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CNN NEWSROOM

American Employee Detained in Cuba; Loophole in New Health Care Reform Bill; Stars Gear Up for 'Christmas in Washington'

Aired December 12, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, a mystery in Cuba. An American worker held by Castro's government. Tonight, the U.S. government wants answers fast.

CNN uncovers a bombshell after a closed door meeting by Democrats on health care reform. The White House is scrambling to fix it.

Forget smoking pot, what about growing it legally right here in the U.S. This is a real life episode of weeds, a mom helping her young son grow his business.

And Mary J. Blige drops by for a visit to tell us why she has an important date with the president and first lady.

Good evening, everyone. We start with a story that could become a huge foreign policy problem for the Obama administration. It has been unfolding behind close doors for the last week, but late today, CNN confirm a U.S. citizen, a government contractor is being detained in Cuba.

What's not clear tonight is what the alleged offense is. U.S. diplomats in Cuba are trying to get to the bottom of it, trying to meet with the unnamed detainee. And official for the worker's company says he was in Cuba under contract with the USAID to, quote, "implement activities in support of the rule of law and human rights, political competition and consensus building, and to strengthen civil society in support of just and democratic governance in Cuba."

Phillip Brenner is a professor in international relations at American University and an expert in U.S.-Cuba relations. And the author of contemporary Cuba reader "Reinventing the Revolution."

Professor Brenner, what exactly does this mean for the administration, especially since the president has opened up travel and is trying to improve relations.

PHILIP BRENNER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, the president has opened up travel only for Cuban-Americans, and there's pending in Congress legislation to open up travel for all Americans. And this comes at a time when Cuba would like to have that travel, but they're very concerned about U.S. citizens being used by the American government for subversive purposes.

This contract was from AID was very explicitly for the purpose of subverting the Cuban government. It goes under the guise of democracy promotion, but we would do the same thing to any Cuban that tried to do that in the United States. Give our short wave radios, give out cell phones. We don't know what kind of contacts they were trying to make. This used to be done by the U.S. Embassy so they never arrested anybody.

LEMON: So, professor, then what is the administration's next move?

BRENNER: Well, the administration's next move probably should be to promise to shut down this program. Or, you know, we have arrested and put in prison for life sentences Cubans who have come here from the Cuban government to spy on terrorists in the United States. Much more serious problems for Cuba. We could even consider trading those prisoners for this U.S. citizen. The problem is we have privatized our foreign policy. We make our foreign policy now subject to private companies that make money for this, and it's really out of our hands. He is not a State Department employee. He's an employee of a private company.

LEMON: Professor, if you let me get in here. The Cuban government, are they sending a message here? If so, too whom, and what is the message?

BRENNER: The message is if you come to Cuba as a tourist, you better not be working for the U.S. government as a spy.

LEMON: Can you but this in context for us? How often has this happened?

BRENNER: This has not happened before. Previously these kinds of radios were given out actually by our diplomatic mission there. We have diplomats in Cuba, and Cuba has been angry about that, but they haven't put anybody in prison before for this.

LEMON: All right. So as we said, this has international ramifications especially when it comes to foreign policy.

Professor Brenner, thank you so much, we appreciate it. Have a good evening.

BRENNER: Thank you.

LEMON: We're following new developments on a story out of Pakistan tonight. Five young American men allegedly on a mission to be martyred. The men are being questioned by local police for their suspected terror links. Pakistani official says the Muslim students made contact with a Taliban recruiter in an effort to join insurgents there. All five were picked up this week in Sargodha. But this morning, they were shifted to the eastern city of Lahore. The men are all in their late teens and early 20s, residents of the D.C. suburbs. But that's where the leader of their mosque is struggling to come to terms with the allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ESSAM TELLAWI, MOSQUE LEADER: We love for things to go back the way we were. We were a very happy community. I still -- you know, in my memory memories, they just want to come in the mosque and pray with us. And I want them to come back and pray with us for things to go back to normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: FBI agents have been granted access to the men. And officials in the U.S. and Pakistan expect them to be sent back home. But Pakistan could hold them while prosecutors here prepare charges.

An American member of al Qaeda claims the group is not responsible for a string of bombings in Pakistan that killed hundreds. Adam Gadahn is known as Azaam the American. Tonight, he is offering condolences to the victim's families in a new online video.

He says, "Al Qaeda was framed for the attacks. American and Pakistani forces are to blame for bombings, which have killed 500 people since October." Gadahn is on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorist.

There may be dirty water trickling from your tap. An environmental group says drinking water in 45 states, and the District of Columbia has been contaminated with unregulated chemicals. Some of the worst drinking water was found in Pensacola, Florida; Riverside, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Riverside County, California and Reno, Nevada.

Cities noted for having the best quality tap water are Arlington, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; Ft. Worth, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts.

We have a quick note from the sports world to tell you about. Alabama Sophomore running back. Mark Ingram took home the 75th Heisman trophy tonight given by New York's Downtown Athletic Club. Ingram is the first member of the Crimson Tide to win college football's highest honor. He edged Stanford's running back, Toby Gerhart by 28 points in the closest Heisman race ever.

Not long before the ceremony, a CNN producer took this video of Ingram mingling with Alabama fans in the Big Apple. Ingram and The Tide will battle Texas for the national championship on January 7th.

Some of Tiger Woods' biggest sponsors standing by him. But with him taking a break from golf, they are changing their advertising plans.

Plus, a loophole in a new health care reform bill that could cost you big time until CNN reported it.

And we are waiting to see who will win the mayor's race in Houston. The winner could make political history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNISE PARKER (D), HOUSTON MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Houston is a multiracial, multicultural, international city. And I think my election will send a message to the world that this kind of Houston is a city that might surprise a lot of folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: We're standing by for a possible first from a major U.S. city. It could happen tonight. So make sure you stay tuned.

Also, we'll be reading your comments. We're reading them right now. We want to know what's on your mind. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or iReport.com. That's how you get on the air here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's talk now about health care.

A backlash sparked by CNN reporting has Democrats in Washington backtracking. It's all about a loophole added in private to a Senate health care bill. The provision puts a cap on how much insurance coverage you can receive in a single year. It caught the eye of advocates for cancer patient who quickly got the attention of White House and congressional staffers.

Here's our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: If you're a citizen of the United States and you get sick, you ought not to be shoved into bankruptcy.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a frequent call of top Democrats as they push to overhaul the nation's health system. One of the ways they have said they would protect Americans was by stopping an insurance company practice of limiting a patient's insurance coverage both over a lifetime and annually.

In November, the House passed a bill that would do just that, but in the bill now up for debate on the Senate floor, under the section that plainly states "no lifetime or annual limits," it says insurance companies may not establish unreasonable annual limits. That one word, "unreasonable," opens up a loophole for insurance companies to cap annual benefits.

(on camera): What does unreasonable mean?

STEPHEN FINAN, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: We have no idea. And that is part of the problem.

KEILAR (voice-over): At midday Friday, when we talked to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, they were up in arms about the change, worried it would cost patients.

FINAN: A stage three colon cancer case can cost over $200,000. That's obviously a lot of money. What happens if the annual limit is $100,000?

KEILAR: We asked Senator Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

(on camera): I mean, what is this going to mean for, say, the colon cancer patient whose bills top $200,000 a year?

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA), HEALTH COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, again, one of the compromises we had to make -- we do have no lifetime caps, and we put in there no unreasonable annual caps.

KEILAR: But what does that mean?

HARKIN: Well, that's going to be developed by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

KEILAR (on camera): After this story aired on CNN the White House and key congressional staffers spoke with the Cancer Action Network and agreed to close this loophole. But now, without the caps, Democrats find themselves in the difficult situation of trying to keep down the costs of premiums for all Americans, the very reason why they put this loophole in the Senate bill to begin with.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right. We have seen this in smaller U.S. cities, but never a city as big as Houston, Texas. It could make history tonight. We're looking at the headquarters of Annise Parker. She is a candidate for mayor in that city. If she wins, she will be the first openly gay mayor of a major city, Houston, Texas. We are standing by for results, and they are very close we are told.

Also, heavy rain along the Gulf Coast causing flooding tonight. In and around New Orleans, our Jacqui Jeras is monitoring the storm's path and watching weather across the country.

Also ahead tonight --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a really cheap investment to grow, to be able to legally grow 63 cannabis plants in a market that's been determined by the illicit drug market.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That young man wants to grow medical marijuana. He wants to do it legally. His mom is helping him out. We'll pay a visit to Colorado pot farm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's get quickly to the CNN severe weather center. Jacqui Jeras has some breaking news -- weather news out of California -- Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's right. You know, we've been warning you all weekend about the station fire burn areas and concerns about flooding there. Well, we just have word now and brand new video just in.

Let's take this whole so you can get a good look at it. Ninety cars have been stuck in the mud from a slide along the Angeles Crest Highway. This is near the Alta Dina Area. Officials are working right now to clear the roadway and get these cars out. About half of them have been removed. No injuries reported, but we're getting word that it might not be until tomorrow before all of those cars get out of there.

There are also other rock slides in the area. So we've had multiple slides being reported in and around Los Angeles, particularly outside of these burn areas. This is video from the Hollywood Hills area, where some rocks did slide down in that area as well. So we're going to continue to monitor this situation and bring you some more information as it becomes available.

But the rain has been really heavy. Record rain in L.A. today, over half of an inch. And, of course, you get up into those higher elevations. The rain comes down even faster. And, you know, the burn areas, there's no vegetation on there, so you don't have any root systems or trees or bushes to help soak up some of that rainfall, so it all just slides on down.

We do think the rain should be coming to an end by late tomorrow. Heavy snow across the Sierras. In fact we could see up to four feet in the higher elevations before all is said and done. Now, we've also have some floodings going on across parts of the south.

We have pictures we want to show you out of the New Orleans area, where there's been some flooding here as well. Many streets are flooded tonight in Louisiana. And there you can see in Metarie many cars were getting stuck in this area.

The ramp to I-610 has been closed, trying to get on and off there. Many, many cars had been stalled as well. Also some homes were flooded in Metarie. Over a dozen of them, flash flood warnings still in effect for St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parish.

Another 1 to 2 inches of rainfall can be expected. And we're expecting the rain to pull out of here by noon tomorrow at the latest. All that rain pushing across the southeast at this hour. And we're going to watch it slide up towards the mid-Atlantic into the northeast for tomorrow so be prepared for that rain as it comes on through and impacts the rest of your weekend.

Here you can see tomorrow's forecast map. More rain and snow in the west, especially early in the day. And we'll watch places like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City get in on some of this rain.

We've also had a little bit of freezing rain, Don, around Chicago and Milwaukee. Tonight, a very, very light coating, but that's all it takes so watch out for hazardous travel tomorrow morning, especially on those bridges and overpasses. And, overall, cold almost everywhere.

LEMON: Yes. Busy weather night.

JERAS: Yes.

LEMON: Jacqui, thank you so much.

When it comes to gift-giving, who does the better job, President Obama or the First Lady? Hear them argue about that one.

And a possible first for a major U.S. city. Why the country is watching what happens tonight in Houston, and so are we. And we're hoping to get the person to talk to us who might make history tonight. So stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You know, it is really close to call. We're watching the mayoral race in Houston, Texas, where history can be made tonight. You're looking at live pictures now. This is from our affiliate KHOU. It's from Annise Parker's headquarter. She's the candidate for mayor. And if she wins, she will be the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, and she's going to join us live straight ahead.

It's very close. Forty-three percent of the vote in. she's up by some 4,000 votes, but she's going to join us live in about 15 minutes here on CNN so make sure you stand by. We're going to talk to her about what's going on.

So with the holidays right around the corner, who's a better gift giver in your family? Well, at the White House, President Obama says it's him, but the First Lady, well, she might disagree with that.

In an Oprah Winfrey prime time special airing Sunday, the first couple teased each other about who is top at picking presents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: Is there a greater pressure to give a good gift when you are the president? Or can you get away with the least of gift to give the president.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It's all right, busy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, --

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: What are you going to get me? You should feel pressure.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have been giving good gifts. You got some nice stuff. But here's a general rule, I give nicer stuff than I get.

WINFREY: Really?

M. OBAMA: No way!

B. OBAMA: Absolutely.

M. OBAMA: I gave you good gifts last year?

B. OBAMA: Oh, come on, please. You know, it's like Mothers's Day and Fathers's Day --

WINFREY: Yes.

M. OBAMA: We are talking about Christmas. Don't become distracted.

B. OBAMA: But that principal applies generally.

WINFREY: So you are a good gift giver?

B. OBAMA: Where did you get this nice, little --

M. OBAMA: This was a gift.

WINFREY: Was this anniversary?

M. OBAMA: Anniversary. All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right. And Bo, the White House dog isn't left out. First Lady says just like the rest of the family, he gets a stocking, too. I wonder what Bo is going to get. I'm sure we'll find out.

Well, the sounds of the season are ringing out in the nation's capital. Mary J. Blige, Usher, Neil Diamond, they're all belting out holiday favorites, getting ready for tomorrow's taping of the Christmas in Washington concert.

Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: How did you get involved with this event?

MARY J. BLIGE, ARTIST: Christmas in Washington, I got involved with this event through management. You know how it goes. They give you the call, and, of course, you know, why wouldn't I want to be here with the president and the first lady and all these wonderful people that are going to be here. And sing my favorite Christmas songs, you know?

LEMON: What is your favorite Christmas song?

BLIGE: I have two of them. Chestnuts, I think it is chestnuts. And "O Holy Night."

LEMON: That's actually the Christmas song, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, yes. BLIGE: Yes, yes.

LEMON: I would ask you to sing, but I know you would probably yell at me if I did that.

BLIGE: I need to save my voice for tomorrow.

LEMON: So, listen, this is a very, very high profile audience. You mentioned the president and the first lady. They're going to be there tomorrow. Are you nervous about that? Or is it -- does that pump you up to make you perform even better?

BLIGE: I'm not really nervous about tomorrow. I'm just really excited. I mean, I will be nervous come tomorrow. Right now I'm just really, really excited. And the fact that I'm here and I have the opportunity to be here will just make all my nerves go away.

LEMON: You have a women's center in your hometown of Yonkers. It is called the Mary J. Blige Center for Women, and this is through your foundation called FAWN?

BLIGE: Yes.

LEMON: Why do that?

BLIGE: Well, FAWN is the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now. I wanted to come up with this foundation because of the abuse that I have seen women suffer through when I was a child. And my friend Steve Style and business partner asked me a year ago what I was most passionate about. I said helping women and helping save their lives because I have seen them suffer so much and you know, beaten and abused and abused themselves and even their children.

So I said, I just couldn't, you know, go to the next part of my journey without doing something to save lives. And that is what FAWN is about. It's, you know, about the education and empowerment and encouragement of women. I didn't get a lot of that when I was a child. So I just want to let people know that I understand what they are going through and I go through it as well. And that is what FAWN is about. It's about showing everyone that we are all the same no matter how much money we have, no matter how much money we don't have. We all suffer through the same.

LEMON: We are all the same.

BLIGE: Exactly.

LEMON: Money doesn't make suffering go away.

BLIGE: Right.

LEMON: I want to ask you this. It's sort of an unrelated subject, Mary, you co-executive produce the soundtrack for "Precious," which is I mean, tearing up the box office. Critical acclaim.

BLIGE: Right. LEMON: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. And we heard about Tyler's mother earlier this week passing. Anything you want to say to him? I reached out to him. I haven't heard anything, anything you would like to say to Tyler Perry?

BLIGE: Yes. I just want to say to my friend Tyler Perry, we are all praying for you, that you would keep your head up. We are holding you up, Tyler, the way you held us up when no one else would even pay attention to us. We love you. We got you back, and just know god is real and you'll be fine.

LEMON: Mary J. Blige. Merry Christmas to you. This airs on Sunday, December 20 at 8:00 p.m. on TNT. They tape it tomorrow "Christmas in Washington."

Always a pleasure and again merry Christmas, Mary J. Blige.

BLIGE: Thank you, guys. Merry Christmas to you, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And that was R&B superstar Mary J. Blige, one of the headliners on a Christmas in Washington. Again, it airs next Sunday, December 28th, on our sister network, TNT.

Tiger takes a time-out from the links. The golf superstar says he wants to focus on his family. But will the scandalous allegations of the past weeks derail future endorsements.

And making the holidays memorable for America's men and women on duty, overseas. We'll tell you how you can spruce up their holidays.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We want to update your top stories right now.

The U.S. State Department is trying to figure out why one of its contract employees has been detained in Cuba. The man was taken into custody, December 5th, but it is only just now come in to light. The company that employs him based in Bethesda, Maryland says he was in Cuba under a U.S. government contract. A "New York Times" reports he was distributing cell phones and laptops.

It was the closest vote ever, and Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram came out on top. He is the winner tonight of the 75th Heisman Trophy, the award given annually to the best player in college football. He edged Stanford running back Toby Gerhart by just 28 points. Ingram is the first Alabama player to win the Heisman.

Vote counting is underway in Houston's hotly contested mayoral race. City controller Annise Parker hopes to become the first openly gay mayor of the nation's fourth largest city. In early return, she has a slim lead over fellow Democrat and rival, former city attorney Gene Lott.

And Annise Parker joins me right now by phone from Houston where the votes are being counted as we speak.

Hello to you, how are you feeling tonight?

PARKER (via telephone): I'm feeling great tonight. The early returns showed me with a very slim lead, but that's the most conservative part of the electorate, and I should be increasing that margin through the course of the evening.

LEMON: OK. So listen, you know, let's be honest about this. The fourth largest city, you could become the first openly gay mayor to serve if this indeed does happen.

What does that mean to you? And more importantly what do you think it means to other people around the country, especially gays and lesbians.

PARKER: Well, I am running because I want to be mayor of Houston, and I absolutely believe I'm the best qualified candidate to be mayor of Houston. It's a significant event, and I understand that I am a role model for many people. But tomorrow morning I'm going to be getting up and starting my transition to mayor and that will be my focus.

LEMON: And if this indeed does happen, you represent all the people, not just gays and lesbians, and I'm sure that's what your thoughts are.

But listen, let me ask you this. In all honestly, it's been a very contentious election, and there have also been some things -- let me read this, just a couple of clippings from news articles here.

"Gene Lott would have become the city's second black mayor if he was elected, but it talked about your homosexual behavior in ads, conservative groups, endorse lot. There were ads talking about your behaviour and what have you. And really attacking you for being gay. Anti-gay rhetoric.

How do you respond to that?

PARKER: There's a certain segment of Houston, there's a certain segment of society that has problems with the issues around sexual orientation. But the citizens of Houston have elected me six consecutive times to public office. They know me. They trust me. I think it's a small and shrinking minority of Houstonians who have that attitude, and I look forward to, as you said, being mayor of all of Houston.

LEMON: Is that -- do you think that should be a wakeup call or maybe a message to the people who may have spread some of that anti- gay rhetoric?

PARKER: I don't think they're listening to messages, at least not those kinds. And I think that that kind of behavior on their part will only continue. What the message should be is that Houston is a diverse international, open modern city, and my election means that Houstonians are focus more on what people can do and who they are. LEMON: All right. Annise Parker joins us live. Annise, I'm not sure if you're at your headquarters, but we're looking at live pictures now from KHOU. Inside, people are holding signs.

We want to tell our viewers that she is the city's controller and she's running up against Gene Locke who is a former city attorney there, who would have been the second African-American mayor of Houston. She will be the first openly gay mayor of Houston, and a city as large as Houston, the fourth largest city. Let us know what happens, OK, Annise?

PARKER: All right, I will do so.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

We want to talk now about Tiger Woods and his sponsors. What's going to happen now? Some of them are taking a second look. Are they distancing themselves from the golf phenom? We'll talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: One of Tiger Woods' major sponsors says he is being phase out of its advertising to support his goal of privacy as he works on his personal life. Woods has announced he is taking an indefinite leave from golf to try to rescue his marriage. And for the first time, he's acknowledged infidelity. Gillette says its decision does not mean it is severing ties with Woods all together. But the company declined to say when those ties would be renewed.

Our Randy Kaye has more on Woods' trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It wasn't exactly sudden death, but Tiger Woods seems to have lost this round.

His troubles began the day after Thanksgiving with a mysterious one-car crash at 2:30 in the morning. Just feet from his own driveway, he hit a tree and a fire hydrant. His wife used a golf club to free him from his badly mangled SUV. A neighbor called 911.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: OK. Are you able to tell if he's breathing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I can't tell right now.

911 OPERATOR: OK. All right. We do have help on the way. What color is his car, too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a black Escalade.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KAYE: Tiger seemed to hope silence would make the story go away. It didn't work. Days later, he released a statement, apologizing for -- quote -- "transgressions" in very carefully worded comments on his Web site that never mentioned the word affair. That statement was released the same day this cover story in "Us Weekly" magazine hit newsstands.

In it, Las Vegas cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs alleged a nearly three-year affair with the golfer. She told the magazine they met in a nightclub when Woods tapped her on the shoulder, and that he recently left her a voicemail warning her that his wife may be calling.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, it's Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor.

Can you please take your name off your phone? My wife went through my phone and may be calling you.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KAYE: It didn't end there. More women came forward, cocktail waitresses, a lingerie model, even former porn stars, all alleging to have had a relationship with Tiger Woods.

But the golfer stayed silent until tonight, when he admitted his -- quote -- "infidelities in a statement."

(on camera): Earlier this year, Woods hit the billion-dollar mark, earning an unprecedented amount of money in his career, including endorsements, appearances and business relationships with companies like Nike, which pays him an estimated $20 million a year to add his name to their line of golf gear.

"Sports Illustrated" reported, Woods earned $105 million from sponsorship deals in 2008.

(voice-over): Through it all, Woods' major sponsors have stood by him. Nike released a statement saying, quote, "Nike supports Tiger and his family. Our relationship remains unchanged."

Gatorade offered its support in a statement, too, "Tiger and his family have our support as they work through this private matter."

But commercials featuring Tiger Woods disappeared from prime-time TV. The last one that aired was a Gillette ad on November 29. On late-night TV, his personal pain became a parody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Earlier today, I had an unfortunate incident with my golf clubs.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I was putting them away in the closet, and one of them dropped on top of me.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: It may all have become too much.

What else would drive the world's greatest golfer away from the game and the glory he's enjoyed for so many years?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: I'm joined now by sports business analyst Rick Harrow in West Palm Beach, Florida.

I guess anything is possible, can he repair it, though?

RICK HORROW, SPORTS BUSINESS ANALYST: Anything is possible, but you got to remember, this guy went from being the most recognizable and accepted athlete on the face of the planet a couple weeks ago, to statements that say, infidelity, profoundly sorry, asked for forgiveness, disappointment. That's huge kind of rhetoric from a guy who talked about transgressions a few weeks ago.

$93 million, Don. Corporate America. Every year he's got a lot at stake, he's got a lot of good will, but EA doesn't say anything, AT&T, we're not really sure what we want to do. And Gillette says, well, we're not sure what we want to do, but we're not going to do it now.

LEMON: For those of us -- you know, you have gray hair, I just don't.

HORROW: Oh, no --

LEMON: People were saying, why is this such a big story? Why are you covering it? And we were trying to explain just what the ramifications could possibly be, and now it's coming to fruition, Rick. So for people who have been doing this for a while, sort of saw this coming, when you look at it -- let's look at it here -- Nike, these are some of his sponsorships. Nike, Accenture, AT&T, Tag Heuer, EA Sports, Gatorade, Gillette, on and on, Golf Digests, NetJets, PGA, Laser Eye Center, Upper Deck, and it just goes on and on. And we're talking a heck of a lot of money that's on the line here.

Here's my question. I don't know if you can answer this. And I probably should get an attorney to answer this. And I think it's a good question. If he is -- everyone says, I've heard everyone says these contracts are iron clad. Of course, they have the morals clause or whatever, but Tiger has these contracts and endorsements because of how well he plays golf. If he's no longer playing golf, do these sponsors have to continue with these contracts, his endorsements? HORROW: Let me put my attorney hat on and answer it the best I possibly can. To tell you that the morals clauses are written to allow the corporation to have a good bit of discretion, and they can enforce them.

$12 billion, Don, in corporate endorsements, from corporate America to athletes. Athletes get sick, they get injured, they do an O.J. Simpson, or whatever that means. Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps. The bottom line is contracts today from a legal perspective are smaller, they are shorter and they are also easier to terminate.

LEMON: OK. So the PGA is sticking by him, right? I guess they realize that when -- I'm sure he will return. Tiger returns. The ratings are going to be through the roof. Anything that he touches are going to be through the roof, at least initially, because people are going to be interested in what he has to say.

So does he still have the same clout with the PGA, and does he have the earning potential that he once had? It could be -- this could actually work out for him even better, who knows?

HORROW: And if you make a billion dollars, maybe the next billion isn't as important. Remember, he's only 33 years old. He has maybe 10, 15, 20 years to win those four majors to tie and five major to beat Jack Nicklaus. He has a lot of golf courses to design. A lot of endorsements still to do.

And listen, the PGA tour, 50 percent reduction in earnings and viewership when he's not on. Three times as much prize money since he's been there. And a 7,000 percent increase in PGA tour millionaires.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: That was sports business analyst, Rick Horrow. He also says a key thing to look for in the coming days is how the fans will react to all of this.

Bringing Christmas to the men and women serving our country who can't make it home. What you can do to help make it happen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Time now to talk about "What Matters." For Christmas Trees, for American soldiers. Free Christmas trees for American soldiers. It's all in the spirit of sprucing up the holiday for our military families.

The Trees for Troops program plans to give out 16,000 trees this year at home and abroad. And I spoke earlier with Sgt. Terry Montrose, a tree recipient and with Jimmy Livaditis. He is the co- owner of Big John's Christmas Trees. And he's helping donate 100 trees to the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIMMY LIVADITIS CO-OWNER, "BIG JOHNS CHRISTMAS TREES": For the last four years, we've been involved and we donate some trees that will be picked up by a FeDex trailer and they are taking them and distributed to the bases they designate.

LEMON: So they designate. You don't decide who gets them or what have you.

LIVADITIS: You think we would get to, maybe, distribute them to Fort Benning or some place in Georgia, but my understanding is that they went down to Fort MacDill in Tampa.

LEMON: You don't actually get to see the reaction then?

LIVADITIS: We get to see at the end of the season, when -- we see some of the video. We get to see that, but not the one on one.

LEMON: What do you think of that when you see that? It's got to make you feel good?

LIVADITIS: It does. And some of the interviews I've seen, it's very overwhelming to see how happy they are to get that.

LEMON: What does your tree look like, Sergeant? Do you have pictures of it?

SGT. TERRY MONTROSE, "TREES FOR TROOPS RECIPIENT": I don't have pictures with me here, but it's probably 5 to 6 feet tall, maybe it was 7 feet tall. It's a beautiful tree. It really is. I really expected something a little less. It is a first class tree.

LEMON: Yes, it is. So would you have bought a tree anyway?

MONTROSE: Maybe, probably so. I really like the live trees. We have a classic tree that we ship with us from base to base, a little more portable. I really do like the live trees.

LEMON: And what are the reactions? What was your reaction when someone brought it? Did you know they were going to bring it?

MONTROSE: That's what they said. I just got here at MacDill about a couple of months ago. And I heard about this, two or three weeks ago that someone was coming to bring trees to MacDill Air Force Base to give them away. I thought, wow, what a wonderful gesture.

LEMON: Yes. And then you get a tree?

MONTROSE: That's amazing. Absolutely.

LEMON: And you got one of them.

So, Jimmy, what kind of -- you know, the response that you get. I imagine people in the community life that you do this. Does it cost you? Do you even -- are you even concerned about that, when you're talking about our men and women who are fighting for us? LIVADITIS: Cost is not a concern. Some of our suppliers are onboard, too, and there's a gentleman and I know we can lie on * who also helped us, and gave us a good price on the trees that we donated. So just the community, when they -- in a tight economy, it's still good to see some people who want to also send the tree to the troops.

LEMON: I already know we're going to get lots of reaction from viewers. Do you know how they can help if they want to become part of this program?

LIVADITIS: Well, they can get it at Christmas Spirit Foundation. They have a Web site. And they can check them out. And right now the program is over, but they can still contribute to the Christmas Spirit Foundation and I think they will -- they can make sure that whatever they send can get sent there.

LEMON: Well, sergeant, I'll give you the last word since you are a sergeant in the military. Tell our viewers what this means to military families especially this time of year, to have someone, to have the nation really thinking about them.

MONTROSE: I really think, I'm lucky to have my family with me this Christmas. But I really think those families that received the trees, if they have a loved one deployed, it can't replace the loved one, but, boy, it really lets them know that someone's out there care about them and thinking about them. I think that's a big deal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And if you want to help make a brighter, greener holiday for the troops, you can. Just go to ChristmasSpiritFoundation.org. It's online. And you'll find all the information you need. ChristmasSpiritFoundation.org.

Home grown pot, and it is perfectly legal. A Colorado woman is helping her son grow and sell marijuana. We'll take a trip to their farm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The family business, gone to pot. A Colorado mom used to flush her son's marijuana down the toilet. Now she's helping him grow and sell it. CNN's all-platform journalist, Jim Spellman, takes us inside their booming business.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN NEWS ALL-PLATFORM JOURNALIST: So this is your little marijuana farm?

JASON IRWIN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROWER: Yes, this is me and my mother's little marijuana farm. Greenhouse one, greenhouse two.

DIANE IRWIN, MEDICAL MARIJUANA GROWER: I had an Aveda hair salon for years. I sold my salon and moved on to the country. JASON IRWIN: We started in July, which was really late, because we didn't even get this property until June.

DIANE IRWIN: I gave Jason some money after I sold the salon. And I just trusted him to do what he felt was best to invest the money and help us to get ahead financially. And so one day I was staying with him and he said he was going to open a dispensary, and I said, go for it.

JASON IRWIN: The growers deal with a lot of the poundage which is where the dollars are.

DIANE IRWIN: And then he called me one day on the phone and said, mom, I think we should buy this land. And how do you feel about growing medical marijuana? I said, OK. It was just a faith thing.

SPELLMAN: Your mom -- during the growing season, your mom lived in this camper?

JASON IRWIN: Yes. She also started hanging the buds in here. She did half the harvest in here. She lived in here by herself with no real heat or water in this camper.

DIANE IRWIN: It was -- it was an adventure that I never thought about experiencing. When we finished, it was like now we're bound course for me, living off the grid, roughing it.

JASON IRWIN: We got two ounces per plant. Total off of 62 greenhouse plants we got like, I think, 13 pounds. It is a really cheap investment to grow -- to be able to legally grow 63 cannabis plants in a market that has been determined by the black -- by the illicit drug market.

DIANE IRWIN: And it was fun. Every morning, I would go out and talk to my girls and pray over them and ask them to provide good medicine for the people that were going to be using it.

So, you know, growing up, I used to bust him all the time with marijuana. And I used to flush it down the toilet or stash it.

I'm in for the long haul. I really do feel like we're pioneers bringing new life to medical marijuana, and it is exciting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Did you see that? It looks like a little Christmas tree. It's huge. That piece by CNN all platform journalist Jim Spellman.

You know, Adam Sandler did it, so did the author of the Dreidel song. But this musical match up is something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SONG PLAYING: Eight days of Hanukkah, come let's celebrate, come let's celebrate tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Warren Hatch gets in on this. He takes to the floor with his Hanukkah song, and we're tuning in to it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: OK. So when it comes to holiday songs, we've got Christmas Carols Galore and we love them. By comparison, the Hanukkah playlist is a little bit thin. This year there's at least one new song thanks to senator/composer Orrin Hatch. Our Jessica Yellin shows us, the Mormon lawmaker is in harmony with the Jewish Festival of Lights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Move over "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," here comes Orrin Hatch. It's a new Hanukkah song written by the senior senator from Utah.

(VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Yes, Hatch is Mormon, but says he's always felt close to the Jewish community.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: We love the Jewish people. We revere what they been through. We suffered with them.

YELLIN: So how did this happen? The conservative Republican likes to write spirituals and love songs. When a Jewish reporter suggested he try his hand at this, he decided to tell the story of Hanukkah.

HATCH: This is the menorah that they filled with oil, but they didn't have enough oil to really keep it going.

YELLIN: The song explains what Jews call a miracle, when in ancient times one day's worth of oil stretched for eight days.

(VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Others have tried their hands at songs.

(VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: And, of course there, is Adam Sandler.

(VIDEO CLIP)

But the Utah's senator's tune is winning raves from his peers.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER, (D) NEW YORK: I don't know if it's in the category of miracles, but having a Mormon member of the United States Senate add to the Hanukkah song collection is certainly right up there with the unexpected.

HATCH: Well, I've had people say they just love it. I've been stopped as I walked through the halls.

YELLIN: He can think of two Jewish singers he'd like to perform the song.

HATCH: I wouldn't mind Madonna singing this. She's a convert of Judaism. She's great performer and a great singer.

YELLIN: And his favorite, Barbra Streisand.

HATCH: Barbra Streisand has the most beautiful clear voice I've ever heard, but she probably hates my guts because I'm a conservative Republican.

YELLIN: Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: I still have to say my favorite, Adam Sandler.

Here comes your feedback, OK, let's see.

Jay Tosca says, by the way, Jay, my sister's middle name is Tosca. He says, "I will never understand the fear some people have of pot. Alcohol kills far more people than any drug, yet it is perfectly legal.

WLPerie says, "The foundation seems great. I will definitely be contributing." Talking about the Christmas tree for our soldiers.

"Portland is openly gay. Sam Adams openly gay. We are major city respectfully. Do your homework, sir. We know you're in the 20s. Houston is number 4. Number 4. It is a big, great, big, city.

"Gay, gay, gay. How much can we hear about it? Abortion, black, Hispanic, maybe I am too old. When can we get over this crap?"

OK, appreciate that.

LadyKayaker says, "Wow, hard to believe Parker is elected in Texas. Maybe she'll do well and break down some laws."

Not elected yet, but it's close there.

Hey, everyone, thanks for joining us. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. See you back here tomorrow night, 6:00, 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Look at that beautiful shot. Centennial Olympic Park right across the street from CNN world headquarters. Have a great evening. Thanks for watching.