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Former Nissan Chief Flees Japan; Security Measures in Times Square; New Year's Eve Forecast; U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Protests; Putin Marks 20 Years in Power. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 31, 2019 - 06:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news, former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn has escaped from Japan where he was facing financial misconduct charges. He's gone on to seek refuge in Lebanon. This coming even as a surprise to his attorney.

CNN's David Culver live in Hong Kong with this breaking story.

David, do we have any idea how he pulled this off?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now that remains the biggest question., this mystery, how. We're talking about a guy who was once widely praised as an industry titan, Jim. I mean he was seen as a visionary in the automotive business, secretly skipping bail and fleeing Japan. Carlos Ghosn's own attorneys, as you point out, they're calling their own client's actions inexcusable. And they're a bit confused given that they say they're actually holding onto Ghosn's three passports.

Now, this case, it dates back to November of 2018. Japanese authorities arrested the then chief executive of Nissan for allegedly mishandling millions of dollars and under reporting his own pay. Over several months that followed, he was released from jail, re-arrested, then re-released this past April on $9 million bail. That was one of the highest Japan's ever seen.

Ghosn called the allegations against him a conspiracy. He says it's back-stabbing from his former Nissan employees. And after his now mysterious escape to Beirut Monday, he released this statement through a public relations firm. I'll read part of it for you. He says, quote, I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant and basic human rights are denied. Adding, I have not fled justice, I have escaped injustice and political persecution.

Ghosn went on to say that he's now free to communicate with the media, which he plans to do next week.

And, Jim, it is worth noting that Japan and Lebanon do not have an extradition treaty. So it's unlikely that he'll be returning. What Japan will likely be doing though is asking to enter discussions to figure out how exactly this happened. The logistics here still a mystery.


Yes, I'm sure that lack of extradition treaty just one of the reasons he may have chosen Lebanon.

CULVER: Right.

SCIUTTO: David Culver, thanks very much.

We are, of course, just hours to go until we celebrate the New Year here in New York. See how the country's largest police force is working to secure tonight's festivities. It's a huge project.

Meanwhile, it is already 2020 in some parts of the world. Fireworks kicking off the New Year and new decade in New Zealand a few ago. We're going to bring you more New Year's celebrations around the world as they happen throughout the morning. End of the decade.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

You are looking here at live pictures of Times Square, where hundreds of thousands of revelers will pack the streets of New York to ring in 2020 and a new decade. Thousands of police officers will be on the streets and they will be using new technology to protect everyone there.

CNN's Miguel Marquez, he is live in Times Square with more.

You know, I've been there for New Year's before and I think folks don't realize what an elaborate security operation it is, particularly during New Year's.

Tell us about some of those resources and how they pull this off.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, this is -- it is a massive, massive effort by NYPD, from the air, from the land, and from the water here. I mean this is the stage, this massive stage where they expect as many as a million people to show up. They will have thousands of police officers, both in uniform and out of uniform. They will have resources, helicopters in the air. They will have boats on the rivers. They will have vast swaths of the area blocked off by trucks. They will even use drones if the weather permits. They were meant to use them last year but they weren't able to because it was raining so much. They will also have a crew that will watch for rogue drones in the event that others try to fly their drones illegally over this area.

These are the pens that will soon be filled. The pens of madness and hell. And look at this, you already have hundreds of people who are lined up ready for piling into these pens when they allow them to come in.

These guys love BTS. They've been out here since last night already. I've asked what their restroom strategy is, and they said they're basically not eating and not drinking anything for the next 24 hours.

So people are incredibly excited. It looks like everything's going according to plan. And, you know, NYPD puts on a massive effort here. And it should be a great 2020.

And let the 2020 puns begin, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Pens of madness and hell --

HARLOW: Can you --

SCIUTTO: I think, can you copyright that, Miguel?

HARLOW: Can you say it on morning television, Miguel? It's like 6:30 in the morning here. Kids better -- Miguel, who's going to be in bed sooner -- earlier tonight, you or me?

MARQUEZ: Oh, I -- well, I -- I don't know if you have the morning show tomorrow, but I will definitely be in bed by probably 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. I'm done at that time.

HARLOW: Me too.

MARQUEZ: Unless I'm still out here doing live shots, which might be possible as well.

HARLOW: Oh, let's hope not. Me too, friend.

SCIUTTO: Happy New Year, man.

HARLOW: Happy New Year.

So, will Mother Nature cooperate for New Year's Eve tonight?

Let's go to our meteorologist Chad Myers. He has the answer.

It's like downright balmy in New York.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is 36 right now and going to be 39 at midnight.


MYERS: That's amazing. Compared to some of the other weeks, and other - the weeks of Christmas to New Year's where it can be ten below zero. So we'll certainly take it.

Here's your midnight temperatures, the coldest I can find. Minneapolis, you'll be ten degrees at the midnight hour.

This weather is brought to you by Celebrity Cruises. Visit to book your award winning vacation today.

Maybe that's for Minneapolis because you are in the center of the cold. A little bit of snow across the northeast, but it ends by midnight for most of you.

Here's where the snow is now, over Detroit, Grand Rapids, even some upstate flurries and into New England.

But watch as hour by hour I move you all the way to midnight tonight. Yes, snow through Toronto, snow through Erie into Pennsylvania, also into State College. But by midnight, things truly dry out and temperatures are going to be very, very nice.


But in the afternoon, we're going to be in the 40s. But as the ball drops in New York City, 39 degrees.

I've seen a lot worse.


MYERS: Poppy.


HARLOW: We'll take it.

Chad, Happy New Year, my friend.

MYERS: To you too.

HARLOW: To all of you, don't forget to ring in the New Year, if you can stay up, with Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen. CNN's New Year's Eve coverage begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight live from Times Square and around the world.

SCIUTTO: That's kind of a fun way to spend the night. Former Vice President Joe Biden says he is open to a running mate the Democrats might find surprising. We're going to tell you exactly what he was thinking of, next.


SCIUTTO: You're looking at live pictures. This is around the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Massive protests, hundreds of people there surrounding to the point that U.S. diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, have been evacuated for their own safety. We continue to monitor this story here. The concern, of course, that the lives, the safety of U.S. staff there in danger.

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart, he is President Clinton's former White House press secretary.

Thanks to both of you. Happy New Year to both of you.

But, Joe, let me, if I can, begin with you.

This is potentially a significant moment for U.S. policy in Iraq, is it not? This follows air strikes over the weekend -- U.S. air strikes on Iranian-backed militias there. But, of course, a series of escalating shots back and forth between the U.S. and Iran.

As you watch this here, tell us how concerned you are.


JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think this was a situation that wasn't handled very well by the Trump administration. Obviously, you cannot ignore Iranian aggression. And when a U.S. soldier or contractor is killed, response is appropriate. But when you're going into Iraq and taking out a site in Iraq, you have to work with the Iraqi government. They have their own politics. And it's very delicate politics. And it just doesn't appear they did the work they needed to do before they launched this strike. And they have created a problem. And this is a problem of their making.

HARLOW: To Joe's point, Rachael, Iraq's prime minister telling "The New York Times" that he messaged to cabinet members that he had tried over and over again to stop the U.S. from carrying out these air strikes but the United States was insistent and continued. We had Ambassador Pickering on at the top of the hour and he talked about the risk here for the United States, and that is a bluff trap. What do you do if one side does not back down here? The only public official we've heard from so far this morning I believe on this is Senator Marco Rubio on the Foreign Relations Committee. Are you hearing anything from members of Congress, the House, the Senate, on -- on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees reacting to this?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, a lot of members are still back in their districts for the holiday break right now --


BADE: So a lot of folks not tuned in as much as perhaps they should be on an emergency situation like this.

I mean clearly there's a problem here with escalation right? Now you have people storming the U.S. embassy in Iraq. Are there going to be other attacks on Americans? That is obviously a top concern of the Trump administration. And then that sort of puts the president in this position where he has to decide, how is he going to handle that if it continues to escalate?

And beyond sort of the foreign policy challenges, this really presents a problem for Trump in 2020. This is a guy who ran on getting out of the Middle East, ending, you know, these, quote, endless wars that he talked about when he ran in 2016. But if, you know, things continue to escalate, is he going to have to look at, you know, potentially doing something more and does that sort of infringe on what he promised in 2016 and how does that affect him going forward politically in 2020?

SCIUTTO: We're going to stay on top of the story there as the situation remains dangerous.

Back here in the U.S., Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, he's expected to address the current stalemate with Democrats. Of course Democrats and Republicans yet to agree on how a Senate trial would look for the president. Crucial to that, the question of witnesses.

Joe Lockhart, "The New York Times" story yesterday is pretty remarkable here, right, because it revealed something that even the House impeachment investigation could not uncover, and that is that the president's three senior most national security advisers, Pompeo, Bolton, and Mark Esper, the defense secretary, went directly to the president and tried to lobby him directly to release this aid to Ukraine. I mean, for one, that shows they knew it was the president who made that decision there.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: But I wonder, how does the GOP resist, in light of this, a call for witnesses like Bolton, Pompeo, Esper to address these questions, to address their interactions with the president over this decision?

LOCKHART: Yes, I think you put your finger on it. It's not -- I think we knew from the witnesses in the House that there was this effort in the administration to try to move the president, try to get him to release the aid. But what is significant about this is, there is a critical meeting in the Oval Office that no one knew about. That despite the work of all these investigators, all these witnesses, we have not gotten to the core corruption here. And it makes it very difficult, I think, for Senator McConnell -- well, maybe not Senator McConnell, but for some of his Republican senators to say, you know, we're just going to sweep this under the rug.

HARLOW: Right.

LOCKHART: We've heard enough.


LOCKHART: The president's innocent. That I think they now have to make the case that we've got to hear from these three -- from these three men.

HARLOW: So I think there's sort of two sides to that coin, as there always is. It depends how you see it.

Rachael, your reporting is that the Republican senators just don't have an appetite for any witnesses at an impeachment trial, largely speaking, but that is interesting to me because two-thirds of Republican voters in the latest polling say they want to hear from members of the administration. That's one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin, though, is, you know, why should Republicans in the Senate, McConnell, agree to do the work they could argue that Democrats in the House didn't wait to be done, right? Didn't wait for the courts to decide if they should testify or not.

BADE: Yes, three words, mutual assured destruction. That is what Senator Mitch McConnell told his Republican colleagues. This is why he doesn't want to call any witness. You hear the president talking about sort of having this other trial when it comes to Joe Biden and bringing in Hunter Biden and sort of using the trial to pivot to going after his opponents.

The Senate majority leader has said he doesn't want to do that because if we -- if they do that, this opens Republicans up to increased pressure, like we're seeing right now, to call in these firsthand witnesses about Ukraine, Mulvaney, Bolton, Pompeo.


And I think Republicans know -- Republicans do know privately when you talk to them, you know, not anonymously that that would be bad for the president and that that would put more pressure on them in terms of an impeachment trial and drag this thing out. And so that is not something they want to do.

So I know that they're going to continue to feel pressure, including today and in had the coming weeks accord -- you know, from -- after this "New York Times" story.


BADE: But, I mean, again, I think they worry this is just going to hurt the president in the long run.

HARLOW: Yes, well, we know Mitch McConnell can hold out on things, like hearings for Supreme Court justices.


HARLOW: So he may be willing to hold his breath on this one too.

SCIUTTO: There's some history there.

BADE: Right.

HARLOW: Thanks very much.

Have fun tonight, you guys. Happy New Year.

BADE: Happy New Year.

HARLOW: Today marks two decades of Vladimir Putin's reign. He is now squarely at the center of some of the world's biggest international conflicts. We'll take a look back at his 20 years in power.


HARLOW: So Vladimir Putin is marking 20 years in power today. He remains a central figure in many of the world's international issues.

Our Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow with more.

I mean 20 years with such a strong grip on power.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Strong grip on power and a growing confrontation with the west, Poppy. And just to drive that point home, just a couple of minutes ago, I got a wire here from Russia's official news agency saying that the Russians conducted drills with a medium range missile that the U.S. says threatens America's western European allies.


So you can see that that confrontation is something that's constant and indeed seems to be growing.

So here's a look back at 20 years of Vladimir Putin in power.


PLEITGEN (voice over): After nearly 20 years in power, Vladimir Putin continues to polarize, praising Russia's advances in hypersonic missile technology, which Moscow just announced it has deployed for the first time, and standing by President Trump as America's leader faces impeachment.

Putin's reign began after his predecessor, the embattled and fatigued Boris Yeltsin, announced his resignation in his New Year's address on January 1, 2000. Vladimir Putin, the new strongman in the Kremlin, immediately laid out his ambitious plans.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I've always said, and will continue to say, that the Russian state must be strong.

PLEITGEN: But his presidency got off to a rocky start. He was heavily criticized for his handling of the sinking of a Kursk nuclear submarine just a few months after he took office. The disaster killing all sailors on board. Faced with public anger, Putin didn't immediately return from his holidays to manage the crisis. He also escalated the brutal war in Chechnya, eventually crushing the breakaway republic's rebellion at an immense human and material cost.

And Putin made clear he was going to be tough on terrorism.

PUTIN (through translator): We'll whack them in the outhouse.

PLEITGEN: Russian special forces raiding a Moscow theater taken over my Chechen rebels in 2002, leading to the deaths of more than 130 hostages, while more than 330 hostages were killed when Moscow's special forces raided a school taken hostage by extremists in Beslan, southern Russia, in 2004.

Meanwhile, Russia's economy and overall stability started improving, thanks in part to high international oil prices, boosting the president's popularity. After finishing two terms, Putin had reached the limit under Russia's

constitution. A solution, he swapped jobs with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for four years. Medvedev then changed the constitution, extending the terms from four to six years, before Putin's return as president.

But even while he was prime minister, it was always clear that Putin was the man in charge and the west was put on notice. Russia was returning as a force in international politics. In 2008, the Russia military invaded Georgia, occupying South Ossetia.

Vladimir Putin was re-elected to his third term as president in 2012, but not all Russians were happy. Massive protests engulfed the streets of Moscow. Russian authorities crushing the opposition movement despite international condemnation.

Vladimir Putin's second stint as president has been defined by confrontation with the west. In 2014, after an uprising unseated the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, the Kremlin invaded and then annexed Crimea.

Russia is also accused of fueling and aiding the uprising in eastern Ukraine, which has led to thousands of deaths and the downing of a commercial airliner, killing everyone on board. International investigators blamed a missile fired from Russian military equipment for the tragedy. The Kremlin has remained defiant.

PUTIN (through translator): We think there is no proof. Everything that was presented shows nothing. We have our own version, but, unfortunately, nobody wants to listen to us.

PLEITGEN: Russian forces are supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad against a rebellion in the Middle Eastern nation. Western country's saying Russia's heavy bombardment and frequent targeting of civilian areas amount to war crimes.

And Putin's Russia is accused of directly meddling in western nations affairs, including a broad effort aimed at swaying the U.S. presidential election in 2016 in favor of now President Donald Trump. Putin denying he meddled, but acknowledging he wanted Donald Trump to win.

PUTIN (through translator): Because he was talking about normalizing U.S./Russia relations.

PLEITGEN: But normalizing relations seems out of the question after Britain accused Russia of using chemical weapons to poison former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018. Russia, once again, dismissing the evidence.

Nearly 20 years after taking power, Vladimir Putin maintains a strong grip on the presidency, having largely marginalized Russia's opposition. But international sanctions and isolation, along with a weak economy, have sent his popularity into a nose dive, as some Russians have grown wary of their long-standing leader.


PLEITGEN: And Vladimir Putin still has four years left in his term. It's supposed to be his final term in office. He still claims that it is. But, of course, there are questions here in Moscow and internationally whether Vladimir Putin will indeed step down in the coming four years.



SCIUTTO: Yes, don't be surprised if he changes the constitution again.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: We are following breaking news.