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Carrie Fisher, "Star Wars" Princess Leia, Dead At 60. Defector: North Korea Wants Nukes By End Of 2017; Kerry To Speak On Israeli- Palestinian Conflict Tomorrow; Obama, Abe Meet In Hawaii; Trump Taps Ex-Bush Official To Be Security Adviser; Trump Takes Credit For Holiday Spending, Stock Surge. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 27, 2016 - 15:30   ET


STEVEN THRASHER (via telephone): And some of my colleagues to working with her and so we were, of course, very concerned and hoping we were not going to have to be reminiscing today as we are.

[15:30:07] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: So let's move on to this remarkable time you managed to spend with her at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Just what happened? How did it happen?

THRASHER: It was really just one of the great nights of my life and I can't help but smile when I think about her now. We were going to the White House Correspondents Dinner. She came as our guest. She had not yet started to write for us, but it was just in the beginning works but when I got the invitation, I had never been to the White House Correspondents Dinner. I've never been to anything like that in my life.

And the only thing that I was really focused on was that I was going to get to meet Carrie Fisher and her dog, Gary, who I knew were going to be the stars of the evening, as they were. And Carrie was the last to arrive. We met beforehand in with hotel.

Carrie was the last to arrive with Gary and they utterly stole the show, as they should have. Gary was her emotional support animal. He was about the most delightful dog I've ever met.

My colleague had brought a rubber ducky that had Princess Leia buns on it and that made Carrie extremely happy and we played catch with Carrie and Gary in the bar at the W Hotel, which is the most lighthearted and happiest moment I can think of in my life.

SAVIDGE: It's a wonderful memory and a very personal one because one you enjoy that the rest of us did not. You must have gone into meeting her with pre-conceived notions, "Star Wars" or otherwise and I wonder how they differ from the person and dog lover you got to meet.

THRASHER: Yes, you know, I was certainly a little intimidated. She was somebody -- I was born in 1977, the same year "Star Wars" came out so for everyone my age it has an incredible mark left on my lives from Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, but as I became a writer, "When Harry Met Sally" was a formidable film and she as Marie is one of the great performances of her career that should be remembered in the coming days. But Carrie Fisher has written eight books. She worked on many screenplays so I was intimidated to meet her as a writer and I thought she wouldn't want to talk about "Star Wars." She had an incredibly lighthearted way of talking about it, she had a self-deprecating sense of humor that wasn't mean. It was healthfully self-deprecating.

And throughout the night people kept coming up to her and she was totally gracious in talking about it. But I don't think I was expecting how funny she was. She had no problem getting on the floor and playing catch in the W Hotel.

When we got seated at our table in the White House Correspondents Dinner, the people next to us were really offended that Gary was there.

SAVIDGE: Really?

THRASHER: They never expected a dog being in the White House Correspondents' Dinner so Carrie actually left. She left and took the dog back to the hotel, but then she came back just in time for Obama speaking and she sat down next to me and I had the wonderful opportunity to hear her running commentary.

She loved Obama. She kind of made fun of him when she thought he was being too naive but she laughed a lot with him, had a lot of respect for him and she lit up like a kid when he had a line about "Star Wars" in his speech.

And it was really just beautiful to see her face lighting up with the same kind of delight my face had and so many people had when they watched her on screen.

SAVIDGE: Obviously in Washington they haven't realized that they need more dogs and more animals to help liven up and perhaps lighten up the mood there.


SAVIDGE: Are you going to write about that whole experience? Will you put this down somewhere or will it remain in this interview?

THRASHER: I'm writing a piece, it will be up hopefully later today or tomorrow. I thought this would be something I would put out much later, but as I've had the experience of so many people who have died this year, Prince and others, I found that there is just kind of, I hope, a healing experience for readers and writers to share what it is that we love about these people when they pass.

And so I hope that the joy I have that is of some comfort to other people because she was a wonder person and it's so unusual that for me to get to people meet that I've seen on screen for so long and it was great to find out she was this warm funny and odd -- just really odd.

And I so admired the way she talked about youth and beauty not being things you earn, they just happen to you and then she went out and build a beautiful wonderful life as a writer and artist and actor and I'm glad that I got to cross paths with her.

SAVIDGE: Yes, all right. Steven Thrasher, thank you very much for adding depth to the princess we all knew. Thank you.

[15:35:04]Next, moving on to something completely different, the bruising fight between Israel and the United States. Israel says it has evidence that the U.S. worked behind the scenes to get the vote passed at the United Nations.

And what we just learned about Secretary of State John Kerry and the speech he plans to give on Middle East peace.

Plus, is North Korea determined to get a nuclear weapon? A former North Korean official is revealing all. We'll have that after this.


BLACKWELL: We've just received a chilling warning about North Korea from a top official who recently defected. He says the country's leader, Kim Jong-Un, is determined to finish developing the nation's nuclear weapon program by the end of next year, which I believe is ahead of many predictions I've heard so far.

CNN's Barbara Starr is with us joining us from the Pentagon. Barbara, who is this defector and what else is he saying?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Martin. This man was the deputy ambassador in London and defected several months ago, as you said. He has surfaced again in a news briefing saying that Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea, will do everything he can to get a nuclear weapons program up and running by the end of next year.

That may be a little bit faster than the U.S. intelligence community predicts it could be but it is an indication of rare insight into the regime and how committed it is to nuclear weapons. He says Kim would forsake trillions in currency to keep with the nuclear program.

Now the North Koreans have been testing missiles. They've been conducting underground nuclear tests. They're doing everything they can to get there.

[15:40:04]Do they have some challenges ahead? Yes. But that may not really be the point, the point is this is a big signal that Kim Jong- Un is determined to get a nuclear weapon that could potentially strike the United States and that put this as a potential threat front and center for Donald Trump as he prepares to take office -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: No question, that is some wonderful insight, I guess, although frightening as it sounds coming from this recent defector from North Korea. Barbara Starr reporting to us from the Pentagon. Thank you very much.

Just in, with 24 days left in office, Secretary of State John Kerry is said getting ready to outline a Middle East peace plan tomorrow. We'll go live to Israel next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAVIDGE: Israel's going ahead with a plan to build hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem, that's defying a U.N. resolution condemning settlement construction there in what the international community refers to as occupied territory.

The resolution led to a bitter war of words between the Israeli prime minister and the White House because although the U.S. abstained from the vote, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN they have, quote, "ironclad information," unquote, that the U.S. pushed for the resolution. That's a claim the U.S. denies.

CNN's Oren Lieberman is live in Jerusalem for us. And before we get to the news of the building in East Jerusalem, we have some other news that's just in, that's that Secretary of State John Kerry is going to give a speech tomorrow at the State Department on Israel. What more are you learning about this?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've checked to see what the prime minister's office and a number of other ministers here to see if there's a sort of a preemptive strike at the speech and so far right now, everyone is waiting to see what the plan is.

But I suspect it won't change Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position even one iota. He made it clear that Israel has no intention of abiding by the resolution and now that brings us to the building plans for East Jerusalem.

[15:45:10]The plans in the city of Jerusalem, that is to say the Jerusalem municipality, offer hundreds of homes in East Jerusalem. Those plans were on the agenda before the Security Council vote and that's the point, they're staying on the agenda.

The city of Jerusalem is effectively ignoring the Security Council resolution as is, for now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who again says he has no intention of Israel abiding by this resolution -- Martin.

BLACKWELL: All right, Oren Lieberman, thanks very much for that update.

Breaking news, our first images of Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holding their last bilateral meeting together where they will discuss security, economic, and global challenges. This is seven months after President Barack Obama traveled to Hiroshima to pay his respects to the thousands who died there.

The leaders will deliver remarks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor this afternoon and they will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the USS "Arizona" Memorial. When that happens we'll bring it live.

Let's have a bigger conversation on this and much more in politics now with CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN politics editor, Juana Summers. Dana, let me start with you. Trump weighed in on the U.N. resolution against Israel's expansion. He tweeted, it's a common practice, and here's what he said, "The United Nations has such great potential but right now it's just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad."

Dana, how do you think the Republican lawmakers are taking that kind of talk and is it going to influence John Kerry's speech tomorrow?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there are a lot of Republican lawmakers who agree with him on that and they are emboldened with that notion certainly by what happened before Christmas with the U.N. Security resolution.

Already -- immediately after that resolution passed, the one condemning Israel for settlements, Lindsey Graham and other Republicans and frankly even some very staunchly pro-Israel Democrats were saying that they want to withhold funding to the U.N.

And it's not so much just about this resolution or maybe even, you know, having fancy parties and doing a lot of talking but not a lot of action, it's what they haven't done. And you know this, they haven't acted as forcefully as many people, including Pope Francis, has called for them to do, on Aleppo or other hot spots.

Places where there are serious refugee crises around the world and instead they focused on something like what they did on Friday, which certainly made the Palestinians very happy. They felt they had a plight that was not listened to until then.

But I think that really kind of speaks to what Donald Trump was getting at there and he does have a fair amount of support for that notion in Congress.

SAVIDGE: There's no question the U.N. has some grand failings. There's a lot of successes that really go underreported. Juana, am I saying it right?


SAVIDGE: Juana, all right, thank you very much. Let's turn to the transition. The president-elect has just tapped a former Bush administration official to be his top adviser on I think it's cyber security and counterterrorism.

So the Trump team says that Thomas Bossert's position was elevated -- that's how they put it -- so he is now equal to national security adviser and that's Retired General Michael Flynn, who has called Islam a political ideology. My question is this, is that a good balance and what does this selection say about what Trump envisions going forward?

SUMMERS: So Thomas Bossert is someone known both from his colleagues in the Bush White House as well as those on Capitol Bill as someone who is capable, who is knowledgeable about the threats facing the nation particularly in issues like cybercrimes, which are going to be a huge priority of the next administration, you know, what we've seen in the most recent weeks and months.

So to me when I look at that pick alongside a pick like Lieutenant General Flynn that shows a calculation from the Trump team that they want to take attention away, perhaps, show some balance between these two men obviously with Lieutenant General Flynn having the criticisms and the scrutiny that you've mentioned over his ties to Russia, comments on Islam and peddling of what some would call as conspiracy theories.

So it looks like there may be a seeking a little balance. It will be interesting to see how those key positions work together in a Trump White House come January.

SAVIDGE: Balance is obviously a good thing, but then if it leads to sort of fighting back and forth it's not a good thing, isn't it?

BASH: Exactly, and Marty, just sort of genesis of this position, it's only began after 9/11 in the Bush administration, he had the first homeland security adviser and that was a separate position, separate staff from the national security adviser.

[15:50:10]The Obama team blended them together because they felt, just to your point, that there was so much overlap that they needed to work together. Well, now I am told that it will be a bit more separated to, in the words of the Trump transition, elevate the homeland security adviser who will now also focus a lot on cyber security.

So you know, I and my colleagues are as well getting some pushback from Obama officials today, some calls saying, wait a minute. What does that even mean? The current homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, has direct and immediate access to the president.

She has the ability to walk into the oval whenever she wants. She has a prime seat at the principal's meeting, the national security meeting that President Obama runs. So what difference does it make?

Which lead to Juana's point which is something we can safely lean into, which is to give people in Washington and, frankly, around the country who are a little bit concerned about some of the things that General Flynn has said, a little bit of hope and a sigh of relief that they have somebody in there that they are more comfortable with.

SAVIDGE: Might be a bit more of a moderate maybe. We'll see. Moving the discussion on, CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, interviewed Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Graham says when it comes to Putin and Russia's interference with the U.S. election nearly the entire Senate disagrees with President-elect Trump. Listen.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He's had multiple opportunities and I do want you to answer Senator Graham to both before and after the election, to accept that assessment, and yet he's doubled and tripled down on talking about a cozier relationship with Putin, denying the intelligence community's assessment. What are you going to do, Senator Graham and Senator McCain, if he doesn't change his tune, in effect, on Russia?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R): There are a hundred United States senators. Amy Klobuchar is on the trip with us. She is a Democrat from Minnesota. I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this, and we're going to do something about it, along with Senator McCain after this trip is over, we'll have the hearings and put sanctions together that hit Putin as an individual, and his inner circle, for interfering in our election.

They're doing it all over the world, not just in the United States. Estonia is hit all the time. They're interfering in elections in democratic countries' efforts to self-determination all over the world. Just not in our back yard.


SAVIDGE: This is not the sort of thing a new president, a new administration, wants to be bogged down with right off the start, is it?

SUMMERS: No, it's absolutely not. I think this kind of foreshadows what we'll see as a fascinating dynamic between Capitol Hill Republicans and President-elect Trump's administration when it comes to foreign policy and a bevy of issues. This is a particular issue that Senator Graham noted in that interview with Jim Sciutto has drawn together Republicans and Democrats, with the White House not on the same side of it for this one.

SAVIDGE: Yes. Well, we've seen how this can start off badly. Let's hope it does not. Dana Bash, Juana Summers, thank you both.

Next, record holiday sales this season. Donald Trump is taking credit for it. Is his election really giving the economy a boost already?



SAVIDGE: Christmas is over. The gifts are in hand. As Americans were expected to spend more this holiday season and one survey of retailers indicates that holiday sales may actually exceed $1 trillion.

President-elect Donald Trump is crediting his win for the big boost in sales. He tweeted, quote, "Before I won there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars," unquote.

So let's talk about this cause and the Trump possible effect with CNN Money's Cristina Alesci. Cristina, nice to see you. So does the credit for the record holiday spending and the market going up really all belong to Trump?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't. Predominantly because the number that he seems to be referencing is a three-month-old estimate. We won't know what retail sales are for a little while until the government comes out with the number.

Let's keep in mind also, the economy has been doing fairly well now. In fact, the market is up over 200 percent since the bottom back in 2009. So we have seen a steady increase.

Look, was there an increase since the election? Absolutely. About 9 percent and that is attributable in part to certainty over who will be president.

Also, let's keep in mind that Congress is now controlled by one party. So investors are seeing that as a sign that some of the gridlock will be cleared up in Washington and investors are bullish on the fact that we might get tax cuts as a result of the new administration.

If you want to take credit on that front, that's fine. But it's important to reiterate the larger context, which is this market has been on a tear for quite some time now.

SAVIDGE: But there were some, I know at the outcome of the election, who were fearing some kind of economic meltdown or just that the markets would react negatively for maybe a week or so. That never happened. They just continued to go right on up as if nothing had happened.

ALESCI: Yes, because Trump had talked about, for a long time, reducing taxes, especially on corporate America and reducing regulation. So once the market got clarity on who the president would be and they got clarity on his policies, you know, that helped boost prices.

But here is the thing to keep in mind, now that that's been baked into the market, many market participants are questioning whether or not these indices have gone too far too fast and whether or not all the positive information has been baked in.

And we have yet to see whether or not, A, Trump can pull off the policies that he has been talking about and, B, that consumers and companies react in the way that investors want them to react. What does that mean?

That means that, instead of saving the tax savings, that they'll actually spend them because that is going to be what drives economic growth at the end of the day.

SAVIDGE: All right. We'll see if we're going to break 20,000 before the end of the year. Cristina Alesci, thanks very much for joining us. I am Martin Savidge. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Martin. I sense a great and sad disturbance in the force. "THE LEAD" starts right now.