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Harris Warns Russia; James Colgan is Interviewed about the Truck Driver Sentenced for 110 Years; Eli Gold is Interviewed about the Cotton Bowl; Noah Shachtman is Interviewed about 2021's Top Music and Cultural Moments. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 27, 2021 - 08:30   ET



ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Certainly to the Trump administration, which played all kinds of games with, as you will remember, with Ukrainian military aide. We have not made an enormous effort to militarize Ukraine, to support Ukraine in such a way that it would make even the idea of invasion impossible or unthinkable. And that's a the mistake the U.S. and others in Europe have made going back, you know, nearly a decade now.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And, Susan, that really gets to what went wrong in the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. You're co-author of an excellent book on former Secretary of State James Baker with your husband. And I wonder, in your research and interviews for that book, what Baker feels went wrong, what you believe went wrong where we -- we lost this opportunity and instead of falling back to some of these Cold War divides and rhetoric.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think -- I think Baker, the former secretary of state at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, his argument would be that actually a lot went right in the sense that it was a largely peaceful and empires collapsing is probably one of the most dangerous geopolitical moments, wars of many different varieties were a possibility at that time. A few did break out. And I think, you know, the imperative of the United States, at that time, under George H.W. Bush and Baker, was essentially to hit as soft of a landing as possible to ensure that there wasn't, you know, a cataclysm that resulted from this incredible moment of instability in the world order. They reconstructed -- they essentially patched together the post-World War II institutions for a new era. And now we've seen the unraveling of that largely aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin.

Putin is in a much stronger position than he was two decades ago when he came into power in the sense (INAUDIBLE) rebuilt the Russian military. And it's not theoretical that we're talking about, can Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine because he already did so in 2014.

And so what's striking to me is the need that he has felt to manufacture this crisis. I just can't underscore that enough. There is no imminent threat of NATO expanding into Ukraine, as he claims. Ukraine is not any closer really to joining NATO today than it was in 2014, when Putin invaded it the first time and took over the Crimean Peninsula and (INAUDIBLE).


GLASSER: So that's a very important point for people to understand.

AVLON: It is. And I wish we could keep talking about this.

Anne, you've written so much about kleptocracies and the money laundering side of these autocrats, but we're going to have to leave it here for now.

Susan Glasser and Anne Applebaum, thank you very much.

APPLEBAUM: Thank you. Thanks.

AVLON: And just ahead, the truck driver sentenced to 110 years for a deadly crash. Why a judge will reconsider that sentence later today.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: There's a hearing scheduled today for the truck driver sentenced to 110 years for a car crash in Colorado that killed four people.


ROGEL AGUILERA-MEDEROS, SENTENCED TO 110 YEARS IN PRISON FOR A FATAL TRUCK CRASH: I know that it has been hard and heartbreaking for everyone involved in this tragedy. Your honor, I don't know why I'm alive, and for what.


COLLINS: Even the district attorney is now calling for more lenient sentence.

Joining me now is the attorney for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, James Colgan.

James, you described today really as more of a hearing to set a hearing. So, what are you expecting to go down?

JAMES COLGAN, ATTORNEY FOR TRUCK DRIVER SENTENCED TO 110 YEARS FOR DEADLY CRASH: What I expect to go down is, is that we're simply going to set this for another date in which both sides can be heard about what the appropriate reduction of sentence is. Right now, the district attorney has at least indicated to the press that what they're going to ask for is somewhere between 20 to 30 years as opposed to the 110 years that Mr. Mederos is currently sentenced to.

COLLINS: Yes, and the district attorney saying that based on the facts of this case and the input from the victims and their families, my office will be asking the court to reconsider a sentencing range, like you said, 20 to 30 years, when the court is prepared to address the resentencing. And even the judge who sentenced your client said, if he had the option, it would not have been his choice.

Have you ever seen a situation like this before?

COLGAN: Not in my 27 years as a lawyer, no. I've never seen anything like this. And I was a prosecutor, a district attorney, for quite a while, 18 years as a (INAUDIBLE).

COLLINS: Yes. And I know that we've seen some advocates say that legislators should -- the state legislators should change the law that required this lengthy sentence.

Is that something that you think could ultimately be successful potentially here?

COLGAN: That is -- that is the hope because the law doesn't really distinguish between people like Mr. Mederos, who is not a danger to society, and other people that are sentenced to life that are a danger to society. And I think the law needs to make those kind of exceptions and understand that there is a difference between Mr. Mederos and those other kinds of people.

COLLINS: And what do you think about the clemency request, which we know the governor's office has received? Is that something that you think is a viable path forward potentially?

COLGAN: Yes, we're looking at all of the options that we have on the table, a sentence reduction, a clemency request from the governor.


We're keeping all options on the table right now. An appeal is still on the table as well.

COLLINS: Yes, we know this is a case that is drawing the attention of some high-profile celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, who has been a big advocate for justice reform.

James Colgan, we'll be paying attention closely to this, watching this hearing and seeing the next date that you have set. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

COLGAN: You're welcome. Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Just ahead, we are also on verdict watch in the sex traffics trial of Ghislaine Maxwell.


COLLINS: Teams from the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Alabama Crimson Tide have arrived in Dallas ahead of Friday's bowl game. The Tide are the favorites going into the playoff game, but you never know what can happen in the playoffs.

So, joining me now to discuss this is Eli Gold. He has been the voice of Alabama Crimson Tide football for more than 30 years.

Eli, good morning and thank you for joining us from Alabama.

First, I want to talk to you about the news here because, of course, we've seen several bowl games being canceled because of concerns of omicron. I know that all of Alabama's team has been vaccinated and Coach Nick Saban says that 92 percent of the players have received boosters. So, are there any concerns here about a potential cancellation happening?

ELI GOLD, RADIO VOICE OF ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE FOOTBALL FOR 30 PLUS YEARS: Well, not that I know of, and, good morning, Kaitlan. Great to be with you. And, roll Tide to my Alabama (INAUDIBLE).

COLLINS: Roll Tide.

GOLD: But, you know, there's -- there's no concern right now. There are -- a couple of the coaches didn't travel with the team, Coach O'Brien, the offensive coordinator, Doug Marrone, they didn't travel with the team, but they are supposed to join everybody in Dallas. The players are fine. So, to my knowledge, both teams are ready to go and set to square off on Friday.


COLLINS: Right. I know they're both expected to go now. Hopefully that's once they're past their period of the quarantine and isolation, of course.

What is the -- what do the protocols look like for something like this when it comes to obviously trying to make sure that this isn't something that you have to cancel?

GOLD: Well, you know, everybody is encouraged to wear masks. Like you say, everybody including myself. Everybody. We're -- we've got both of our primary vaccines and the booster. You know, so you do the best you can. I mean you can't -- you can't hide. You can't isolate. But they -- you keep some social distancing and you walk around with a mask, which, in my case, probably isn't such a bad idea anyway. So, you know, I think everybody's -- everybody wants to play, whether it's Nick Saban and his staff, whether it's, you know, Coach Fickell and his staff, everybody wants to play so the players are looking out for themselves. They really are.

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, a disclaimer here, I am deeply invested in this game and would like for it to go forward. So, everyone staying as safe as possible.

But to the nuts and bolts of this. This is the fifth meeting between Alabama and Cincinnati. The first since 1990, when the Tide defeated the Bearcats 45-7, I believe.

But I wonder what your take is because their secondary looks really good. They're very aggressive in the way that they play. So I'm wondering if you think that Cincinnati's secondary could slow down our Heisman trophy winner Bryce Young at all?

GOLD: Obviously they've got arguably the two best cornerbacks in America. Bryant is one and Gardner is the other. They're very, very good, But so, too, were the Georgia Bulldogs defenders. They, obviously, had a once in a lifetime type of defense, if you listen to everybody going into the Southeastern Conference Championship game. But the proviso was they hadn't faced an offense like Alabama's. And Cincinnati is an outstanding ball club. I mean you don't get to be 13- 0 by accident. I don't care who you're playing. But have they seen an offense the likes of what Alabama can throw on the field? I don't know if they have. I don't believe they have.

So, you know, nobody's been able to slow down Bryce Young this year. And Jamieson Williams, the outstanding running back, and Brian Robinson, the outstanding -- excuse me, Jamieson, the wide receiver, and Brian Robinson, the outstanding running back. It's a very, very good football team, Alabama, it is. But, again, so is Cincinnati. So that's -- that's why we're both in the playoffs. You don't get here by accident.

COLLINS: That is true, you do not get here by accident.

When are you heading to Dallas?

GOLD: I'm going to head out tomorrow. And we've got, on our Crimson Tide Sports Network, we have radio shows to do throughout the week that we originate from the hotel. We've got all sorts of social media hits on Facebook live and so on. So we'll be very, very busy.

And, of course, the game is on -- is on Friday and then at home Saturday hopefully to start preparation for a championship game meeting against either Michigan or Georgia. But you can't look ahead. You've got to take care of business here with the Cincinnati Bearcats first.

COLLINS: Yes, one game at a time. Obviously, I will be rooting for my team very hard. So, we'll see. And, hopefully, I will see you in Indianapolis.

Eli Gold, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

GOLD: Kaitlan, always a pleasure. We're so proud of you here in Alabama. Keep up the great work.

COLLINS: Thank you, Eli. Have a good one.

AVLON: All right, time now for "5 Things to Know for Your New Day."

Today more than 2,000 more flights have been canceled globally, including more than 600 flights as the fast-spreading omicron variant wreaks havoc on air travel. Airlines say that the virus is forcing staffers to call out sick and causing travelers to rethink their plans.

COLLINS: In Manhattan it's day three of deliberations this morning in the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the close companion of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty to the six charges against her. She's facing up to 70 years in prison. AVLON: And tributes are pouring in this morning for Archbishop Desmond

Tutu, a hero in the fight against apartheid. The human rights champion and archbishop died Sunday in South Africa at the age of 90.

COLLINS: And Queen Elizabeth talking about pandemic loss during her Christmas TV broadcast. The queen said that although Christmas is a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, it can be hard for those who have lost loved ones, including herself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're struggling to have everything you want.



AVLON: And Marvel's latest film, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is the first movie of the pandemic era to break the $1 billion mark since opening December 17th in theaters. The film is a rare bright spot in an otherwise dark year for the movie business and expected to raise about $4 billion in ticket sales.

COLLINS: And those are the "5 Things to Know for Your New Day." More on these stories all day on CNN and And don't forget to download the "5 Things" podcast every morning. You can go to and find it wherever you get your podcasts.

AVLON: Up next, BTS goes global in 2021. We look back of the year in music with the editor in chief of "Rolling Stone."



AVLON: With only a few more days left in 2021, we are taking a look back at the year's top moments from culture shifts to revolutions in music. And joining us now is the editor in chief of "Rolling Stone," Noah Shachtman.

Noah, it's good to see you.


AVLON: A lot of folks on TV were talking about "Squid Games," but you went with "WandaVision" for your dominant TV show of the year. Why?

SHACHTMAN: Yes, well, I mean, look, we all know that Marvel has been dominating the box office for more than a decade now, and "WandaVision" was their first big foray into TV. And not only was it a huge success, but it was hugely weird and it was sort of a mock 1950s sitcom that became a kind of intergalactic, mystery murder mystery. And it was just great and it launched like a whole new phase of Marvel. And so that's why it gets my biggest top TV of the year. COLLINS: Yes, it does seem to have launched a new phase. And I also

wonder, this year we saw athletes playing such a prominent role in the news, but not always for stories that were favorable to them. You know, the Kyrie Irving, the Aaron Rodgers, with it came to the coronavirus vaccinations. And so how big of a role do you think that played this year?

SHACHTMAN: I think it was a huge role. Look, I think some of the -- some of the audience, some of the populists that these athletes speak to, they're the ones that are in most need of a pro-vaccine, pro- public health message. And guys like Kyrie Irving and Aaron Rodgers, unfortunately, complicated that message let's say by their weird conspiratorial views.

AVLON: I know how much it hurts you to say that, being a Nets fan as you are.


AVLON: All right, let's go to the core part of music here, the heart of "Rolling Stone." What new artists and old artists stood out in 2021?

SHACHTMAN: Well, she's not entirely new, but I mean I think the artist that was on the rise the most was Olivia Rodrigo, who just a year ago was kind of another Disney TV star and -- with her debut single "Driver's License," and then her album "Sour," really catapulted to the very, very, very top of pop music, and with good reason. The album's incredible. She wound up being -- speaking of vaccines -- she wound up being the sort of face of pro-vaccine when she went to the White House to meet with President Biden. So, she's had an amazing both culture and music -- musical impact in the last year.

COLLINS: Yes, she really is on this big trajectory, not just coming to the White House Briefing Room, as you saw there, but also she's going on tour we know.

And so do you think that's a trajectory that you expect to continue into 2022?

SHACHTMAN: I do. You know, one of the most amazing things when we interviewed Olivia for our cover a couple of months back was she asked what was touring like because the biggest pop star in the world, or one of them at least, had never actually played many shows. And so now we're going to see what she did. And she recently did some performances for NPR and others and she sounded great. And so I'm expecting big things from her. I'm expecting more records from Taylor Swift. It's going to be a great year.

AVLON: Well, speaking of world, you say that 2021 was the year that pop music finally went global. Tell us what you mean.

SHACHTMAN: Yes. Yes, it's amazing. Look, we all know about BTS, really the biggest band in the world is from South Korea. But they're not the only ones. This was a year when African music finally became American and global pop music with artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid and my favorite guitar player Mdou Moctar. If you haven't checked him out, he's incredible.

Look, and then the other thing is, although it's been kidding around as a genre for 20 years, Reggaeton out of Puerto Rico has really become global pop music everywhere with artists like Bad Bunny and Rauw Alejandro. I advise you to keep an eye on him. There's really been a ton of great reggaeton over the last year and we're expecting more into '22.

AVLON: Reggaeton.

COLLINS: Yes. I know John really wanted to get that in.

It's just been fascinating also to see how these artists, you know, have navigated the pandemic, John, I think, as all of this has gone one.

AVLON: No question.

COLLINS: Noah, thank you so much for joining us this morning to break it all down.

AVLON: Good to see you, buddy (ph).

COLLINS: And thank you all for joining both of us this morning. John and I will be here all week.

And CNN's coverage continues right now.