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Sean Penn Met "El Chapo" for Secret Interview; Obama "Optimistic" Ahead of the State of the Union; U.S. Sends Warning to North Korea. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2016 - 07:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Here are the numbers last night, 32, 16, 19, 57, 34, and that powerball, 13.

[07:00:04] All right. We'll talk more about that later.

But new this morning, we want to get to this bizarre twist in the story that is a saga of a Mexico drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. It's beginning to sound more like a Hollywood script every day.

Take a look at this picture. Yes, this is from "Rolling Stone." And the guy on the left is exactly who you think he is. It's Sean Penn shaking hands with Guzman. The two met in a Mexico jungle. This was a secret interview that went on for hours.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Seven hours, in fact. All of this because Guzman wanted to make a movie about his life. Listen here to this clip from this interview. We are hearing his voice which is a really very rare moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Do you think it's true you are responsible for the high level of drug addiction, for the face that there are so many drugs in the world?

EL CHAPO GUZMAN (translated): No, that's false, because the day I don't exist, it's not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That's false.


PAUL: Now, we are going to air much of a translated version in a minute.

I want to go to CNN's Nick Valencia outside the prison where he is being held right now.

Do you have any information, Nick, on how these two were able to connect?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's like a cinematic plot twist, isn't it? We are learning that actor and activist Sean Penn meeting with the fugitive drug lord in October of 2015, just three months after that the kingpin El Chapo Guzman escaped from the Altiplano prison, the prison you see behind me.

Apparently, Christi, this was all brokered by a famous Mexican actress here named Kate del Castillo. She's famous for a telenovela series here called "La Reina del Sur". She apparently tweeted in 2012 her support for El Chapo and her distrust for the Mexican government. And it was that social media post that built a relationship between the drug kingpin and the actress, something they continued for the next three years even while he was in prison, behind bars, they were sending messages over BlackBerry messenger, writing letters to each other.

And it was this relationship apparently that helped Sean Penn meet El Chapo in person, in the middle of Mexico, apparently in an undisclosed location.

We have part of that interview that was posted last night on


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did you get involved in the drug business?

GUZMAN (through translator): From age 15 and on where I'm from, which is the municipality of (INAUDIBLE) I was raised in a ranch called Latona (ph), that area and until today, there were no job opportunities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it true what they say drug destroy humanity and bring harm?

GUZMAN: Well, it's a reality that drug destroy. Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up, there is no other way. There still isn't a way to survive, no way to work in our economy, to be able to make a living.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it's true you are responsible for the high level of drug addiction for the fact there are so many drugs in the world?

GUZMAN: No. That's false. Because the day I don't exist, there is not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That's false.


VALENCIA: Pretty chilling words there from the world's most notorious drug trafficker, El Chapo Guzman. He went on to talk, Victor and Christi, how he entered the drug trade at the age of 15. He was already in the marijuana fields with peasant farmers at age 9 and saying, as you heard, he really had no other option, there's no other way to get out of his small town -- of the state of Sinaloa, Victor, Christi. PAUL: OK, I want to move this forward a little bit, Nick, because the

Mexico attorney general's office released a statement that I want to read here. It says, "Since Guzman Loera has been recaptured, the beginning of the extradition proceedings should begin."

So, what are the next steps in that process? Because a lot of people are looking at this and wondering if he is going to make it to the U.S.

VALENCIA: As we understand it, it's just a matter of formalities. The formal paperwork to be filed by the U.S. government, Mexican government, also has to take those steps. I spoke to a senior law enforcement, Mexican official yesterday who said that those steps have yet to be taken but the extradition was very likely. We heard hours from the Mexican attorney general that extradition will happen after all.

There are reports saying that that extradition will take sometime, however, perhaps sometime by the middle of the summer later this year. We will see El Chapo in a courtroom in the United States, a significant step between U.S. and Mexico relations -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: No doubt about it.

All right. Nick Valencia, so appreciate it. Thank you.

VALENCIA: You bet.

PAUL: All righty.

[07:05:00] BLACKWELL: All right. So, let's bring in Page Pate, criminal defense and constitutional attorney. We got CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.

Page, I want to start with you. Let's first listen to what Guzman's lawyer is saying about the potential extradition to the U.S.


JUAN PABLO BADILLO, EL CHAPO'S LAWYER (through translator): Mr. Guzman Loera should not have been extradited to the United States or any other country. What's the reason? Because Mexico has just laws that are detailed in the general constitution of the republic.


BLACKWELL: All right. So, Page, let's start there. The attorney has filed motion to block extradition.

What are potentially the credible reasons, the credible defense against extradition?

PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, under most extradition treaties and the one with Mexico is certainly a good example, they're not there are really many defenses to an extradition request. The government does have to show there is sufficient evidence for the charges and we know in the United States that Mr. Guzman has been indicted in about seven different federal cases and all of that information has been sent to the Mexico attorney general.

They have, apparently, reviewed it and found it to be sufficient. So, they will file papers in court to issue additional provisional arrest warrants to go out and get him. Of course, they now have him but they need to hold him under these warrants while the extradition process continues.

Now, I do expect his defense lawyers to raise several other objections. They can raise an objection as to double jeopardy. We have already convicted him in Mexico for drug crimes, why should we send him to the United States for other drug crime trials?

They can also raise more technical defense or procedural defenses by way of injunction and they have done that in the past. So, I do expect this process to take sometime. If we look to similar cases, one of his associates was eventually extradited to the United States but it took a year to do that, and that case was nowhere near as high profile as this one.

BLACKWELL: Brian, let's talk about this Sean Penn interview being published in "Rolling Stone". I mean, this would not be the first time, it certainly isn't a first time that a fugitive has been interviewed for publication or for television. But if you read the comments on, a lot of the readers are disappointed in both "Rolling Stone" and Sean Penn for conducting this interview.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think we can add to that list the Mexican government. How embarrassing it is for the Mexican government who was pursuing this fugitive to have been scooped by Sean Penn.

Now, on the other hand, it's possible that Sean Penn's movements were tracked and that this interview actually helped the authorities track down the fugitive. So, there is an interesting issue here about whether Sean Penn helped or maybe even hindered the investigation.

You got to ask yourself if you're Sean Penn, do you have an obligation after the interview to maybe report on it to tell not to write about it but to tell the government about it to inform the authorities.

And then there is also this, Victor, this really strange paragraph at the beginning of this story. He reveals that he gave the fugitive approval, source approval, the opportunity to read the story ahead of time and then say, OK.

What was going to happen here? Basically, El Chapo was playing editor and that is a very unusual situation.

BLACKWELL: Page, there is also this in this "Rolling Stone" write-up. The disclosure some names had to be changed and locations not named. I mean, can the magazine be forced to reveal any of that to bring other members of this cartel to justice?

PATE: Absolutely. If the magazine has information about other fugitives or other members of this organization, there are ways for the government to get access to that information in Mexico or in the United States. So, although you normally think -- well, as a media source, our sources are privileged, they are confidential, there are ways to get around that in a case involving the fugitive.

BLACKWELL: Brian, we know this interview happened in October and it was in October that Mexican officials started searching this area specifically for Guzman. Do we know if this was the interview or the communications with actors and producers that we heard about yesterday that led to this capture on Friday?

STELTER: Yes. We don't know for sure, but it does all seem to line up. The timing does seem to line up. In fact, some of the follow-up questions from Sean Penn were communicated through that video we saw and not through a face-to-face interview because maybe he had to move locations. After that attempted raid. So, you do wonder about that.

Sean Penn also says in his article that he was confident, he doesn't say why, but he was sure that the Mexican and American governments were tracking the kind of entourage movement. Sean Penn was traveling with a number other people. So, there's that possibility this actually helping find this drug lord. But it's an awfully strange circumstances, a huge scoop for "Rolling Stone", but also a huge controversy, with lots of other journalists saying they never would have agreed to these kinds of conditions.

The bottom line, though, is that Sean Penn is not normally a journalist, he's a celebrity and it was partly his celebrity status that probably was able to get him to get into this jungle and to be able to see one of the most wanted men in the world.

[07:10:07] BLACKWELL: I expect after this controversy we will hear more from Sean Penn or "Rolling Stone" pretty soon.

Brian Stelter, Page Pate, thank you both.

PATE: Thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

PAUL: Well, in California, there is a community that is outraged and they are demanding action now after a damaged well spewing gas is making residents really sick.

BLACKWELL: Plus, President Obama and his final State of the Union Address. What we can expect and what he will focus on. We'll discuss that, next.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American leadership, including our military power, is stopping ISIL's advance.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PAUL: Thirteen minutes past the hour.

And word from the White House today that President Obama's final State of the Union Address will be a vision for a better future as opposed to a look back at his accomplishments.

BLACKWELL: Yes, aides are summing up the speech in one word -- optimism. This despite the fact that the president faces stiff opposition in Congress and negative approve rating and he begins his final year in office.

CNN's Chris Frates has more on what to expect at Tuesday's State of the Union Address.



The address will focus on long-term opportunities and choices facing the country. The White House billing it at an optimistic speech that will stand in stark contrast to what they say is presidential field peddling fear and pessimism. And with the first voting in the race to succeed to President Obama only weeks away, the presidential address is coming earlier than usual as Obama tries to stay relevant.

OBAMA: Since I took office in the midst of seven years ago in the midst of crisis, I don't think I have ever been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. What free moments I can take right now, I'm working on my State of the Union of the Address. It's my last one.

FRATES (voice-over): It won't sound like his other. On Tuesday, the president will deliver what White House officials are calling a nontraditional State of the Union. Instead of a laundry list of priorities, President Obama will instead outline his vision for the country.

The lofty approach is forced in part by very practical realities, with Congress controlled by Republicans, there's little chance that the president's agenda would find much support on Capitol Hill.

[07:15:04] Just listen to how much Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan's agenda differs from the president's.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: For me, 2016 is about going on offense on ideas. It's about starting to get the country back on track. And how better to start the year on offense than putting a bill to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood on the president's desk.

FRATES: And with a campaign to exceed him already raging, Obama can use the primetime television event to sell voters on his party's path to the future.

But the president faces a tough audience, almost 70 percent of Americans are angry about the country's direction and less than half of them approve of the job the president is doing.

Mr. Obama is expected to use one of the last big moments of his presidency to burnish his legacy and built support for important agenda items like gun control, closing the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay and reforming the criminal justice system.

(on camera) A White House official says that First Lady Michelle Obama's guests were picked to represent the progress the country has made since President Obama took office. They represent American values of compassion, innovation and courage.

And the group includes early campaign supporters. One of the guests will be Edith Childs. She was an early Obama supporter who began "fired up, ready to go" chant that became a hallmark of Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign events -- Victor, Christi.


BLACKWELL: All right. Chris Frates, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Josh Rogin.

And, Josh, before we look ahead to this year's State of the Union Address, I want to take a look at 2015's address. Watch.


OBAMA: In Iraq and Syria, American leadership, including our military power, is stopping ISIL's advance.

Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.

We are also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that could help us in this effort and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.


BLACKWELL: Josh, aside from a call to Congress to authorize use of military force, that's the extent of what the president said about ISIS last year about this time. He is facing an American public that is more wary of the potential for an attack on U.S. soil than it was after 9/11. I'd expect he'd have to say more this year?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You would expect so, but, again, the president will have to defend what is notably a mixed record in international affairs. According to White House officials briefing reporters, he is going to mention the Iran nuclear agreement. He's going to mention the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. He's going to mention the Asia Pacific Trade deal.

The White House really thinks 2015 was a banner year for the Obama administration on the world stage but when it comes to the war against ISIS, specifically the fight against terrorism, he has to be careful. There are some statistics that the administration puts out about how the coalition is pushing ISIS back. He'll talk about the fight in Ramadi where the Iraqi government has made process. He'll talk about the political process in Syria.

But, overall, the fight against ISIS and the fight against terrorism in general is not anywhere near complete. So, the president will have to be very cautious in taking credit for something that is simply unfinished.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about that caution because there is this new FOX News poll, let's put up the number, asking about the Obama administration has mostly succeed or mostly failed at handling ISIS. Mostly succeeded, 23 percent, mostly failed, 65 percent.

We know the White House aides are summing up the tone, this speech with the one word optimism. But is that tone deaf? I mean, are Americans ready to receive a president who sees optimism after all of the struggles that have happened over the last year?

ROGIN: I think what we can say from what we are told about the speech is that the administration knows that they have a problem with the perception of how they are handling this. And unlike in previous State of the Unions where the president is speaking to Congress and perhaps asking for things like an authorization for the use of military force, this year, we are told he is going to be speaking past Congress and directly to the American people.

As Chris said in his piece, it's about defining his legacy. The president wants to define it first and hope that the American people will take his definition rather than wait for the Republican candidates to find it over the next several months. Whether that will work, we just don't know. But this is his best shot to sort of take a 30,000-foot view to look back at all of where we came from in 2008, which was during the height of the Iraq war, we had 150,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and to say, look at the progress we have made. That is a tough sell but the president's mission this week.

BLACKWELL: Chris mentioned a couple of minutes ago a woman who is credited with starting that "fired up, ready to go" chant back in 2007-2008 with the campaign, but also sitting with the first lady on Tuesday night, the president will likely be sending another message to Republicans.

[07:20:05] A Syrian refugee who fled the civil war will be sitting there as well. This, I'm sure, is a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is willing to accept you. That is, obviously, a controversial message, considering Donald Trump's plan to ban non- American Muslims and the large portion of Republicans and some independents and Democrats who agree with Trump.

ROGIN: Right. It's not a clear-cut political win for Democrats but it's a principle stand for the administration. I think here we see the difference between an administration that has very little to lose, that can afford to sort of take a risk like this by standing up for a very simple principle that America is a place of tolerance, that tolerance needs to be extended to Muslims and we need to reinforce that as much as we can against a Republican primary field that is increasingly leaning towards giving in to this sort of fear and concern that Muslims or refugees can present a national security threat.

So, the president is doing this not because it's a smart political thing but because it's something he believes in and I think most Democrats also see it that way, including Hillary Clinton. They're going to hold the line and say that Syrian refuges, Iraqi refuges, people from around the world who see America as that shining city on the hill who want to come here, who need of our help should be given that help even if the risks can be 100 percent mitigated and not necessarily a popular position. But, again, it is a principle one.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and any other year and maybe outside of a presidential cycle, this would not be a controversial gesture but this year, it is.

ROGIN: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Josh Rogin, thanks so much.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And you can watch President Obama's final State of the Union Address to the nation right here on CNN. Coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The address is at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, again, on CNN.

PAUL: Possible show of force. The United States flies a B-52 bomber over South Korea. This, of course, just days after North Korea carried out a nuclear test. We'll talk about the strategy.

Also, in California, a damage well spewing gas and making residents sick. We are talking to one of those residents who is demanding action now.


[07:25:00] PAUL: The U.S. sends a loud and clear warning to North Korea, just days after Pyongyang conducted its latest nuclear test. The U.S. Air Force deployed a B-52 bomber to the Korean peninsula. Now, the bomber, which can carry nuclear weapons, by the way, was joined by a South Korean fighter jet to the sky near Pyongyang.

Admiral Harry Harris, Jr., of U.S. Pacific Command called the show of force a, quote, "demonstration of ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea and Japan and the defense of the American homeland."

CNN's Will Ripley is with us now. He is the only reporter from a U.S. organization reporting from inside North Korea.

So, just wondering what you have heard in response to, if any, this show of force.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christi. The North Korean state media put out a wire a short time ago. I want to read a portion of it for you. It doesn't specifically address this U.S. B-52 bomber flying very close to the demilitarized zone, but it does say, quote, "Gone are the days never to return when the U.S. could threaten the DPRK with nuclear weapons. A clear proof of this was the recent successful H-bomb test."

That message is really aimed, not only for the U.S. and its ally, South Korea but also for the people here in Pyongyang, because a major reason why a supreme leader Kim Jong-un conducted this H-bomb test is to project power to his people and also to the workers party that he rules. The inner circle of power here in Pyongyang that helps him to make a lot of decisions although he is the one who has the absolute power.

We are awaiting to see, though, if there is stronger rhetoric that will from North Korea as a result of this, because this isn't the first time the U.S. has flown a bomber that was escorted by South Korean jets near the border.

Back in 2013, after the last North Korean nuclear tests, the United States took about a month but then they launched two different missions where they flew, first, a B-52 bomber and then B-2 stealth bombers very close to the border with North Korea. In the second case with those -- with those stealth bombers they dropped eight dummy bombs about 2,000 pounds each in a target area very near North Korea.

Now, this is infuriating to North Korean military officers because it brings back memories of the Korean War when much of Pyongyang was flattened by American bombers. So, a very clear message from the United States that is sure to certainly anger the North Koreans and whether we see a stronger response than what was put out in that state media wire, we will just have to wait and see what happens in the coming days, Christi.

PAUL: And, Will, real quickly, there are, obviously, questions about whether or not that was an authentic test of the hydrogen bomb. Any progress made there to verify?

RIPLEY: The North Koreans say it was an H-bomb, but many international experts are skeptical. Officials that I've talked to here in Pyongyang say the reason why there hasn't been a detectable change in radiation levels is that the North Koreans were using a new technology and a test was conducted deeper in the mountain in their launch site.

But whether or not they offer up any scientific proof it was an H-bomb has yet to be seen. We visited a science center a few days ago and ended up only talking with students. We were not able to talk any actual scientists to try to explain exactly how the technology worked and why North Koreans claim it was, in fact, a hydrogen bomb which if true is hundreds of times more powerful than the other devices that North Korea have tested and three other previous nuclear tests.

PAUL: Right, and because there wasn't a big difference that could be detected between the this newest and the other three that's causing some of the questions.

Will Ripley, so appreciate it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Coming up, thousands gather for a moving memorial service in Paris, remembering those killed in the attacks on the offices of the Paris magazine "Charlie Hebdo."

And Maine's Governor Paul LePage apologizes for those racially charged remarks he made regarding his state's drug epidemic. Hear who he is blaming for that slip-up.