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Rodman Defiant, Combative in North Korea; Amtrak Passengers Off Stuck Train; Atlanta Cold; Hunt for Poachers

Aired January 7, 2014 - 12:30   ET



CHARLES SMITH, FORMER NBA PLAYER: We're not -- again, we're not here to deal with the politics. The date of the game is the date of the game.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Dennis, let me end on this. You do have a relationship with this man. You've said it many times. We've seen it demonstrated --


CUOMO: -- for whatever reason.

Are you going to take an opportunity, if you get it, to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae, and to say, let us know why this man is being held, that this is wrong, that he is sick?

If you can help, Dennis, will you take the opportunity?

RODMAN: Whoa, whoa. Watch this.

The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand, I've got it, guy.

If you understand what Kenneth Bae did --

CUOMO: Yeah?

RODMAN: Do you understand what he did --

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me.

RODMAN: -- in this country?

CUOMO: You tell me. What'd he do?

RODMAN: No, no, no! You tell me! You tell me! Why is he held captive?

CUOMO: They haven't released any charges.


CUOMO: They haven't released any reasons. SMITH: Listen --

RODMAN: Let me do this. I would love to speak on this.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

RODMAN: You know, you've got 10 guys here, 10 guys here.

They have left their families, left their damn families, to help this country in a sports venture.

There are 10 guys, all these guys here. Does anyone understand that?

CUOMO: We do, and we appreciate that. And we wish them well with cultural exchange.

RODMAN: No, no, no! I'm just saying. No, I don't give a (inaudible). I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think.

I'm saying to you. Look at these guys here, loom at them!

CUOMO: Yeah, but, Dennis, don't put it on them. Don't use them as an excuse for the behavior that you're putting on yourself.

RODMAN: They came here!

CUOMO: You just basically were saying that Kenneth Bae did something wrong. We don't even know what the charges are.

Don't use these guys as a shield for you, Dennis.

SMITH: Listen. Listen. Listen.

RODMAN: Ain't no shield! I got it. Let me do this!

Really? Really? I'm going to tell you one thing. People around the world, around the world, I'm going to do one thing.

Your guy behind the mike right now, we have guys here doing one thing. We have to go back to America, and take the abuse.

Do you have to take the abuse we're going to take? Do you, sir? Let me know. Are you going to take the abuse we're going to take?

Guess what, though? One day -- one day, this door is going to open, because these 10 guys here, all of us, Christie, Vin, Dennis, Charles, all these -- everybody here.

We could just open the door just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. It's just an amazing interview. You keep wanting to watch it and dissect it, over and over. My colleague, Chris Cuomo in New York here, it's just a fascinating and provocative interview. You really pushed Dennis Rodman in so many different ways.

He was extremely animated and angry when you pushed him on the whole Kenneth Bae question.

Do you think he got it? Do you think he really understood what this was about, the controversy over Bae, or is he just parroting what he's heard from the North Korean regime?

CUOMO: I don't know, Suzanne. That's a good question.

I also -- I'm not really sure it matters. For me, Dennis Rodman is only relevant in as much as, for whatever weird, bizarre, unknown reason, he seems to have the ear of the ruler of North Korea in a way that no other branch of the United States diplomatic corps does.

And as disappointing and scary as that is, it also makes him relevant and allows him to be a window into what does matter, and that is obviously the American, Kenneth Bae, and the concerns of his family; the human rights abuses that we all know about and cover, and you do so well; the nuclear option threats that come out of that country. That's what matters.

And, yes, Rodman will drive the energy of the discussion, but it's good to get those issues the attention that they deserve, even if it comes at the price of Dennis going all Clubber Lang on me there.

MALVEAUX: You bring up a good point, the fact that we have an opportunity to talk about Kim Jong-un, that we have an opportunity to talk about human rights abuses and Kenneth Bae. All of that certainly matters.

You look at the players, and you mentioned this a couple times in your interview, that you have a great deal of respect for who these men are and what they do.

I couldn't help but thinking, looking at their expressions, the thought bubbles and clouds that would be above them during this exchange, what was going on through their minds?

When you see this interview, when you play it back, when you see it, what do you make of those men?

CUOMO: Well, they weren't miked, OK? Only Charles Smith and Dennis Rodman were miked, so it's not as if they had an opportunity to speak their own piece. That wasn't the understanding of what the interview would be.

I see the same looks of kind of being perplexed that you do there, and I feel for them, because make no mistake, and it's not just because several are New York Knicks and I'm a die-hard Knicks fan. This isn't about sports.

It's that I believe in the idea of cultural exchange, as I'm sure you do. We've seen it work in places.

And I do know that Charles Smith does do good work, and we're digging into exactly what the situation is there, but it can be as simple as that, because this game has been spun or made, legitimately or illegitimately, into a birthday present for the ruler.

And once you do that, you divorce it from the significance, ordinarily, of just exposing people to things, and you legitimize and reward a man who many believe doesn't deserve it.

So while I feel for them and I tried to distinguish Charles Smith and the others from Dennis Rodman, they made their own choices to go there. I don't know what the arrangement is there. We're looking into it.

But, look, the NBA commissioner, David Stern, he said in his own words, there are many ways that basketball can work to help situations. This is not one of them.

MALVEAUX: And, Chris, I've got to ask you this final question here. You obviously have the ear of Dennis Rodman. You guys get into this heated exchange.

Are you going to follow up? Are you going to try to -- call it a beer summit, call it whatever you will, are you going to try to reach out to him after this game and get some sort of feedback, the down-low on his visit?

CUOMO: What are you, playing me, Suzanne? You trying to get me into it with Dennis Rodman? That guy would kill me. Did you see the size of that guy? Did you see how angry he was?

MALVEAUX: I want a rematch. That's all I've got to say. I want to see the rematch.

CUOMO: Thank God it wasn't in person. I don't even know what I would look like right now.

For him to get that fired up, I don't know what it takes. As you well know, you're very seasoned at the craft of interviewing. You are not going to get upset, no matter how I am toward you, unless I cross a really bright line of offensiveness towards someone else or yourself.

So it's easy for me to stay calm in that, because what matters to me is not Dennis Rodman. It's Kenneth Bae's family, who's really hurt, really scared. He's in a precarious position in a country that it doesn't seem the United States as access. We're pushing the State Department hard as well.


CUOMO: You do have these larger concerns. I'm sorry that Rodman is in this, the middle of this. It doesn't make any sense to me, Suzanne. It never has.

I didn't believe our producers when we first started covering the Rodman story here with everybody else. I didn't believe it at first. I thought that like Jimmy Kimmel was spoofing us.

But now that it's proven all too real, I wish that he becomes irrelevant as soon as possible.

But for right now, he's getting attention for this story. I'll take it. I'm a little happy it wasn't in person. I don't know what would have happened. I'm a little old.

MALVEAUX: He reached across -- believe me, he reached across the world.

CUOMO: I'm a little old, Suzanne.

You may have been talking to me horizontally now, you know? You may have been bedside with me. Can you hear me?

MALVEAUX: I can only imagine.

Chris, thank you very much, and I really do hope that you guys end up discussing this again on the back side, when he comes home.

CUOMO: Yeah, I'll bet you do.

MALVEAUX: We'll see how all this goes, and, you know, maybe we'll learn more about Kim Jong-un, as well.

CUOMO: I think I'll pass that one off to you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. I'll take one day.

CUOMO: You're smarter than I am. You take it.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Chris.

All right, Dennis Rodman, got a lot of questions about this, of course, Chris asking the real tough ones.

Can his so-called "basketball diplomacy" really open the door to this reclusive North Korea? We're going to talk to a former director for Asian affairs at the White House, straight ahead.


MALVEAUX: Eccentric basketball star Dennis Rodman, angrily defending his latest trip to North Korea, he has taken a team of former NBA players for what he calls "basketball diplomacy."

They're set to play an exhibition game tomorrow to celebrate the birthday of the country's brutal dictator, Kim Jong-un, a man who recently ordered the execution of his uncle.

He is also holding American Kenneth Bae in prison and accused of carrying on horrific human rights abuses of his father and grandfather.

Georgetown University Professor Victor Cha is joining us from Washington, former director for Asian affairs at the White House, as well. Professor Cha, thank you for being with us, as always.

I just had an opportunity to talk to my colleague, Chris, about this interview, very fascinating situation, sitting down and discussing this with him.

But in some way, have we learned more about Kim Jong-un because of these visits back and forth from Dennis Rodman?

We now know the guy's age, we know he has a young daughter and even one of his negotiators who was promoted by where he was sitting at a basketball game.

Are there benefits?

VICTOR CHA, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, Suzanne, I think there are, in spite of all of the criticism of Dennis Rodman. Every time he meets with the North Korean leader, the more information we learn about him.

The first trip is probably the only live footage we have of the North Korean leader socializing outside of a staged propaganda event, so in that sense, I think what he does can be helpful for those of us interested in learning more about this mysterious leadership and where it's headed.

MALVEAUX: Why is that significant? We're looking at that footage now. Why is it significant to see him in this calm, relaxed manner, in a way we haven't before.

CHA: In general, with a country like this, so opaque, where every movement, everything is choreographed and staged, to see him interacting with people, to see his mannerisms, to catch a glimpse of what he might be saying, even if it's in Korean, this can be helpful to experts, analysts, trying to study the leadership and trying to figure out how he functions, especially at this particular time, where, as you said, he's -- you know, he's executed his uncle, clearly some sort of internal leadership turmoil taking place.

The more information we can get, the better. And Dennis Rodman is the only person that we know of that has had contact with the North Korean leader.

MALVEAUX: I would like to play this heated exchange between Dennis Rodman and Chris.

Watch this.


RODMAN: If you understand what Kenneth Bae did --

CUOMO: Yeah?

RODMAN: Do you understand what he did --

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me.

RODMAN: -- in this country?

CUOMO: You tell me. What'd he do?

RODMAN: No, no, no! You tell me! You tell me! Why is he held captive?

CUOMO: They haven't released any charges.


MALVEAUX: Professor Cha, do you think it's possible -- I mean, it's hard to know. but do you think it's possible that Kim Jong-un might see this exchange, might be watching these videos, might be dissecting this the way we have, and say, you know what? I'm going to do something really strange and crazy. I think I'm going to release Kenneth Bae.

CHA: The new normal with North Korea and this new leadership is that everything is unpredictable, so who knows? It's entirely possible that he could do something like that.

And if he did, all of us would stop criticizing Dennis Rodman.

But I mean, kudos to Chris. That must not have been an easy interview to do with Rodman.

But anything is possible with North Korea, so you can't throw out that possibility.

MALVEAUX: All right, Professor Cha, thank you so much for being with us. We'll see how all of this develops, see what comes out of this trip and this basketball game. We appreciate it.

Hardly could imagine it would amount to all of this, but it could be. Thank you very much.

South Sudan rebels and the government delegation, they have now started face-to-face peace talks. This is for the past three weeks. There's been a burst of ethnic violence in South Sudan that has killed at least a thousand people, driven 200,000 from their homes.

This all started when rebels loyal to the ousted vice president tried to stage a coup.

South Sudan, it is the world's youngest nation, forming just three years ago after decades of war.

If you'd like to find out how you can help the refugees in South Sudan, please go to Your Impact Your World team has got the names, it's got organizations, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, places like that where you can go and help.

And how cold is it? Even the polar bear, that is right, had to spend the night inside. And a train loaded with passengers was stopped in its tracks. And every state in the country, if you can believe this, had a temperature below freezing somewhere today. We're going to have more details up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It is freezing, but before we talk about the freezing cold here, I want to talk about a couple breakthroughs. This in the Antarctic. The Russian research ship that was stuck in the ice for about two weeks, well, it is finally free. We've been following this story.

The captain says that the ship is now sailing toward open water. Well, the Chinese icebreaker that got stuck trying to help the Russian ship has also now broken free. The team of researchers who were rescued by helicopter last week, they're on an Australian ice breaker and everybody says they're doing just fine.

About 100 million people across the United States would be happy with double digit temperatures right now, but many are going to at least have to wait another day. The deep and deadly freeze blamed now for at least 15 deaths.

The snow has grounded hundreds of flights, stopped trains on their tracks with hundreds of people on board. Single-digit temperatures that dipped even lower with wind chill make just keeping safe and warm a priority and a challenge as well. CNN's Ted Rowlands, he is in Chicago near where three Amtrak trains got stuck, Alina Machado, she is joining us from the dangerous cold in the south, she's right here in Atlanta where we are.

I want to start with you, Ted.

I understand that the last passengers are now off the trains, but it is still bitterly cold in Chicago, dangerously cold. How are people doing?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, they are doing as best as they can. These passengers are very happy to be in Chicago. They started in California. Five hundred plus passengers stranded for hours, in some cases up to 20 hours, on a train on a track that they can't get through because of the snow. A lot of them were bussed to Union Station here in Chicago within the last hour. And all in all, they're in pretty good spirits. They're happy to be here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we've been to -- his first trip to Disneyland. So it was an adventure there and an adventure last night. But it was good. We didn't feel threatened or scared or anything like that and we had food. They made a spare meal for us, an extra meal. They found food. So -- and we were warm. And that was the most important thing. So -- and we're safe -- safely home now.


ROWLANDS: The vast majority of passengers we talked to say, hey, this wasn't Amtrak's fault. This was Mother Nature. They understand it. It wasn't very comfortable. One person said she couldn't feel her backside after sitting for 20-plus hours. But all in all, nobody was injured. And it was uncomfortable, but they're safe now and warm (ph).

MALVEAUX: All right. That's good. And good to see you in a hat. Some of those passengers there looked like they were kind of cold, needed a little bit more to bundle up there. Thanks, Ted. Appreciate it.

I want to bring in Alina Machado here in Atlanta.

And, you know, coming into work today, it was seven degrees. It's like no other day I've ever experienced here. How you doing?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's - it's rough out here, Suzanne, I'm not going to lie. It's been -- it's bitter, it's frigid, and these temperatures are also downright dangerous, and that's a big reason, Suzanne, why this church, for example, opened up its doors today to let people who are homeless come in and seek refuge from these temperatures.

We want to show you some video from inside the church that we shot just a little while ago. It shows the area where about two dozen people spent the night seeking refuge from the bitter, bitter cold. And this church tells us that they plan to open up their doors again tonight to do the same, to help out people who don't have a place to go.

Schools here in Atlanta were closed today. There are several other school districts throughout the south, including in states like Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, that also closed today just because of how cold it is in the south. This is unusual for this area. Here in Atlanta, just so you have an idea, the average temperature this time of year is in the 50s. Suzanne, we are not going to be anywhere near that today.

MALVEAUX: All right. We certainly wish them the best, that they get inside and stay inside. It is deadly cold today. Thank you, Alina. Appreciate it.

Poachers have almost wiped out Africa's elephant population, all in the name of selling precious ivory. Our own Arwa Damon, she goes inside an undercover operation to track these bad guys down in the Congo. We've got part two of her amazing journey, up next.


MALVEAUX: All this week, CNN is reporting on a horrible situation. This is the killing of thousands of elephants every year. Got to warn you, some of these pictures are rather graphic and difficult to see. But the problem is so bad that Central Africa has lost almost two- thirds of its elephants.

Now poachers, they are mutilating the animals for the precious ivory tusks. They are selling the ivory, mostly to Asia. Our own Arwa Damon joined those hunting down the poachers in the Congo who had just slaughtered an elephant in a national park. But they are afraid that now government authorities are not going to do much to prosecute them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mathieu Eckel's team isn't wasting any time. He wants to know if there's a more discrete way to get into position. It's the morning after his eco-guards raided an elephant poacher's camp in Odzala National Park. They found a cell phone left behind and they are using it to track down suspected poachers that shot at them and escaped the day before. They are park rangers, by necessity now turned investigators.

DAMON (on camera): And you don't think that the authorities will actually investigate properly and go after this guy?

MATHIEU ECKEL: No. No. They're not interested in that.

DAMON (voice-over): Eckel says corruption is rampant in the Congo.

ECKEL: This, huh, come from military.

DAMON (on camera): That's military issue?

ECKEL: This one, of course, it's -

DAMON: This one?

DAMON (voice-over): At times, they can't even trust themselves. This seized compass is just like those issued to the eco-guards.

ECKEL: You must have contact to surrender.

DAMON: We wanted to ask the government about the corruption claims. The minister responsible for forests conceded, the government needs to clean up its act.

"Certainly, certainly," he told us. "Yes, it is true that there are accomplices to this illegal trading of wildlife. That is not easy." He insists the government is committed to fighting corruption. But on this morning, the eco-guard unit is on its own, and on the offensive.

Using the captured cell phone, they set up a meeting with an infamous bush meat trader whose number was on the phone. It's an ambush. He's cornered, then interrogated. It doesn't take him long to give up the name of the owner of the cell phone whom the eco-guards believe is one of the elephant poachers.

"They are just there. They live there. He's a young guy."

An hour later, the eco-guards pick up not one but two men, brothers, and interrogate them back at the unit's checkpoint.

"The other rifle, where is it? You own which one," Eckel demands. "The 458," one brother responds. He admits that they were at the camp, but claims they were just fishing. Both refuse to give up the names of those who shot at the eco-guards. And now the eco-guards will have to look for new leads.

But there have been some successes. In just the last four months, the unit arrested a trafficker ring leader, Ghislain Ngondjo, better known as "Pepito."

DAMON (on camera): We're driving through Pepito's village right now, but we've been advised not to actually get out and shoot because tensions are incredibly high between those who want to protect the park and Pepito's gang.

DAMON (voice-over): A few days after the two brothers were detained, the unit got a new lead and went after what they suspected was a third gang member. Escaping, he ran over an eco-guard stationed at this checkpoint. While the unit took the seriously injured guard to hospital, the eco-guard's camp was torched. The government has promised a response. One week later, the eco-guard's remain on their own.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Odzala National park, Republic of Congo.


MALVEAUX: And Russia has launched a huge security operation around Sochi today. This is one month from the start of the Winter Olympics. Thirty thousand police and troops will be on hand. Access to the region is being limited. There will also be heavy surveillance, as well, from the air.

Thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now. Have a good afternoon. Stay safe and warm.

BLITZER: Right now, record cold crippling much of the United States, stranding trains, canceling flights and closing schools.