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North Korea Denounces U.S. over Sanctions; Assad's Government Forces Gain Ground in Syria; Tensions Worsen between Mayor, NYPD; Boehner's Speakership Challenged in the House; Hillary Clinton's Message to Women, How It's Evolved; Mike Huckabee Gives Up FOX Show Anticipating 2016 Presidential Run; Chris Christie's Controversial Cowboys Hug.

Aired January 5, 2015 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

What is the administration trying to accomplish, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: One, they still believe North Korea is behind the attacks. Take away any doubt that the administration believes that they're responsible --


BLITZER: -- North Korea, despite these cyber experts who claim there's not enough proof of that.

SCIUTTO: That's right. What the administration will say is, listen, the cyber experts aren't seeing one-fourth, one-tenth of what we're seeing. That's the administration's point of view on responsibility.

So what are these sanctions designed to do? They go after 10 North Korean officials who are their money men. They get their money, their foreign exchange earnings overseas. That's one thing. Also, these three major entities one of which is their KGB, chief intelligence service, as well as two others that act very heavily in the arms trade, which, as Will mentioned, is really how North Korea makes its money.

Big-picture wise, a calibrated response designed to punish North Korea but not provoke a further cycle of retaliation. Because that's always a sensitivity with North Korea, you don't want to go to the stage where North Korea, say, does another missile test or sets off another nuclear test. These are real concerns. 2013, right before the State of the Union speech, which is coming up, North Korea had another test coming up. The U.S. has not seen any preparations for that. But the administration always has to be concerned about what could happen next.

BLITZER: Yeah. And the countries and the region, South Korea, China, Japan are all watching this very closely to see what North Korea might do. They have a lot at stake as well.

What's been the reaction in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill?

SCIUTTO: Not surprisingly, you'll have folks say this is a good first step but you need to be even harder. One is the primary Democratic voice on these issues, which is Robert Menendez, was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, soon to be the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Dana Bash asked him about it this weekend. Here's what he had to say.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (R), NEW JERSEY: The one thing I disagree with the president on is when he characterized the action here against Sony by North Korea as an act of vandalism. Vandalism is when you break a window. Terrorism is when you destroy a building. And what happened here is that North Korea landed a virtual bomb on Sony's parking lot and, ultimately, had real consequences to it as a company, and to many individuals who work there. So I think there has to be a real consequence to this, otherwise you'll see it happen again and again.


SCIUTTO: One step that he'd like to see is putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which is one of many measures the administration can take. This is the first step. As they said in their announcements, the Treasury Department's and the administration's announcements of these sanctions, this is just a first step. So they were telegraphing there will be further penalties to follow.

BLITZER: North Korea, for so many years, has already been so sanctioned. I don't know what else they can do to even create more sanctions.

SCIUTTO: It's true. Administration officials said they are very sanctioned but there are additional sanctions that they can take, particularly to cut them off from the dollar-denominated trading system. This is a tactic the U.S. has used with some success against Russia, Iran with its nuclear program, Russia in Ukraine. There is a nuclear option here, excuse the expression, where you could target the Chinese banks that do North Korea's international business. That could really hit them to the point where you worry about economic collapse in the regime. That's not a step they've taken so far.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that report. We'll stay on top of this story. Obviously, lots at stake.

Still ahead, young, out-manned and under equipped. We'll get a look at the Syrian rebels who are still fighting against the Bashar al Assad regime.


BLITZER: Want to get back to some developing news from Wall Street. Plunging oil prices triggering a sell-off of the Dow Jones. Take a look at this. You can see the Dow Jones down right now 292 points. The price of oil dipped below $50 a barrel for a short time earlier today. Analysts say rich stock prices, concerns over the global economy are also feeding investors' concerns. We're going to keep watching the markets for you as this day in the United States goes on.

For the United States, the fight in Syria is focused on ISIS positions and getting moderate opposition forces to align in that fight against the military, but for those opposition forces, there's a much more important fight, the one they've been wagging for several years now, the fight against Syria's government and the forces of the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad.

Nick Paton Walsh was in Syria's biggest city as the fight reached an important point.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the abandoned mansions of Syrian's old elite, a fight for the battle of the biggest city is reaching peak.


PATON WALSH: This is just outside Aleppo. It's key to the last remaining supply line for rebels into the city. If the regime takes this, tens of thousands of civilians in rebel areas will be besieged. They show our cameraman, Gabriel Shayem, the regime positions.


PATON WALSH: Now they begin with a surprise attack.


PATON WALSH: Across open ground these men are young, breathless, but in this war's carnage that amounts to experience. So many do not last long.


PATON WALSH: "These are the farms that the regime army took," the commander says, "and they took it because Arab countries let us down by not giving us weapons."

Iran is supporting Bashar's army.


PATON WALSH: This is a mad dash towards a better-equipped regime. And then positions by a dirt wall.


PATON WALSH: "Shoot now, guys," he says.

(GUNFIRE) PATON WALSH: "It looks like the 23 millimeter machine guns won't shoot at us now," they laugh. And then pull back. Reminding each other to conserve ammunition.

Even three years in, they still fight with make-shift or light weapons.


PATON WALSH: "Here we only have Kalashnikovs or grenades," he says. "Light weapons against the weapons of mass destruction that the regime has. We have nothing, only God in the face of the regime and their allies."


PATON WALSH: A cry of the faithful amid the loneliest, most vital fight.

They take Gabriel Shayem to another front line near the airport, another regime stronghold in Aleppo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see that building there?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The army building, 50 meters. I think from this point, 50. The other point there, 15.

PATON WALSH: This is their day-to-day existence, cat-and-mouse amid the rubble of their old world. A stalemate that has swallowed serious commercial hub for two years now.


PATON WALSH: They fire at the regime.


PATON WALSH: That crack is them returning fire with heavier weapons.


PATON WALSH: We're shown the firing position through which they can see their enemy. Our guide has moved back. He says, "I'm hit. The bullet exploded near my face. Now I'm covered in fragments."

The wounds are superficial, though.


BLITZER: That exclusive report from our Nick Paton Walsh, who is joining us from Beirut.

Nick, these opposition fighters, correct me if I'm wrong, they're really almost primarily or exclusively interested in doing damage to the Bashar al Assad regime in Damascus. ISIS is secondary?

PATON WALSH: To a point. It's within a long, exhausting, grueling fight. ISIS has become the more existential threat because, if you talked to many of them -- you hear Gabriel Shayem. When you talk to them, they know if they don't beat or push ISIS back or hold them away from the areas they control, then their fight against the regime is for nothing really because they'll end up with a radicalized perversion of Islam in societies they fought to try and free. So it's a very messy fight, Wolf.

The fight you saw, that battle is ongoing as we speak. The rebels seem to have the upper hand, but if they lose the key hill to the regime, then the regime potentially can cut off 300,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held areas. People who won't have food or supplies or medicine that they need. Then potentially, the regime could begin a well-tried strategy of, in fact, starving out those who oppose it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So the fight for Aleppo really, as you point out, it's at a critical, critical stage, a life-and-death stage for hundreds of thousands of people, right?

PATON WALSH: To a degree, it's been in this sort of strange sense of stasis for so long. So many dead. So many civilians murdered by the barrel bombs dropped the regime, often indiscriminately on civilians. But there is a tactical strategic changing point potentially if they manage to take the key hill that governs the supply route in and out of rebel-held areas. If the regime do take it, after rebels seem to have the upper hand for the first time in months in the last 48 hours, if the regime pushes back, which it looks like they'll do all they can do, that leaves hundreds of thousands of civilians still managing to live in rebel-held areas, despite all of that bombing, it leaves them facing a massive humanitarian catastrophe -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut for us, that amazing report. I know you'll have a lot more coming up throughout this week, including tomorrow.

Nick, thanks very much.

Coming up, New York City police officers once again turn their backs on the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, despite a special request from the police chief in New York not to do so. We'll talk about where the troubled relationship might go from here.

A nationally televised hug puts Chris Christie's love for the Dallas Cowboys -- yes, he loves the Dallas Cowboys. All of that in the spotlight. Stand by. We've got politics coming up, as well.


BLITZER: We're awaiting a New York City Police Department news conference. The police chief and the mayor are expected to be there. It's expected to get underway less than two hours, 3:00 p.m. eastern. It comes a day after police officers turned out for the funeral of the second murdered New York City police officer. CNN's Miguel Marquez has the story.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what was different about this week as opposed to Officer Ramos' funeral last week was that officers did not turn their backs right in front of the funeral homes. The "Dump de Blasio" sign that was prominent in front of the media at the Ramos funeral was not there at Liu's funeral. That said, many officers, hundreds if not thousands of them farther away from the media, turned their backs in the same protest. That same protest against de Blasio. Clearly, they feel they do not have city hall's support, that the mayor does not share their interests and there is still great anger and frustration.

I thought going into this second funeral that things were getting to a more even keel and that the two sides were talking. Now I'm not so sure.

I spoke to one retired NYPD officer who told me why beat cops today are so angry at this administration.


PATRICK BROSNAN, RETIRED NYPD OFFICER: I do not blame the mayor. What I stated and what I have stated in the past and continue to state is that the mayor through his irresponsible rhetoric, he has responsibility to know that rhetoric has consequences. In this case, the consequences were deadly. His rhetoric, his tacit approval of the anti-police brigade emboldened a coward, empowered a coward, like Brinsley, to get on a bus, drive up there and assassinate two of New York's finest sitting in a radio car on a sunny Saturday afternoon.


MARQUEZ: Despite the mayor's efforts -- he has met with all five of the unions. He had a lengthy two, two and a half hour-discussion between the two funerals. He spent a lot of time with the families of the two officers who were killed. He seems to be trying to make amends. Police say that they want -- rank-and-file say they want an apology from the mayor. I'm not so sure that gets to it. He's holding a press conference later today. We'll see what he says then -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be having coverage of that obviously coming up.

Thanks very much, Miguel Marquez, reporting from New York.

From fighting boldly for equal pay to making fun of her own pants suits and hair styles, we're taking a look at Hillary Clinton's message to women and how it's evolved.

Plus, the post-game hug that has the political world talking right now. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get to some politics now.

Here in the United States, the return of the United States Congress, they get back to work tomorrow. One of the first orders of business is the re-election of House Speaker John Boehner, but two Republicans are already challenging Boehner, Congressman Louis Gohmert, of Texas; Congressman Ted Yoho, of Florida. The opposition would need 29 votes against Boehner to force a second ballot.

Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston.

Gloria, any chance that borne will not be the next speaker of the House?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I don't think there is. This is mildly embarrassing for him. He faced it the last time around. I think he's got a win convincingly. I presume he will. What this does show you is the divide in the Republican Party over how to proceed. Do you proceed with an ideological agenda or proceed in a way to get things done heading in to the 2016 presidential election. In John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, you got two pragmatists who to pass a bunch of legislation, and I think you have some Republicans in the House who want to take an ideological stand.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens tomorrow when they all get together.

Maeve, you've got an excellent article on on Hillary Clinton gender politics. You really frame it beautifully, and I recommend it highly to all of our viewers out there. But tell us how she has evolved on this issue, let's say, in the past year alone?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean we've all been watching the tea leaves to see what kind of message might be Hillary Clinton's 2016 message. Back in the '90s, when she was first lady, she was a polarizing figure among women. In 2008, she struggled to find a balance about how to talk about that issue. She wanted to be the candidate of strength and competence when she was running against Barack Obama.

But this year, you've seen her sort of much more comfortable in her own skin, talking about her own personal journey as a young career woman. Some of her biggest laugh lines are about her hair and scrunchies. She's trying to frame this message potentially for 2016 that these issues she's been working on like equal pay, and, you know, other issues that were thought of as women's issues are really family issues that really have a lot to do with how well the economy does and we may see her transitioning that as part of her big message in 2016. Certainly not all of it but part of it.

BORGER: I think there's an irony here because back in the 2008 election, -- Maeve, you remember this.

RESTON: Yes. BORGER: She ran on her lifetime of experience, as opposed to talking about being a woman. Now she actually has more experience, I mean, you know, one would argue she's the most experienced presidential candidate we've had in a very long time and instead of running on that experience she's running partly on the fact that she's a woman who can relate to the experiences of women. I think there needs to be a way to kind of find that mid-point because, you know, there's a danger and we saw this in the Colorado Senate race, for example, there's a danger in going overboard on the whole woman thing, right?

RESTON: Absolutely.

BORGER: I think Hillary Clinton talking about being a grandmother a lot is not as important to me as Hillary Clinton talking about being secretary of state.

RESTON: That's right. That's right. For sure.

BLITZER: Let me talk about another candidate out there. Hillary Clinton, I assume, will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mike Huckabee announced Saturday night he's giving up his position, his show at FOX News, in order to think about running for president of the United States. Take a look at this poll. This is from December 18th, December 21, CNN/ORC poll that we have among Republicans. Bush 23 percent. That's Jeb Bush. Chris Christie 13 percent. Dr. Ben Carson 7 percent. Mike Huckabee is there with Rand Paul at 6 percent.

But, among Republicans in Iowa, Gloria, as you well know, he does very, very well.

BORGER: He does very well. He won there once before. But he's got raise an awful lot of money, Wolf, and what you're seeing shape up in this race is that you have evangelical conservatives like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee who are running against each other should Huckabee decides to run, which may make it a bit easier for the so- called moderate, more mainstream Republican candidates to get some traction like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush because this could crowd the field in Iowa.

BLITZER: What do you think, Maeve? Do you think if there's competition for the evangelical - vote in Iowa, you got Mike Huckabee, you got Rick Santorum, a few who are that opens the door potentially for a Jeb Bush which we saw, by the way, Jeb Bush's brother, George W. Bush, did well in Iowa in part because of that phenomenon.

RESTON: Right. You know, there will be sort of these kind of two lanes with the more mainstream Republican candidate running and then the one who appeals nor the evangelical vote and depending on how that splits it really could provide a path for someone like Jeb, even though he will potentially have a lot of problems with those social conservative, especially in places like Iowa.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Chris Christie for a second. He's the New Jersey governor, yet he was at the Dallas Cowboys game in the box with the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones. There he is. The Cowboys won that game. He's thrilled. He gives a big hug to Jerry Jones and everybody else in that box.

What's going on here, Gloria? This is the New Jersey governor --


BLITZER: I believe there are two teams that play in New Jersey every weekend, that's the New York Jets and New York Giants. They play in New Jersey even though they are called New York. What's going here?

BORGER: He's a lifetime Cowboys fan. He looks like he's 3 years old there, hugging the owner of the team. I think the problem -- his brother got on social media saying get a life if you're complaining about the New Jersey governor being a Cowboys fan. I think the problem is, is that he's in the owner's box and not down like everybody else who would be cheering fan. And those are problems that Mitt Romney had, right? So maybe that's the optics he done want.

BLITZER: Maeve, what do you think?

RESTON: I mean, Christie has tried to own this Cowboys issue. It makes us political advisors nervous but he made it like this badge of authenticity. He won't change his sports team just because it's not -- just because it's politically expedient. I think there were all kinds of debate all over twitter yesterday about whether he lost more primary votes than Michigan or Wisconsin. We'll see how this plays out. But, it could be fun for a while.

BORGER: And a Democratic opposition research group has filed a Freedom of Information Request about his expenses and who paid for him, you know, to go to the game. It does get a bit ridiculous.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria --


RESTON: He's going up against Hillary Clinton on that, too.

BORGER: Right.

RESTON: You know, travel expenses.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much. Maeve, Gloria, good work.

Quick thought, the funeral for the former, the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo tomorrow. I covered him. He was wonderful man. Always very nice to me. I want to express my personal condolences to the entire Cuomo family, especially our colleague, Chris Cuomo, and the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, the entire Cuomo family.

Thanks very much for joining us. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)