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Mayor Utah Paper Calls on Orrin Hatch to Not Seek Reelection; Russia Will Help U.S. with North Korea with Conditions; Historic Magnolia Tree on White House South Lawn to Be Cut; 2017 Shocking Verdicts, Heartbreaking Tragedies. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] GEORGE PYLE, EDITIORIAL PAGE EDITOR, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: And indicated this was not necessarily in praise of the Senator, that this was noting his influence, which was substantial, mostly, on three issues, roll back of the national monuments, we disagree with the Senator on that. The tax bill, we were mostly in support of the tax bill, mostly because of the corporate -- cut in the corporate rates, which we thought was overdue and put us in tune with much of the rest of the world. And the third point being that he said six years ago that. then. would be his last run, that he would not seek another term after that one. We endorsed him at that time largely based on that promise, that he wanted one more shot at tax reform.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So simply sounds like you are saying his time is up. He should move along and let someone else have that seat. Is that what you are saying?

PYLE: Yes, he came in with Jimmy Carter. And particularly disappointed in the fact that, six years ago, he made it pretty clear that this would be his last hooray.


LEMON: Does that make him less effective since he's been there since Jimmy Carter?

PYLE: We think he's had his time. We think that his role in rolling back the national monuments so significantly was not something we favored. And we also think that he's kind of lost his moorings to some degree. He used to be reliable vote in favor of the DREAM Act, helping children who had come here illegally as children to find a legal way to stay here. He was behind the Children's Health Insurance Program with his old friend, Ted Kennedy. He says he's going to try to restore that after it's funding expired. But he also spent most of his time talking about, well, we don't have any money because all of those trillions of dollars we spent on --


LEMON: So there are significant issues you disagree with him on and you wish he would allow someone else to vote the way you would like to on those issues? I just want to --


LEMON: Before you respond, here's what his office has responded. He said, this is from a spokesperson, "Everyone celebrates Christmas differently. We all sincerely hope the members of the 'Salt Lake Tribune" editorial board find joy this holiday season in something beyond basically attacking the service and integrity of someone who has given 40 years for the people of Utah and served as one of the most effective lawmakers of all time just to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for clicks." That's Matt Whitlock, his spokesperson.

That's a strong statement as well. What's your response?

PYLE: Well, for one thing, they don't address the points of the editorial. They don't even try and refute the fact that our point, he's been too long, and told us this would be his last term and now he's resigning on that. Doesn't address the issue of the national monuments where we strongly disagree with the Senator. It doesn't address the fact that he told everyone last time this would be his last term and now he's backing off of that. We think that speaks poorly of him and it doesn't help the state of Utah. We've had all this time where he's basically -- everybody who could have mounted a credible campaign whether to challenge or succeed Senator Hatch has basically been frozen out. He put everything back to third base. Nobody can move or raise money or collect endorsements at a time when he himself said it was time to hang it up.

LEMON: It's an extraordinary time. You never what can happen.

George Pyle, we appreciate your time. We'll continue to follow the story. Thank you very much.

Up next, raising tensions between U.S. and North Korea, now an unlikely third party has offered to negotiate talks. Russia said it wants to bring the two countries together. Could that actually happen?


[14:37:46] LEMON: South Korea has come out with a new plan for responding to threats from North Korea, setting up an entire department to follow the regime every move.

This comes as Russia is offering to mediate talks between the U.S. and North Korea if both sides can agree to talk.

I want to bring in Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara, hello to you.

Will the U.S. really meet with North Korea with Russia mediating?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Really interesting question. What are we looking at going into 2018 here? North Korea clearly still the potentially largest, most-significant national security challenge for President Trump. The Russians perhaps making this offer to back the U.S. into a corner, experts will tell you. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, talking to the U.S., saying, let's sit down and talk to the North Koreans, we'll broker the talks, nobody wants war. The U.S. agrees to that. But what the U.S. wants is denuclearization of the peninsula. And that means that Kim Jong-Un has to make a public statement, if you will. He has to give up his nuclear and missile weapons development program. And there is just simply no indication at this point that he is going to do that. And that leaves the U.S., that leaves the Trump White House in a difficult position, because there is no indication President Trump plans to back off from his policy, which is de-nuclearization of the peninsula -- Don?

LEMON: Barbara star, thank you very much.

Let's bring in David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst, also online news editor for "The New Yorker."

Hello to you.


LEMON: Hi. Good to see you, David.

Russia is insisting the U.S. open a dialogue with North Korea and is ready to act as mediator between the United States and North Korea. You heard the conversation I had with Barbara. You know about what they've said. What does this dynamic look like and what's Russia's angle here?

ROHDE: I think it's another clever play by the Russians. It's Russia sort of again protecting power and influence. This time into Asia, where it really doesn't have that much influence. China, you know, again, is the key trading partner, key energy supplier to North Korea. So this allows Moscow to look like the rest of the world is this great international player, when it really doesn't have that many stakes or that much leverage in North Korea. And I would agree that it does also sort of put the Trump administration sort of in a box.

[14:40:20] LEMON: Smoke and mirrors. It's a moot point because as Barbara mentioned, statement says it's a pipe dream for them to give up their weapons. So where could negotiations go from there if they are saying we are not going to give it up, the president is saying you have to give up your weapons, you can't have a nuclear North Korea. So where is the negotiating?

ROHDE: It's not clear. I mean, frankly I don't see the North Koreans giving up the weapons. They see it as the key to surviving as a regime. Kim Jong-Un has made that clear. There could be talks possibly for the U.S. to recognize North Korea as nuclear power and somehow limit their missile technology where a North Korean missile couldn't potentially reach the U.S. But that's not the rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration either. So in the end, North Korea calling Trump administration's bluff. How will the U.S. take away North Korea nuclear arsenal? The only answer is military force. This gets back to the issue we talked about over and over again, will the Trump administration spark a major war on the Korean peninsula? It would be protracted and very bloody, but that right now is the only serious use of force that could actually take away Kim Jong-Un's nuclear weapons.

LEMON: Let's see where that goes.

David Rohde, thank you. Much appreciated.

Coming up, it has been a fixture of the White House lawn since the 1800s, the 1800s. The story behind -- there it is -- that iconic tree you are looking at, scheduled to be cut down and removed.


[14:46:09] LEMON: You have seen, you've likely seen this tree, countless times. We'll show it to you. You probably never knew the significance. There it is. And now CNN has learned an iconic piece of the White House is coming down. The Jackson Magnolia tree, planted in 1800s by order of President Andrew Jackson, will be chopped down. The tree paid homage to Jackson's wife, Rachel, who died days after the election. And the tree used to be on the back of the $20 bill. It has been in the backdrop of many historic West Wing settings.

CNN's White House correspondent, Kate Bennett, joins me now.

Kate, I'm sad about this tree, it's a beautiful old tree and I love t tell us about it. It has a long story past. It is coming down. Who made the call to remove it? What's going on with it?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, the tree is actually, there is a large section of magnolia trees on that west side. And this is the front one, the front portion. It's been dying, actually, since 1970, when the roots got sort -- I've become sort of an arborist, Don. The roots got tangled and filled in with cement, which at the time was the appropriate advised action. However, by the '90s, it needed to be supported with that pole and those cables. Now the tree has reached a state, according to the National Arboretum folks and specialists, it's not safe to be held up by the cables. Ultimately, it was the first lady, after being advised by the National Park Service and several specialists, after years of watching this tree, that it's new time to come down. It's decayed beyond the point of safety.

LEMON: We talked a little bit about the history. Can you talk more about that?

BENNETT: Sure. Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, loved this tree when they had it planted, or this brand of tree when they had it planted at the Heritage, the estate in Tennessee. There was a very tough election. Rachel passed away just after Andrew Jackson was elected. And he blamed the contentiousness of the campaign on her death. So when he moved into the White House, story goes, he took a seedling from the tree, brought it to the White House, and had it planted. And it has grown and spawned more offshoots. And even Michelle Obama brought a seedling from it to Cuba last year. Laura Bush made White House China inspired by the magnolia. And it has been in the background of so many state visits and Easter egg rolls and iconic moments at the White House. So it will definitely change the back facade.

LEMON: What happens to it?

BENNETT: So the first lady has asked the wood be preserved, and likely, although it's very, the wood is very coarse and not stable. However, the good news is that have been seedlings growing off sight in a green house, eight to 10 feet, and hopefully, another Jackson Magnolia will be placed there sometime soon.

LEMON: So I can't get a coffee table out of it or mulch or even firewood?

BENNETT: I don't know. I don't think so. If I can steel some --


[14:49:18] LEMON: Thank you, Kate. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Coming up, an NFL star writes an open letter to his friend and Senator from Arizona, John McCain. His moving tribute, coming up.


LEMON: From the domino effect created by women speaking out against sexual assault and harassment allegations in Hollywood to the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, 2017 leaves behind a web of life-altering crime and misconduct stories.

Our Jean Casarez has the top seven of 2017.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 2017 was a tumultuous year, filled with stories of shootings and accusations of sexual misconduct. Let's take a look at the top seven crime and misconduct stories of 2017.

(voice-over): In number seven --

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, O.J. Simpson is a free man.

CASAREZ: The former NFL star is notorious for being acquitted in 1995 of murder charges for the grisly murder of his ex-wife and her friend. More than 10 years later, Simpson was accused of another crime. This time -- kidnapping and armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel in 2007. He was sentenced to serve 33 years behind bars.

[14:55:11] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Simpson, I do vote to grant parole when eligible.

CASAREZ: Simpson was granted parole for good behavior. An upbeat O.J. Simpson walked out of a Nevada prison after midnight.

CASAREZ: Number xix, the criminal trial of Bill Cosby.

BILL COSBY, ACTOR: That's absolutely correct.

CASAREZ: Once one of television's most-lovable dads, Actor Bill Cosby goes to trial, accused of sexually assaulting a woman more than 10 years ago. Criminal charges were not filed at that time.

But when never-before-seen transcripts unsealed in 2015 showed Cosby admitting to giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with, a Pennsylvania district attorney brought forth multiple charges against the star.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: The judge in the Cosby trial has declared a mistrial.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: The jury failed to reach a verdict after more than 50 histories of deliberations.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: We came here looking for an acquittal. Like the rolling stone song says, "You don't always get what you want. Sometimes you get what you need."

CASAREZ: The case is set to be retried in April. Cosby maintains his innocence, saying the encounter was consensual.

Number five --

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: Congress attacked. Congressman Steve Scalise, the third ranking Republican in the House, is in critical condition tonight after a lone gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: He asked me if his team was the Republican or Democrat team practicing. I responded it was the Republican team practicing. He proceeded to shoot Republicans.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: Our lives were saved by the Capitol Hill police. Had they not been there, I think it would have been a massacre.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

CASAREZ: Three months later --


CASAREZ: -- Congressman Scalise returns to the House floor to a bipartisan standing ovation.

REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R), LOUISIANA: You have no idea how great this feels to be back here.

CASAREZ: Number four, a mass shooting inside of a small-town Texas church. A gunman, Devon Kelly, killed 25 people and an unborn baby when he walked into a Sutherland Springs church. The former airman had a long history of violent behavior. Kelly died not far from the scene after being chased by good Samaritans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was do everything necessary to make sure this guy is stopped.

CASAREZ: Among those killed, several members of the Holcomb family spanning three generations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we have eight people in a family that left us in one day.

CASAREZ: Number three, the murder of a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia.


CASAREZ: Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed in August when a car plowed into a group of protesters. Heyer and other were counter protesting a Unite the Right rally of white nationalists and Neo- Nazis.


CASAREZ: The man driving the car, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, had attended the right-wing rally. He's been charged with first-degree murder in Heyer's death.

SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.

CASAREZ: Story number two, dozens of women speak out about being sexually harassed or abused by Harvey Weinstein.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: More and more women coming forward accusing Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, of blatant sexual conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just kept, kept grabbing his penis and fondling himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he pushed me back and forced himself onto me. It was not consensual.

CASAREZ: Weinstein responded through a spokesman saying, "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied."

The Weinstein accusers speaking out helped created a domino effect of other women speaking out about harassment in industries outside of Hollywood.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And at least half a million women all over the world, in all professions, have jumped on the social platform to say "me, too."

CASAREZ: Weinstein is being investigated by the NYPD, but no charges have been filed.

(GUNFIRE) CASAREZ: And in our top crime-and-misconduct story of the year, the mass killing of dozens at a Las Vegas country music festival in October.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: We have breaking news of the worst variety. The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history has just happened.

CASAREZ (on camera): Fifty-eight people were killed when shooter, Stephen Paddock, started firing shots from his hotel suite.



UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: Thirty-two stories above that crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shots just kept coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter which direction you went, no matter where you took cover, there was at least two to three bodies. You didn't know where you were safe.

CASAREZ (voice-over): But from the tragedy, there were dozens of heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Went back. I'm a nurse, and I felt that I had to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ran back towards the shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just sat with him.