Return to Transcripts main page


North Korea Defector Is "Lucky To Be Alive"; U.S. Forces Train For First Response With North Korea; Trump Thanks Coast Guard Members, Touts Economy; Politics Now An Inevitable Part Of Thanksgiving; GOP Senators Follow Path of "The Pardoned Turkey" Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: -- some of issues there. And so, now the attorney general has ordered this review.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much from D.C. and happy Thanksgiving.

PROPKUPECZ: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Turning now to North Korea, we're learning more about the North Korean soldier whose dramatic escape was caught on camera. Doctors say he is lucky to be alive.

Anna Coren has all the latest details from Seoul.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, this 24-year-old North Korean soldier is lucky to be alive after his daring escape from North Korea which has been described as a suicide mission.

Now, according to U.S. led U.N. command, he is the first North Korean soldier to stage this sort of defection. That being using a jeep to drive across the DMZ and make his escape. But that is exactly what he did.

He got within a few meters of the South Korean border then raced across the demarcation line on foot under a hail of bullets. He was hit at least four times by his comrades in the chest, the abdomen, the arms and the knee.

He managed to get 50 meters across into the South Korean side before he collapsed against a wall in a pile of leaves. It took some 40 minutes for South Korean troops to reach him. He was then made back to Ajou University Hospital where the head surgeon there, Professor Lee Cook-jong says he had lost more than 15 percent of his blood.

He had virtually no pulse and he was almost dead. But they performed lifesaving surgery on him, where they managed to stabilize him. He was then on life support. And interestingly enough, Fredricka, when they opened him up, they discovered dozens of parasites.

Some up to a foot long and this is an indication of the poor hygiene in North Korea. That being -- they still use human excrement as fertilizer in North Korea, but also malnutrition. More than 40 percent of the population undernourished and one in four children face chronic malnutrition.

So the North Korean soldiers, well, they are treated better than every day civilians. So it just gives you an idea of how dire the situation is there. Now, the soldier, he is conscious. He is talking.

However, doctors say that he is depressed and most likely suffering from PTSD. And they also say there will be some time, perhaps up to a month, before he's able to speak about his defection. Back to you Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Extraordinary. Anna Coren, thank you so much.

All right. U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula are training every day for a potential conflict with North Korea. And there's really no such thing as off the clock for troops in that region.

CNN's Alexandra Field rides along in an F-16 to see how U.S forces are preparing for potential battle at any moment.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a few seconds we're fully vertical. U.S. Air Force Captain Kyle Miller call thing diesel takes us straight up to 13,000 feet.

I'm strapped in the back straining to stay conscious, feeling the gravity and the weight of it all. That's the commander of the eight fighter wing, Colonel David Shoemaker and this happens every day, a practice basal with North Korea.

COL. DAVID SHOEMAKER, COMMANDER 8TH FIGHTER WING: We practice just some of the basic maneuvers for to air to air or some of the basic bombing patterns and bombing maneuvers. We also practice the ability to survive and operate on the ground.

(on camera): Kunsan is the southern most U.S Air Base in South Korea. It's home to two U.S. F-16 fighter jets quadrants. Flying time to North Korea, 12 minutes. What do the first few hours of a conflict look like here at Kunsan?

SHOEMAKER: Time isn't measured on a clock. It's measured in casualties and the faster that we can get on the job, the less casualties we'll see particularly in Seoul in the opening volley of that war.

(voice-over): In wartime, Kunsan could expand up to four times of the number of service men and women currently serving here, an essential seat of U.S. and South Korean operations and a prime target.

SHOEMAKER: We expect that North Korea is going to target, you know, any of our military bases later here in the south.

(on camera): What kind of threat could North Korea present to the base here? SHOEMAKER: So, we worry about their short range ballistic missiles here, and we know that they have chemical weapons at their disposal.

(voice-over): They stay ready to pin off a ground invasion from the North Korean special forces and to take the fight North from the air.

SHOEMAKER: Obviously having that air to service capability, being able to take out the long-range artillery that would be bombarding Seoul.

[12:35:02] (on camera): This is the third tour at Kunsan for Colonel Shoemaker. It's undeniably different. We know that North Korea has advanced in its nuclear capabilities and its missile capabilities. Have you changed the way you do things at all?

SHOEMALER: It is a mind-set shift of why it's so important and the seriousness in with which all of the airman and soldiers here Kunsan Air Base take our exercises and then our training.

(voice-over): This is diesel's third flight in two days. He puts us on the ground as the sun sets. The supersonic jet now quiet. Its pilot, always ready.

Alexandra Field, CNN, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.


WHITFIELD: All right. Our thanks to Alexandra Field and crew there for that report.

All right. Coming up next, the U.S. president spending this Thanksgiving Day at Mar-a-Lago, where he took time to thank troops stationed abroad in a very Trumpian sort of way.


[12:40:24] WHITFIELD: Oh, lively music there, you've got the music, we've got the floats and even the balloons all during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Always fun to watch especially with the debut of some the newest floats and balloons this year. Frozen's Olaf, that was a really big hit.

Meanwhile, President Trump may be spending his first Thanksgiving as Commander-in-Chief at Mar-a-Lago. But he has made sure to let Americans know at home and abroad just what he thinks we should all be thankful for today. Speaking to some coast guard members during a surprise visit, just a short time ago Trump thanked them for their service but also took a moment to tout the economy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told them, our country is doing great. And you folks are fighting so hard and working so hard. And it's nice that you're working for something that's really starting to work. We've cut back so much on regulation and the all the waste and all the abuse. And the stock market on Friday hit the all-time high. The highest it's ever been, ever.


WHITFIELD: Joining me right now opinion columnist with "The Hill" Brent Budowsky, CNN Political Commentator, Paris Dennard and former Rubio presidential campaign manager, Terry Sullivan. Happy Thanksgiving, good to see all of you, I know all of you are hoping not to talk about politics at the dinner table today, right? It might be inescapable.

All right, so Brent, you first, you know, you just heard some of the president's remarks to the coast guard members which were very similar to his earlier message to troops abroad. He thanked them all for their service but he also used a moment to kind of tout the economic stats. Was that a nice and appropriate happy Thanksgiving to everyone?

BRENT BUDOWSKY, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE HILL: Well, yes, I thought, well he did fine today. The problem is with the other 360 days. But I thought and first of all, let me thank you, Fred, for inviting me and I wish you and everybody a wonderful Thanksgiving.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. Glad you're at the table.

BUDOWSKY: When we have --

WHITFIELD: We'll see --

BUDOWSKY: When we watched the great movie, one of my favorites "Miracle On 34th Street." In that film, Kris Kringle, the character playing Santa Claus, says to young Susan, the little girl beautifully played by Natalie Wood, he said, there's the French nation, the British nation and the imagination.

And he was talking about Santa Claus but he could have also been talking about the America that we all love, that was started in 1776 by some of the greatest men and women who ever walked on the earth. They had the imagination of a great country called America where we are all in this together, where we all collaborate for the greater good.

They wanted an America where every young child, every young girl, every young boy, every little kid can grow up being protected and loved and cherished by all of us. And live in a country and hopefully a world where tomorrow's better than today and where every generation of a little girls and little boys and young men and young women have a better economy and better life than their parents and grandparents. Something we need to get back to.


BUDOWSKY: So, I thought what the president said today was perfectly fine. It would be -- he'd a better President and we'd be a stronger country if we wouldn't have to have 300 -- 360 days wake up where Americans find out who the President berated and insulted which group, which individual, whoever they be, when we wake up in the morning. So I think he did fine today. But I think he should do well to reflect that we want to go back to the imagination of a country that can be where we're not divided, where we are united, where we work together, where we seek the common good and not spend so much time insulting each other and berating each other which he's done far too often and that's what Americans want I believe on Thanksgiving.

WHITFIELD: Well, comprehensively and very nicely said, Brent, indeed. It is still the world's best country. There are few wrinkles here and there, right. So, Paris, you know, every holiday people dread politics being brought to the table. In fact, according to this polling 58 percent of you, of all of us, in fact, while only 31 percent of the Americans say that they are eager to discuss politics according to a new Marist Poll.

So, this year especially, though, isn't it inevitable, Paris, that people are going to talk about politics? It just might be the main course of conversation. Do you dread that or is that just the reality, embrace it?

[12:45:04] PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Fred. Happy Thanksgiving to you, thanks for having me. It is a reality. It's a reality that we live in. But I think it's actually a good thing. When you look at all the issues that are going on in this country, I think the President was right to talk about the positives that we have, the lowest unemployment rate since the year 2000. When you look at the fact that the stock market is rolling and the fact that there could be and hopefully will be a middle class tax cut.

And the tax cuts for the small businesses of this country, which are the real driving engine of this nation by Christmas. There are things that we should be talking about and when (INAUDIBLE) Senator Tim Scott talked about the Sunday dinners around the -- that we should have around this country, where we have dinner and talk to people that look differently from us, that we should do more listening.

The problem that we have in our nation, the divisiveness of politics these days and the politics of person stretching that we don't take the time to listen, so I hope that people --

WHITFIELD: And so you think on this day at the dinner table people will listen even though there might be some dissension?

DENNARD: That's OK, it's OK to have dissension but the important thing to do is listen and have understanding so we could do better as a nation to make America great again by first coming to the understanding of what are the issue that you are concerned about? How can I help you my brother, my sister, my friend, my family member especially at Thanksgiving.

So we have lot to be thankful for and we should listen to each other and talk about these important issues that unite us and not the issues that divide us.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Terry, Inevitably, you know, those issues that do divide us, will end up being, you know, at the dinner table and many have said the president does seize on some the cultural issues, make it on political, often use in Twitter, you know, as he did just yesterday.

Just take a look at some of them. I mean, everything from, you know, railing against LaVar Ball, you know, the father of one of the UCLA basketball players caught shoplifting in China. You know, Trump also questioning NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell over handling of the national anthem protests.

And there are two NFL games on before you are likely to sit down at the table at least this evening. So, is it likely inescapable? I mean who doesn't want to talk about football and watch football and now injected into that would be, you know, the President's sentiments on this, Terry?

TERRY SULLIVAN, FORMER RUBIO PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, what scares me as the 31 percent in the poll you cited that are excited to talk about politics at Thanksgiving dinner. So, you're clear of them.

But look, there's a lot more that unites our nation than divides it in our citizens. And the fact is, is that we're not defined by our leaders, by our politicians. We're defined by our citizens and that's what makes us great and that's what makes us unique.

And that's what the kind of thing -- I mean there's a reason why people hop on boats from the time of the first Thanksgiving until now and flee to this country. They don't do that to other countries. They come here because it's the greatest country in the world.

And so, this is time a day, historically has always been about putting aside your differences, sitting down and finding common ground and finding the things that bind us not the things that divide us.

WHITFIELD: Alright, well good luck at all tables across America and beyond. Thanks to all of you. Our Brent Budowsky, Paris Dennard, Terry Sullivan. Have a super, super great Thanksgiving Day. A peaceful one, one of harmony and lots of good food.

BUDOWSKY: I'm one of 31 percent, we'll do.

WHITFIELD: All right, appreciate it. Alright, before we go to break, our lawmakers put their politics on hold to follow the path of the pardoned turkey. Just take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's this free bird going to do next?

JOHN THUNE, SOUTH DAKOTA U.S. SENATOR: So any thanksgiving plans? I know that's a touchy subject for birds. How about you?

[12:48:51] TIM SCOTT, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN SENATOR: So you just call Turkey Bacon, "Bacon"?



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, at least two turkeys have absolutely nothing to worry about today. Let's call them because of their names Drumstick and Wishbone. They are the two lucky birds who got a pardon from President Trump this week.

And they're now living large on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. They have carved their place in history as the first national Thanksgiving birds to be spared in the Trump Era.

And CNN's Jeanne Moos has more.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sure it's great for a turkey to be pardoned.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, Drumstick. Oh Drumstick I think is going to be very happy.

MOOS (voice-over): But he did have to be put up with being man handled and petted by Ivanka's daughter. Someone pinch near his waddle and no one bothered to say pardon me.

TRUMP: Drumstick, you are hereby pardoned.

MOOS (voice-over): It was a tame event. The President delivered his turkey talk from a teleprompter.

TRUMP: Well thank you all for being here.

MOOS (voice-over): Drumstick didn't try to peck him like that eagle once did. Like a turkey named Liberty once nipped at President Bush. There was no horsing around with Barren as President Obama did with his kids.

And there was certainly no interviews like the one Sarah Palin once gave with a turkey being slaughtered behind her.

SARAH PALIN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'll be in charge with the turkeys. Yes.

MOOS (on camera): Turkeys may not fly. But the jokes about presidential pardons did.

(voice-over): Read one tweet for Thanksgiving. Donald Trump is going to pardon a turkey and then yell at it for 14 hours for not thanking him properly. Joke and other, the turkey goes on CNN and refuses to thank Trump for a pardon. At the ceremony a reporter yelled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to pardon any people?

[12:55:07] MOOS (voice-over): There were plenty of jokes about that. Twitted the daily show, "Nice try Mike Flynn." SNL did a bit involving the President and Paul Manafort.

ALEC BALDWIN, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" COMEDIAN: And then dress you up like a turkey, and then we'll pardon you.


BALDWIN: Now, there is a small chance that I'll screw that up too and my family will end up eating you for Thanksgiving.

MOOS (voice-over): Drumstick and backup Wishbone were spared that holed up in their swanky hotel. But you want this room after shavings on the floor and turkeys on the beds? At least there was no turkey twerking, especially not into the oven. Instead of being gobbled Drumstick and Wishbone will keep gobbling.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: Ha, ha. And we do understand Wishbone and Drumstick will be living next to Tater and Tot, the last two turkeys pardoned by President Obama. I guess birds if a feather flock together. I just couldn't resist.

All right, thank you so much for being with us, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happy Thanksgiving.

Boris Sanchez is up next.