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President Obama Holds Press Conference; FBI Blunder; Dennis Rodman in North Korea

Aired December 20, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How does he look back on this difficult year?

FBI blunder. A secret interrogation manual is made public in the most baffling way. What does it reveal about the agency's interrogation methods?

And controversial visit -- new photos of former NBA player Dennis Rodman inside North Korea right now. His trip comes as the country sends an ominous message to South Korea by fax. What does it say?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Obamacare rollout, NSA surveillance, even his poll numbers, it's been a rough year for President Obama. And today he was forced to relive much of it in a lengthy White House news conference.

Reporters grilled him on the problems that have rocked his second-term White House. Some of his answers were surprising.

Our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, was there. She is joining us now.

So, what did you hear, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, maybe a sign of just how difficult 2014 was, he was pushing toward 2014, saying that it is going to be a year of action, and he narrowed his priorities to the economy and immigration reform.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the most wonderful press conference of the year right now.

KEILAR: President Obama closed out 2013 facing a skeptical White House press corps.

QUESTION: Has this been the worst your of your presidency?

QUESTION: Were you wrong then because you were not fully read-in not just on these programs, but on other programs?

KEILAR: The president at times appeared at combative and at other times conciliatory, acknowledging the biggest foible of a foible-filled year, the rollout of Obamacare.

OBAMA: Since I'm in charge, obviously, we screwed it up.

KEILAR: Instead of making excuses for the way his signature legislative achievement has been implemented, he accepted fault, but pushed back against critics in defense of the underlying law.

OBAMA: Having said all that, bottom line also is, is that we've got several million people who are going to have health care that works.

KEILAR: Reporters also hammered the president over his shifting position on the reach of the NSA and revelations that the agency was collecting information on Americans.

QUESTION: On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months ago and said, "We've got the right balance." And six months later, you're saying maybe not.

OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, Ed. I think it's important to note that, when it comes to the right balance on surveillance, these are a series of judgment calls that we're making every single day, because we've got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are protected.

KEILAR: The president said he will consider changes to the NSA while he's on vacation in Hawaii and make what he called a definitive statement on surveillance programs in January.

In one flash of frustration, the president pushed back against opponents on Capitol Hill who have suggested they will again hold up approving increasing the nation's debt ceiling. The Treasury secretary has warned without an increase, the U.S. will run out of money to pay its bill early next year.

(on camera): Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

OBAMA: Brianna, you know the answer to this question. No, we're not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

KEILAR: Obama warned Republicans not to squander the glimmer of goodwill from the recent bipartisan budget deal that averts a government shutdown in the new year.

OBAMA: I can't imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress that folks are thinking actually about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.

KEILAR: If that wasn't enough, to send Republicans a message:

OBAMA: I have got to assume that folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again.


KEILAR: Some Republicans actually agree with President Obama on that sentiment, Wolf, but they also say it doesn't help that President Obama was poking House Republicans in the eye.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, a manual the FBI fought for years to keep secret has now been revealed under some very unusual circumstances. It's shedding new light on how the FBI conducts interrogations.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is working the story for us.

Joe, what have you found out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this document appears to reveal details the government didn't want people to see, a by-the-book explanation of how teams getting ready for court should conduct interrogation of detainees overseas, including terror suspects.

Tonight, the FBI is trying to figure out how something like this is available to the public.


JOHNS (voice-over): The government says how to this 70-plus-page detailed manual on how to conduct interrogations overseas is unclassified, but it was sensitive enough for the FBI to redact large portions before releasing it last year in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Fast forward to this new article detailing how "Mother Jones" writer Nick Baumann discovered an unredacted copy of the same document available to anyone in the U.S. Copyright Office.

NICK BAUMANN, "MOTHER JONES": I got a tip that there might be something there.

JOHNS: And there was sensitive information we apparently were not supposed to see right in the files for anybody with a Library of Congress card to inspect, including guidelines for FBI teams preparing for litigation.

BAUMANN: I have been saying this isn't going to work out, you know? There's no way that someone could be this silly to deposit an unredacted document here. And it was genuinely shocking when I got there, and it was unredacted.

JOHNS (on camera): We confirmed with the Copyright Office that the document is in its files, but getting to see it isn't easy. First you have to pay a fee, then there's a waiting period. And then when you get to see the document, you can't make copies or take verbatim notes.

(voice-over): Baumann was under the same rules, but recalls details.

BAUMANN: My memory and what stuck out to me was the first thing that this is a document that the FBI intended for its clean teams to use, and clean teams are groups of FBI investigators who go in and prepare evidence for federal court. And yet this same document had been criticized by the ACLU and human rights activists for being a little questionable.

JOHNS: Still, how this all happened is being called both bizarre and baffling, especially because the author, an FBI agent, filed papers to copyright a document that was generated for government use.

Mike German is a former FBI agent himself, now with the ACLU, which first publicized the whited-out version of the paper last year.

MIKE GERMAN, ACLU: It's a government document produced at the public expense. It certainly isn't something that can be copyrighted.


JOHNS: A law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation told CNN tonight this was -- quote -- "a well-intended manual put together by an FBI agent to assist with interrogations overseas."

None of it was classified or secret. It's our understanding tonight that the initial redactions were done to conceal FBI techniques and methods, but no explanation on why that document ended up in the Copyright Office.

BLITZER: Bizarre. I don't remember -- I have been in Washington for a while. I don't remember anything like that.

JOHNS: This is a story I haven't written before.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, thanks very much, Joe, for that report.

Still ahead: new pictures of the former NBA star Dennis Rodman inside North Korea right now. We have details of what he's doing in one of the world's most secretive countries.

And one of the most controversial figures in the history of sports talks to CNN's Rachel Nichols. The boxer Mike Tyson opening up to her in a very candid interview.

Rachel, there she is, she's standing by live.

But, first, this "Impact Your World."


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six days a week, 73- year-old Clyde Fogle heads to a workshop in his backyard to make a little magic.

CLYDE FOGLE, TOYMAKER: They are primarily toys with wheels. I have got some cars. I have got some animals.

BOLDUAN: Fogle's been making toys for Operation Christmas Child for close to a decade. The program is run by the charity Samaritan's Purse, and gives gift-filled shoe boxes to children in need around the world.

FOGLE: I see the joy on their faces when they get these boxes. It captures my heart.

BOLDUAN: Woodworking has always been Fogle's hobby.

FOGLE: After I retired, I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which limited me in my physical abilities. I want to give of myself, and I saw in a catalog where I could buy a kit to make 100 cars.

BOLDUAN: Fogle has donated around 100,000 toys to Operation Christmas Child.

FOGLE: I have got a map in my shop. I have a pin for every country that I know my toys have been. If I get tired of doing this, I look at that map. Oh, yes, that's why I'm doing that. So I keep going.



BLITZER: New photos of the former NBA star Dennis Rodman inside North Korea right now. It's day two of his controversial visit to the isolated country as a guest of the brutal regime, its leader, Kim Jong-un, whom Rodman calls a close friend.

CNN's Anna Coren is following all of this for us from South Korea. She's joining us now from Seoul.

Anna, so what is the latest? What we know about Dennis Rodman in North Korea?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, surprisingly the very day that Dennis Rodman arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea sent a fax to South Korea threatening to strike mercilessly and without notice if these anti-regime protests continue here in Seoul.

South Korea responded by saying if there was any provocation, it would retaliate. All of this really just adds more attention to former NBA star Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea, where he's there to visit his good friend Kim Jong-un, and play some basketball.


COREN (voice-over): Today in North Korea, former NBA star Dennis Rodman was back in the game, seen here in new photos on the court playing and later posing with members of the North Korean national basketball team in Pyongyang.

At times, the often outrageous 52-year-old smoked a cigar, watching players practice from the sidelines. Rodman's tour through the hermit kingdom is part of an effort to help prepare the North Korean team for an exhibition team to be played there next month against a dozen former NBA stars from the United States.

The former Chicago Bull arrived in North Korea with a documentary crew in tow. The same day, North Korea sent a threatening message by fax machine to its southern neighbor, telling South Korea it would strike mercilessly without notice if recent protests held in Seoul against the brutal dictatorship continue.

Rodman is the only American every granted access to North Korean's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, who he calls -- quote -- "a close friend."

But this trip, his third to the isolated regime, couldn't come at a more awkward time. North Korea appears to be going through its most serious political upheaval in decades, after Kim executed his uncle and mentor last week. In a statement, the state news agency call his uncle a despicable human scum who was worse than a dog.

Analysts believe the very public purge was the result of a power struggle.

JASPER KIM, ASIA PACIFIC GLOBAL RESEARCH GROUP: He has power and he's willing to use it and there's no limit upon it, that no one should question basically him at the top of the hill. He is to be respected, even if he has to kill for that respect.

COREN: Rodman says he's not concerned about his safety. He's just there to teach basketball and that he's not planning to discuss the imprisonment of American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly attempting to overthrow the regime.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: If it happens that he wants to talk about it, great. If it doesn't happen, I just can't bring it up, because I don't want him to think I'm over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as maybe his friend, and all of a sudden I start talking about politics. It's not going to be that way.


COREN: Now, Wolf, that exhibition game that they're preparing for will take place in two weeks, but we are hearing reports that Rodman is having difficulty signing up the American team, which, of course, would be made up of ex-NBA stars.

Apparently, a couple of them are a bit concerned about their safety heading into North Korea. But, Wolf, Rodman has said that there's nothing to be afraid of, it's all love here, it's all love.

BLITZER: All right. Love is good, I guess. Thanks very much, Anna Coren in Seoul, South Korea.

Let's dig a little bit deeper on Dennis Rodman and the entire controversy.

Joining us, CNN's Rachel Nichols. Her show "UNGUARDED" airs later tonight 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

Rachel, Dennis Rodman notoriously eccentric when he was a player, since then. What do you think is going on, this bond that he's forged with the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will preface all of this, Wolf, by saying I am certainly not inside the mind of Dennis Rodman, and that's probably a good thing.

But I can say he's gone on record over the years of saying, hey, he is an insecure guy. He does like attention, and he is certainly getting a lot of attention for this. Also it wasn't that long ago that a ex-wife of his had him in court saying that he owed her $800,000 in back child support payments, so the question has come up, how much money is Dennis Rodman being paid to go over to North Korea?

Dennis, of course, won't talk about that or how much of a factor that money is in his decision to spend so much time over there and not question the politics. But there are a lot of people who say that his line of reasoning, that he's just using sport as a way to find common ground between the West and a country that otherwise doesn't have any ground to have that kind of expression, well, a lot of people think that's just faulty reasoning.

BLITZER: How does the NBA, the professional community reacting to Rodman's push, for example, to play basketball with some other former NBA stars in North Korea?

NICHOLS: Yes. I have talked to a few players about this.

Most of them just give you the standard speech, you know, Dennis, he's crazy. I have talked to a few other players, though, who are specifically pretty embarrassed about it. They don't like what him being over there says about the league.

There are guys who say, I don't know who he thinks he's going to round up, the retired players that are supposedly going to go over there and play in January, but, again, you have got to go back to the dollars. If there's enough big checks being offered, unfortunately there are a lot of broke former NBA players out there. And if they're offered enough, you have to think he will be able to round up a team. It's just going to be interesting to see who is on that team.

BLITZER: In general, NBA players, where do they stand these days on making overt public political statements?

NICHOLS: Yes, it's really interesting to look at how the pendulum has swung back and forth.

Of course, we remember in the '60s Bill Russell, and so many guys were willing to step out there, talk about what they believed in. The NBA was really at the forefront of a lot of racial and gender politics. Then in the '80s, with the age of branding, Michael Jordan was always held up as the example of the athlete who wouldn't discuss politics, who wouldn't use his position for any kind of cause because of the fear that it might hurt his brand or stop the dollars from coming in, in any way.

We have seen it swing back a little bit again. LeBron James came out very strongly when the Trayvon Martin case was in the news. He's also been very public about rallying for President Obama and we have seen some other players come in either on the left or the right in both the NBA and the NFL in recent years.

So I think in general people kind of like it when their athletes show a little bit of political side. It makes them richer, more interesting certainly. It brought a lot of depth to why people loved watching Billie Jean King, but there is of course the extent of do you like the politics that they're bringing. Not a lot of people like the politics that Dennis Rodman is bringing right now. And that's obviously influencing people's views.

BLITZER: Yes. It sure.

Quickly, before we take a break, and I want you to stay with us, Rachel. When I was in North Korea three years ago, I saw this basketball that the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had brought with her to North Korea to Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong Il, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan.

It had a revered spot in the national museum there. They love, love, love NBA basketball in North Korea.

All right, stand by, Rachel.

We have got a lot more to talk about, including the NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. He's just back from injury. He's now out with another injury. Did the Lakers make a mistake in paying him all that money? Rachel has some thoughts.

Also, we will hear part of Rachel's interview with one of the most controversial figures in sports, boxing's Mike Tyson.


MIKE TYSON, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BOXER: Money is a false sense of security. It makes you somewhat believe that you can't even die, and it somewhat makes you even turn into a coward.



BLITZER: We're back with CNN's Rachel Nichols.

Rachel, you had a chance to sit down with one of the most controversial figures of the history of sports. That would be the boxer Mike Tyson. He opened up to you. Tell us a little bit what he had to say. NICHOLS: Well, we talked about everything. We talked about his childhood, growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which he referred to basically as a slum.

He said that he was arrested nearly 40 times by the age of 12. He didn't know where his next meal was coming from sometimes. He would steal, running with the wrong crowd. We talked about how you go from a childhood like that to being a superstar almost instantaneously. Take a listen.


NICHOLS: How do you deal with going from that to being a guy who when you're only 20 years old, you're the heavyweight champion, and once you get there, how difficult is it to deal with it?


TYSON: Money is a false sense of security. It makes you somewhat believe that you can't even die, and it somewhat makes you even turn into a coward.

This is what I know. People are not born humble. Human beings have to be humbled in order to really appreciate the value of line.


NICHOLS: We know that Mike Tyson struggled with fame, struggled with money. He burned through a reported $300 million, was sent to jail on a rape charge that he still denies.

So he was really interesting, opening up about what that journey was like to go through, how he's rebounded now. He's staging a successful one-man show, he's written a book, he's become a boxing promoter. And he joked about how -- he's accused Don King of stealing tens of millions from him, so he says the best advice he gives his young boxers is, have your lawyer be your entourage. He said have your lawyer be your groupie.

So it's a funny interview, as well as touching and. And, by the way, Wolf, he also gives me tips on how to keep a pet tiger. You're going to want to watch that later. I know that that's a special interest of yours.

BLITZER: I love those tigers, of course.

I was once, recently, not that long ago, on a flight with him. He could not have been nicer, I must say this, very soft-spoken and very nice.

Let's talk basketball.

NICHOLS: Did he talk your ear off?

BLITZER: No, no, no, he was very nice. Let's talk about Kobe Bryant for a moment. What, he just came back, now he's out again with a knee injury for six weeks. Did the Lakers make a mistake by signing him to a huge two-year $48 million contract extension?

NICHOLS: I'm personally a believer that we don't want to make all of these pronouncements in sports right away, this was a huge mistake, this was so good, because of a lot of this stuff we have to see how it plays out.

If Kobe comes back from this injury, and it turns out to be something of a freak thing, and he's relatively healthy the next year or so, the Lakers will feel like they got their money's worth. This contract was more than about just paying the player at that time. They wanted to make a statement to not only Kobe that they valued his loyalty, but to the rest of the league.

They still are trying to attract other players, other free agents. They felt like by rewarding Kobe, they were showing other players around the league that the Lakers are a class organization that really values the guys who contribute to them.

That's all well and good if Kobe is healthy. But that's not happening so far. And if he does end up, on the other hand, injured on and off for most of the next couple years, no matter how loyal you are, it's a mistake if you have a bunch of money tied up in a player who can't play.

BLITZER: Yes, well, fair points.

Rachel, as usual, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, this is very important. You can catch a whole lot more of Rachel Nichols on her program later tonight. "UNGUARDED" airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Check it out.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Before we go, merry Christmas, happy new year to all of our viewers out there. I will see you back here in 2014.