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Terrorism Ruled out in Plane Crash; Obama's Vision of Hope; Obama Not Sticking Around; Obama Legacy Shrinking; Remembering George Michael; Chiefs Beat Broncos; Steelers Beat Ravens; Cavs beat the Warriors. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: 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 we - about the plane crash?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the recovery operation is still underway, Suzanne, and it's taking place in the Black Sea. It's involving more than 3,500 Russian military personnel that have been deployed on naval vessels and other sort of vessels and aircraft to try and locate the - the wreckage from this - this plane, which is, of course, underneath the Black Sea where it crashed on the early hours of Sunday morning after it had taken off from Sochi, which is a town on the Black Sea coast, en route to Syria.

It's a Tupolev 154 aircraft. It was built in about 1983. So it's quite old. And it's operated by the Russian defense ministry and was carrying not just ordinary Russian troops on board to the - to the Russian air base in Latakia in Syria, but members of the Russian official army choir. It was called the - it's known around the world as the Red Army Choir and it performance internationally. And was expected to give, and was supposed to be giving a New Year's Eve concert to the troops - to entertain the troops in Latakia in Syria, the Russian troops that are stationed there.

In terms of the investigation, they've located big parts of the plane, apparently. We understand they haven't located the flight recorders yet, the black boxes. As you say, Russian officials are ruling out terrorism at this point. They're saying that the more likely cause is pilot error or mechanical failure. But, you know, with a plane like this just dropping off the radar minutes after it took off, you know, and basically disappearing without any mayday call, there are many people in the Russian press and analysts as well who are saying, look, maybe terrorism shouldn't be ruled out at this point. But, again, officials are saying they're not looking into that aspect at this point.

MALVEAUX: Well, Matthew, very, very sad for those families. I know the Russian government is relieved that it's not terrorism, but certainly a very difficult time during the holidays for those families.

Matthew Chance, thank you very much. Good morning. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, in for Carol Costello. Thank you

for joining me. Happy holidays.

President Obama is reflecting now on his time in the White House, and his vision for America with his former chief strategist. CNN's David Axelrod spoke with the president on his podcast, "The Axe Files."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I would argue that during the entire eight years that I've been president, that spirit of America has still been there in all sorts of ways. It manifests itself in communities all across the country. But I think we also saw is that the - the resistance to that vision of America, which has always been there, was always powerful, mobilized and asserted itself powerfully. Mitch McConnell's insight, which I've - I've said, just from a pure tactical perspective -


OBAMA: Was pretty smart and well executed. The degree of discipline that he was able to impose on his caucus was impressive. His insight was that we just have to say no to that. And if we can just throw sand in the gears, then at a time of deep economic crisis, when people are really stressed, really worried, we're already stressed and worried before the crisis, and now are we're - are thinking the - the - the bottom's fallen out of their lives and their home prices are going down, their 401(k)s are evaporating. They're losing their jobs. That if we just say no, then that will puncture the balloon. That all this talk about hope and change and no red state and blue state is - is proven to be a mirage, a fantasy.

Obviously, in the wake of the election, and Trump winning, a lot of people have - have suggested that somehow it really was a fantasy. What - what I would argue is, is that the culture actually did shift. That the majority does buy into the notion of a - a one America that is tolerant and diverse and open, and - and - and full of energy and dynamism and - and the problem is, it doesn't always manifest itself in politics, right? I am confident in this vision because I'm confident that if I - if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it. I know that in conversations that I've had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.


[09:35:29] MALVEAUX: Let's talk more about this with our CNN commentator Bakari Sellers and Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

So, Bakari, let's start with you. I mean I guess I heard a third term for Obama at one point here. But I know - I know the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is going to go nuts over the praise that Obama is giving to Senator Mitch McConnell. This is the guy who vowed that publicly the single goal of the Republicans was to make sure that he was a one-term president. They believed that Obama was undermined from beginning, every turn, getting things done, even obstructing their own projects like building infrastructure. So why go out giving legitimacy or praise to this tactic? Explain that.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what the president was doing in that clip, and what you saw was not necessarily praising the obstruction, not necessarily praising the fact that we have a - a Supreme Court vacancy right now that Merrick Garland has every right to fill, not praising the fact that Mitch McConnell went out of his way to say, let's make Barack Obama a one-term president, but to praise the strategy and to praise the discipline.

Mitch McConnell had a problem and Mitch McConnell did not - I think he is the perfect example or the epitome of not wanting to see the country change.

And that's what we're seeing regardless. It didn't manifest itself in the election. But the country's becoming browner, the country's becoming more diverse, and this is a country that - that is built upon hope and you still have a lot of hopeful people in this country, a country that's diverse and a country that's open. All of those things that Barack Obama spoke about. But Mitch McConnell, I think he highlighted correctly, is the example and the epitome of the diametric opposition to that theory.

MALVEAUX: So, the Democrats, should they basically block Trump at every point, every turn?

SELLERS: Oh, I - I plan on being one of those people that blocks Donald Trump on every turn. I think that the question is whether or not Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer actually want to play ball or not. I think that there are many Democrats, there's a lot of energy, that don't want to see this country going backwards. I think the perfect example is what happened in North Carolina in the North Carolina Republican Party and eroding away of democracy. Now we're having to look at our leaders, and this is going to sound ironic, but does Chuck Schumer, does he actually have the fortitude of McConnell? I think that's the question we're all going to have to ask ourselves.

MALVEAUX: Wow, interesting discussion.

Obama also invest (ph) in the future of the party and let's listen to the strategy behind that.


OBAMA: I want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to - to amplify and lift up the next generation of voices, not just in politics, but in civic life. And I - I have the connections, and I think credibility to be able to do that in some unique ways.

Short-term with respect to the Democratic Party, I think even before I leave here, what I can do is give people some sense of direction. And - and we already started talking about this. I think what I can do is not do it myself, but say to those who are still in the game right now, look, think about this, think about how you're organizing that, you know, what - what are you doing to make sure that young talent is - is out there in the field being supported. So I - I think over the next 45 days what I can say is, here's how I would do it if I were sticking around, but I'm not sticking around.


MALVEAUX: All right, Larry, he's not sticking around, but explain this, describe this. Paint a picture, if you will, of what that might look like, President Obama - a President Obama getting involved, trying to establish and build up this bench for the Democratic Party.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Suzanne, he's established the right goals because he's absolutely correct, the bench is empty. Of course, you have to ask a follow-up question, why is the bench empty for the Democrats? And the answer is, that Barack Obama, during the eight years of his presidency, has lost more positions for the Democratic Party than any president since World War II by a mile. Over - close to 1,000 state legislative posts, a slew of U.S. House members, a slew of U.S. senators, a slew of governors. The party is very weak.

So it's a makeup task. I think he's - he's trying to compensate for the fact that he really wasn't very much of a party builder. He didn't strongly support the DNC in many respects. And the party has virtually no one. People are speculating already about 2020, and you have to strain to think of people who could be credible presidential candidates.

[09:40:08] MALVEAUX: Larry, we did hear that in President Obama's press conference before he left for his vacation that he did, in fact, feel that sense of like perhaps he could have done more - or a disappointment even that he was not able to carry that torch as you had mentioned.

Bakari, I want to talk about this, the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, he is also the vice chairman of President-elect Trump's transition team and he spoke about Obama's election, saying that it was held up by a lot of these executive orders that are likely going to be overturned. So here's how he describes that.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think President Obama is beginning to figure out that his legacy is like one of those dolls that as the air comes out of it shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. He's in this desperate frenzy. What he's actually doing is he's setting up a whole series of things to distract Trump, which will make his liberal allies feel good about Democrats and hate Republicans when Trump rolls them all back.


MALVEAUX: Does he have a point, Bakari? Is there real danger here that this legacy could be upended because of the heady use of executive orders, which can be undone by President Trump? SELLERS: Not - not at all. There are a couple of things I want to

mention. The first is, one of the - one of the president's legacies and one of the things I wish Democrats would have done a better job of explaining, speaking out and talking about the good things is not an executive order, it's actually Obamacare. You look at that first.

You look second - you look at the fact that the economy is coming back. You had a president who inherited the Bush economy, which was in the toilet. And now look at - housing prices are going up. The stock market. People's incomes are going up. And although we have a ways to go, we're in a lot better position than where we were.

And something that Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and many people have not been able to comprehend about Barack Obama is not an executive order, is not a piece of legislation that passed, it's what he means to so many people. This was a scandal-free administration. This was an example, an epitome of quote/unquote #blacklove. You saw he and Michelle, you saw him raise two amazing daughters. I mean this was a White House that was pristine by all standards. And he was an example to so many people around the country. That's something that Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, no one will ever be able to take away from Barack Obama.

MALVEAUX: All right, Bakari Sellers, Larry Sabato, thank you so much. Happy holidays. Appreciate it.

Still to come, remembering the life and the music legacy of George Michael.


[09:45:59] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE MICHAEL, MUSICIAN (singing): Cause I've gotta have faith. Unh, I gotta faith. Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith. I gotta have faith, faith, faith.


MALVEAUX: George Michael's death shocking the world, but it is not just his hits like "Faith" that fans are going to remember. He was a pioneer even outside the music industry. He was raising eyebrows and breaking barriers along the way. He died Sunday, Christmas Day, at the age of 53. And tributes are now pouring in. Here is a live look as the memorial is growing outside his London home.

With me now to talk about his life, his career is Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at "Rolling Stone."

Thank you so much. I mean it was such a shock. He - and he talked about Christmas. He sang about Christmas and that - the fact that he died on Christmas was - it's ironic and tragic, and he was very, very young. But his career did span 30 years. And - and you think about it, right, his first shot at stardom with Wham! and did you really imagine that it would take off as it did as a solo artist? ANTHONY DECURTIS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": Yes, it was

really kind of an extraordinary rise. And - and a shocking death, as you mention, I mean particularly sad coming at the end of a very difficult year, you know, in the music world, for deaths.

MALVEAUX: Uh-huh. Oh, yes.

DECURTIS: And, you know, this one, you know, again, you know, for someone who had a hit called "Last Christmas" with Wham! There was a sense in which, you know, I mean his rise was meteoric with Wham! They were hugely successful. But at the same time, you know, he was somebody who then established a solo career and, you know, struggled with his fame. You know, struggled with, you know, aspects of his personal life. Struggled with his health. But, you know, really to millions and millions of fans who were affected by his music and his life.

MALVEAUX: And let's talk about just who he was. I mean he was beautiful. He was sexy. He was soulful. In the '90s, he released this risque single "I Want Your Sex." And at the time people don't realize, perhaps millennials, but that was pretty controversial back then.

DECURTIS: Yes, it was pretty controversial. And there was a - a sense, you know, there was some element of exactly how self-consciously controversial it was. It was really that heyday of MTV and, you know, putting out a song like that and a video like that, it was bound to, you know, raise eyebrows, as you say, and create a ruckus. But, you know, it was a pretty harmless song for the most part and he went out of his way to kind of, you know, tamp down some of the more kind of extreme responses to it. He was pretty responsible about that.

MALVEAUX: And he also came out in an interview on CNN, this was back in 1998, and I want to play a quick clip of that and talk about that on the other end.


GEORGE MICHAEL, MUSICIAN: I spent the first half of my career being accused of being gay when I hadn't had anything like a gay relationship. And, in fact, I was 27 before that happened to me. So I spent my years growing up being told what my sexually was, really, you know, which was quite - kind of confusing. I don't feel any shame whatsoever, and neither do I think I should.


MALVEAUX: And people don't realize, it was not long ago that that was an amazing act of courage that he did come out the way he did.


MALVEAUX: I mean he was forced to in some ways because of the - the incident - the public incident of his behavior.

DECURTIS: Yes. MALVEAUX: But he also said that he was - he had no shame in it. And he owned it. And that was something that was really pretty extraordinary back then. Talk about what that meant to people.

DECURTIS: I think one of the really most powerful things about it was, you know, he was arrested for lewd behavior in a public restroom. And, you know, this was the kind of thing that would end careers in the past. And, you know, he had - was -=- had complicated feelings about his own sexuality, but he did not run from that. I mean he made a song about it called "Outside," had some fun with it. Did interviews about it. And I think, you know, for the gay community, it really represented a kind of willingness to literally be out there talking about it and, you know, to make people deal with it.

[09:50:11] And, you know, that quote that you ran, I mean, was pretty powerful in a sense that, you know, you sometimes lose sight of, you know, people in their early 20s are still sorting things out. At the same time, as they're really in the public eye, and, you know, how difficult that must have been for him.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And it was played out in public as well, which I'm sure added a whole nother layer to that.

DECURTIS: Of course.

MALVEAUX: But he was really a beautiful person, an extraordinary artist. Anthony DeCurtis, thank you so much for your insight. We really appreciate that this morning.

DECURTIS: My pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

DECURTIS: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And some good news here. Actress Carrie Fisher, she is now in stable condition. Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, tweeting that "Carrie is in stable condition. If there is a change, we will share it. For all her fans and friends, I thank you for your prayers and good wishes." The "Star Wars" actress, she suffered a cardiac medical emergency on Friday. That was aboard a flight from London to Los Angeles.

And we'll be right back.


MALVEAUX: The Chiefs punched their tickets to the playoffs, knocking out the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos at the same time. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Suzanne.

The Chiefs have played second fiddle and have had to watch the Broncos own the AFC West for the last five seasons, but this season the Broncos were ripe for the taking. They don't have some guy named Peyton Manning anymore. So Chiefs fans just knew this is the year. They were even willing to weather the rain and the wind and this blustery conditions, but it wasn't going to stop the die-hard fans from coming out Christmas Day. And Santa wasn't the only big jolly fellow delivering gifts. Look at this. Three hundred and forty-six pound Dontari Poe with a touchdown throw. We have seen it all. The Chief's defensive tackle becomes the heaviest player ever to throw a touchdown pass. Chiefs win 33-10 and the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos, well, they'll be just like us fans, watching the playoffs at home from the couch.

[09:55:11] One of the NFL's most heated rivalries, Steelers/Ravens became an instant Christmas classic and it all came down to this. Steelers down by three, under ten seconds to go. Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, touchdown. Somehow he stretches out like spandex on Santa Claus in some way with three Ravens' defenders draped over him, gets that score. The Steelers clinch the division in front of the home crowd scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter for a jaw-dropping comeback. They win 31-27, knocking their bitter foes out of playoff contention.

To the NBA and fans in Cleveland were hoping their Cavs would light it up against the Warriors. A rematch of last year's finals. And Kyrie Irving, LeBron James came to play. Look at LeBron flush that one down the chimney. He led the way for the Cavs with 31 points. Kyrie Irving was like a fine wine getting better with time. Look at this, 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. This turn-around fadeaway J with 3.4 seconds left was the game winner. It looked like that shot he hit back in the finals in June to win it. Cleveland pulls off a 14-point comeback, Suzanne, in the last ten minutes of the game. They win by one point, one, 109-108.

MALVEAUX: Coy, you're the only person I know who mentions Santa, spandex and wine in giving the sports report. You won me over. Thanks for the update. Appreciate it.

WIRE: You're welcome, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins after a break.


MALVEAUX: Good morning. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, in for Carol Costello. Thanks for joining me. Happy holidays.

[10:00:02] We begin with sad news, however. The sudden death of pop singer George Michael, shocking fans and entertainers around the world.