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Tillerson: "Russia Meddled in Our Election and Others"; Trump: "China Caught Red Handed" Allowing Oil into North Korea; 3 Cities Sue Pentagon over Background Check System; Viral Moments that Shaped 2017. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: But there's a bit of a risk to that kind of strategy. The Pentagon likes to talk about when it's doing training and war games because they want people to know it simply is training and no there's miscalculation that they are heading towards real-world military operations.

And we'll see perhaps the big question in the coming weeks, will President Trump stay quiet and discrete about any U.S. military activity or will he once again take to Twitter and voice his views on all of it -- Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Barbara Starr, keep us posted. Thank you.

Moments ago, the president speaking out on Twitter over North Korea. Writing, "Caught red handed. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen?"

Also this morning, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once again opened the door to talks with North Korea. In an op-ed published in "The New York Times," he's also raising eyebrows over Russia. Tillerson writing on Russia, "We have no allusions about the regime we're dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with the resurgent Russia that's invaded the neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine, in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others."

Joining us now is CNN global affairs analyst and a former State Department official who served both Republican and Democratic presidents for over 20 years, Aaron David Miller.

Aaron, thank you for spending time with us today, especially this holiday week.

We have Secretary Tillerson definitively stating that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. President Trump still hasn't.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Tillerson's an honest man, and it is clear that he's found a way to create sufficient political space between himself and the president on any number of issues, from the importance of talking to North Korea to the president's reaction in the wake of Charlottesville. The secretary is speaking out. Trump isn't going to fire him. Tillerson won't resign. I suspect we will wander around in this very odd Bermuda Triangle where the secretary of state seems to be un-empowered by the president. And that's a first, at least for the secretary of state that I worked for.

CABRERA: So, when you talk about this daylight growing between the secretary of state and the president, you point out North Korea's another area where we aren't quite seeing the same message. Today, we have two messages from the men, the Tillerson message, "Door to dialogue is open." That's a quote from the op-ed. Meantime, the tweet where the president said, "There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen," citing China allowing the oil between the two countries. How do you read it? There are two different messages.

MILLER: I mean, I think it reflects the fact that we don't have -- and again, the Trump administration is shackled with a problem that's extremely difficult to resolve. So let's be clear. No easy, quick fixes here. But I think you have to face up to the reality that the administration may not have -- I think does not have -- a coherent and cohesive approach to how to deal with the issue of Kim Jong-Un's nukes. Tillerson, even in the op-ed in "The New York Times," talked about denuclearization as the goal, and that's simply impossible. You're not going to be able to separate Kim from his nukes immediately. The president, on the other hand, seems to believe that pressure, economic sanctions, the third round of which was applied at the U.N. this December -- and the administration deserves credit for that -- somehow contracting out for China to provide a magic fix to the problem of Kim's nukes and the reality is it doesn't. So, it won't. So we're stuck in a situation where we can't or won't bomb because the costs are simply too prohibitive, on one hand. And we aren't willing, at least until now, to enter into a negotiation other than to take away Kim's nukes. That's not going to work either. So we drift. Which means more nukes, more nuke tests, more missile tests, and perhaps, I hope not, the possibility of a miscalculation.

CABRERA: Well, you have your own op-ed out in "The Washington Post" this morning. Which you say this, "It's ironic that for a president who desperately wants to appear tough and muscular, Trump is as rich averse as his predecessor when it comes to leveraging military power. Trump isn't the un-Obama. He is Obama redux."

This is a president, don't forget --


CABRERA: -- that threatened North Korea with fire and fury. That doesn't hear like from the Obama administration. Does it?

MILLER: It doesn't, but if you look at examples of where the president -- this administration actually applied military force, a proportionate strike in April in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians, he was offered a number of targets, as Obama was. Obama chose not to act. The president acted, but in a proportionate way. The surge in Afghanistan, by many standards, I think a losing strategy, but a moderate application of force. A lot of tough rhetoric everywhere against Iran and North Korea but, in my judgment, thankfully, no military action. So I think, in a way, after a year, you do, in fact, have, quite contrary to his words, a president who I think is highly risk averse when it comes to getting the United States bogged down and expanding new military conflicts. Whether that persists, Ana, in the new year, who knows?

[11:35:36] CABRERA: But what about the recent reporting that the U.S. intends to arm Ukraine with anti-tank weapons? That's not just tough. That's utilizing military strength, right?

MILLER: No, it is true. And it creates the real possibility on a terrain, and arena in which we don't have a lot of advantage of an escalation. If the Russians call our bluff and decide that there's -- they're going to counter provision of provision of defensive weapons to the North Koreans (sic) what, in fact, do we do? Do we escalate in an arena in which Putin has all the advantages? That could prove tricky. But you have to figure in the reality that the president given to Vladimir Putin a preternatural degree of the benefit of the doubt of political space and won't criticize him, let alone, confront him personally.

CABRERA: Aaron David Miller, glad you could join us. Thank you, sir.

MILLER: Happy New Year, Ana. And thank you.

CABRERA: Happy New Year to you, too.

Up next, three major cities are suing the Defense Department, claiming it's not following the law and putting, quote, "innocent Americans at risk." I'll speak with the man leading the lawsuit, next.


[11:40:34] CABRERA: Does the Pentagon bear some blame for the mass shooting last month at a Texas church? Devin Kelley had been convicted of domestic violence while in the Air Force, but the military did not inform the FBI, so the bureau never added Kelley to a database of people banned from buying guns. Kelley went on to murder 25 church goers in the small town of Sutherland Springs as well as an unborn baby. Now, three big cities, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia, are suing the Pentagon for failing to keep the weapon out of Kelley's hands.

The attorney leading that lawsuit, Ken Taber, is joining us now.

Thank you so much, Ken, for coming in.

Explain to me the goal of this lawsuit. I know you're doing this work pro bono so, obviously, you're passionate about this.

KEN TABER, ATTORNEY: Absolutely. We're trying to fix a problem that has been 20 years in the making. Because it turns out that the Kelley case is just the tip of the iceberg.

CABRERA: What would that look like in terms of fixing it?

TABER: We are asking the court in Virginia, where the Pentagon is located, to come in and take charge and super vise this situation so that there's a cure. The Defense Department can't, as they have for 20 years, ignore the problem.

CABRERA: Now, the DOJ has said it, too, is launching an investigation. In fact, it said that right away after --

TABER: Correct.

CABRERA: -- there was the news that he slipped through the cracks, Kelley, in terms of the military reporting to the FBI so that his name would have been in that gun database. And so they're already going through to try to resolve it themselves. Why not wait for that to play out?

TABER: The answer is, first of all, the attorney general doesn't actually have any authority over the Defense Department. They're co- equal branches of government. The courts, however, have the ability to come in and say, you must fix this, here's the timetable on which you must fix it, and if you don't fix it, you are in contempt of court. That's a different ballgame.

CABRERA: We know the inspector general has studied this very issue. And to your point I think it's really important for viewers to see the facts. Let's put those up in terms of level of underreporting that is happening or not reporting. We know that the Pentagon failed to submit fingerprint cards for nearly a quarter of convictions. And this is across all branches of the military. Some worse than others. Also failed to submit almost a third of the final disposition reports that would flag people not allowed to purchase a gun.

What do you see as the root of this problem? You point out this has been going on for decades. Clearly, you wouldn't think they would want this to happen.

TABER: It's a good point, and the short answer is we don't know why they haven't done it. We know the inspector general has said in testimony to the Senate that he thinks the reason is that they simply didn't take his recommendations, which he's been making for 20 years, seriously enough. So we want to change that. We want the courts to change that.

CABRERA: And if they do find somebody in contempt of court, military, Pentagon, then what? What happens?

TABER: Well, there are a whole series of penalties that can follow. The context of a government official not doing their duties is not the typical contempt of court where somebody may end up in jail. It is a completely different ball of wax. But the bottom line is we believe that the government officials, when they're confronted with a court order, will conform, will obey, and we'll solve the problem.

CABRERA: There is the issue that even if there is 100 percent compliance by the military in their reporting, there remains loopholes, right? There are still problems, like online and private sellers, they won't be required to run the background check still under current law. TABER: Correct.

CABRERA: Some misdemeanor, domestic violence convictions aren't counted. What about that?

TABER: Well, the background check system isn't perfect, but over 100,000 people have been prevented from getting guns that they weren't entitled to get because of the background check system. So it's not perfect but it's a huge factor in making sure that this system works, and it needs to work now.

CABRERA: All right. Ken Taber, I don't think anybody can disagree with that.

Thank you very much for coming on.

TABER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

[11:44:41] CABRERA: Up next, from the solar eclipse that had all looking up in the sky to a viral video of children interrupting their father's TV interview, we'll take a look at the top trending stories on social media for 2017. Don't go away. Lots of fun here.


CABRERA: From that disturbing video of a man dragged off a United flight to the Charlottesville protest to the #metoo protest, viral moments on social media shaped 2017.

And Brooke Baldwin looks at the top-seven trending stories of the year.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Whether it was the Twitter- in-chief redefining the way presidents communicate or online movements creating real-world change, social media dominated the news cycle in 2017.

Here are the top seven trending stories that blew up our social feeds.

Number seven, kids crash their dad's live BBC interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think one of the children just walked in.

BALDWIN: Already an adorable video gets more hilarious in three, two, one.


My apologies.

BALDWIN: The interview that went viral and finished the year as the tenth most viewed video on YouTube.

There was some controversy on social media after people mistook Kelly's wife for the children's nanny. Eventually, the family was able to laugh at the whole situation and their new-found celebrity.


[11:50:09] BALDWIN: Number six, the solar eclipse. Back on August 21st, people across the country went outside and slid on a pair of special sunglasses to witness the first solar eclipse to go coast to coast in nearly a century. For those lucky enough to be in the path of totality, it appeared as if night had suddenly fallen in the middle of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here looking at the same thing. All sharing the same thing. It's amazing.

BALDWIN: Number five, man dragged off United flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No! Oh, my god! Look at what you did to him.

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: You are looking at video of a man forcibly dragged off an airplane. It's a disturbing moment.

BALDWIN: This cell phone footage of a passenger getting dragged off an overbooked United flight flew around the Internet this year. The passenger, Dr. David Dao, and his wife, had initially volunteered to give up their seats, but the couple changed their minds once they learned the next flight to their destination wouldn't leave Chicago O'Hare International Airport until the following day. Dao was apparently chosen at random by the airline to give up his seat when not enough people volunteered. The doctor refused to leave his seat, saying he had patients he needed to see the next day.


BALDWIN: That's when things got out of hands. Dao suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and lost two teeth when he hit his face on an arm rest during the struggle. United CEO later apologized to Dao on ABC News.

Number four, the women's march.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell me what democracy look likes.


BALDWIN: What started as a march on Washington turned into a worldwide movement as people around the globe took to the streets on Donald Trump's first day in office to advocate for women's rights.


BALDWIN: The movement spread on social media the hash tag, #women'smarch and on Facebook. More than a half million people came together online, making the women's march the biggest Facebook event for an individual cause all year.

Number three, violent protests in Charlottesville.


BALDWIN: People around the nation turned to Charlottesville, Virginia, in August when white supremacists and members of the far- right descended on this quite college town to take part in what they called a Unite the Right rally. Brawls broke out between the demonstrators and those opposed to him, forcing Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency.


BALDWIN: Later that day, a gray Dodge Challenger drove into a crowd of counter protesters, injuring 19 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Former President Obama weighed in, tweeting out this image, with a Nelson Mandela quote as his caption, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion." That tweet became the second most- retweeted post of 2017 and the most-liked tweet of all time.

Number two, #metoo. 2017 may well be remembered as the #metoo movement. Women and men all around the world seized on the cultural moment and told their stories of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He exposed himself and he just began masturbating in front of me, and I just stood there, kind of frozen.

BALDWIN: And one after another high-profile men, like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Al Franken, and others, were accused of sexual misconduct. Female activist, Terana Burke (ph), first created the #metoo more than a decade ago, but a tweet from the actress and activist, Alyssa Milano, is credited with popularizing the hashtag in 2017. In the days after it went viral, Twitter reported more than 1.7 million people posted a #metoo message in 85 countries.

Number one, President Donald Trump. There were few, if any, major news stories in 2017 that didn't include President Donald J. Trump and one of his tweets. The president was a walking/talking/trending story. Which is fitting since he is the most-tweeted-about elected official in the world. His Twitter feed drove news coverage, whether he was telling NFL players to stand during the national anthem or appointing nicknames for adversaries. Trump dominated the news cycle for 2017 and brought politics into the social media realm in a whole new way. And with no sign of curbing his Twitter use, it seems likely that President Trump will remain a big part of all the trending stories in 2018 and beyond.


[11:55:00] CABRERA: Our thanks to Brooke.

Let's have some fun. You can tweet, @anacabrera. Tell me your most memorable moment of 2017 as we look forward to the next year.

Coming up here on CNN, the Alabama secretary of state says Doug Jones will be certified as the next Senator of Alabama in a few hours. So is there any chance Roy Moore's lawsuit can put a stop to it in the courts? We have a lot of questions. Roy Moore's campaign spokeswoman will speak to CNN in the next hour.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts after a quick break. Stay with us.