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Interview with New York Congressman Chris Collins; North Korea Nuclear Fears; Japanese Prime Minister Visits Pearl Harbor; McCain Predicts Trump Will Change View on Putin; Iconic 'Star Wars' Actress Carrie Fisher Dead at 60; Trump Taps Bush-Era Official as Homeland Security Advisor; Obama Foreign Policy Under Scrutiny as His Term Ends. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 27, 2016 - 18:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Trump's choice. The president-elect reaches back to the Bush era to select a top homeland security and cyber- terror adviser. Is he setting the stage for a turf battle within the Trump's national security team?

And nukes at all cost. An alarming new warning that North Korea's Kim Jong-un is determined to have nuclear weapons within one year. A high-level defector says that Kim may try to reach his goal by taking advantage of the change in power at the White House.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Tonight, we are following breaking news, the death of actress and author Carrie Fisher. She was Hollywood royalty as the daughter of movie stars and, of course, as Princess Leia, her tough and witty "Star Wars" character beloved by fans of all ages.

Tonight, her co-star Harrison Ford is remembered Fisher as brilliant and one of a kind. Carrie Fisher suffered a massive heart attack just four days ago on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She was 60 years old.

Also breaking news, President Obama declares the U.S. alliance with Japan has never been stronger 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Obama spoke in Hawaii just moments ago with the Japanese prime minister at his side. The two leaders visiting the USS Arizona Memorial to showcase the power of reconciliation just weeks before Donald Trump takes over as commander in chief.

And a high-level North Korean defector says Kim Jong-un is racing to finish developing nuclear weapons by this time next year. The former diplomat suggests Kim may be calculating new administrations here in the U.S. and in South Korea will not take action to stop him.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, though, to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He is live in Hollywood with more on the life and death of Carrie Fisher.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, here on Hollywood Boulevard earlier, they observed a moment of silence for Carrie Fisher. You can understand why she is so loved, because whether you listened to her in interviews or read her writings or see her on screen, she was a genius on so many levels.


CARRIE FISHER, ACTRESS: I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Carrie Fisher won the hearts of generations as Princess Leia in arguably the most beloved movie franchise ever, "Star Wars."

Princess on screen, Hollywood royalty off it, with a sharp wit and sharper pen. Fisher was born in Beverly Hills, mother actress Debbie Reynolds, father singer Eddie Fisher.

FISHER: I was primarily brought up by my mother, but I saw my father.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher deftly wove her experiences as a showbiz kid who struggled with addiction into the bestselling novel "Postcards From the Edge."

FISHER: I was writing different takes on obsession, so I think of that as sort of the edge. And I thought of it in the car one day driving back from Palm Springs with the music up loud.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher turned her acclaimed book into a movie starring Meryl Streep as a recovering addict embroiled in constant, often funny mother-daughter drama.

MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: Remember my 17th birthday party when you lifted your skirt up in front of all those...

SHIRLEY MACLAINE, ACTRESS: I did not lift my skirt up. It twirled up!

VERCAMMEN: Fisher poked fun at the absurdities of showbiz life and all manner of self-medication, including taking pills to control her emotions.

FISHER: Any mood stabilizer is a weight gainer. So, whether -- you feel better, but then you're fat. So what you gain is a loss. It is just -- it is not a good situation.

VERCAMMEN: Fisher spoke about being bipolar and often turned pain into humor, also writing "Wishful Drinking" and "Shockaholic." There seemed no lack of material. After all, Elizabeth Taylor became her stepmother when Eddie Fisher remarried. Fisher was briefly married to singer Paul Simon in the 1980s. Years

later, she gave birth to a daughter, Billie Catherine, from her relationship with agent Bryan Lourd. She debuted in the acclaimed film "Shampoo."

In between the "Star Wars" movies, Fisher landed a mishmash of movie roles, some stinkers, "Under the Rainbow," "Hollywood Vice Squad," received praise for "Soapdish."

FISHER: I think we found our waiter.

VERCAMMEN: And played Meg Ryan's wisecracking friend had in "When Harry Met Sally."

FISHER: Someone is staring at you in Personal Growth.

VERCAMMEN: But nothing could, would or perhaps should loom larger on screen than Fisher in "Star Wars."

FISHER: It transported you. It was extraordinary entertainment filmmaking.

LARRY KING, CNN: Do you like the princess?

FISHER: I have her over sometimes. She is a little bitchy.


VERCAMMEN: In 2016, 40 years after making "Star Wars," she wrote a book based on her dairies and for the first time revealed an intense affair with the real-time Han Solo, Harrison Ford.

It was Han and Leia during the week and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend, she wrote. Ford has not commented.

Fisher spent a lifetime trying separate the princess from the person, one wisecrack at a time.

FISHER: I always felt like I was restricted, because I was bigger than life and twice as unpleasant.


VERCAMMEN: And now back here live on a somber Hollywood Boulevard.

Perhaps Billy Dee Williams expressed it best when he said of his co- star "The force is dark today" -- back to you now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. Paul Vercammen, thanks very much live in Los Angeles.

Carrie Fisher beat out more famous actresses at the time, including Jodie Foster, to get the role of Princess Leia that would define her career for decades to come.

We wanted to show you this clip from her first screen test for the first "Star Wars" film, this clip coming more than 40 years ago. Have a watch.


FISHER: The databanks in R2 are still secure.

HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: Well, and I think that we ought to have the reward that you're talking about. And I hope it will be substantial, considering what we have been through already.

FISHER: When R2 has been safely delivered to my forces, you will get your reward. You have my guarantee.

FORD: What is the little droid carrying that's so blasted important?

FISHER: The plans and specifications to a battle station with enough firepower to destroy an entire system. Our only hope in destroying it is to find its weakness, which we will determine from the data I stored in R2.

We captured the plans in a raid on the imperial shipyards. But we fell under attack before I could get the data to safety. So I hid it in this R2 unit and sent him off.

FORD: Now where are you taking us?

FISHER: The fourth moon of Yavin.

FORD: The fourth moon of Yavin.

FISHER: I have given the coordinates to Chewbacca.


SCIUTTO: That was 1977 there, a teenage Carrie Fisher auditioning for that iconic role.

Let's talk more about Carrie Fisher with Matthew Belloni. He's executive editor for "The Hollywood Reporter." Anita Busch, she is film editor at And Nischelle Turner, "Entertainment Tonight" host and CNN contributor.

Nischelle, it is really remarkable seeing Fisher there as a young, relatively unknown actress, right on the cusp of a career-defining role. But you saw the talent there. You saw some of that sass that would define her.

TURNER: Yes. Think about a couple things.

First of all, I can't get enough of seeing this audition tape. I think it is really remarkable footage and really, really special to be able to watch this. Think about the fact that she was very, very young here. She was very young, but she was beyond her years. She definitely has a maturity on this tape, just going back and forth there, that we didn't see in young actresses in that day.

She did bring a bit of a swagger. That's what the kids call it these days. She definitely brought a swagger to the character, I think more than what George Lucas may have even imagined at first, because she brought a toughness to Princess Leia that maybe wouldn't have been there without Carrie Fisher playing it, because she was such a tough person in real life.

I think it really speaks to who she was as a woman and who she made us all believe who Princess Leia was.

SCIUTTO: Matthew Belloni, let's get on some of that toughness in real life that Nischelle was talking about.

Fisher outspoken advocate for treating mental illness, drug abuse, and very open about her own struggles with those things. I want to play an exchange that she had with Larry King in 1990 about those struggles.


KING: You know why you were an addict, Carrie? Is that explainable?

FISHER: No. Well, I don't know. I mean, I think my father is, or was, one. He just got out of Betty Ford. And I was very like him in my tastes.

I liked -- I didn't like illegal drugs. I liked legal drugs. So I liked medicine, because I like the philosophy of it. You're going to feel better when you take two or eight of these.

And I always wanted to feel better. And one of the side effects of Percodan is euphoria. And I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn't matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death.

I couldn't get over euphoria.

KING: Are you now over euphoria?


FISHER: I'm dysphoric? Am I over the need to be euphoric?

KING: Yes.

FISHER: Yes, or I will have to find other methods, because the route I took led to rehab. But now I just drive with the radio up really loud or do a relaxing talk show when I really want to feel great and like myself.

KING: But is it day to day? Kitty Dukakis is going to be with us Monday. And she ends her book by saying it is still day-to-day difficult. Is it day-to-day difficult for you?


FISHER: Well, sometimes, it can be minute to minute. Some of the days are not that difficult. And some of them are worse. Sometimes, I want an I.V. hookup everywhere that I am.

But if you can't have it, you just have to sort of put your head down and move through those feelings and hope that you're building the right kind of character.


SCIUTTO: Matthew Belloni, what do you think allowed for that candor and openness about her addiction?

MATTHEW BELLONI, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": I think that there was an understanding that she had from a very young age growing up in Hollywood and having two very famous parents that just gave her this ability to be candid in public.

And keep in mind, this was at a time in the '80s and early '90s when not a lot of people were speaking out about addiction problems. A lot of people who grew up in that era, Carrie Fisher was probably the first person they heard talk so openly about their struggles with depression and alcohol and drug abuse.

She not only talked about it. She turned it into art. She wrote a memoir, "Postcards From the Edge," about her experience. That was turned into a movie and Meryl Streep ended up playing her. So I think the candid aspect of her is really what the legacy is.

SCIUTTO: You just buried that before.

Anita, Carrie Fisher, she just finished filming the latest installment of the "Star Wars" series, as well as the season of the comedy series "Catastrophe." Tell us more about her recent career, because I think so many people identify her with the '70s and '80s and those first "Star Wars" installments.

ANITA BUSCH, DEADLINE.COM: Yes, in the '70s and '80s, she was really a sex symbol, which I think a lot of people have forgotten.

But in recent years, well, look, she spent so much time in the '90s doing script doctoring. She was a brilliant script doctor. She would rewrite scripts for "Hook" and "Sister Act." Everybody was clamoring for him. They really wanted her because she was so good at it.

And then later she -- she had started in the "Star Wars" films. And then like 32 years later, she was "The Force Awakens." And Billie, her daughter, joined her in that film. She had a small role. And "Star Wars: Episode VIII," which she wrapped before her death, Billie is also in that one.

And so she was expected back for the next "Star Wars" episode, not Han Solo. That's the next stand-alone, but the next "Star Wars." So I don't know how they are going to quite handle that.

SCIUTTO: Anita, you knew her personally. Can you share with us, with our audience what she was like as a person?

BUSCH: She was so funny. She was very witty. She could think on her feet. She was also extremely kind.

I had taken one of our Aurora theater mass shooting mothers, Caren Teves, to the premiere of "Star Wars" and she said -- and Alex Teves was a hero in the theater. He is the one who protected his girlfriend and was killed.

And she grabbed Caren's hands and she spoke to her and she was very engaged and understanding and funny at the same time and really uplifted her. And she was so kind to so many people. And you would never see her without her dog, Gary, her little dog.

SCIUTTO: We saw him. We saw some -- even on the red carpet, we saw her bring the dog a time there. There he is.

Nischelle, as a young woman, Carrie Fisher said that she was actually reluctant to enter the movie industry, that of course her parents had both been stars, a singer and an actress. I want to play a quick clip and get you to react to it from 2009.


QUESTION: Did you ever think of not going into show business?


FISHER: But the bigger trick in my family was not to go into it, but to stay out of it. I would have had to have been a magician to stay out of show business.


FISHER: I was put in nightclubs, put in them, when I was 13. I did not want to go into show business. It did not appeal.

But I have a very good reason. When I became a teenager, which I did so at my peril, my parents, both their careers were -- their bright white hot star of celebrity was slowly dimming and fading and cooling, and it scared me.

I saw what it did to them. It hurt them. What I see as celebrity is just obscurity biding its time. You're not going to stay at this some fantastic level of, oh, I love your -- it is going to go away.


SCIUTTO: Celebrity is obscurity biding its time. It is poetic, but it's also a little sad.

TURNER: It is.

She also said in an interview in a few years ago, she said, listen, as a woman in Hollywood, it is hard to get a role past the age of 27, and I refused to sit by the phone.


So she was going to chart her own path and she was going to do it the way she wanted to.

And Anita makes a great point. She was a very good writer, a brilliant writer in so many different forms. And she really made a name and a mark on the literary world with the books that she wrote, definitely.

But, yes, she mentioned that going into this business was kind of like the family business. You hear some people say I'm going into the family business. We're butchers or we're whatever. This family are performers. That was the family business and it is almost like it was what she was destined to do.

But quickly we were showing the video of her and Gary the dog at the White House Correspondents Dinner. And I tell you, I was there that night, Jim. She stole the show. She shut down the red carpet. Her and Gary, they had the time of their lives on that red carpet. And people were just clamoring to see her and see Gary with him. And it was a really, really fun night.

She looked like she was having the time of her life and it was really nice to see.

SCIUTTO: You were lucky to have been there to witness that.

Nischelle Turner, Matthew Belloni, Anita Busch, thanks so much.

Just ahead, more memories of Carrie Fisher as her family, friends and fans mourn her death. We're getting new reaction from Hollywood and from around the world.

And what will Donald Trump's new homeland security adviser bring to his team? We will take a look at his credentials and the possibility of clashes inside Trump's inner circle.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

We are following breaking news, reaction around the world to the death of Carrie Fisher, who won the hearts of millions of moviegoers for her role as Princess Leia in "Star Wars." More on that ahead.


Right now, another breaking story. President Obama and the Japanese prime minister pay an historic visit to Pearl Harbor.

CNN's Athena Jones, she's with the president in Hawaii.

A remarkable moment in history there to see the two of them together.


This, as you mentioned, a historic day, a moment that has been 75 years in the making, and pictures and videos that we have never seen the likes of before. These two leaders, a U.S. president and a Japanese prime minister, appearing together at the USS Arizona Memorial.

I think you can make it out over my shoulder behind me, there to pay their respects, to honor the dead. Both leaders delivering emotional, moving remarks, both very evocative, talking about the sights and sounds of that day in 1941 and the people who never came home.

Both leaders also stressing the power of reconciliation. In fact, that was the title of Prime Minister Abe's speech. President Obama saying Abe's presence shows what is possible between two nations, how two former foes can become the closest of friends.

Prime Minister Abe said his visit to the USS Arizona left him entirely speechless.

Here's more of what he had to say.


SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.


JONES: So the prime minister offering sincere and everlasting condolences, but notably not offering an apology for the actions his nation took 75 years ago.

It is important to note that President Obama when he visited Hiroshima seven months ago to this day also did not offer an apology. Both leaders focusing on delivering forward-looking remarks about the future of the U.S.-Japanese relationship -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Athena Jones there with the president in Hawaii.

Now to president-elect Donald Trump's newest pick for his national security team. He is signaling a sharpened focus on cyber-security by tapping former Bush administration official Tom Bossert.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is covering new developments in the Trump transition.

So, Dana, what are we learning about Bossert and the role he will play in a Trump administration?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know this. There are few White House jobs with the intensity and pressure as that of the homeland security adviser.

It's a relatively new position created by George W. Bush after 9/11. Donald Trump did reach back to those Bush years for his new counterterrorism adviser. And a lot of Republican skeptics about Trump here in Washington are breathing a sigh of relief. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Thomas Bossert, a new name added to the top Trump White House staff today, one with a crucial portfolio, homeland security, counterterrorism and cyber-threats.

THOMAS BOSSERT, COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: There is nobody out there that can't be penetrated. If there is, I would like to know about them.

BASH: Bossert, speaking there at a conference about cyber-terrorism, was a deputy homeland security adviser under George W. Bush and is well regarded among Republicans in Washington, even those vehemently opposed to Trump for president.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Tom is a smart, diligent person who knows these issues about as well as intimately as anybody I can think of. And for folks like myself who were hesitant or negative on Donald Trump, these are the kind of hires that Trump makes that's very reassuring.

BASH: Especially since, according to the transition, Bossert's position will be elevated in the Trump White House, on par with the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, with Bossert in charge of domestic security and a special focus on cyber-terrorism.

BOSSERT: The government in the United States at a federal level needs to do some things to address the threat.

BASH: And Flynn on international issues.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER-DESIGNEE: We must regain our bail to truly crush our enemies.

BASH: Because all those security issues intersect so often, Obama officials tell CNN they think it could lead to confusion in the Trump administration and unnecessary turf battles.

FLYNN: Yes, that's right. Lock her up.

BASH: But declaring that Bossert will be on equal footing to Flynn is also intended to be reassuring, even to many Republicans who see the retired general as an unpredictable and controversial figure, thanks to statements like this:

FLYNN: Islam is a political ideology. It's a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion.

BASH: What won't change from the Obama White House is people in both positions will have direct access to the president and seats at the principal's table at the president's national security meetings.

Here's how the current homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, described the job earlier this month.


LISA MONACO, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: When I go upstairs, about 50 paces from my cave office in the West Wing, up to the Oval Office, the president knows it is because something bad has happened, quite frankly, domestically usually, or to U.S. persons abroad. That is my focus. And he knows it.


BASH: It is a reminder that, unfortunately, crises happen large and small on a regular basis in the White House, and, Jim, a reminder how crucial picks like today's homeland security adviser are for any president.

SCIUTTO: No question. Dana Bash, thanks very much.

We're joined now by a member of the Trump transition team. He's Congressman Chris Collins.

Congressman Collins, thanks for taking the time.

As you know, Thomas Bossert, he was a fixture in the Bush administration, a president Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized specifically on his national security policies. Will he be on the same page as the president?

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Well, I think, Jim, this recent appointment just shows Donald Trump is truly building a team of the best and brightest.

And a combination of Tom Bossert with General Mike Flynn will be two excellent advisers weighing in on issues. But what I would like to maybe remind everyone, the decisions are going to be made by president-elect Trump. He thrives on bringing in a group of experts, eight, 10 or 12, letting them debate the issues while he sits fairly quietly.

He takes notes. He certainly probes where appropriate. And when he is done listening to different opinions, different nuances, Donald Trump then makes the decision.

So, I think what you will see, the personality of president-elect Trump, he thrives in this kind of environment. It is good. It's positive. These advisers all have his trust. We go back to General Flynn and Jeff Sessions who were with him for eight straight months on the campaign trail.

They have pretty much a special bond when it comes the president-elect Trump.


SCIUTTO: But he thrives on that kind of debate, I imagine.

But, as we noted, Tom Bossert is an expert on cyber-security. We have a situation now where President Trump is dismissing the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia perpetrated a cyber-attack on the U.S. election.

Will President Trump listen to his homeland security adviser if he were to tell him, President Trump, Russia hacked our election? Will he then, President Trump, his public position that that is simply not true?

COLLINS: Well, I think what you are going to find is President Trump will be saying cyber-attacking, cyber-hacking is unacceptable, whether it's from Iran, North Korea, or Russia.

And I think he would say that today. And when it comes to the Russian influence on the election, I think what a lot of us say is that even if you stipulate it was Russia, it didn't have an impact on the election. The election, we would have elected Donald Trump. And I think that's the nuance some people are missing.


SCIUTTO: No, but that's not what Donald Trump has said. Donald Trump has not publicly accepted the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community.

And, frankly, we had two Republican senators on our program earlier who you know well, Senators Graham and McCain, who said the entire U.S. Senate briefed on the intelligence believes that Russia hacked the election.

The president-elect has not accepted that assessment.

COLLINS: Well, I think you're getting into some of the nuances here of the liberal interpretation and the insinuation that the hacking that Russia did, if we do stipulate they did, had an impact on the election.

It was in that context that I can't blame president-elect Trump for saying enough of this. He was elected fair and square. He is our president-elect. But when it comes to cyber-hacking, whether again it's North Korea, Russia, or Iran, he is going to stand very firm to make sure -- and he's got the advisers -- to make sure that we keep our country safe.

SCIUTTO: Let me play for you exactly what Senator McCain said to me on this program a short time ago about Russia. Have a listen, please.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, Him, I think he will be -- when presented with the overwhelming evidence, change his view.

And he has said some things, like he wants to spend more money on defense. He has said some favorable things about NATO. But on the issue of the Russians, there is no doubt about it. And we have to act and we have to have a policy, which this administration does not have, and a strategy, which this administration does not have, and address this threat to our national security.

If they're able to undermine an election, they're able then to undermine democracy.


SCIUTTO: Senator McCain and Graham also told me that they're going to -- that they're going to write up sanctions against Russia, specifically Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, in retaliation for these cyber-attacks.

Will President Trump accept that if a Republican-majority Senate brings that to his desk?

[18:30:00] COLLINS: Well, you're going to have the House involved in these things, as well. And that's a debate for after the election.

Clearly, President Trump understands the threat, if you will, of Russia's interference around the world, as well as the Iran nuclear threat and the crazy behavior of North Korea and unacceptable behavior by China, as well. I have no doubt, as President Trump has said. He's going to put America first; he's going to keep America safe. He's got the advisers to advise him. And to me, there's no doubt actions will be taken when needed to make sure that we stand strong in whether it's against Russia or the other countries.

This will be having a more peaceful world dealt with through strength of the United States. Not weakness, which is what we've seen the last eight years.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, I understand the need to debate the reaction, retaliatory action, if any. But what I don't understand: what are there to debate about Russia's role? You have all the U.S. intelligence agencies saying Russia did this. You have the Senate, all 100 senators, say, or 99, say Graham and McCain, who are Republicans, by the way, what is there to debate about Russia's role in hacking the U.S. election?

COLLINS: Well, again, it's 95 percent stated, not 100 percent. And President Obama is the one who said he is going to take action, and he's got 25 or so days to do that.

So I would leave this with President Obama. If he is going to take some actions, to send a signal, let him do so. He is still the president. He's been a weak president, but nevertheless, he did say he's going to take some steps. But whether he does or not, I think I'd leave that up to President Obama and let President Trump, starting January 20, 21, deal with the ongoing issues, whether it's again, Russia, China, Iran or North Korea with his advisors. And I have every confidence that President Trump is going to send the message, don't mess with the United States of America.

SCIUTTO: Just on that point, would you support President Obama if he were to take retaliatory action against Russia for cyber-attacks?

COLLINS: That's up to President Obama. I would certainly support the president in his decisions his last 25 days. As he stated, he may take actions that none of us will never -- will ever know about, if that's what he deems appropriate and that's what he believes. I wouldn't contradict the president of the United States as commander in chief. I would leave that as his decision and would certainly respect his decision.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Collins, thanks very much for taking the time. We wish you and your family happy holidays.

COLLINS: Yes, you too. Happy new year.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

And just ahead, we'll go back to Hollywood and the breaking news on Carrie Fisher's death. Tonight, she is being remembered for her sense of humor, even about the role of Princess Leia and the price of fame.


CARRIE FISHER, ACTRESS: Restricted. I was bigger than life and twice as unpleasant.



[18:36:44] COLLINS: And we are back with the breaking news on actress and author Carrie Fisher. She was tough as nails onscreen as Princess Leia in "Star Wars" and off-screen, as well, as she battled alcoholism and bipolar disorder. Fisher was enjoying renewed attention with the reboot of the "Star Wars" series when she suffered a heart attack, this just a few days ago. She was 60 years old.

Let's go back to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He is live in Hollywood. Carrie Fisher has fans who grew up with the original "Star Wars" series, myself among them, as well as their kids and now their grandkids.

VERCAMMEN: Absolutely. She is cross-generational. So up and down Hollywood Boulevard, where they do love film, people want to point out how much she meant to them.

And some of these fans are talking about her beyond "Star Wars." One gentlemen from New Jersey said he remembered her so fondly for her wisecracking role, opposite Meg Ryan, as the friend in "When Harry Met Sally." And his point was Fisher was well beyond Princess Leia.

And we've been talking about that all day with people up and down the street, that not only did she captivate generations as Princess Leia, but she sure was a gifted writer, as we learned from "Postcards from the Edge" and the play "Wishful Drinking" and so many other projects that she delved into headlong and offered that very unvarnished view of Hollywood life and her various troubles with addiction and that bipolar disorder, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, a presence on the screen and in life, as well. Paul Vercammen, thanks very much.

I want to turn back now to the Trump transition and the news today of a new member in president-elect's national security team. Our political experts are here to talk about all the new developments.

Dana, you've been reporting this. Tell us more about what we know about Tom Bossert, as what will be, in effect, the chief homeland security adviser to the president.

BASH: Well, that he's got the chops. He has actually experience being in that very department, if you will, inside the White House after it was first created during the presidency of the man who did, George W. Bush. Fran Townsend, who was President Bush's homeland security advisor, was actually quoted in the statement; speaks very highly of him.

And most importantly, this is a man who the Trump transition insists will be at parity with the national security advisor. Now people might be, you know, sort of having their eyes glaze over, thinking this is about process. It's not. As you well know, Jim, it's about the ability to not just get information flowing to the president, which both of these men will have open access to the Oval Office. But it's also how they interact with all of the national security agencies around the government as kind of a vessel for the president. And so they insisted that there will be parity.

And, you know, a lot of the reason why I reported earlier, there are some sighs of relief among Republicans here is because there's a lot of caution about Michael Flynn, the former general who is the national security adviser, because of controversial statements he's made. So they hope that Bossert is going to be kind of a good counterpoint to him.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Lizza, I've heard some real concerns from a whole host of people in the national security space about General Flynn...


[18:40:05] SCIUTTO: ... as this closest national security adviser to the president. Do you read this Bossert -- first of all, the appointment but also the elevation, in effect, of that role as a way to temper, perhaps, General Flynn?

LIZZA: I mean, if you look at the three people, the three senior people that Trump has appointed to his national security staff: General Flynn, who is best known in the Obama administration, not too put too fine a point on it, but for being fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency because he wasn't a good manager and then became very well-known on Twitter for saying very inflammatory things about Muslims and spreading a lot of stories that weren't true. A lot of Republican -- establishment Republicans are concerned about him.

And then the two deputy national security advisers, K.T. McFarland and Monica Crowley, both best known for being pundits on FOX.

So I think a lot of Republicans will look at Bossert, who has a traditional bureaucratic history, works in one of the mainstream think tanks, has, has already received praise from some Democrats who are knowledgeable about cyber-security issues on the Hill. I think a lot of people look at this as a much more traditional pick and sigh a little bit of a little sigh of relief compared to the other picks so far at the NSC.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, though, you have what could be a fairly inflammatory mix, then, of people there; folks with some pretty out- there points of view -- I mean, General Flynn, for instance, on the whole faith of Islam -- mixed in with more traditional picks. How do you see those groups working together?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's really the question, Jim. I mean, there is this symbolic separation of these power centers, with Bossert receiving co-equal billing with Flynn in the White House, in that hierarchy. But it's really unpredictable how that will actually shake out and how they will work together or work against each other.

And really, the critical question, and the wild card in all this, is who will ultimately have President Trump's ear, President-elect Trump's ear for now? Because that's ultimately what matters most. He is the last word. The buck stops -- stops with him. And so if Michael Flynn continues to have his trust, then maybe Bossert won't be as influential in this White House. But it could shift; it could change over time.

And so if Bossert is more influential, then maybe Flynn won't be as much and won't present some of the challenges he has so far.

SCIUTTO: Jackie Kucinich, Bossert served under President George W. Bush, who as you know, Trump harshly criticized, specifically for his national security policies. Is that going to be a difficult pairing, to get them on the same page?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, we've seen Trump do this in other places. I mean, look at Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. They come from very -- two very different parts of the Republican Party. And they're working together. And yes, there is some friction that we all report about when it happens. But it doesn't seem to be the explosion that we may have thought initially, when you saw these two people appointed to these co-equal positions in the nascent Trump administration.

I think you're going to see a similar demographic here. He is willing to have people in his administration, or his upcoming administration, who believe in climate change. Others who do not, who have different views. And it will be very interesting to see how all these people come together and work together, or frankly, not.

SCIUTTO: Dana, the issue of Russia in particular is exposing a split inside the Republican Party. I mean, really, on the issue of Russian hacking in the election, it's Donald Trump versus everyone else, the intelligence community, the Senate.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, close relationship with Vladimir Putin. I want to play what Senator John McCain told me about his nomination earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), REPUBLICAN: I have concerns about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, his relationships with Russia, and other issues, as well. And so we'll wait and see. I'm supposed to meet with Mr. Tillerson, and I look forward to that opportunity.


SCIUTTO: Is Rex Tillerson, Dana, going to be able to address those concerns?

BASH: Well, he's going to have to. You know, sometimes these courtesy calls that nominees make around the Senate are pro forma. This is not going to be one of those. Talks behind closed doors with people like John McCain and other Republicans -- never mind the Democrats -- Republicans about a lot of issues but particularly about his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

He is going to have to explain it in a way that perhaps some of his allies have done, which is, he has done work with Vladimir Putin, because that has been his job as a CEO of Exxon to do deals with him; that he will use that as a benefit, because he knows and understands Vladimir Putin. But that that doesn't necessarily mean that he is a Putin flackie [SIC], if you will. Whether or not he can make case in a way that convinces the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world will determine whether or not he's confirmed.

[18:45:00] SCIUTTO: Ryan, your thoughts as well. How do you think these confirmation hearings will, particularly with Russia, it's going to be a center of this and you're going to have a major report on Russian hacking from the Obama administration coming out just days before the administration?

LIZZA: Yes, I think Tillerson will really be a sort of -- essentially a referendum on Russian hacking and on this major break on foreign policy that Trump is bringing into the Republican Party. Remember, it wasn't that long ago where the Democrats were the ones who wanted a better relationship with Vladimir Putin and were laughing at Mitt Romney in 2012 over a more aggressive posture. Trump has now reoriented the Republican Party and we'll see -- you know, this will be a bit of a wrestling match between McCain wing and the Trump wing over Russia policy with the important issue of cyber hacking thrown in the mix --

SCIUTTO: No question, no question.

Well, Ryan, Rebecca, Dana and Jackie, thanks so much.

Coming up just ahead, more reaction to the death of "Star Wars" actress Carrie Fisher.

And a new warning about North Korea's nuclear ambitions from a high level North Korean defector. It could be a wake-up call to say the least for President-elect Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Tonight, President Obama is wrapping up his visit to Pearl Harbor with the Japanese prime minister. Foreign policy front and center for this president and for his critics just weeks before he hands the keys to the White House over to Donald Trump.

[18:50:06] Let's go to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Mr. Obama, Elise, he's faced major international challenges, multiple international challenges on his watch, including this latest U.N. vote on Israel.


Well, the war on words between the U.S. and Israel continues over Washington's role and the U.N. vote on settlements. Israeli officials accusing the U.S. of being what they call a covert actor with the Palestinians to push the resolution through. Now, sky high tensions with Israel are front and center, and it's just one of a list of world crises Donald Trump is inheriting when he takes the White House.


LABOTT: Tonight, Israel announced plans to build hundreds of new settlement units in east Jerusalem, in defiance of a U.N. vote calling them illegal and sharpened attacks on the U.S., accusing the White House of orchestrating the vote.

DAVID KEYES, SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It's deeply, deeply disappointing to the state of Israel.

LABOTT: As President Obama deals with the fallout, new questions about the world he's leaving to his predecessor, something he reflected on in his last press conference.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are places around the world where horrible things are happening and because of my office, because I'm president of the United States, I feel responsible.

LABOTT: Take Syria, after calling for President Assad's ouster six years ago, the civil war rages on. A political vacuum in Syria and neighboring Iraq pave the way for ISIS to rise. President Obama's reluctance to go what he calls "all in" meant he only offered limited support to moderate rebels.

OBAMA: We wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do. But it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap.

LABOTT: Meanwhile, Russian air strikes helps regime forces tighten their grip. Now, Aleppo in ruins, a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds. Russian President Putin also on the march in Europe, seizing Crimea from Ukraine and moving nuclear capable missiles to NATO's doorstep, while an aggressive China expanding its reach in the South China Sea.

Experts say President Obama's restraint emboldened America's adversaries. JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: He's made clear he does not

see the United States leading a global security system against those predator states, be it China, be it Iran, North Korea, be it Russia, that are challenging the status quo.

OBAMA: We will extend the hand, if you are willing to unclench your fist.

LABOTT: An early offer to engage with America's foes led to a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. But it didn't stop Iranian aggression. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to tear up that deal or renegotiate it, with three weeks to go until Trump takes over, world leaders are watching with hope and concern about this promise from the new commander-in-chief.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: It's time to shake the rust off America's foreign policy.

JEFFREY: There is nothing wrong with unorthodox approaches. The question is, what is the basic bottom line? Is Vladimir Putin, are the Chinese people who we can share an orderly world with? The jury is out on both of those.


LABOTT: And Secretary of State Kerry will deliver a major speech tomorrow at the State Department, laying out a vision for how he believes the conflict with the Israelis can the Palestinians can be resolved.

And then, Jim, it will be up to the Trump administration to decide whether to take that advice or go its on route.

SCIUTTO: Well, I can tell you where my money is on that, Elise. Thanks very much.

Coming up, just ahead, more breaking news coverage on the death of actress Carrie Fisher.

And will the U.S. face a threat by North Korea by this time next year? A defector from Kim Jong-un's regime speaking out tonight.


[18:57:22] SCIUTTO: Tonight, an ominous warning from a top North Korea diplomatic turns defector. He says that Kim Jong-un is racing to finish developing nuclear weapons by the end of next year, no matter what the cost.

Let's bring our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, an enormous challenge to the next administration.


You know, the U.S. long suspected this was the root Kim was going down. But now, the new problem in all of this, the new part of the equation is what will Donald Trump's reaction be?


STARR (voice-over): A high level North Korean defector says Kim Jong- un is determined to complete development of nuclear weapons within a year, putting the North Korean nuclear threat front and center for Donald Trump.

The one-time deputy ambassador giving rare insight into the reclusive regime and saying he doesn't regret defection.

THEE YONG-HO, FORMER NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT: Everyone in any family thinks that it is the right decision.

STARR: The South Korean Yonhap News Agency quotes the diplomat as saying, Kim, at all costs, we'll try to have working nuclear weapons by the end of 2017.

Traditional economic and financial concessions may no longer work. Kim may no longer be interested in money or aid.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": It's not a question of being able to buy them off. This is part of the regime. They feel that it's necessary for survival. They are not going to give it up until the regime is on the verge of failure.

STARR: Indeed sanctions have not deterred Kim. The top U.S. intelligence official acknowledges U.S. options are limited.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause.

STARR: The U.S. intelligence community believes Kim will continue to test his missiles and conduct more underground nuclear tests, all aimed at having a working nuclear weapons system.

But it's not a slam dunk that he can make it all happen by next year.

CHANG: North Korea's ballistic missile program has a long way to go. But they have already got three launchers that can hit the lower 48 states.

STARR: Intelligence analysts say, however, North Korea has yet to perfect the technology that makes the missile after it's fired reenter the earth's atmosphere and hit a target.


STARR: Now, the challenge for the U.S. intelligence community is to keep watch, find out when Kim crosses that line and to having a working nuclear system -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, thank you.

I'm Jim Sciutto. That's all for tonight. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.