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Beloved Singer-Actress Dies at Age 84; Russia: Syria Regime and Rebels Agree to Ceasefire Deal; White House to Retaliate Against Russia for Hacking. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: The beloved star took Hollywood by storm for decades making her debut in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain."


DEBBIE REYNOLDS, ACTRESS: Good morning. Good morning. We've danced the whole night through. Good morning. Good morning to you.

DONALD O'CONNOR, ACTOR: Nothing could be grander than to be in Louisiana in the morning.

GENE KELLY, ACTOR: Nothing could be grander than to be in Louisiana in the morning.

REYNOLDS: In the morning. In the morning.


BLACKWELL: As I said, a great performance there, and we know that she wasn't really a dancer before that. CNN's Paul Vercammen is live in Los Angeles with more for us this morning.

Put in a lot of work for that and a lot of work over many decades, Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Victor. And as you pointed out, she was not a dancer by nature but she got into "Singin' in the Rain," and they say that she danced until her feet were bloody. You know, work ethic is definitely something that Debbie Reynolds will always be remembered for.


REYNOLDS: We're alone now and I'm singing my song for you.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Singer, dancer, actress, Debbie Reynolds was a Hollywood triple threat and America's sweetheart. Her film career began at the age of 16 after being spotted in a beauty pageant.

REYNOLDS: I'm laughing out loud.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Her star officially launched just a few years later after a spirited performance opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain."

REYNOLDS: They picked me to put me in "Singin' in the Rain" then they just locked me in a big old studio, and for three months, I had five different teachers. One for tap and ballet, jazz, modern, and I just worked, worked, worked, worked, you know, until I just fall apart.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Other notable roles followed including 1957's "Tammy and the Bachelor," which resulted in her number one hit song, "Tammy." She played opposite Gregory Peck in "How the West Was Won" and her performance in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" earned her an Oscar nomination.

REYNOLDS: I'm going to learn to read and write.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Beloved on screen, at times, Reynold's life off screen overshadowed her success. She had two children with her first husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, producer Todd Fisher and actress and author Carrie Fisher, who died just one day before her mother.

In 1959, the marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce when Fisher left Reynolds to marry her close friend, Elizabeth Taylor. A painful betrayal, Reynolds was able to joke about the scandal years later.

REYNOLDS: I was a Girl Scout. I really was very a simple little girl and that's what I was, and he fell madly in love with Elizabeth. That's something now I understand, you know, so many years later. And it's in the past.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Her second and third marriages also ended in divorce, each time causing Reynolds financial pain. However, she had been quietly collecting Hollywood memorabilia over the years. That would prove to be a wise investment. In 2011, Reynolds sold Marilyn Monroe's white subway dress at an auction for $4.6 million dollars.

REYNOLDS: Singing is my celebration.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): She also never quit performing. Though she stepped away from film for much of her career, Reynolds continued to entertain on Broadway stages and in Las Vegas nightclubs. In addition, Reynolds had several T.V. roles over the years, notably playing Liberace's mother in the 2013 Emmy winning T.V. movie "Behind the Candelabra." Her wide array of work was recognized in 2015 when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with a lifetime achievement award.

Reynolds said she loved every minute she spent in show business in her 2013 autobiography, "Unsinkable." She credited the love she had for her friends and family for her personal and professional resiliency.

REYNOLDS: I paid 20,000 bucks for this sucker.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): And it is that spark and sense of humor, along with her talent, that Reynolds will be remembered for.

REYNOLDS: I love you. Good night, everybody. Thank you.


BLACKWELL: And let's hear from two people who played Reynolds' children on-screen. First, Albert Brooks "Debbie Reynolds, a legend and my movie mom. I can't believe this happened one day after Carrie. My heart goes out to Billie." That, of course, would be the granddaughter. Albert Brooks also a close friend of Carrie Fisher's.

And then Deborah Messing, "My heart is literally broken. An inspiration on every level. A legend, of course, the epitome of clean cut American optimism, dancing with Gene Kelly as an equal, a warrior woman who never stopped working."

And again, that allusion to working. Debbie Reynolds certainly seemed to love every minute she spent on stage and screen and always seemed to give more than 100 percent, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Oh, Paul, I mean, you have to imagine how Todd Fisher's feeling deflated now after losing his sister and then his mother, 24 to 36 hours later. Paul Vercammen for us from Los Angeles. Thank you so much.

[09:04:53] Let's turn now to breaking news this morning, the possibility of peace in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms a ceasefire has been reached between the Syrian opposition and the government, at least a deal for a ceasefire. It's scheduled to begin in about eight hours at midnight local time. Now, Putin also says that both sides have signed documents that say they are ready to begin peace talks. Turkey and Russia will guarantee the truce. Now, the United States apparently not taking part in the negotiations at all.

Matthew Chance, following the story for us out of Moscow. Matthew, what do you know about the terms of this deal?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, first of all, that point about the United States, they have been conspicuous by their absence. This is a deal that's been done without virtually any participation of the United States at all. It's been brokered between Russia and Turkey effectively as well as some other countries like Iran and as well as the Syrian governments and the rebel groups.

And two countries, Russia and Turkey, that have been on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict -- Russia backing Bashar al-Assad, its ally, the President of Syria, Turkey backing various rebel groups opposed to Assad -- but they've come together now. They seem to have ironed out their political differences on that level, at least enough to try and get together and forge this agreement.

And three agreements, according to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, have been reached now and he's announced them already. The first one is that ceasefire, which takes effect from midnight local time in Syria. The second one is the agreement to police that ceasefire, very important of course in a situation as volatile in a country as volatile as Syria. The third agreement is an agreement for all the parties -- and this is probably the agreement with more, you know, far-reaching consequences -- to get together in Kazakhstan next month in Central Asia to start a peace process, to talk about bringing an end to the conflict in Syria permanently.

Now, what the Russian Foreign Ministry has said is that, look, we want to see the United States involved in this, and we hope that Donald Trump, when he assumes office in the White House, will take part in this process. But it looks like with or without the participation of Washington, this is going ahead, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Particulars of this deal is still probably to come out but it's safe to assume that this guarantees that Assad will stay in power there?

CHANCE: Well, I think the Russian presence in Syria guaranteed that. This certainly consolidates his position.

I think we have to put a major caveat on it, though, which is this, that two of the main rebel groups, the Islamist groups that are fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria -- and I'm talking about Islamic State and the group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, the al Qaeda affiliate that are now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham -- they're not included in this ceasefire. And frankly, Victor, they're the ones that are doing the majority of the fighting against the Assad regime at the moment.

And so, look, the fighting is not going to stop but it's certainly a step in that direction. But, you know, in no sense is this an end, at this early stage, to the long-running and brutally, you know, blood- soaked Syrian war.

BLACKWELL: Yes, which we've all watched. And, again, as you raise here, the point that the U.S. is not involved in this deal at all. We'll continue to watch it. Matthew Chance for us from Moscow. Thank you so much.

Let's turn now to the Obama administration and the preparations to strike back at Russia soon, as soon as today really, for meddling in the U.S. election. It's expected to retaliate with expanded sanctions, diplomatic measures, and later, covert actions. The upcoming announcement already putting the Kremlin on defense, a spokesperson saying, "If Washington really does take new hostile steps, they will be answered. Any action against Russian diplomatic missions in the U.S. will immediately bounce back on U.S. diplomats in Russia."

CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is following this story for us from Washington. Evan, good morning to you. What do you know?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor. It's an issue that the Obama administration has been debating, frankly, internally for months. And in the next few hours, we expect to finally hear the names of Russian officials that the U.S. wants to punish for meddling in the U.S. election. U.S. officials tell us to expect new sanctions, diplomatic measures.

They're also expected to name individuals associated with the Russian disinformation operation that U.S. intelligence officials say was at least partly focused on harming Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and helping Donald Trump. There's also covert actions that we may never know about in which the U.S. says it can take when it chooses.

President Obama hinted at what's to come in an interview with NPR. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections, that we need to take action. And we will at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be.


PEREZ: Of course, in just three weeks, we will have a new President here in Washington who doesn't believe that the Russians were behind the cyber hacks of Democratic Party organizations. He told reporters yesterday that we ought to just frankly move on with our lives. Now, these are actions today that we expect Donald Trump can undo if he so chooses, Victor.

[09:10:13] BLACKWELL: All right. Evan, thank you so much from Washington. Let's get to that now, this brief meeting with reporters outside his Mar-a-Lago estate, rather. Donald Trump weighed in, as Evan said there, on Russia's election meddling. The President-elect acknowledging that he has not yet spoken with Senator Lindsey Graham who favors sanctions against Russia but when asked for his opinions on the idea, Trump responded this way.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I'm not sure we have the kind of security we need. But I have not spoken with the Senators, and I certainly will be over a period of time.


BLACKWELL: All right. Joining me now, CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein.

Ron, I want to start with you, and let's set the comments about computers aside for a moment.


BLACKWELL: When he says we need to get on with our lives as it relates to Russia, Donald Trump has been litigating the election for more than 40 days now. In that case, he's not getting on with it. Your comment?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's in contrast. And the argument that he makes about computers, that we can't really know what's going on, is certainly contradicted by the intelligence community which believes we know exactly what's going on, that there's clear evidence, kind of fingerprints in effect, digital fingerprints, of Russian entities involved in this hack. Donald Trump still seems to be processing this intervention, this Russian intervention, concerned about it, really.

He seems to be processing it mostly as, in effect, a kind of undermining of his victory rather than as a national security challenge and a precedent that has been set here that could also reverberate into elections coming in France and Germany in 2017 if Russia does not believe there is a price for this sort of meddling. He still seems to be looking at it through the prism that acknowledging this in some ways undercuts his victory, rather than the way that even many Republicans on Capitol Hill are that, you know, this is a serious national security issue. It's not about overturning the results of the election. It's about establishing a price so that Russia feels that this is not behavior that can go on with impunity.

BLACKWELL: In suggesting that we get on with our lives, he reminded everyone that Lindsey Graham was an opponent in the primary election still holding on to that race. Douglas, let me come to you. He recently met with the President-elect. Tell me about that meeting.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I got a little bit of FaceTime with him to talk about past presidents and about some public policy issues. Not Russia, unfortunately. But he was very interested in talking about veterans' issues. So he had met with the heads of places like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins recently, with the idea of how do we get the best minds in the medical infrastructure of America to start helping veterans with their health issues.

And this seemed very near and dear to his heart, something he wanted to talk about, which kind of signaled to me that was going to be one of the unifying issues he's going in. We know he's going to pick conservative to the Supreme Court right out of the gate, somebody that the right just loves. The bipartisan piece of the first months of Trump, the veterans' issue, may rise as being one that he wants to take on immediately because I think he would get Democratic support for doing something like that.

BLACKWELL: Yes. The announcement of who will be the next Secretary of Veterans' Affairs is still an announcement we're waiting for. Some are asking for him to keep the Secretary who is there right now under the Obama administration.

Let's talk about this transition, this stark contrast between the tweet that was released during this hour yesterday from Donald Trump, talking about how he was trying to overlook some of the roadblocks being thrown up by President O, as he called him, and then later in the afternoon, saying this about the President and the transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: He called me. We had a very, very good talk generally about veterans. He was in Hawaii. And it was a very, very nice call, and I actually thought we covered a lot of territory, a lot of good things.


BLACKWELL: Ron, how do you reconcile these two on the same day?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you don't. And we've seen that before where he has sent very mixed signals. But I think kind of the underlying theme, it goes back to the first point we were talking about, what really seemed to get under his skin was President Obama suggesting to David Axelrod in the podcast that he could have beaten him if he would have run for a third term. Anything that seems to question the validity or the magnitude of his victory really does seem to get under his skin very quickly and he reacts.

I mean, the fact is he won the Electoral College fair and square but he did lose the popular vote by more than anyone who has ever actually won the White House. And so I think anything that kind of goes to that, I think, really does kind of unsettle him.

One other point on the previous, if President Obama does -- even if Donald Trump can overturn sanctions on Russia, that would have to be one of the first things he does, and it would create an immediate controversy.

[09:15:10] Donald Trump wants to change relations with Russia. He has signaled that very clearly and against I think the -- against the preference of a lot -- not only of Democrats on Capitol Hill, but Republicans on Capitol Hill. And one of the first things he has do to is overturn sanctions from President Obama, that is setting a trip wire for the next administration.

BLACKWELL: Could dominate the first 100 days as we know that his agenda has many of the things on it.

Let me come back to you, Douglas, and what we heard from the White House after the call from President Obama to the president-elect. They say -- they described the call as a positive call and focused on continuing smooth and effective transition. There have been calls between the president and president-elect before this.

Is the White House, seems to be sensitive to these tweets, this characterization from Trump?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think they are. I mean, they -- Barack Obama's determined to make this a smooth transition, as smooth as possible considering they have very much diametrically opposed points of view. It's a tradition and the president wants to keep it.

My keen insight I've picked up about Donald Trump in this way, he's like Franklin Roosevelt. I mean, FDR used to say I'm a juggler, you know? I never let my left hand know what my right hand is doing. Anybody who would come and see FDR, he would give them an answer one

day, and then four hours later, it would be something different. And it left everybody unsure of where FDR was headed except FDR himself.

And I'm seeing Donald Trump on, you know, operate in those kinds of ways. So, he may -- he may tweet out this afternoon, and then another one contradicts it later. That doesn't bother him, because he feels he's moving his agenda forward and he's in command. We're going to have to get used to that style of leadership or else we're going to be tweet dizzy the next four years.

BLACKWELL: Going to be. Yes, I think a lot of people are already there.

BROWNSTEIN: He may view uncertainty as a positive asset in his political --

BLACKWELL: He certainly sees unpredictability as a positive asset. He said that many times.

Douglas Brinkley, Ron Brownstein, thank you both.

All right. Coming up, tensions escalating after Secretary Kerry delivers a harsh warning to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu firing back. What this means for U.S. and Israel relations moving forward.

Stay with us.


[09:20:44] BLACKWELL: Friends tell each other hard truths. Those words from Secretary of State John Kerry framing his criticism of Israel's handling of the Mideast peace process. Now Israel is returning the favor with some sharp criticism of Kerry, making it clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot wait for President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration in a little more than three weeks.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now from Jerusalem.

Oren, give us an idea of the fallout, the response to this speech.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back almost immediately after the speech and he certainly hasn't shifted his tone since then. His spokespeople have come on CNN to say how disappointed Netanyahu's government was with this speech. Some of Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners have used far less gentle words to describe Kerry and President Barack Obama's vision of Middle East peace.

The question now, with 2 1/2 weeks or so to go: how bad can this relationship get?


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Friends need to tell each other the hard truths.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Secretary of State John Kerry issuing a stern warning that a two-state solution is now in jeopardy.

KERRY: The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

LIEBERMANN: Kerry blasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of undermining peace efforts.

KERRY: The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution. But his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.

LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu firing back, calling the speech a disappointment, and a bias attack that paid lip service to terror attacks by Palestinians.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders.

LIEBERMANN: Despite repeated denials, Netanyahu again accusing the U.S. of orchestrating Friday's United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

NETANYAHU: We have it on absolute incontestable evidence that the United States organized, advanced, and brought this resolution

LIEBERMANN: Kerry vehemently defending the Obama administration's refusal to veto the U.N. resolution.

KERRY: No American administration has done more for Israel's security than Barack Obama's. We cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.

LIEBERMANN: President-elect Donald Trump weighing in on Kerry's speech from Florida.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: We have to have peace. I think it set us back. But, we'll see what happens after January 20th, right?


LIEBERMANN: And this wasn't just about a speech and a response. Netanyahu also took to social media. He posted this picture on his Facebook page. It's a picture of President Barack Obama visiting the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem back in 2008. Then it says, 2016, U.N. Security Council calls -- passes a resolution calling the western wall occupied territory.

Netanyahu has made it clear he holds President Barack Obama responsible for that. And then, Netanyahu asked rhetorically, seriously?

So, Victor, this relationship very much falling apart in its final days. As you pointed out, Netanyahu has made it very clear he can't wait for these three weeks to be up and for him to be working with President-elect Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: Yes, he's made that very clear. Oren Liebermann for us there, thank you so much.

And the prime minister was not alone in his criticism. Kerry's speech managed the rare feat of uniting some Democrats and Republicans in Congress who slammed both the secretary of state, and the White House.

Let's talk about this now with CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller.

Aaron, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: Let's start with Arizona Senator John McCain. He said this after the speech. "The Secretary Kerry speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of the outgoing administration. At worst, it was another dangerous outburst that will further Israel's diplomatic isolation, and embolden its enemies."

Let's put up what we're hearing from Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader. "While he may not have intended it, I fear Secretary Kerry in his speech and action at the U.N. has emboldened extremists on both sides."

Are these men right?

MILLER: I think they're right about the fact that at five minutes to midnight extremely difficult to create an initiative that you can leverage in control.

[09:25:09] This was an effort by the Obama administration I think to frame as a point of reference their own efforts to identify what they believe to be the obstacles and the reasons for the impasse in the two-state solution, in the face of what I suspect both the president and Secretary Kerry see coming, which is an incoming Trump administration that is likely not to pay much attention to this issue, and probably seek to defuse the tensions with Israel both with respect to what to do about Iran, the peace process, and the personal relationship between -- between an American president, and an Israeli prime minister.

This deep support for Israel, bipartisan support, in both the Senate and the House, and neither McCain or Schumer's comments surprise me.

BLACKWELL: I want you to listen to former President Bill Clinton, what he said about the peace process, in the final days of his administration. This was in January of 2001. Let's watch.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: In the resolution of remaining differences, whether they come today or after several years of heartbreak and bloodshed, the fundamental, painful, but necessary choices will almost certainly remain the same whenever the decision is made. The parties will face the same history, the same geography, the same neighbors, the same passion, the same hatred. This is not a problem time will take care of.


BLACKWELL: More than 15 years ago. Your reaction to what you're hearing there from the former president?

MILLER: I mean, I worked for Reagan, for Bush 41, for Bill Clinton, for Bush 43 on this particular issue. I was with Bill Clinton at Camp David. I think the president has identified the issue.

But the real question, Victor, is this -- I don't think the focus is the man or woman in the middle, that is to say the U.S. mediator. I think the reality is that Israelis and Palestinians are simply unable and unwilling, both president -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, to make the kinds of choices on the core issues that drive this conflict, border, security, Jerusalem, refugees, end of claims, recognizing the state of Israel and the Jewish people, to make the kinds of choices that would allow an external mediator to mediate.

And whether it's settlement expansion or the resolution to -- or extension on the resolution on settlements, on Friday, that painful and politically inconvenient reality, that's the thing that's not going to go away. And unless Israelis and Palestinians are confronted with enough prospects of gain and I'm sorry to say, probably a fair measure of pain, to motivate them, I suspect you and I are going to be having this same conversation next year.

BLACKWELL: Aaron, quickly before we let you go here, we saw there from president Clinton his parameters for peace. Just a week and a half or so, maybe two weeks before the end of the administration. But the president delivered those remarks himself. From your perspective, the significance of not hearing this from President Obama, but instead from Secretary Kerry.

MILLER: I think it's very significant. You know, whether it's the Reagan initiative or Clinton parameters, presidents attach their names to initiatives that they are invested in and they think have a chance to succeed. I think the president basically, the parting shot with the extension and I think he left it to Secretary Kerry who is the energizer bunny of American foreign policy on this issue, to basically make this speech and frankly, to take the hits as a consequence.

So, it doesn't surprise me that it's the Kerry parameters, not the Obama parameters.

BLACKWELL: All right. Aaron David Miller. Thanks so much.

Quick check now on the markets. Dow's been flirting with 20,000 for a couple of days now. But, I wonder if that's fizzling with the drop we saw yesterday?

Let's check in now with CNN Money correspondent Cristina Alesci.

Dropping, what, more than 100 points?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, we have to kind of take a step back and look at what's happened over the last year, right?

BLACKWELL: All right.

ALESCI: We've had an incredible run. We're up 14 percent. And that is because companies are getting full credit for doing a great job. The economy is humming along, and investors have been really positive about Trump's pro-growth policies.

But now, to your point, investors are hitting the pause button and we saw that yesterday. They want to see better economic data, which we might get next week with the jobs report, they want to see Trump actual execute on those policies, and they may even want some reassurances that Trump's not going to do anything too drastic when it comes to some non-growth things that he's talking about, namely, trade, and immigration. In fact, CNN Money talked to 15 experts just yesterday, all but one said they were very worried about Trump's stance on trade and how that might impact the market.