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U.S. Officials: Journalist who Disappeared in Syria may be Alive; New Year Brings New Challenges for President Trump; Top Eight Entertainment Stories of 2018. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 28, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[10:34:13]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Listen up for this story. The parents of a missing American journalist and military veteran have new hope that their son is still alive. Austin Tice disappeared while working in Syria more than six years ago, working there as a journalist covering the war. The Trump administration believes that the marine turned journalist is still alive and being held captive, but it's unclear how the president's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria could affect any search, any leverage there.

Joining me now are Debra and Marc Tice. They are Austin's parents. Thanks very much to both of you for joining us during the holidays.

DEBRA TICE, MOTHER OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST AUSTIN TICE: Thank you for having us.

MARC TICE, FATHER OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST AUSTIN TICE: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: First, I want to ask you, I have to imagine the holidays must be particularly tough for you to not have your son there with you. Tell us how you and the rest of your family have coping this year.

[10:35:02] DEBRA TICE: Well, Jim, it is difficult not to have Austin at home. And we all share a deep longing for him to be there. But we're not going to allow our joy and our enjoyment of each other to also be held captive. So we still celebrate and we still remember how much we love each other and what a strong family we are.

SCIUTTO: It's a great model. Earlier this month, you announced that you had some new reason for hope that he's still alive, that he's still safe. I don't want you to reveal any sensitive information. I know the nature of that around people being held captive like this, but can you give us a sense of why and how much new hope you have that he is still being held there?

MARC TICE: Well, our hope has always been strong. I mean, our hope has never wavered, but it's not just our hope. It's a consensus based on information available that Austin's alive, that he's still being held in Syria. It's something that was reiterated by the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O'Brien earlier this year - earlier this fall. And you know we just remain confident and expecting him to come home any day.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're hoping for you, too. Listen, I know you have no interest in commenting on policy. And I don't want to put you in that position. I'm just curious, with U.S. forces leaving Syria, does that concern you at all to not have a U.S. presence on the ground as Austin remains, as far as we know, still held inside Syria?

DEBRA TICE: Well, I mean, the troops wouldn't have anything to do with his release. And as you know, we have been praying for an end to conflict, a beginning of healing, and so everything that's a movement in that direction is good for the Syrian people.

MARC TICE: And Jim, I would add that regardless of what happens, policy, actions, we always find a way to think this is something that can help Austin come home. If the sun rises in the morning, we think that will help Austin come home sooner.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this finally, because as a parent, I'm just imagining the pain you have been going through these six years. For folks at home who I'm sure feel the same way, how can they best help you? How can we best help you and your family through this but also in terms of keeping attention on his captivity?

DEBRA TICE: Well, we believe the most important thing to do is to pray for Austin. It's always a good idea to remind the president and our Special Presidential Envoy and congressmen and senators that it's important for Austin to come home, that we're looking forward to having him home soon. And so those letters of encouragement mean a lot. If people want to donate specifically, reporters without borders have a family fund that has been very supportive of our efforts for bringing Austin home.

SCIUTTO: CNN is seen around the world. We don't know who's watching at this time, but on the off chance that the people holding him are watching or perhaps Austin himself, what message would you like to send?

MARK TICE: Well, to those that are holding Austin, I would just say no one is benefitting from his continued detention. On the other hand, Austin coming home, being released, safely coming home, will benefit not only our family and give us what we so long for, but also will be beneficial to those that are holding him as well. It's an opportunity for something good to happen to everyone involved.

DEBRA TICE: Right. And in case Austin gets to hear this, we just remind him to stay strong. That we're hoping and we're waiting and we're ready for him to come home.

MARK TICE: Yes, and we love him more every day.

SCIUTTO: Well, goodness, Marc and Debra Tice, we're praying for you. Certainly a big family here at CNN, our hearts go out to you and we wish you the very best and Austin the very best.

DEBRA TICE: Thank you, Jim.

MARK TICE: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Take care. And we'll be right back.

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[10:44:15] SCIUTTO: For President Trump, 2019 certain to begin the way that 2018 is ending, with lots of head winds, a divided Congress beginning next week. Dems in charge of the House, pursuing their agenda, launching their investigations, likely trying to access his tax returns, all which could pale in comparison to the Mueller report, a report expected to drop at any time.

Joining me now is GOP strategist, former Ted Cruz spokeswoman, Alice Stewart. Alice thanks very much for joining us during the holidays. It's going to be a difficult year, no question, the shutdown battle being perhaps an early taste of that.

Columnist Jennifer Rubin, she writes in "The Washington Post" the following. "Trump in 2019 will either muddle through another year of his chaotic presidency or finally wear out his welcome among Republicans who finally recognize they can save him or themselves, but not both."

[10:45:04] The conventional wisdom has been that Republicans knowing his base, fearing primary challenges, will never truly split with the president. Do you think that that's true?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't see that changing unless something dramatic happens, such as severe downturn with the economy, which potentially could happen, and a major discovery or major charges coming out of the Mueller investigation. That is really the elephant in the room as to what happens with that. That being aside, Republicans will stay with him.

Jim, you look at the latest approval ratings. He has 82 percent approval ratings in favorability amongst his base. They're not going anywhere. And his die-hard base that has been with him through thick and thin, they're not budging.

SCIUTTO: You need more than that to win the White House, as you know. You had a taste of that during the midterms, right?

STEWART: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Independents fled him.

STEWART: Absolutely. And so, his main goal right now is making sure there's no GOP challenger, an independent challenger becoming certainly the only name on the ticket for the Republican side. He is banking on the fact that nothing will come out of the Mueller probe, the economy will be strong, potentially making some progress with regard to immigration, and he sees this as a numbers game. He is raising a lot of money. He's going to get his name out there, and he's optimistic. I think it really depends on who the Democrats put out there. But he is certainly someone that is a force to be reckoned with. It's easy to cast him off with all the negative things we've had over the last few weeks, but never underestimate Donald Trump. We learned that the hard way in 2016. Never underestimate him. And don't expect him to lose when he's proven he's 1 for 1 when it comes to politics.

SCIUTTO: Well, OK, although the midterm elections, you know, you could say that was a loss for this president as well. I wonder if this poll from CNN and the Des Moines register might have caught the president's attention. It found GOP voters by a huge margin would welcome a challenger to Trump, 63 to 26. That's more than a 2 to 1 margin. Is this substantial in your view, and does that presage the possibility of a genuine contender?

STEWART: I truly don't see how someone can get in there. Look, I think that poll showed some interesting numbers, but then again, we're talking about voters in a specific state. With all the names we have out there of people that potentially may get out there and run, John Kasich, Nikki Haley and others, the likelihood of anyone getting out there and opposing him, if the field and the level of play is like it is, it's very low.

In addition to the fact that what the president has done, the Trump victory campaign, joining forces with the RNC, they're a unified effort. He's already hooked his wagon up with the RNC and vice versa. That's a tremendous fund-raising advantage, organizational advantage, and political advantage. That being said, it will be very difficult for any Republican to take him on.

SCIUTTO: Alice Stewart thanks very much.

STEWART: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.

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[10:53:49] SCIUTTO: A lavish royal wedding, just one of the top entertainment stories of 2018. Here is CNN contributor Nischelle Turner.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jackie, would you like to take a knee?

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NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A TV star booted off her own show, "Getting Crazy Rich" at the box office and Kanye's White House Romance, here's a look at the top entertainment news makers in 2018.

Number eight Ariana Grande "Thank You, Next."

The lyrics say it all. Ariana Grande's newest single is a deeply personal look back at 2018. A year filled with young love, break up's, and heart ache but "Thank You, Next" capped off, she says, one of the best years of her career and the fans agree.

Ariana's fourth album, "Sweetener" skyrocketed to the number one spot on the Billboard Charts. On Spotify she broke the global record for the biggest opening week by a female artist and her star studded music video became the most watched premier on YouTube.

[10:55:00] Number seven, pay and inequality in Hollywood. Hollywood fights to close the gender pay gap. At the Golden Globes, stars wore black to support the Time's Up movement and raise awareness on issues like pay inequality.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are here standing in solidarity with women everywhere.

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TURNER: This came on the heels of an announcement from E NEWS host Catt Sadler who says she left the network after learning her male co- host was making nearly double her salary. Just days later we learned Michelle Williams was paid $1,000 to reshoot scenes from "All the Money in the World" while co-star Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million.

Wahlberg pledged support for Williams, donating the entire sum of his payment to the Time's Up legal defense fund.

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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Bill Cosby once nicknamed "America's Dad" is convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

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TURNER: Number six, Cosby and Weinstein woes, "America's Dad" behind bars. Bill Cosby was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home. Sentenced up to 10 years in prison and will be classified as a sexually violent predator for life. Cosby's case was the first celebrity sexual assault trial, conviction and sentencing since the start of the MeToo Movement.

But another industry heavyweight, Harvey Weinstein, was arrested and charged with rape and sex abuse from incidents dating back to 2004. He faces dozens of additional accusations, but denies all allegations of quote, "non-consensual sex." Investigations are underway in the U.S. and abroad.

Number five, Kimye boards the Trump train. Kim and Kanye dived head first into politics. First up, Kim's plea for President Trump to commute the sentence of first time non-violent drug offender Alice Johnson.

TURNER: After a trip to the White House and some words of advocacy on Twitter, Trump commuted Johnson's sentence. She was freed from prison after serving 21 years. Meanwhile, Kanye's bromance with the president flourished.

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KANYE WEST, RAPPER: I love this guy right here.

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TURNER: They've admired each other since 2014, but Yeezy sealed the deal during a bizarre visit with the president to discuss prison reform. The wild antics went on and on, leaving Trump speechless.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was quite something.

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TURNER: Number four, Aretha Franklin dies.

Saying goodbye to a legend, Aretha Franklin died at her home in Detroit from pancreatic cancer in August. In the wake of her death thousands of well-wishers lined the streets to honor her life and career.

And her famous fans were just as sorry to say goodbye, from Stevie Wonder, to Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande, and also Smokey Robinson. It was a tribute fit for a queen. Aretha Franklin was 76 years old.

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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Breaking news in the world of entertainment, the top rated television comedy of the year is now canceled.

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TURNER: Number three, Rosanne's reboot drama. The show was booted off ABC in May after the show star made racist comments about former White House Aide Valerie Jarrett on Twitter. And as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on. Just months later the network announced the show would return without its namesake as "The Connors."

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do we have to keep talking about death all the time? It just keeps reminding me of grandma.

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TURNER: The spinoff, which chronicles life after the sudden death of Rosanne Conner premiered to 10.5 million viewers. That's down 35 percent from the original reboot.

Number two, box office diversity. Diversity ruled at the box office, Marvel's "Black Panther" smashed records, bringing in over $1.3 billion worldwide. Starring a mostly black cast and helmed by a black director, this superhero flick resonated with theater goers everywhere.

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CONSTANCE WU, ACTRESS: So, your family is rich?

HENRY GOLDING, ACTOR: We're comfortable.

WU: That is exactly what a super-rich person would say.

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TURNER: And social media favorite, "Crazy Rich Asians" exceeded the industry expectations, making over $237 million globally. It's the first major studio film to feature a predominantly Asian cast since "The Joy Luck Club," but that's not all, ticket sales showed the romcom became the highest grossing romantic comedy in the U.S. in 10 years.

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CLARISSA WARD, JOURNALIST: The countdown to the royal wedding is very nearly over, Don.

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TURNER: And number one, a royal wedding. A storybook wedding for Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle. The royal couple tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle. The dress, the ring, the fashion and the fascinators, and of course, the Queen and a princess.

No royal wedding is complete without a star-studded guest list, George and Amal Clooney, Serena Williams, Oprah and the Beckhams. But the Duke and Dutchess had even more happy news to share. A royal baby's on the way, due in 2019.

Well, the year did end clouded in controversy. Kevin Hart stepped down as the host of the Oscars after homophobic tweets from his past surfaced online, so the question is, who's going to step in? Well, we will find out very soon.

Nischelle Turner for CNN, Los Angeles.

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