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Pop Artist George Michael Dies; Obama Speaks Out in Extensive Interview; Investigation into Russian Military Plane Crash Continues. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 11:30   ET




[11:33:12] (SINGING)


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was one of George Michael's solo hits, "Back to Love." His manager says George Michael died of heart failure at his home at the age of just 53 on Christmas day. George Michael's career spanned many decades and many genres, beginning as a member of pop duo, Wham!. He won two Grammys as a solo artist and sold millions of records. When he died, Michael was working on a documentary called "Freedom." And there are plans to release his album, "Without Prejudice."

Joining me to discuss George Michael's career, is Jem Aswad, the senior editor of "Billboard" magazine.

Great to see you, Jem. Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: When an artist like George Michael dies, it forces you to look back and look back at all their hits. And with George Michael, it is hit after hit after hit. It spans so many genres, from pop, R&B to even holiday classics. How would you describe how he's going to be remembered? What his impact on music will be?

ASWAD: Well, he was a consummate pop star but his career was very front-loaded. He was a superstar by the time he was 20. Most of his hits came in the '80s. And from 1992 or so on, it really kind of tapered off. He toured when he felt like it, he went 15 years without touring but came back and did a huge tour, grossed $100 million, OK, I'm set for a while. Released an album every few years. Occasionally, he would make appearances. It was almost all based on those first five years.

BOLDUAN: He didn't have -- he also didn't live a completely charmed, easy life. You talk about the '90s, I mean, he struggled very publicly with drugs and the law.

[11:35:13] ASWAD: Absolutely. BOLDUAN: How did that change him?

ASWAD: Well, it feels like he said very often he didn't like being a superstar so he backed away from it. Then the lawsuit with the record company ensues that knocks him out of action for several years. He gets results but comes back not quite as big as before. It's the sort of classic dilemma of when you are that rich and you have that much, you have already achieved all of your dreams, what do you do with yourself? You can keep making records but it didn't seem to satisfy him that much, so you go into drugs. And there were several drug-and- driving incidents. And he was very honest about it and very up front about it, just said it was my own stupid self again.

He struggled with his sexuality publicly. He always knew who he was, I think, but I think his parents were sort of an issue --


BOLDUAN: That's an important element of George Michael and his impact. We can't forget the time period when this happened, when George Michael came out very publicly to announce that he was gay.

I think we have a clip of that interview. Let's listen to it.

We don't have it.

One part of it I thought was very fascinating, he said, "I don't feel any shame whatsoever and neither do I think I should." I think that speaks to your point, he may not have talked about it publicly, he always knew who he was.

ASWAD: Absolutely. He said he was bisexual. Then, like Freddie Mercury, he toured, realized I'm gay. His first serious relationship with a man, that man died of AIDS. A few years later, his mother died of cancer. Who knows what his health was like at this point.

In terms of his sexuality, he knew who he was. He did say I didn't want to say that for my mother, blah, blah, blah. Within himself, I think he was fine with it. Publicly, it was more of a struggle.

BOLDUAN: I heard a couple of people describe his impact, that he paved the way or opened doors for other British soul artists, like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Sam Smith. Did people recognize that when George Michael was still alive?

ASWAD: I think so, more so in England, because his career lasted -- he was a superstar longer in England. He could go away for 10 years, come back, and still have number-one records. It wasn't so much the case here. I actually just saw a tweet on the way here that somebody said, losing David Bowie, Prince and George Michael in the same year is very sad because all of them have shown there's more than one way to be a man.

BOLDUAN: That is a wonderful way of putting it and actually something I was going to ask you about. When you look at 2016, as we are about to wrap up the year, you have George Michael -- what? Thank heaven. We have George Michael, David Bowie, Prince. What happened this year?

We lost so many huge musical stars.

ASWAD: With those three, you know, what I usually say when people ask that question is, you know, the '60s generation is starting to age out. When people hit their 70s, the mortality rate rises. But that doesn't work for Prince or George Michael.

BOLDUAN: Or George Michael.

ASWAD: George Michael, they are still just saying heart failure. I don't know exactly what it was. I don't think it's been announced, maybe won't be announced, but he had to cancel a tour in 2011 due to pneumonia. He later talked about having a tracheotomy. Like I said, his mother died of cancer, one of his first lovers died of AIDS. I don't know what his health was. There were probably issues there. With Prince, it was drug addiction. With Bowie, it was cancer.


BOLDUAN: For fans, what I have heard every time we, unfortunately, have to report on these deaths, is that fans, it doesn't matter how they died, just they have to take this moment to remember what they provided.

ASWAD: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: the sound track for definitely at least a decade and beyond.

ASWAD: He was one of the greats. Wish we had more from him.

BOLDUAN: Jem, great to meet you. Thank you so much for coming in.

ASWAD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

In other celebrity news, "Star Wars" actress, Carrie Fisher, is in stable condition, thankfully, after suffering cardiac arrest while on a flight. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, tweeted this: "Carrie is in stable condition. If there is a change, we will share it. For all her fans and friends, I thank you for your prayers and good wishes." The actress and writer was flying from London to Los Angeles Friday when she became ill. She was in London filming a new season of the Amazon show "Catastrophe" and she had also been promoting her book "The Princess Diarist," excerpts of journals she had kept while shooting the first "Star Wars" movie. We wish her the best.

[11:39:45] President Obama is speaking out in a new and extensive interview revealing what he plans to do after leaving the White House and also just how close he was to never actually running for national office in the first place. Details ahead.


[BOLDUAN: Just 25 days until the Obama presidency heads to the history books. The president sat down for a lengthy interview with his former senior adviser and CNN's senior political commentator, David Axelrod. They talked about the 2016 election and Obama had very interesting and probably surprising assessment. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow it really was a fantasy. What I would argue is that the culture actually did shift, that the majority does buy into the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse.

I am confident in this vision, because I'm confident that if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it.


BOLDUAN: There's that.

Let's discuss. Let's bring in our panel, Joseph Borelli, New York City councilman who supported Donald Trump throughout the campaign; and Danielle McLaughlin, a Democratic strategist and attorney.

Guys, great to see you.

Danielle, when you hear President Obama saying that his hope-and- change vision, if I had run again and articulated this vision, I would have been able to get a majority of the American people to rally behind it. Is he right?

[11:44:54] DANIELLE MCLAUGHLIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEIGST & ATTORNEY: One thing we need to be clear about, I don't think it was a dig on Hillary Clinton. I think what Obama was talking about was something that we didn't do as Democrats and that was tie our vision of a one America, I think civil rights which joe might call identity politics but we call civil rights, tied that to an economic investigation Americans could believe in. Civil rights are economic rights fundamentally. I think hope is something we all as humans can aspire to and agree on. I think the vision that Trump put forth making America great again, I think people who didn't vote for him wondered what part of America's history he was referring to, because for women, for minorities, for a lot of Americans, this is the time where we have had the most freedoms, the most access to justice, the most economic power, and I think that was the comparison Obama might have been making.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate the comparison that you think he was making but how could it not be on some level a criticism of Hillary Clinton? He did compliment Hillary in how she handled and how she ran her campaign but she was the one running the campaign so he clearly thought she should have run on a different vision.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Clearly, she didn't win and there were three key states where she didn't win. I think there's been a lot of talk within Democratic circles and generally, we should have done a better job with quote unquote, "regular Americans," that message didn't get through and that's what we need to think about going to 20 and, of course, to 2018.

JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president said a lot of things in that interview. Some of them are very accurate and some are not. I think he was correct in taking a dig at Hillary Clinton and --


BOLDUAN: You did see it as a dig?

BORELLI: I did see it as somewhat of a dig. Face the facts, she was a very fundamentally imperfect candidate who lacked any type of messaging that appealed to middle class voters. Barack Obama was a great campaigner, a better campaigner than Hillary Clinton. I think it borderlined on cockiness and arrogance to say that had he been the candidate he would have been able to articulate it better and win. Let's not forget, a big part of this election was also a referendum on his eight years in office and whether the country wants to continue going down that path.


BORELLI: So it's both a dig and cockiness on his part.

BOLDUAN: I do remember, and we all do, quite well, that President Obama was on the campaign trail almost as much as he could. He was on the campaign, the first lady was on the campaign for Hillary Clinton, so it was not that he was running again but he sure was running, trying to run on his name for her.

MCLAUGHLIN: No question. No question. We saw the crowds, we saw that people spoke to him and he spoke to them. You think about his approval rating, he's about 54percent, on average, and the incoming president is about 44percent. So strategically, Democrats made mistakes, no question about it. The fact Clinton had been in the public eye for 30 years, there was this amount of baggage that seemed to trouble her, obviously.

BOLDUAN: She couldn't overcome it.

MCLAUGHLIN: No, she couldn't overcome it and, of course, we had embarrassing leaks and other things that, frankly, no Republican had to deal with. I'm not making excuses but there are certainly parts of this election that definitely disadvantaged her as a candidate.

BOLDUAN: I want to play more of this interview. It was a 50-minute interview he sat down with David Axelrod. These are only some of the select highlights. It is a fascinating conversation. If you have time to listen to it in full.

Here's what the president said about his future, his post-presidency. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I have to be quiet for a while. And I don't mean politically. I mean internally. I have to still myself. Now, that doesn't mean that if a year from now or a year and a half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that isn't just a debate about a particular tax bill or, you know, a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy, that I might not weigh in.


BOLDUAN: I find this take fascinating. He is still going to be in Washington, because their daughter will be graduating from high school, so he's sticking around. What does that kind of involvement look like a year plus from now? Does that concern you?

BORELLI: It shouldn't be concerning to anyone but him. I think he's the one who is most worried about what his legacy looks like both from the fact that any time during his eight years when he wasn't able to get legislation passed he issued executive orders, some 250 or so. And you are going to see Donald Trump dismantle a lot of the things he touted.

Also, you have to realize he was not a great president for the Democratic Party and that's part of his legacy as well. Look across the country, you see the Democrats control the state Houses and governorships of only six states now. They have half the number of total governors they had. They lost so many state legislative seats around the country that this has been billed as something that the president has failed to do, failed to unite Democrats across the country.

BOLDUAN: He's talking about his legacy. That is not surprising, of course. Presidents in their --


BORELLI: And he's young. A very young man.

[11:50:00] BOLDUAN: They focus on their legacy. Someone else focused on President Obama's is Newt Gingrich. Danielle, obviously, a leading Trump supporter and advisor in the transition. He said this about Obama's legacy over the weekend on FOX News.


NEWT GINGRINCH, (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think President Obama is beginning to figure out his legacy is like one of those dolls that, as the air comes out of it, shrinks and shrinks. He's in a desperate frenzy. What he's actually doing is he's setting up a series of things to distract Trump, which will make his liberal allies feel good about Democrats and hate Republicans when Trump rolls them all back.


BOLDUAN: A deflating doll and in a desperate frenzy to save his legacy. Do you think Obama's legacy is at risk here?

MCLAUGHLIN: There's no question what Donald Trump is coming in to do is in many ways antithetical to what President Obama tried to do the last eight years. There's no question doing things he wants to preserve. We looking at banning drilling in Antarctica, we're looking at these other, some of these other -- immigration. He's in a big rule-making phase to protect what he can. I don't think there's any president who leaves the White House for the last time who isn't concerned about what his successor is going to do and I think Obama is no different. He's young, as you say, joe. I think he'll be out there.

And frankly, Democrats need him. Democrats need him to pull people together, to go out into all of America and to explain to the electorate why Democratic values and why our solutions to the problems we all face are the ones that will benefit all Americans.

BOLDUAN: Some of the lessons Barack Obama talked about in his interview, Democrats need to get back out there.


BOLDUAN: He even talked about in city councils, school boards.


BORELLI: Obamacare was pinned on the town dog catcher candidate in some states.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, guys. Thank you so much.

MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.

BORELLI: Happy Boxing Day.


BOLDUAN: Happy Boxing Day, as we would like to say, on this fine day.

Programming note, catch CNN's special report, "The Legacy of Barack Obama," tonight at 9:00 eastern.

Still ahead for us, Russia now on the hunt for any clue as to what brought down a military jet. Officials are ruling out terrorism, but then, what brought down this jet with 92 people onboard? Details ahead.


[11:55:24] BOLDUAN: A massive search operation is under way in the Black Sea after a Russian military plane with 92 people onboard crashed near the Olympic town of Sochi. It's believed everyone onboard was killed. Russian authorities are saying pilot error or possibly a mechanical problem could be to blame. They already seem to be ruling out terrorism. Russia observing national day of mourning right now. CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, joins me

live from Moscow.

Where do things stand with the search and the investigation into what happened?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In terms of the search, they've got teams of rescue workers or of salvage workers at this point operating in the Black Sea. Quite difficult conditions. The sea very deep where the plane went down, but they have at least four ships on the surface scouring for any sign of debris. And they've got submersibles as well and teams of divers working around the clock to try and locate the various parts of the plane. And already there have been numerous big parts of the wrecked fuselage that have located, although it's not clear at this point that the black box flight recorders have been recovered. And they will, of course, be essential determining what exactly went wrong, and also bodies pulled out of the Black Sea. They have to be identified, of course, but about 11 bodies so far of the 92 believed to be onboard were pulled out. At the moment, officials are saying they believe it isn't terrorism, more likely possibly mechanical failure, but more details in the days ahead.

BOLDUAN: Matthew Chance, thank you for that update. We'll keep a close eye on that as that search continues.

It's a stunning allegation from one of America's strongest allies. The Israeli prime minister accusing essentially the Obama administration of colluding against the state of Israel. Now, President-elect Trump is weighing in. Details on that ahead.