Return to Transcripts main page


Pop Superstar George Michael Dies at 53; Netanyahu Lashes Out at Obama Over U.N. Vote; Russian Officials Rule Out Terrorism In Deadly Plane Crash. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Carol Costello. Thanks for joining me. Happy holidays.

Some sad news to report. It happened on Christmas day. It is the sudden death of pop singer George Michael, shocking and saddening entertainers and fans around the world.


GEORGE MICHAEL, SINGER: Wake me up before you go, go. Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo. Wake me up.


MALVEAUX: The Wham! singer shooting to fame in the 1980s with this cult classic. Later, his solo career went on to sell more than 100 million albums. Tributes now pouring in as fans learned the news. His manager suggesting heart failure may be to blame. Our CNN's Ian Lee is live outside the London home with more.

Ian, I loved George Michael. I grew up listening to his music as a teen. And no one was really expecting this. Were they?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A lot of people here behind me, people coming in to pay tribute, are in shock when they learned that George Michael died at 53, as you said, you know, from what we're hearing, heart failure. But when you talk to the people here, this is someone who had a big impact on people's lives. They talked about his great music but also his message of inclusiveness.

One thing that really stood out to me, too, was talking to a father and son and how they're sharing their love of George Michael to the younger generations. But this is a man who had over 100 million albums sold. He also was a strong advocate for the LGBT, as well as AIDS awareness. So this is someone who is leaving a big hole in society, but also, of course, remembered for his music.


MICHAEL: Wake me up before you go, go. Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo. LEE (voice-over): Global super star George Michael launched into pop

culture history in 1984 as half of the British boy due, Wham! Singing the chart topping ballad, "Careless Whisper."

MICHAEL: Time can never mend the careless whisper.

LEE (voice-over): By 1986, Michael launched an incredible solo career. His number one album, "Faith," raising eyebrows with its first single. The risque lyrics and provocative video drawing sharp criticism from those wanting to bring awareness to the growing AIDS epidemic and the need for safe sex.

MICHAEL: I got to have faith, faith, faith.

LEE (voice-over): "Faith" producing four number one singles, including "Father Figure."

MICHAEL: I will be your father figure. Put your tiny hand in mine.

LEE (voice-over): "One More Try."

MICHAEL: Just you.

LEE (voice-over): And "Monkey."

MICHAEL: Why can't you do it? Why can't you set your monkey free?

LEE (voice-over): By the '90s, Michael became a more serious artist, celebrating his independence from the pop machine.

MICHAEL: Freedom, freedom.

LEE (voice-over): Refusing to appear in the video, "Freedom 90," which featured cameos from top models lip-synching his lyrics. But the late '90s were rough for the pop icon. He was arrested by an undercover police officer and charged with engaging in a lewd act at a park in Beverly Hills, leading him to reveal in a CNN interview that he was gay in 1998.

MICHAEL: I don't feel any shame, whatsoever, and neither do I think I should.

LEE (voice-over): In later years, there were drug-related arrests and a nasty car accident in 2010. He served a month in jail for driving under the influence of marijuana.

But his career continued to flourish thanks to his powerful vocals. At nearly 50, Michael, once again, found critical success with his sixth and final album "Symphonica," a creative masterpiece backed by a full orchestra.

MICHAEL: The first time ever I saw your face.

I've been so lucky. I have an amazing, amazing life.

I will be the one who loves you until the end of time. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Suzanne, he truly was a pioneer, as well. In 1985, he was the first pop group, with Wham!, to play in China after the cultural revolution. A lot of bands were jealous that he was the first.

A lot of tributes, though, today, coming in. We have from Elton John saying that, "I'm in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend, the kindest, most generous soul, and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his friends." And then you also have Madonna saying, "Farewell my friend. Another great artist leaves us."

[09:05:02] And, Suzanne, when I think, for me, what I will remember when it comes to his music is the song "Faith." For me, that is the one song that really just spoke to me of his whole catalog.

MALVEAUX: And it really touches you, I agree. "Faith" is really one of the best ones that he did. Ian Lee, thank you so much for the tribute. Really appreciate it.

Moving on to other news, deep anger and dissatisfaction. That is the message that Israel wants to send, calling in 11 ambassadors, calling a U.N. Security Council vote that condemned the country's settlements in the West Bank. Among them, the U.S. Ambassador who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu blasting the Obama administration during his weekly cabinet meeting saying the White House, quote, "initiated and coordinated the vote."

Well, let's discuss more with this with Elise Labott. She's our CNN global affairs correspondent.

Happy holidays, Elise. You and I are both working here. The news never stops. Let's talk about, first, the frosty relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I remember back, in covering Netanyahu's early visit to the White House -- this was in 2010 -- Obama literally left him from a meeting. He got up, announced he was having dinner with Michelle and the girls in the residence, after he wasn't getting anywhere with him on the settlement issue. He says, if there's anything more, you let me know.

Well, Netanyahu was waiting in that Roosevelt room for an hour. They met later after 8:00 in the evening. They still didn't break that impasse. So tell me, Elise, how much of this do you think is personal and how much do you think it is about the settlement issue?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I think it's both. And I think they kind of are miffed with each other. I mean, certainly, these two men had a rocky relationship at best.

You know, there have been times where you've seen in the Oval Office that President Obama felt that he was being lectured to by Prime Minister Netanyahu. And then on the other side, you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu never really felt that, you know, when it obviously the security issues separately and Israel's security separately, that they never felt that the Obama administration had their back. Whether it's on the peace process, the Iran deal, and now with this U.N. vote.

And I think that, you know, a lot of people do this as a parting shot by President Obama against the leader with whom he had a frosty relationship. But U.S. administration officials say, and you've heard from the White House and others, that this issue, this settlements issue, they feel, is an impediment to the peace process, that the settlements are encroaching on what could be a final Palestinian state, and they feel that this kind of takes away the possibility of a two-state solution.

On the Israeli side, they say this resolution in itself takes away the two-state solution.

MALVEAUX: The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, what does Prime Minister Netanyahu accomplish? Obama has just days before his presidency is over, and there's going to be a new U.S. Ambassador, David Friedman, who really is much more aligned with Netanyahu's agenda. So talk about the power of symbolism here.

LABOTT: Well, I mean, they'll deal with the next administration when it comes in and certainly, they've made no secret about their feeling, that they feel the Trump administration will be more friendly to Israel. But I want you to take a listen to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, speaking on "NEW DAY" just moments ago talking about why this is so important, and why they called in the U.S. Ambassador to speak about how they feel the U.S. abandoned Israel. Take a listen.


RON DERMER, ISRAEL'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The reason why the only ambassador that the Prime Minister of Israel met with was the American Ambassador is that's the only country where we have any expectation to actually stand with us at the United Nations.

Look, it's an old story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up. And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up. I think it was a very sad day and really a shameful chapter in the U.S. relations --

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Ambassador, what's the evidence that the United States is behind this gang-up? I've heard that --

DERMER: Well, we have --

LEMON: I've heard that a lot.

DERMER: Yes. Well, we have clear evidence of it. We will present that evidence to the new administration.


LABOTT: And, basically, how the Israelis feel is that the Palestinians have been trying to kind of internationalize the conflict. The U.S. has always been an honest broker in this process. Now, the Palestinians are taking this to the U.N. and other organizations, and they feel that now, with the Obama administration did by letting this resolution through, this in effect helps the Palestinians load their gun to go after Israel in other places.

Certainly, the Palestinians, other countries that voted for them, feel a different way. But Israel really sees this as not only an affront to their sovereignty and other issues but they really feel that the United States abandoned what is a core principle, which is to protect Israel at the United Nations, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Elise, thank you so much for your insight. I want to discuss more on this with David Rohde. He is a CNN global affairs analyst, national security investigations editor for Reuters. Larry Sabato, director of Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. And Julian Zelizer. He's a historian and professor at Princeton University.

[09:10:14] So, David, let's start off with you here. The U.N. Security Council passed this resolution. It was 14-zero. It's the first resolution that was adopted by the Council dealing with Israel and Palestinians in almost eight years now. So the U.S. has broken from its standard practice of vetoing this resolution and abstained, essentially allowing it to go through. Gives us the back story as to how that was decided and the significance of that.

DAVID ROHDE, NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: Well, White House officials have said that they feel that these continued settlements, as Elise talked about, are essentially eliminating the possibility of a two-state solution. The administration, particularly Secretary of State Kerry, has backed that two-state solution. The statements from the U.S. was that they didn't agree with the exact wording of the resolution, but they would abstain to let this pass.

And again, it was a 14-0 vote. Britain, France, Russia, China, Egypt, and Japan as well all voted for this, so it was a loss for Israel diplomatically. But the sense that it's a parting shot from the administration is correct. They've been frustrated, particularly Kerry, as he's tried to negotiate a peace settlement, and the settlements have continued to grow.

MALVEAUX: And, Larry, this is what really struck me. I want to talk about the U.S. relationship with Egypt because it was Egypt that first introduced the resolution, and then after Donald Trump and Egypt's President el-Sisi spoke by phone, Egypt withdrew the resolution. So ultimately, the resolution was picked up by other countries who sponsored it, but what does this say about our longtime ally, Egypt, caving in to pressure from Israel but possibly also the incoming president, Donald Trump?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Egypt, like so many other countries, doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the incoming president who might be in office for four or eight years, so it makes sense that they did what they did. But there's a larger question that's raised there, Suzanne. We normally have that principle of one president at a time. Now,

we're like a world with two sons. We have two presidents at a time and they're dueling about policy. It's not just this Israeli question. It's also Taiwan and China, Russia policy. It's extraordinary. And, of course, it's just a continuation of Donald Trump breaking all the rules.

MALVEAUX: It is pretty extraordinary. Julian, I want to bring in you into the conversation because, in some ways, how Trump has managed to do this is through a series of tweets. One of those tweets was about the U.N. vote, unprecedented actions for the President-elect. He says, first, he urged the U.S. to veto the resolution. After the vote, Trump then tweeted, "At the U.N., things will be different after January 20th."

And then this was on Christmas Eve, "The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway." So, realistically, what are the next steps for the Trump administration?

JULIAN ZELIZER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, look, the President-elect can continue to tweet. He has that power, and he has a bigger platform than most president- elects. The other issue is the pick for ambassador, David Friedman. That's part of what's driving the situation. Friedman is seen as someone very far to the right within the U.S. and even within Israel. And I think Donald Trump will continue to issue these kinds of statement.

I think what President Obama is trying to do is not simply a parting shot to Netanyahu. I think they are worried, the administration, about the direction in which the President-elect is heading, and that it might actually to more danger for Israel if it's open settlement policy. So I think we're going to see more of the same from the President-elect, and I'll see what the administration does in the final few weeks.

MALVEAUX: Sure. And, David, what about the U.S. relationship with the United Nations Security Council? I mean, we heard from Senator Ted Cruz and he really vowed to punish them and he really isn't the only one. His colleague, Lindsey Graham, said this weekend, just take a listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I will respond in kind. Twenty-two percent of the United Nations budget comes from the American taxpayer. And I'm going to lead the charge to withhold funding until they repeal this resolution.


MALVEAUX: So Netanyahu saying that the U.S., quote, "coordinated with other countries" and demanded that the resolution pass, I mean, what is the proof? What do we think has happened here? ROHDE: Again, I haven't heard any details of how the U.S. coordinated

this behind the scenes. Clearly, there have been tensions between the two administrations. But, again, this was the U.N. Security Council that voted for this. I mentioned earlier France, Britain, Russia, China, and Japan, some of those very close American allies. So there's blaming the U.N. as an organization but this is the Security Council itself that voted for this. Those countries should be criticized, as well, if the new administration disagrees with their vote.

MALVEAUX: Julian, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. told CNN this morning that in his words the U.S. is the only country we have any expectations to actually stand with at the United Nations. Do you think that's a fair assessment?

ZELIZER: Well, the fact is, they have. The fact is, the U.S., including this administration, has been very supportive of Israel and they haven't actually pulled back. So I should -- I only wish it would take this as a sign of where relations are, and have been over the last eight years.

I do think the U.S. has been the strongest ally. That is true. I think it will continue to be and I think the question right now, on the table, is the impact of settlements, and what happens with settlement policy, because I think overall, the relationship remains constructive.

MALVEAUX: All right. David Rohde, Larry Sabato, Julianne Zelizer, happy holidays. Thanks for coming in. Appreciate your perspectives. Thank you.

Still to come, Donald Trump says his foundation will close its doors, putting an end to questions over conflicts of interest. But the New York State Attorney General's Office says, not so fast.


MALVEAUX: Donald Trump says he is closing down his foundation. In a Christmas Eve announcement, the president-elect released a statement reading in part, quote, "To avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as president, I've decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways."

The New York Attorney General's Office is putting the brakes on Trump's plan. A spokesman for the foundation says that the foundation cannot legally close until an investigation into the foundation's charitable practices has been completed.

[09:20:11]Ryan Nobles is following our story from Washington. So Ryan, what are the details behind this?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, shutting down his charitable foundation is just one of many steps that the president- elect is expected to take as he separates his personal life from his presidency and logistically it really shouldn't take much to shut the charity down. He currently has no employees. They haven't raised any money in a long time. But legally, as you mentioned, it's a bit of a different story. A spokesperson for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and launched an investigation into the charity during the campaign, said that the foundation cannot dissolve until his investigation is complete.

And Schneiderman has been investigating how Trump used the foundation to settle personal business dealings. Now the much bigger chore for Trump is figuring out how to isolate himself from his vast business interests around the world in a way that avoids potential conflicts of interest when he becomes president.

Now Trump has said that he will outline the process, but the details of that plan won't be revealed until after the New Year. Now, Suzanne, this news comes at the same time as a staff shake-up where Trump's incoming administration.

The man who he had hoped would be his White House communications director, Jason Miller, said that he is not going to take that job because it would be too demanding for his young family. So, a bit of a shake-up there, Suzanne, for Trump's team as he gets set to be inaugurated into office here in the next few weeks.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks much. Appreciate all the details. For more on the dissolution of the Trump Foundation we're joined by Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer, professor of law at the University of Minnesota. Thank you so much for taking your holiday here to be with us.

So first, the New York attorney general says that the Trump foundation can't officially shut down until after the investigation is over. So what happens now?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF OF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS COUNSEL: Well, first of all, I think it's a very good idea to shut it down. This is what I had urged Hillary Clinton to do, to agree to shut down the Clinton Foundation, get her family members out of that if she were elected.

They did not take that step, and I think that promise has been made and I'm glad that Donald Trump is now doing that. But he needs to do the same thing with his businesses because we see here with the New York attorney general exactly the problem is that his political opponents are going to be nipping at his heels.

Whether it's plaintiff's lawyers or attorneys general or anybody else with respect to every one of those business enterprises that he owns or that his family operates. And the New York attorney general is going to keep this investigation open, I don't know how long.

And it's at least helpful that Donald Trump is going to shut down most of the operations of the foundation. But he needs to separate himself from his business interests, or we're going to have a very long four years. Because, as I say, there are lots of opportunities for lots of lawyers to be going after every piece of his business empire and that's what's going on here.

MALVEAUX: And Richard, just to talk about the New York investigation, the Trump Foundation was used for several non-charity causes and back in 2007 spent $30,000 to purchase two large portraits of Trump, which he hung at his resort and then reported $258,000 to settle his lawsuits that Trump was facing. So, he has paid some penalty taxes as a result, but what is left of this investigation? And how significant is this piece?

PAINTER: Well, I don't know the facts of what happened here. I don't have any firsthand knowledge of it. That's what the attorney general, I guess, wants to determine. But the foundation should be shut down for all practical purposes. I believe that's what the president-elect is going to do.

Foundations are a challenge. You need to make sure the foundation is completely independent of your for-profit business enterprises. You cannot have self-dealing in foundations and I don't know whether the rules were violated here or not.

There also are IRS penalties if rules are violated and I assume that if something happened that shouldn't have happened, another penalty would be paid.

I think the foundation, however, should be dissolved for at least all practical purposes as soon as possible. So we don't have any more of this type of thing. It's not what he needs when he's president.

MALVEAUX: And Richard, I imagine it's a pretty simple thing to do. The Trump Foundation, they had no paid employees. The board consisted of five people, Trump his three children and a longtime staffer so according to the filings with the IRS, they just worked half an hour a week. So, this thing could happen rather quickly, don't you think?

PAINTER: Absolutely. I've worked with large foundations, small foundations, and foundations can be dissolved quite easily, merged into other foundations, and I think that this can be done, should be done.

[09:25:05]And the New York attorney general should not stand in the way of facilitating this transition to the Trump presidency, where the president could focus on being president.

Once again he needs to take the initiative with respect to his for- profit business. That's what's a lot more complex than this foundation. So I'm glad to see the willingness on the part of the president-elect to move forward, to separate himself from the foundation.

But he needs to take this step with his businesses and I hope that attorneys general and others are going to, you know, do what they can to let him do it if he's willing to separate himself. MALVEAUX: So Richard, you bring up a very good point and that is the big picture here, of course, is whether or not Trump is going to divest from the investments, the ownership of those businesses that are around the world that, of course would create a potential conflict of interest. That really is the most significant part of this. Richard, thank you so much. Happy holidays. Really appreciate it.

Still to come, President Obama looking now to the future. He says that he's going to share his wisdom, but don't expect to see him at the White House. That interview up next.


MALVEAUX: Russian officials now say pilot error or technical issue may have caused the plane crash that killed all 92 people on board. They are ruling out now terrorism as a possible cause. Russia is observing a national day of mourning today to remember those who were lost. Meanwhile Russian divers have located a large piece of the military plane's hull, 90 feet deep in the Black Sea.

Our CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is live in Moscow. And Matthew, what are some of the new details about this plane crash?