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Lion Kills Intern at N.C. Zoological Park; Mattis Farewell as Graham Says Trump Re-evaluating Troop Withdrawal in Syria; Russia Detains U.S. Citizen Accused of Spying. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 31, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: But did this young intern have to die in the jaws of a lion? We're live in North Carolina.

And President Trump defends his plan to withdraw troops from Syria. He says he's just doing what he said he would do during the campaign. So why does one Senator think Trump may be having second thoughts?

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NOBLES: An investigation is underway into how a lion escaped an enclosure at a zoo and killed an intern. Staffers at the Conservator Center in Burlington, North Carolina, were doing a routine cleaning when they say the lion somehow left a locked space and attacked 22- year-old Alexandra Black. Black had been interning for 10 days and was cleaning another area when the attack happened.

Her family says she loved animals and wanted to make a career working with them, something her coworkers echoed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:35:15] UNIDENTIFIED COWORKER: This person's passion was the zoological industry. This was not this person's first internship. And this person wanted to spend a lifetime around these animals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: The 14-year-old lion was euthanized following the attack. No one else was injured. The zoological park is closed until further notice.

And joining me now to talk more about you is wildlife expert, Jeff Corwin.

Jeff, officials at the center say their safety protocol includes locking the large cats in a separate area from humans during cleanings, so how could something like this happened?

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE EXPERT: Well, that is the standard protocol, when you're going to clean the enclosure of a large powerful predator, like a tiger or a lion, that animal is secured in a separate holding area so the people, the staff can either administer whatever needs to be administered or clean the enclosure of the animal. So here's the thing. Lions cannot pick locks, but sometimes people forget to lock the lock. So it is very likely, in the end, this will be the result of a human mistake or human error. As with most of these situations, where tragedies like this occur, there's something to do with that management scenario, where terrible, tragic accidents like this can occur.

NOBLES: And this, again, reminds us just how powerful and dangerous lions can be. I mean, what kind of training do you need in order to work with a ferocious animal like a lion?

CORWIN: Well, Mrs. Black was beginning the journey of developing the expertise more a lifelong career, which tragically was cut short by this terrible event. But it requires a tremendous amount of training. Mrs. Black -- Miss Black had just recently completed her bachelor's work in animal sciences and many folks that work in this world have degrees in biology or environmental science and they will work as interns or docins for many, many months before they finally become the animal experts employed by a zoo or an environment like. It requires a tremendous amount of training.

And you're right, Ryan, these are incredibly powerful creatures. She probably had no idea that this was occurring. It probably happened at lightning speed, because they are powerful predators. And this is how they dispatch their prey in the wild. And just about every lion or tiger or other predator that lives in the United States probably had some moment where it had intense human care. For example, many lions are raised by human beings in captive environments before they go on their own into an enclosure, into a zoological community. But despite maybe having a sense of empathy for human beings, they are so powerful, if you have a pet cat and your pet cat has a bad day with a yarn ball, it's, you know, the cat being a cat. But if a powerful 400 or 5 500-pound lion has a bad situation, lives are at stake.

NOBLES: And of course, this ended with the lion being euthanized. They say the personnel there were unable to tranquilize the lion. So there's essentially two lives lost in this situation.

CORWIN: Absolutely. It's a tremendous tragic loss all-around. Zoos are very important places where people learn about conservation, make connections to the natural world, but there will be a very powerful and painful learning curve here. And hopefully, those lessons will be learned to ensure that terrible accidents like this don't occur in the end, in the future. We have to remember, Ryan, lions are endangered species. There are only 25,000 lions left in Africa. Every one matters.

NOBLES: Jeff Corwin, obviously, a tragic story. Your expertise is very valuable in helping us understand exactly what happened.

We so appreciate you being here. Thank you.

CORWIN: Thanks.

[14:39:31] NOBLES: Well, it was a bit of surprise when he said it. Senator Lindsey Graham's claim that President Trump will slow his plans to withdraw troops from Syria, but will the president follow through?

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NOBLES: Today is the last day on the job for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. This morning, he submitted a heartfelt farewell message to Department of Defense employees, saying, in part, quote, "I am confident that each of you remains undistracted from our sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution while protecting our way of life. Our department has proven to be at its best when the times are most difficult."

You'll remember that Secretary Mattis announced his resignation because of the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. But over the weekend, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says that President Trump is now re-evaluating such a rapid drawdown.

Joining me for more on this, CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd. She was a senior national security adviser under President Obama.

And, Sam and I haven't been on television together for like six hours.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I did miss you, though.

NOBLES: We had to rectify that.

Sam, what do you think of Secretary Mattis' farewell message?

VINOGRAD: Well, his message looks like it's intended to bolster morale of the men and women who continue to serve at the Pentagon while pointing out that there are rough waters ahead. What he experienced as secretary of defense under President Trump, this policy of really throwing our allies under the bus and making impetuous decisions does not seem to be getting much better, even if you just look at the president's Twitter feed today and his comments on Syria. It looks like he's trying to boost morale while making very clear that it's going to be a difficult 2019.

[14:45:13] NOBLES: The Pentagon, the work moves on. The new acting replacement, Patrick Shanahan, he takes over tomorrow. The president apparently still kind of discussing this serious strategy here. This is not really Shanahan's area of expertise, dealing with these types of military matters. How big a challenge is this going to be for him?

VINOGRAD: That's exactly why there should have been a longer transition period. During his transitions from a secretary to an acting secretary, even if it's a deputy, typically there's a handover of information. What the secretary knows, he tries to impart on whomever is taking over for him. Trying to do that over the course of just a few days is literally impossible, especially when you have a secretary that's on the outs with the president and is trying so rapidly to wrap things up. It's unclear who is really leading discussions on the responsible drawdown of troops on Syria, what timetable they're going to be following and where they're going to be relocated to and who else is going to pick up pieces of the mission. NOBLES: You know, there was a sense that both General Kelly and

General Mattis had a level of gravitas around the president, he respected their military service, the fact that they were generals played a big part in that. Shanahan doesn't have that same level of gravitas. His experience comes from the private sector. He was an ex-Boeing executive, a businessman, really. Could that actually help him when discussing things with President Trump? Or could that be a challenge, especially when it comes to challenging the president on military matters?

VINOGRAD: Who really knows at this point, what kind of resume actually lends itself to getting the president's ear. We had all kinds of cabinet officials telling the president that the decision to withdraw from Syria was not a wise one from a security perspective. And at the end of the day, the president chose to listen to a foreign leader, Erdogan of Turkey, rather than his own cabinet. So I don't think we really know if Shanahan's resume is going to be a plus or a minus in this regard. One thing that we do know is that several people in the last few days have been urging the president to reconsider his decision. Senator Graham, since we did this over lunch yesterday, the prime minister of Israel has made a similar plea, because withdrawing troops, even if it was logistically possible within the 30-day time period that was on the table originally was irresponsible and would open the U.S. up to a lot of threats.

NOBLES: And very quickly, we did see Stanley McChrystal speak out against President Trump. Were you surprised to be -- to see him be so forceful in a public manner about his negative thoughts about President Trump?

VINOGRAD: I'm always surprised when a nonpartisan public servant makes criticisms like this, but he obviously felt that it was necessary. And, Ryan, he has extensive experience fighting terrorists in theaters like Iraq, so he certainly knows what he's talking about when he makes these kinds of assertions.

NOBLES: Sam Vinograd, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

VINOGRAD: Thanks.

NOBLES: Up next, Russia has detained a U.S. citizen accused of spying. We do know the man's name, but not much else. A closer look at the accusations, the evidence, and the potential punishment.

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[14:52:32] NOBLES: Russia has just alleged it caught a U.S. spy in the act. State-run media says the agency that used to be the KGB has detained the American, quote, "while carrying out an act of espionage." That is the statement from the FSB.

Let's go to Moscow now to CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance.

Matthew, who is the American and what is he accused of doing? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know

his name is Paul Nicholas Whelan, because that's the name that's been given to us by the Russian authorities. In terms of what exactly he's been doing, we're pretty much in the dark, to be frank with you. We know that the Russians say that he was caught spying, there's been a very short statement issued by the Russian FSB, which is the main counter-espionage agency in this country. It says that the educative debate of the FSB initiated a criminal case against the U.S. citizen under Article 276 of the criminal code, and that's espionage. The investigation is underway, and that's basically all it said.

The U.S. State Department hasn't been much help, either, frankly, because they've just issued a very short statement as well, saying that they acknowledge being formally informed that this U.S. citizen is in detention. But they've said for the sake of -- and have also requested consular services, consular access. But that -- not indicated whether those have been granted yet. But they've said that for considerations of privacy, they're not going to say anything else about the issue, at this stage. And so, you know, it's a very kind of, you know, a lot of mystery surrounding what's happened here, who this individual is, what he's accused of doing. And you know, we're hoping that in the coming days, we're going to get a bit more clarity on this.

NOBLES: And of course, Matthew, it comes not long after Maria Butina was arrested here in the United States. Perhaps that has something stood with this whole entire affair. We will have to see.

Matthew Chance, live in Moscow. Matthew, thank you for that.

Getting ready to ring in 2019? Getting ready for anything. We're talking rain, snow, ice, even thunderstorms. New details about a nasty start to the New Year.

And we're expecting Senator Elizabeth Warren to speak any moment now for the first time since she announced that she is exploring a run for president. If that happens, we will take you there live.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[14:54:58] GILDA RADNER, COMEDIAN: Hi, I'm Gilda Radner. And -- OK, now.

(CHEERING)

RADNER: People want to know what made you funny. From the time I was a kid, I loved to pretend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the very first performer chosen for the cast of "Saturday Night Live."

RADNER: Rosanne Roseannadanna.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They loved her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I basically stole all my characters from Gilda. RADNER: I can do almost anything if people are laughing.

Boom-ba-ba-boom-ba-ba-boom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda was just not quite herself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One morning, she just said, I don't know what's wrong with me.

RADNER: For a comedian, it's the most unfunny thing in the world.

Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She felt that she could be of help. And that's exactly what she did.

RADNER: How often do we get to know exactly how brave we are?

I always felt that my comedy was just to make things be all right.

ANNOUNCER: "Love, Gilda," tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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