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Ethnic Chinese Uighurs Freed from Guantanamo; Fast and Furious Gun Found at Mexican Shootout; 2013's Political Highs, Lows; Is 2014 the Year of the Boomer?; People We Lost in 2013

Aired December 31, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Nobody was hurt in the crash but firefighters had to let the fire burn itself out. The fire was so intense, they could not get close enough to fight it. The sheriff says more than half the people in the area left their homes just to be safe.

The Pentagon is calling the transfer of the last ethnic Chinese Uighurs from Guantanamo Bay to Slovakia a significant milestone. Here's another way of looking at it. The U.S. has finally freed three people who spent a decade locked up for nothing. In case you forgot, Uighurs are an ethnic group, mostly Muslim, in Asia. This group of 22 Uighurs, specifically, had been living in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan in a camp run by a Uighur independence group with evidence some of them intended to fight the Chinese government. After 9/11, U.S. aerial strikes destroyed their camp. They fled to Pakistan. They were captured and sent to Guantanamo. The "New York Times" says leaked files indicate the U.S. military knew 10 years ago that these prisoners at Guantanamo had no ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban and they recommended their release. So why are we talking about their new freedom on the last day of 2013? For one thing, Washington did not want to send them back to China for fear the Uighurs would be tortured, if not worse, by the Chinese government. Other countries caved in to Chinese arm twisting and refused to take them. In 2009, the Obama administration fought a judge's order to release them in Virginia, though administration officials did spend years trying to find homes for them in other countries. Many advocates for closing Guantanamo see the release of the final Uighur prisoner from Guantanamo -- 22 men who never should have been there -- as an important moment. 155 prisoners remain in the detainee facility. Roughly half of them have been cleared for release.

And the Obama administration put out some new figures on Obamacare enrollment. It says more than 2.1 million people have signed up for coverage through federal and state exchanges. That's more than a million short of the original goal. And it hardly means all these people will be covered any time soon. The "Wall Street Journal" pointing out that, as of this week, about half the enrollees have actually forked out any money. The premium for the first month has to be paid for the health coverage to take effect. But because of all the enrollment deadline extensions, insurance companies have also extended their payment deadlines, some as late as January 31st.

Coming up on "The Lead," sure, there was a lot of political bashing this year but there was some good news to come out of Washington, too -- I think. Give me a few minutes to remember. I'm sure I can come up with something. Our political panel is next.


TAPPER: Coming to you live from Moore, Oklahoma, where there is only one lead today, the race to find survivors in this unreal destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just trying to save the pictures for my son, the little things that mean the most to my family.



TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead."

In national news, a story that you're seeing first right here on CNN. Remember Operation Fast and Furious, when the ATF allowed illegal gun sales in the hopes of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels? What could go wrong? The ATF ended up losing an estimated 1400 weapons in Mexico, and now it seems at least one of them has turned up at the scene of yet another deadly showdown just across our border.

Our CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, broke the story and joins us now.

Evan, what have you uncovered?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a U.S. official tells me this afternoon that at least one gun recovered at the scene of a December 18th shootout between Mexican authorities and cartel gunmen has been traced back to Operation Fast and Furious. Now, this AK-47- style gun was recovered by Mexican authorities near the scene there, and they sent it back to be traced by American authorities. The ATF does the tracing, and that has come back as being sourced as part of this operation that went on in 2010.

TAPPER: This resort is popular with Americans, I believe, right?

PEREZ: Right. This is on the Sea of Cortez, just south of the Arizona border. It's very popular with ex-patriots from the U.S., mostly from California and Arizona.

Now, this American tourist captured some of the shootout. You can listen here.




PEREZ: Jake, if you listen closely, you hear the sound of a helicopter hovering around these resorts, these condos. And at the scene, apparently, tourists kept tweeting and sending pictures out on Facebook of helicopter gunships belonging to the Mexican military or the police that were shooting at these cartel guys, trying to get away. We're told that five people died, including possibly a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Now, the ATF has provided a statement to us this afternoon in light of this and they say: "The ATF has accepted responsibility for the mistakes made in the Fast and Furious investigation. And at the attorney general's direction, we have taken appropriate and decisive action to ensure that these errors will not be repeated. And we acknowledge that, regrettably, firearms related to the Fast and Furious investigation will likely continue to be recovered at future crime scenes."

Now, Jake, as you said at the top of the hour there, these weapons are probably, for the next few years, probably for the next decade, will continue to be showing up at crime scenes both in Mexico and some here in the United States -- Jake?

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Turning to politics, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A year of dizzying highs and abysmal lows, heroic wins and crushing losses, filibusters and feuds, flubs, even a few precious moments of compromise. What events defined 2013 and which will set the stage for the New Year?

Let's bring in our panel, "National Review" senior editor, Ramesh Ponnuru; host at "The Washington Post" "In Play," Jackie Kucinich; and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile.

Let's start on a high note for our categories.

Hi, Donna. Look at that.



TAPPER: You're going -- you should celebrate tonight because you won't be celebrating Sunday when the Eagles play the Saints. I want to make sure we establish that.



TAPPER: Let's talk about a high note. Let's talk about a glimmer of hope. What is your glimmer of hope for 2014, looking back at the year?

I'll start with you, Jackie.

JACKIE KUCINICH, HOST, IN PLAY AT THE WASHINGTON POST: I will say the Senate budget deal. It had everything. It had Paul Ryan, Patty Murray, opposite ends of the spectrum. It had both houses voting for it, a presidential signature. How legislation should work. What does that say about the future? Hopefully, they follow that example.

TAPPER: Ramesh, best news of 2013?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Skepticism about government remains at a healthy level. It's actually rising. And on a bipartisan note, I have to give some credit to President Obama for helping to generate a lot of that skepticism.


TAPPER: I thought you were going to compliment him there. I guess not. But it's still good news I suppose for skeptics of government.

Donna, the best news of 2013.

BRAZILE: Well, 2013 was a very historic year. The 150th anniversary of the emancipation -- signing the Emancipation Proclamation. It was also the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's historic march on Washington, D.C., where we saw three presidents and the daughters of two former presidents gather to renew the dream.

TAPPER: Some very nice moments.

Now let's go to the not-so-nice moments. Biggest mistake of 2013.

Donna, I will start with you.

BRAZILE: Well, no question, the Republican government shutdown was a miscalculation of Ted Cruz. I think it hurt the party.

TAPPER: Government shutdown, the biggest thing?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. It slowed the momentum of the economy and it created a lot of doubt and uncertainty about government. So that is the biggest political blunder of 2013.

TAPPER: Your biggest mistake feeds into his glimmer of hope.

Ramesh, the biggest mistake of 2013?

PONNURU: I think the botched implementation of Obamacare. It's the signature initiative of the administration, Obamacare. They should have at least delayed their launch if they couldn't get it right.

TAPPER: In retrospect, you're saying they should have delayed it, that was their mistake?

PONNURU: Absolutely.


Jackie, biggest mistake of 2013? The thing that you hated the most?

KUCINICH: Carlos Danger.


TAPPER: The nom de plume of former Congressman Anthony Weiner. KUCINICH: Absolutely. It was kind of a disaster from start to finish. He tried to run for mayor, didn't work out too well. We covered it wall to wall and it was a mess.

TAPPER: Was it really the worst thing that happened? It was very -- very --

KUCINICH: He took Obamacare implementation. So I had to go to the second.


TAPPER: And I guess when you get into Carlos Danger, you get into Sydney Leathers. You get in --

KUCINICH: Must we?


TAPPER: We don't necessarily have to. I just think there's a whole package that comes with Carlos Danger.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. No pun intended.


TAPPER: Right. I certainly did not mean it.

All right, rising star of 2013. Let's turn to another positive moment.

Who do you think -- you can do two because we have a conservative and progressive. So you do two.

KUCINICH: I'm going to say Kristen Gillibrand, Democratic Senator from New York, and Rand Paul, from Kentucky. Both have fascinating records. Both are working across the aisle on various things and plan to do so going into 2014. We should really keep an eye on them.

TAPPER: Rand Paul I think has made no secret he will probably run for president.

KUCINICH: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Do you think Gillibrand would run for president if Hillary Clinton does not?

KUCINICH: I don't think so. But her fundraising will be something to watch in 2014 and 2016. She's known as this extraordinary fundraiser. That's just going to continue, which will rise her influence in the party.

TAPPER: Ramesh?

PONNURU: Tom Cotton, of Arkansas. He wasn't even in the U.S. House when 2013 started. He had just been elected. Now he's running for the Senate. Some polls have him ahead of the incumbent Democrat, Mark Pryor.

TAPPER: Tell us a little about him. I think you're right. We will see more of him in 2014.

PONNURU: He's a very thoughtful guy. He's a veteran. And I think he's younger than me. He's one of the Republicans' top hopes for taking back the Senate.

TAPPER: Did he go to Harvard --

PONNURU: I've heard that he --

TAPPER: Harvard Law School or Harvard Business School?

PONNURU: Harvard law. I don't know if the Harvard thing is being advertised so much.

TAPPER: It's funny how you didn't mention that.


I wonder if he does.

But, Tom Cotton, rising star for you.

Donna, who is a rising star?

BRAZILE: A nonpolitical star but nevertheless, a star. That is the new pope. Pope Francis I think is leading by example rather than throwing books at sinners. He's opening the church to people to come back. I think he will be someone to watch.

TAPPER: He certainly -- he's won all sorts of -- "Time" magazine "Man of the Year," all sorts of other awards.

Let's take a lighter moment now and talk about pop culture moments, which ones meant the most to you.

Donna, let's start with you.

This is not actually your personal favorite pop culture moment but it's one that led to your personal pop culture favorite moment of the year. Let's play the tape.




TAPPER: Beyonce at the inaugural, possibly lip syncing. We were told she ultimately was.

Your favorite moment is not that one. Your favorite moment is the one at the NFL, which is what? BRAZILE: Her performance at the Super Bowl. This is a superstar. I am first of all a charter member of the single ladies club, so I love her. I went to her concert. I just got her new album. 17 videos, self-marketed album. Beyonce recovered from that lip-syncing. She is someone to watch.

TAPPER: Quite a year.

Ramesh, your favorite moment of the year, pop culture, was this one.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think of me. I am the one who knocks.


TAPPER: You're not going to give any spoilers. But "Breaking Bad" very important for you.

PONNURU: I will just tell people who didn't watch that it finished its excellent run this year. It was a gripping story, was exceptionally well performed, and had a very important moral in it, which is think twice about that midlife career change.

TAPPER: Think twice.

Very quickly, Jackie, here was your guilty pleasure, your pop culture moment of the year.

Roll the tape.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Gatsby, he had a grand vision for his life since he was a boy.


KUCINICH: I like it. It's one of my favorite books. I thought the movie was really well done.

TAPPER: All right.

Jackie, Ramesh, Donna, hope you have a very amazing 2014 --


BRAZILE: Go, Saints!

TAPPER: Go Saints for you, not for me.

But I hope you guys have a wonderful new year. Thank you for being here. See you in the New Year.

If you have your thoughts about what your favorite moment was for 2014, tweet them to us, @theleadCNN.

Coming up, the modern age for the silver age. The hilarious P.J. O'Rourke joins us to share why he thinks 2014 will be a big year for boomers.

And in our pop lead, lives lived and lost this year. Who will you remember?

But first, a look back at a terrifying moment from this year's headlines.


TAPPER: Coming to you live from what is essentially an active crime scene in southeast Washington, D.C. Right near the Washington Navy Yard, where 13 people were killed today in a mass shooting that includes the suspected gunman.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for our Buried Lead, stories we think are not getting enough attention. Now if 2013 was the year of the selfie, what will 2014 be? If you believe AARP magazine, it will be the year of the boomer because 2014 is when the last of the boomer generation turns 50.

Although we should be honest, AARP is probably catering to their demographic. I don't think anyone had bets on them calling 2014 the year of legal pot. Earlier, I spoke to P.J. O'Rourke, journalist and author of "The Baby Boom" and I asked him what ties all the different kinds of baby boomers together.


P.J. O'ROURKE, JOURNALIST: One is a self-involvement, a terrific self-involvement, which I don't necessarily see as an evil. I'm an individualist myself. I think there are some important reasons to be individualistic. The thing that really ties them together is being raised in an era of peace, prosperity, economic growth, stability and optimism.

That post-war period from 1946 to 1964 or so, from World War II to the beginning of our involvement in Vietnam, is a time that the baby boomers were born. It was an extraordinary period, not just in the history of the United States, but the history of all of humanity. So it's a great experiment. What kind of people do you get when you produce a society that is so beneficent as that society was.

TAPPER: And what's the answer? What kind of people do you get?

O'ROURKE: Sloppy, self-involved people who however are very funny, not speaking for myself here, I'm speaking for "Saturday Night Live" who are very funny, very tolerant and decent, who don't start a lot of world wars, who really care about other people, and who are easy to make fun of, and yet basically do very little harm in the world if you don't count the enormous budget deficits that result from the pure fact of our existence which come on, we didn't ask to be born. It's not our fault.

TAPPER: Just a little $17 trillion between friends.

O'ROURKE: A little $17 trillion. But you know, as I continually say about practically everything and so does the rest of my generation, it wasn't my fault. We didn't pass social security. We didn't pass Medicare. We didn't pass Medicaid. Of course, all those things were passed by a silly older generation that thought everyone should die at 65 and five months.

TAPPER: Well, that was the plan.

O'ROURKE: That was the plan, but we're not going for it. We're living forever.

TAPPER: The youngest boomers turn 50 next year.

O'ROURKE: This is it. You know, this is a very big thing. I just did a piece essentially about this for AARP, the magazine, and it is a big, big year for AARP. They're not a punch line anymore. It is not how do you find Osama Bin Laden, wait until he turns 50, AARP will track him down.

Yes, we're all, the world is now over 50 and I got a plug here,, find out a lot more about that, but plug done, it's an important point because as we all know, whenever anything happens, it's somebody over 50 who signs the check for it. So we're large and in charge.

TAPPER: We certainly are. You write in your book, we would be sad about getting old if we weren't too busy remarrying younger wives, reviving careers that hit glass ceilings when children arrived and renewing prescriptions for drugs that keep us from being sad.

O'ROURKE: If you're waiting for us to become sad old people, keep waiting. We know the answer to that one.

TAPPER: All right, fantastic work. Great having you on the show, I really appreciate it.


TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, we look back at the people we lost in 2013.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Pop Culture Lead now, as we look back on the year we cannot help, but reflects on the many legends we lost in 2013.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we ought to negotiate and come up with something that's acceptable to the president and acceptable to the Congress.

ANNOUNCER: Esther Williams and the world premiere. Who could ask for more?


TAPPER: Of course, we should never forget the American forces we lost over the past year. We can only hope they know and knew the depths of our gratitude for their service and sacrifice. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Happy New Year to you. Thanks for watching. I now turn you over to Dana Bash, who is filling in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."