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Israel Says U.S. Orchestrated Recent U.N. Vote on Israel Settlements; Israel Says Looks Forward to Trump Administration; Obama Says He Could Have Beat Trump in Election; Trump to Dissolve Charitable Foundation; Remembering George Michael. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 27, 2016 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:09] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta.

Ahead this hour --


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: I'm Rosemary Church. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

HOWELL: Good day to you. It is 2:00 a.m. on the east coast.

First to Israel. The spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu says that proof is ironclad that the United States orchestrated a recent U.N. Security Council vote on Friday condemning Israeli settlements in both West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

CHURCH: The U.S. has denied that. But Mr. Netanyahu is furious about it. Now he is limiting ties with all 12 U.N. Security Council members who approved that resolution. The U.S. abstained rather than vetoing, which allowed the measure to pass.

A Palestinian official said this is not an about-face for Washington.


UNIDENTIFIED PALESTINIAN OFFICIAL: We have been hearing a lot of encouraging statements from the current administration, and urging them to translate your statements in to action. The United States did what conforms with its long-standing policies since the days of Lyndon Johnson in 1967. Ronald Reagan, the Republican president, used abstention seven times during his two terms as president of the United States to allow resolutions and to condemn certain activist. So, the U.S. is doing what they have done all the time.


HOWELL: Still, some don't see it that way. Israel's ambassador to the U.S. told CNN the Palestinians are the ones balking at taking any part of the peace talks. Let's listen.


RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The prime minister of Israel did a freeze. He did a freeze for 10 months and Palestinians did not come to the negotiating table. This has not been about the Palestinians. What do the Palestinians want? They want to blame Israel for not negotiating. Refuse to sit down and have negotiations and they have not been able to do that because thankfully the president has stood up to those efforts in the Security Council. Now he gave the Palestinians what they want. He gave them the ammunition for political and diplomatic and legal war against Israel. He gave them that ammunition by not vetoing the Security Council resolution.


CHURCH: Despite those comments from the Israeli ambassador, Israel is downplaying concerns about a permanent rift with the U.S.

HOWELL: Also, it's looking forward to the incoming Trump administration.

We get more on that from Elise Labott.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is escalating his attack against the Obama administration, clearly still angry over the U.N. vote declaring Israeli settlements illegal.

BANJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRALI PRIME MINISTER: Friends don't take friends to the Security Council.

LABOTT: Netanyahu summoned the U.S. ambassador and has accused President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry of orchestrating what he called a shameful ambush at the U.N., telling his cabinet he has ironclad proof.

NETANYAHU (through translation): From the information we have, we have no doubt the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded it be passed.

LABOTT: The White House denies that, calling the claim "absurd."

BEN RHODES, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We did not draft it. We did not put it forward.

LABOTT: The Obama administration maintains it was a last resort after struggling the past eight years to convince Israel to halt settlement construction on occupied lands the Palestinians claim for their state.

RHODES: For years, we have seen an acceleration in the growth of these settlements. If the trends continue, the two-state solution will be impossible. LABOTT: Officials are worried, with U.N. backing, Palestinians will

push for sanctions, boycotts, and take Israeli soldiers to the international criminal court.

DORMER: What the resolution did is it gave the Palestinians ammunition in their diplomatic and legal war against Israel and the United States not only didn't stop it, they were behind it.

LABOTT: Netanyahu is now putting his hopes in President-elect Trump and members of Congress who are promising to defund the U.N. unless the vote is overturned hoping it will give Trump leverage.

NETANYAHU: I look forward to working with those friends and the new administration when it takes office next month.

LABOTT (on camera): It's not just the president-elect opposes the vote but members of Congress from both parties that urged the Obama administration not to go through with it. Leading Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham say they will move to defund the U.N. unless the Security Council overturns the vote.

Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.


[02:05:21] CHURCH: Donald Trump says there's no way President Obama could have beaten him in this year's election if he were eligible to run for a third term. Mr. Obama claims his message of hope and change could still win, despite the Democratic Party's defeat.

Here's what the president told CNN's senior political commentator, David Axelrod.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow it really was a fantasy.

I'm 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.


CHURCH: Joining me now from Washington is CNN political analyst, Josh Rogin. He's a columnist for the "Washington Post."

Josh, good to have you with us.

So, President Obama said on Monday he would have beaten Donald Trump had he run for a third term, run again for the presidency. Trump says no way. Who do you think is right here? Is President Obama reading the electorate correctly or is he misreading the election?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what President Obama is referring to is that Hillary Clinton lost a lot of districts, especially in the traditionally blue rust belt that President Obama had carried twice. A subtle dig at Hillary Clinton for not doing more to keep of what he thinks as the Obama coalition together. Seeing it was the Obama coalition, in that fictional race who knows what may have happened. The bottom line is President Obama doesn't want Hillary Clinton's loss to be a reflection on his legacy and that's what he is trying to do with that. That my kind of comment.

HOWELL: Josh, look, this back and forth between the president of the United States and the president-elect who responded, and we will talk about that in a moment. But first of all, is this necessary? Does this matter at this point?

ROGIN: For different reasons, it matters for Trump and Obama in different ways. For Donald Trump, every time you say anything about him he doesn't like he will respond. He has no discipline or filter. He can't resist. For President Obama, the legacy is the only thing that matters to him at this point. He wants as much say as possible in what history says about him. Most of it is out of his control but he's doing his best to frame it while he has a chance.

HOWELL: Let's talk about the president-elect's response saying, quote, "The world was gloomy before I won. There was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars."

Thoughts there?

ROGIN: President Obama is a very popular president right now. His approval ratings are over 50 percent. I get the fact that Donald Trump won the election. Gives credence to his claim that most Americans thought it was heading in the wrong direction and the fact he lost the popular vote shows it wasn't a clear mandate or message one way or the other. And the fact Christmas spending is up has nothing to do with the Donald Trump win, but more like the rooster taking credit for sunrise.

HOWELL: Josh, let's talk foreign policy, particularly, the situation between the Obama administration and Israel. John Kerry has been to Israel and the Palestinian territories a dozen times in his tenure but that came in the first year. Those efforts appear to have lost steam.

This is how the Israeli prime minister now describes the latest turn of events as the U.S. declined to veto a U.S. Security Council criticism of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Listen.

NETANYAHU: Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments have disagreed about settlements, but we agreed the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace further away.


HOWELL: Netanyahu even said that friends don't take friends to the Security Council. How would you interpret what's going on? ROGIN: It's just a collapse of what was already a very bad, shaky,

unfriendly personal relationship between President Obama and prime minister Netanyahu. I think the Obama administration had a list of things they might do in these final days to try to set the stage for progress in the Middle East peace process. The first thing they did, which was to not veto the resolution of settlements has become a major crisis. So, John Kerry's second effort, to lay out parameters in the Israeli peace process will fall on deaf ears. They have decided not to work with the administration anymore. They are mounting a challenge against the U.N. and the countries that supported the resolution and are going to wait for the Trump administration. So why listen to John Kerry when they can get better terms in a month.

[02:10:37] HOWELL: Only a month, what difference will it make? The dichotomy we see in the U.S. Relationship with Israel is Mr. Netanyahu is looking forward to dealing with the president-elect. Much of Mr. Trump's support comes from the Alt-Right which is viewed widely as anti-Semitic.

ROGIN: Yes. But it is this kind of odd situation, but he has support from the pro-Israel community and also some factions of the Alt-Right, which have anti-Semitic members. On the Israel stuff, that policy is run primarily by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. It is also going to be assisted by his future ambassador, David Friedman. These are supporters of Israel that are to the right of even Netanyahu. I don't think the Alt-Right parts of his administration will win the day here. We are looking at an administration under President Trump that will be very close to the Netanyahu administration. That speaks well for the U.S./Israel bilateral relationship, but doesn't speak well for real process to proceed to any two-state solution.

HOWELL: Again, many people saying, hey, let's wait until January 20th and keep an open mind.

Josh Rogin, thank you so much for your insights.

ROGIN: Anytime.

CHURCH: Donald Trump says he will give up his charitable foundation to avoid any possible conflict of interest as president. But critics say there's more to it, like claims the foundation is less charitable than most and may have even broken the law.

HOWELL: Trump is defending his efforts. Here's the tweet he put out on Monday. I'll point out that the word "received" is misspelled. But it says, "I gave millions of dollars to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, raised or received millions more all of which is given to charity and media won't report.

Dana Bash has more.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLIITCAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president-elect's team is frantically trying to figure out what to do about his vast business interests, even Trump-owned properties like Mar-a-Lago, where he is staying for the holidays.

But they are off to a tough start. A Christmas Eve transition announcement about shutting the Trump charitable foundation hit a road block. The New York attorney general, who is investigating the foundation's alleged violations, said through a spokeswoman, "The foundation is under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete."

A "Washington Post" investigation reported the foundation spent $258,000 to settle legal problems unrelated to the charity. And Trump used charity money to buy a 6'0" portrait of himself.

A former GOP ethics attorney said dissolving the foundation could take time.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER GOP ETHICS ATTORNEY: You need to make sure the foundation is independent of your for-profit business enterprises. You cannot have self-dealing in foundations. I don't know whether the rules were violated or not.

BASH: Regardless of the investigation, ceasing operations on the foundation is hardly a heavy lift. Trump hasn't donated since 2008 and it has no paid staff.

The real question is how Trump will separate himself from the for- profit Trump organization, a worldwide empire, including Trump golf, international realty, Trump Winery and Trump hotels.

The law does not require a president to divest himself from business interests, but potential conflicts abound. People could try to influence the president by staying his at his hotels, for example. And the most difficult hurdle could be the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which specifically prevents elected officials from accepting any present of money from foreign governments or leaders.

PAINTER: There are a whole lot of problems that I think President- elect Trump could deal with by selling off his business interests or giving them over to a trustee in a blind trust so the trustee can figure out how to dispose of these properties and he could focus on being president.

BASH: A press conference intended to detail how Trump will sort this out was scheduled for two weeks ago, but that was delayed until January to give them more time.

(on camera): An attorney for the Trump organization tells CNN, it is continuing to re-evaluate transactions to take measures to apply with conflict laws. Experts say the only ironclad way to separate the Trump administration from the Trump business is putting it in a blind trust, but the president-elect is resisting. Instead, sources say, he is leaning towards a way to allow his two eldest sons to run the Trump organization.


[02:15:27] HOWELL: Dana Bash, thank you. Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, the death of George Michael.

CHURCH: Fans are sharing their memories of the British pop star a day after his sudden and shocking death.

We're back in a moment with that.







[02:20:01] HOWELL: Those of you who remember the '80s, doesn't that take you back to the '80s. Those are a few of the chart-topping hits -- so many, hard to choose a favorite -- throughout George Michael's remarkable career spanning nearly four decades. Fans are laying out flowers to the singer outside of his home in England. George Michael died Christmas day -- he was 53 years old -- reportedly from heart failure.

George Michael shot to fame in the '80s with the pop duo Wham! and later had a more successful solo career.

Here's more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Always a happy, positive loving person. And that shown through all the time. I just think that everyone will miss that so much. But.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: How will you remember him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will remember him as a -- as a -- as a great person, a loving human being with so much talent, so giving. And we need to take something from that.


CHURCH: With me now to talk about this is entertainment journalist, Holland Reid.

Thank you for being with us.


CHURCH: Unfortunate circumstances, of course.

REID: Yes. CHURCH: But the world was shocked and stunned, weren't they, by the news of the death of George Michael? It seemed extraordinary at the age of 53. Talk to us about how people across the globe are remembering him and his legacy.

REID: Shocked and stuns were the only two words a lot of us could come up with. 53, so young. We lost so many stars in the year. In the bracket of 40s and 60s which seems so young and premature. George Michael being the pop icon he was, being able to enjoy him with wham when he introduced to the pop culture scene and a stunning career as a solo artist and writer and advocate and a personality like no other. Madonna said, the diva himself. He stood his ground and tried to live his authentic true self with scrutiny and controversy. But we enjoyed him and his music. Still I will say this, "Freedom," "Faith," "I Want Your Sex," such great song. I wasn't allowed to sing that in 1987 but it stayed with me. The world is remembering such a young artist. And it's just unbelievable at the age of 53. The young age of 53, another legend was lost.

CHURCH: He was such a generous man, too. But 1998 was a bad year for him. He was forced to come out and declare his sexuality as a gay man because of the arrest. He was arrested for soliciting sex from a male undercover officer in a California bathroom. Then he had more run ins with the law. He had a bad car accident. He was never able to overcome those problems. Why was he not able to ride that out?

REID: If I had that answer. It's so unfortunate. This is a man who donated the proceeds for "last Christmas" to band aide. He was an advocate and raised so much for charity off his talent and for him only to be dragged through the media over controversy. The sting operation which forced him to come out. Coming out isn't for everyone. And for him being such a public figure and giving so much like I said before to the community and the world and have to address something that is so personal in a way that is just -- he said, himself, he was not ashamed of his sexuality, he was ashamed it came out in such a stupid and ridiculous way and with the drug abuse and addiction and the issues in his personal life I hope we can look at that and say that is a small part of his time here that he did so much good. He did so much for charities, for human rights, for you know, the AIDS community and the LGBT community. He was that personal that always gave back. So, yes, he was troubled as a human being we all are. And he definitely had issues as a celebrity, which he had many issues, even with being a celebrity. I mean, it was very hard for him to deal with that. And with that, I think, coupled with his closeted life people turn to things that aren't necessarily kosher and they have those struggles. But he will, in my heart and in many of our hearts, be remembered as a phenomenal artist and humanitarian.

[02:25:17] CHURCH: The police describe his death as unexplained but not suspicious. They put it down to heart failure. But we have seen that photo circulating, haven't we? He was bloated and not looking well. What is being said about that?

REID: A lot of speculation. Nothing has been confirmed and I will be first to say nothing has been confirmed. But unnamed sources have said he possibly had an issue with heroin with the last year to two years. His partner has come out and was the one who found him. We are still looking into that. But unfortunately, all those things line up with drug addiction, a cardiac arrest, very much associated with drug addiction especially heroin. The bloated photos, heroin. We see this going back to our -- gosh, Whitney Houston, just so many other artists we see the late photos at the end of their life and we start to get the evidence and what actually happened. We can only hope it wasn't that. But unfortunately, we have a story line of a history of abuse to go along with it. Again, unconfirmed, waiting to hear. But in the days and weeks ahead we'll get more information about that as the autopsy is performed.

CHURCH: Absolutely.

Holland Reid, thank you for coming in.

REID: Thank you.

CHURCH: A sad story. The loss of another great singer in 2016. It's been a sad year.

REID: A very sad year. 2016. Oy.

CHURCH: Amazing.

Thank you again.

REID: Thank you, Rosemary. Appreciate it.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, an historic visit by Japan's prime minister. In the coming hours, Shinzo Abe will go to Pearl Harbor to meet with the president of the United States, Barack Obama. What prompted his decision to see the site of the surprise attack by japan, next.

CHURCH: Plus, political attacks e-mail attacks and Trump's victory this year was shocking and bizarre. Next, our top-10 U.S. political stories of 2016.



[02:30:36] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. It's good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.


Time to check the headlines for you this hour.


CHURCH: Japanese Prime Minister Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama will pay tribute to those who died at Pearl Harbor. They will visit the "USS Arizona" Memorial on Tuesday. On Monday, Mr. Abe laid wreaths at two cemeteries in Honolulu. HOWELL: The Japanese prime minister says his visit to Pearl Harbor is

intended to send a message that the ravages of war should never be repeated.

CHURCH: American Robert Lee saw the attack on Pearl Harbor firsthand when he was just a young man.

He spoke to CNN's Athena Jones about how that experience changed his life and what he's learned from it.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 95-year-old Robert Lee said he is glad to see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making this trip.

ROBERT LEE, WITNESSES PEARL HARBOR: I think that's the greatest thing in the world. I think we've already gone through quite a bit of healing.

JONES: He remembers well the day of Japan's surprise attack 75 years ago, when 24 more than people lost their lives.

LEE: It's very vivid in my memory, very much so.

JONES: Still a young man, just two years out of high school ROTC, he looked on from his bedroom. Later, dashing to his front lawn as Japanese bombers flew low over his home, headed for Battleship Row.

LEE: I grabbed my .22 caliber rifle and shot all 16 lead shots.

JONES (on camera): At the plane?

LEE: At the plane.

JONES: Thinking it would work?


LEE: Of course, not. No. It was just to kill a mouse.

JONES (voice-over): He watched the "USS Arizona" a mile away exploded.

LEE: It was that red-orange color, about three seconds, and then it exploded. The fire went hundreds of feet from this, from the whole ship, and the crackling of the fire was overwhelming.

JONES: As those who could fought back, Lee helped to wash the oil off of sailors who jumped to safety, their ships under attack. Later, helping to transport the injured to treatment facilities.

By midnight, he had joined the military, serving domestically throughout the war.

It was a long, emotional day that left Lee angry, but he isn't angry anymore.

LEE: Hate is the greatest destroyer of anyone. The idea that you can harbor hate -- will destroy you.

JONES: It is that understanding the president celebrated at Hiroshima.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and japan forged not only an alliance but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war.

JONES: A message Prime Minister Abe is certain to echo as he pays tribute at this watery grave, now a sacred site.

Athena Jones, CNN, Honolulu, Hawaii.


[02:34:38] HOWELL: That is a historic visit coming up. We'll, of course, cover that.

Still ahead on NEWSROOM, they have waited years for freedom and now the Chibok schoolgirls are reunited with their families. Their celebration is just ahead.





CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. 21 Chibok schoolgirls are celebrating the holidays with their families after more than two years in Boko Haram captivity.

HOWELL: Still many are missing of the nearly 300 girls were kidnapped by that terror group back in 2014.

CNN's Isha Sesay has been on the forefront of this. She has the exclusive story of their journey back to Chibok.


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After almost two and a half years of Boko Haram captivity, at last it's time to go home. After covered the Chibok girls; abduction from the beginning, I'm going the make the long journey to Chibok with them.

(on camera): They're going home.

(How are you feeling? Somebody tell me. What is the feeling in your heart right now? Happy?


SESAY: You're happy?

(voice-over): For all the talk of excitement, some of these girls are also nervous.

(on camera): Don't be nervous. Don't be afraid. OK. You hold your faith. Yeah? You hold on to your faith, OK? OK? The same faith that kept you all those months.

(voice-over): With the girls on the move, there are more smiles as they chat and giggle freely amongst themselves.

Once we land, the girls are welcomed by some of the Chibok community leaders as well as the government of the state.

The road to Chibok, too dangerous to travel after dark, the girls spend the night at a local hotel. Outside, a large security cordon is put in place.

Inside, with their journey delayed, they gather in one room to do what they were unable to do while in Boko Haram captivity.


SESAY: I learned from Rebecca Malan (ph) and Gloria Dama (ph), they were singing local Christian hymns. While in captivity, their Christianity was not tolerated by the terrorists.

(on camera): What have you been doing since you've been back?

[02:50:18] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are grateful. We are grateful for them they have done good for us. And when we are -- we are playing football. We have English class. That we are learning how to speak in English and writing very well.


You guys look so different since I saw you in October. How are you feeling now from that time to now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy. We are feeling beautiful because since we came -- we.

SESAY: You can tell me, you can tell me because you are beautiful.

Good morning.

SESAY (voice-over): The next morning, a military convoy escorts the girls to Chibok, a place that holds the promise of long-awaited family reunions and memories of a fateful night.

(on camera): The convoy has stopped in a town about an hour away from Chibok. The movement through these parts, that a well-armed convoy is drawing attention from passersby.

(voice-over): As we entered Chibok town, locals wave excitedly, welcoming their girls home.

The moment of reunion eventually arrives. The room almost vibrating with the sounds of unbridled joy.


SESAY: For some waiting parents, heartbreak. These women have come looking for their daughters, who are still being held by Boko Haram. They thought their children were among the group who were coming home for Christmas.

(voice-over): There has been such an outpouring of grief amid the joy. The piercing screams of mothers realizing they are, indeed, not to be reunited with their daughters on this day, which has turned what should have been an overwhelmingly happy moment into a bittersweet one.

(voice-over): For Rebecca and her father, the nightmare is over and her father is overcome with feelings of gratitude.

Given all they have endured, the mental and physical abuse, the years of painful separation from their loved ones, this reunion here in Chibok moves these fractured families and their community a step closer to wholeness.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Chibok.


CHURCH: Incredible reporting there --

HOWELL: Indeed.

CHURCH: -- from Isha. She has followed that story right through.

2016 was full of political surprises. One of the biggest in the U.S. was, of course, the victory of Donald Trump. Next, the top-10 U.S. political stories of 2016.




[02:47:16] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. So, this was supposed to be a game changer in China, but the test project to help to lighten traffic seems to have been abandoned.

CHURCH: "CNN Money's" Sherisse Pham explains why.


SHERISSEE PHAM, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was supposed to be the bus of the future designed to cruise over China's legendary traffic jams but four months after the test run here it lies parked and unused on a street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It hasn't moved since winter began.

PHAM: The bus that was supposed to ease China's gridlock is now an obstacle for local residents to get around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It affects us a lot. We have to go through a narrow path now. It's very inconvenient.

PHAM: The company was supposed to return the road back to its original state by august but the tracks are still here along with the bus that goes nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I think it's worthless. It only runs 300 meters. You can't go anywhere.

PHAM: A city official said he is aware of the traffic problems and knows nothing about future plans or when the city will get the road back.

Chinese state media reports the test run may have been nothing more than a, quote, "publicity stunt."

To pay for it they raised $15 million this year through peer-to-peer lending, according to state media. That's where lenders can be banks or investors for steady payments. Peer to peer is risky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): It is an example of the risks involved. But the investors didn't do their homework on the project and the fundamentals behind it.

PHAM: CNN called the company multiple times and all went unanswered.

When we visited the Beijing office, we found this, a darkroom with a toy version of the elevated bus circling a model of Beijing. Nothing but a show piece. Much like the company's bus.

(on camera): CNN did find one small office with a light on. And our Beijing producer talked to an employee who refused to give his name or appear on camera. His job is to finish, quote, "leftover work," and he says he doesn't know anything about the future plans.

Sherisse Pham, CNN, Hong Kong.




CHURCH: That's worrisome.

2016, what a year it has been. Political expectations were shattered across Europe and here in the United States.

HOWELL: Indeed. Look, this political year was shocking at times and bizarre, I think it is fair to say.

Our chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, has the top-10 political stories of the year 2016.


[02:50:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: This year, everything we thought we knew about politics was turned on its head. Political attacks, e-mails hacks and several cracks in the glass ceiling made for an unparalleled race between the first female party nomination and a billionaire political outsider. President- elect Trump will soon take office.

But first, look back at the top-10 political stories of 2016.

(voice-over): Number 10 --


TAPPER: -- conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in February.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Everything is on the line.

TAPPER: Republicans vowed to block any high court appointments until after the presidential election.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Simply to turn your back, before the president even names a nominee, is not an option the Constitution leaves open.

TAPPER: Judge Merritt Garland was nominated in March but never even had a hearing.

Number nine --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You want to give me a good sendoff, go vote.

TAPPER: In their final presidential year, the Obamas hit the campaign trail.


TAPPER: With more catch phrases.

OBAMA: Come on, man.

TAPPER: And less restraints.

OBAMA: Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president.

TAPPER: But a different tone after the Democratic defeat.

OBAMA: If you succeed, then the country succeeds.

TAPPER: Number eight --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I beat everybody. I beat the hell out of them.

TAPPER: Donald Trump won the Republican nomination but struggled to win over the party. Republican leaders distanced themselves.

(on camera): Will you support him?

RYAN: I'm just not ready to do that.

TAPPER (on camera): But will the party now unify around President Trump?

PAUL: We're going to hit the ground running.

TAPPER: Number seven, Trump's unvarnished campaign attracted extremist support.

TRUMP: I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy.

TAPPER: He was slow to denounce white supremacists.

TRUMP: David Duke endorsed me? OK. I disavow. OK?

TAPPER: And controversial rhetoric on race continued.

TRUMP: This judge is of Mexican heritage, I'm building a wall.

TAPPER: Even targeting the judge in his university fraud case.

(on camera): If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?

TRUMP: No. I don't think so at all.

TAPPER (voice-over): Number six, the conventions.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton made history in Philadelphia, and a Gold Star family made Trump an offer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you even read the United States constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.


TAPPER: In Cleveland, Melania Trump's speech was -- familiar.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: You work hard for what you want in life.

MELANIA TRUMP, INCOMING FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: That you work hard for what you want in life.

TAPPER: And Senator Ted Cruz refused to endorse the nominee.


TAPPER: Number five, Trump's past went public. There was a former Miss Universe feud.

CLINTON: He called her Miss Piggy.

TAPPER: He responded with a link to her past.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, A.C. 360: You sent out a series tweet, including one to check out a sex tape.

TAPPER: Then a crude video of Trump.

TRUMP: You grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

TAPPER: He brushed it aside.

TRUMP: This was locker-room talk.

TAPPER: But nearly a dozen assault accusers said it went further than words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His hands started going towards my knee and up my skirt.

TAPPER: Trump denied the allegations and said he would sue.

Number four, Senator Bernie Sanders built a huge movement.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTAIL CANDIDATE: We are actually listening to the American people, not the 1 percent.


TAPPER: But was the system rigged against outsiders?

SANDERS: Secretary Clinton received about 450 super delegates before anybody else was in the race.

TAPPER: "Bernie or bust" protestors crowded the convention --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're being ridiculous.

TAPPER: -- and refused to vote for Clinton.

Number three, Democrats were hacked.


TAPPER: Stolen e-mails from the DNC revealed bias against Sanders forcing the party chair to resign.

SANDERS: There's no question to my mind the DNC was at opposition to our campaign.

TAPPER: U.S. intelligence points to Russian cyberattacks.

OBAMA: Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us, because we can do stuff to you.

TAPPER: Number two --

JIM COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: There is evidence they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive highly classified information.

TAPPER: -- the FBI recommended no charges for Clinton's use of a private e-mail server. Still, the issue was gold for Republicans.

TRUMP: She's guilty as hell.


TAPPER: She tried to quell concerns.

CLINTON: My e-mails are so boring.

TAPPER: But the FBI announced they discovered new ones just before Election Day.

CLINTON: It's imperative the bureau explain this issue.

TAPPER: The trove contained nothing new but the damage was done.

Number one --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hillary Clinton has called Donald Trump to concede the race.

TAPPER: Donald Trump won the White House.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The campaign, unlike anything we've seen in our lifetime.

TRUMP: I love this country.


TAPPER: As protestors took to the streets, Secretary Clinton bowed out.

CLINTON: We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought.

TAPPER: Now a cabinet of billionaires, outsiders and military men will join Trump for an era of who knows what.

(on camera): Those were our top-10 political stories of this year. The question is, who and what will top the list next year.

Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.


[02:55:44] CHURCH: What a year, huh? And It's not over yet.

HOWELL: Few more days, though.

CHURCH: That's right. Anything is possible.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from CNN headquarters here in Atlanta. I'm Rosemary Church.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell.

Hour number two of CNN NEWSROOM starts after the break.

This is CNN, the world's news leader.


[03:00:04] HOWELL: Intensifying anger as Israel's criticism of the White House, well, becomes a little more personal.