind of appalling.

JOHNS: Also, the Colorado organization for victim assistance actually e-mailed the invitation out to families.

Were you surprised that a victim's advocacy group would be involved in that?

PHILLIPS: Yes, we were all shocked.

The nine families that have signed the letter, each one of us as we went through the process of opening up that e-mail and reacting to it were just astonished that the one agency that should be protecting us from more assaults and more hurt one that reached out to us.

So, we were very shocked and very appalled.

JOHNS: There's legal action ongoing here. Families are suing Cinemark over the lost of their loved ones.

What's your reaction to this lawsuit?

PHILLIPS: Well, from what I know and most of the families are keeping that between themselves, that is not something that when we do talk with each other that we discuss.

I know that there have been lawsuits filed. We have not filed a lawsuit yet. We know that that is something that we can do and are looking at but we have not made that decision.

So, I can't answer that for the other families. I don't know where they stand and I don't know the ones who have filed.

JOHNS: We're so sorry for your loss, Sandy Phillips. Thank you for sharing your story with us today.

PHILLIPS: Well, thank you for covering the story. It's an important one and we appreciate it very much.

JOHNS: We'll be right back.


JOHNS: We're just minutes away from the top of the hour. That means Wolf Blitzer and "THE SITUATION ROOM."

And, Wolf, pretty fascinating moments involving the re-election of House Speaker John Boehner. Not all Republicans on board. We see it every couple of years. There's always a little bit of intrigue out there. WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Always a little tension. Look, the House of Representatives went -- has, I think, 233 Republicans in this, the 113th session of the House of Representatives, 200 Democrats, two vacancies, if you will.

So, there's always going to be a few people who aren't necessarily all that happy and he's had some issues over the past few days. He voted in favor of the Senate legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. Most of his fellow Republicans in the House voted against that legislation, so there's always going to be a little tension.

But he's starting off, relatively speaking, I think, on a good note. I think he's admired, respected. He's going to have his hands full.

Same Republican leadership, basically, with Eric Cantor, the number two, Kevin McCarthy, the number three. On the Democratic side, Nancy Pelosi is still there with Jim Hoyer and Jim Clyburn.

So, it's basically the same leadership and let's see if there's any difference over the next two years as opposed to the past two years. As you and our viewers remember, it's been pretty bitter.

JOHNS: Yes, that's right, Wolf. It's out with the old, in with the old in some ways, but have you ever seen a time with so much drama at the very end of one Congress and then the start of a new one so suddenly here ...

BLITZER: I don't remember this much drama. And, as you point out, it was even New Year's Eve, New Year's Day. All of us were working non- stop, around the clock to see if that fiscal cliff was going to be averted.

I don't remember ending a session like that, working as hard as we did on a New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

And all the members basically in town. They're supposed to be on their little vacations someplace with their families, but they are all here in Washington getting ready to vote.

So, it was pretty dramatic, the end and now the beginning of this new session.

And guess what? If you liked this, you're going to love what happens over the next few weeks because we have a bunch of cliffs that are about to emerge, a lot of crises, issues that are about to emerge.

I interviewed Erskine Bowles, you know, from the Simpson-Bowles Commission, the former White House chief of staff during the Bill Clinton administration. The interview is going to air in "The Situation Room." He's got some strong words for Democrats and Republicans.

JOHNS: Wolf Blitzer, thanks so much for that. Always good to see you. We'll be looking forward to "The Situation Room," coming up in just minutes.

We're also minutes away from the closing bell on Wall Street. Let's check in with Felicia Taylor. Felicia?

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL'S "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY": Yeah, exactly. We've sort of seen the market go in this range-bound trading today.

Getting some good news on the private sector, adding 215,000 jobs. Jobless claims, though, going up 10,000 to 372,000.

We did also got good news on auto sales. Ford, Chrysler, and GM all having increased sales, but January is going to be a volatile month and then we've got the Federal Reserve minutes and that was -- made available to us that there was some discussion that they may end this bond-buying program that's been propping up the stock market for such a long time and that's exactly what Wall Street doesn't want to hear.

So now we've backed into negative territory and we'll probably end the day down. But frankly, after you've had triple-digit gains on the other two trading days of this week, it's highly unlikely that you would see that kind of gain continue.

So, this little bit of a pullback isn't such a bad thing. And as one analyst says, you know, we only got half a loaf out of Washington. We didn't get the full thing yet. So, we're still waiting to find out if those spending cuts are actually going to happen.


JOHNS: Everyone -- and, Felicia, I do mean everyone -- has been weighing in with thoughts about the fiscal cliff deal. That also includes the country's ratings agencies.


JOHNS: We've got Congress reaching in agreement. So, why are people saying we're still at risk of a downgrade.

TAYLOR: Well, it's that still "half-a-loaf" idea. The deal just wasn't enough. There's plenty of things that are still on the table that haven't been agreed upon.

Moody's said yesterday that, while the deal will raise more than $600 billion in tax revenue, it doesn't produce meaningful improvement when you take a look at the ratio of the government's debt to its output.

Fellow ratings agency Standard & Poor's took a similar tone, saying the agreement did little to put the country's finances on, quote, "more sustainable footing."

You'll hear this refrain from a lot of people down on Wall Street, too. You remember the last time this debt ceiling thing happened and it went -- and it pushed to the ceiling. We lost 635 points on the Dow because we did get a downgrade and now it's out there again.


JOHNS: Felicia Taylor, thanks so much for that. TAYLOR: Sure.

JOHNS: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is planning to return to work next week. We don't know if work includes testifying about that terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton was discharged yesterday from a New York hospital after being treated for a blood clot. Her spokesperson expects her to make a full recovery, but there's no word on when she might testify about Benghazi.

The list of countries without Starbucks continues to shrink. The first Starbucks in Vietnam is expected to open next month in Ho Chi Minh City.

The coffee giant is pushing to expand in China and Asia where it already has some 3,300 stores. Starbucks currently operate in 61 countries. Vietnam will make it 62.

A Michigan man was remodeling his home when he found a treasure trove of loves sent to a World War II veteran. Hubert Sawyers found them hidden above a heating duct in his basement. The love letters from a couple of women belonged to a war veteran who used to live there.

Here's what one letter said.


HUBERT SAWYERS, HOMEOWNER FOUND WORLD WAR II LOVE LETTERS: "Sweetheart, it was hard to see you go this morning knowing that it may be the last time I shall see you for a time. Which we don't know how long it is going to be before we see each other again."

When we saw this, we were just hoping it was, you know, it would be like a bag of bonds or a bag of money, but honestly, it was just really cool.


JOHNS: The letters were from women named Violet and Pat. Sawyers discovered the veteran later had married a woman named Sadie. Maybe that's why the letters were hidden.

And, now, it is just about time for the Wolf Blitzer and "The Situation Room." Wolf?

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much.