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Russian Plane Wreckage Found in Black Sea; Berlin Market Attack; The Trump Transition; Christmas Returns to Iraqi Town; Inside FedEx. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired December 25, 2016 - 03:00   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A Russian military plane has crashed in the Black Sea, carrying members of the military and entertainers to an airbase in Syria for a New Year's performance. We'll have the latest developments from Moscow.

Also U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump announces he'll dissolve his charitable foundation.

And a senior staffer decides he won't be a part of the administration after all.

Also Merry Christmas to you. We will show you the sights and sounds of Christmas around the world; this right here, Bethlehem.

Thank you for joining us. This is CNN NEWSROOM. We're live in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

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ALLEN: Debris from a crashed Russian military plane has been found in the Black Sea. It disappeared from radar shortly after taking off from Sochi. Russia's defense ministry says 92 people, including eight crew members, were aboard.

For more, CNN's Matthew Chance joins us from Moscow with more about it.

Matthew, hello.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Natalie. Terrible event to be marking on this Christmas morning in Russia. It's obviously something that details are just coming through on right now.

According to the latest information we have, you just mentioned it, 92 people on board apparently. That's according to Russian state media; 64 of those individuals were performers with the Alexandrov Ensemble, which is probably better known as the Red Army Choir, which is the main sort of orchestral choir of the Russian armed forces. They were on the way on this -- excuse me -- Tupolev 154 aircraft to

the Syria, to the Russian airbase at Latakia in Syria, where they were due to give a performance to the troops that are stationed there.

Of course, Russia engaged in Syria to support its ally, Bashar al- Assad. Look, I mean, the details of what exactly happened are very unclear at the moment. It took off from Moscow, we understand, with passengers on board from the military airbase outside of the city. It landed at Sochi, which is in southern Russia, a good 2-hour flight from Moscow, where it apparently refueled.

It then took off again from Sochi on its way to Latakia. And 20 minutes or less after it took off from Sochi it lost control -- air traffic controllers lost contact with it.

The investigation has been started. Apparently there's a criminal investigation that's been launched which is standard procedure in instances like these to work out which procedure was violated, if any, and what exactly went wrong. But already the chairman of the Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, Victor Azarov (ph), has been quoted by Russian state media as saying that terrorism is being ruled out.

The aircraft belonged to the ministry of defense. So there cannot be such a version as terrorism he's saying. But he's obviously making those comments before the investigation is even really -- never mind being completed, even really got underway.

And so we expect that we'll get more clarity on this in the hours and in the days ahead.

ALLEN: Thank you, Matthew. And I also know that you have been on this Tupolev plane.

What can you tell us about it?

CHANCE: Well, I don't know whether it's this exact one but these Tupolev 154 aircraft, they're used -- they're the workhorse of the Soviet Union's sort of air industry for passengers. But they're pretty much not in use anymore for the most part when it comes to civilian airliners.

But the Russian defense ministry still uses them. As you say, I've been on these Tupolev 154s, operated by the defense ministry in the past -- on this flight to Syria, in fact. This is how they transport their VIPs to Syria.

These aren't normal troop transporters. They're old planes. They're often from the '70s and '80s and perhaps even before that. But the ones that I've been on have been refitted inside as well. And so they look quite smart.

And as I say, they're for the VIP transports to the airbase in Syria. You know, and they've had a good safety record throughout their long lifespan. But because they've been in service for so long, there have been numerous accidents involving these 154s. ALLEN: All right, Matthew Chance for us. Again, 92 people aboard. Thank you, Matthew. We'll get back to you as we get more information.

A super typhoon is bearing down on the Philippines right now and it's still --

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ALLEN: -- gaining strength.

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ALLEN: Tunisia says it has made three arrests following last Monday's Berlin terror attack. One of the men in custody is the nephew of Anis Amri, who's suspected of carrying out the Christmas market killings.

Amri was killed in a shootout with police Friday in Milan, Italy. Following the attack, anti-Islamic rhetoric is on the rise in Italy. Nina dos Santos reports for us.

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NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A day after Europe's most wanted man was killed on its streets, this Milanese suburb saw the peace broken once more.

As Italy's right-wing Northern League took to the very spot where Berlin attacker Anis Amri was shot to demand the country close its borders and kick all illegal migrants out. The party leaders choosing Christmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah to single out Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Islam, at this moment, is incompatible with our democracy, our values, our rights and our freedoms, full stop. A religion that uses violence to impose its ways and rules doesn't have a place in Italy.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): And that's a message which has left fear and foreboding in the heart of 18-year-old student, Hala Faudi (ph), who came here from morocco as an infant and considers herself Italian.

She, like many in Sesto San Giovanni, are still coming to terms with the town's brush with radical Islam.

"I've been really struck by what's happened here," she says. "I go past this station every day. But since yesterday I've noticed people staring at me. Whenever there's a problem like this, they always point the finger at us. It's what the terrorists want. We should all be coming together instead."

At sundown, prayers at the makeshift mosque. The atmosphere is warm but weary.

"It's a shame these politicians have to link this event to us," says its spokesman.

He shows me plans for an 8-million euro mosque that the growing congregation is building next door. He says all worshippers are always on alert for signs of radicalization.

"This is a global problem," he explains, "and you have to be vigilant. We have a constant dialogue with our youngsters and we're always on the lookout for any changes in their behavior."

But change did come to Sesto San Giovanni in dramatic fashion this week. For the Muslim migrants, who call this town their home --

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DOS SANTOS: -- they're hoping that the story ends there -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, Sesto San Giovanni, Milan.

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ALLEN: Donald Trump's foundation is going away. The U.S. president- elect said Saturday he will dissolve his charitable group to avoid potential conflicts of interest once he takes office.

But shutting down the charity faces a few legal hurdles. The foundation is under investigation in New York State for alleged misuse of donations. And the state attorney general says it cannot be legally dissolved until the investigation is over. The Trump Foundation has no employees and about $1 million in assets.

If it seems U.S. President Barack Obama hasn't been in the news much lately, well, there's a reason. His soon-to-be successor, Mr. Trump, keeps upstaging him. Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

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TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Presidents-elect are expected to make headlines with their cabinet picks but Donald Trump is going a lot further, issuing statements on trade with China, talking about renegotiating government fighter jet contracts and calling the recent attacks in Europe terrorism even before investigators or the White House confirmed it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an attack on humanity and it's got to be stopped.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Inauguration is still four weeks away. But if President Obama is feeling hurried out the door, Team Trump does not seem concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president-elect wants to get things done, he's going to get things done.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The latest example: Mr. Trump tweeted, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability."

That prompted a swift outcry from nuclear weapons opponents and a strong reply from Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (voice-over): Today the Russian Federation is stronger than any potential aggressor. If someone accelerates and speeds up the arms race, it's not us.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The president-elect did not back down a bit. Indeed, a co-host of "Morning Joe" says he told her off camera, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What it means is that he's not going to sit back and let another country act. He needs to send a clear and concise message, which he's done, that he is going to be a president that defends America's interests and defends the American people.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And on it goes. At the United Nations, the president-elect urged the White House to veto a resolution to stop Israeli settlements. Instead, the administration abstained, the measure passed and a frustrated tweet quickly followed.

"Things will be different after January 20th."

Political historians note outgoing and incoming presidents often clash but rarely so openly. And it could be risky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you hear two different voices, especially from people with two different perspectives, the countries overseas or interests here in the United States might not know exactly what's going on.

FOREMAN: The White House really hasn't pushed back against this publicly a whole lot, realizing that Donald Trump's power politically is growing every day. But they did say, you know, there's only one president at a time. And at least, for now, it's still Barack Obama -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

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ALLEN: Another issue the president-elect has spoken out about, Israel says it's rethinking relations with the United Nations after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was slamming the Obama administration after the U.S. abstained from voting and Netanyahu says he's looking forward to working with the incoming U.S. president. Oren Liebermann has the latest from Jerusalem.

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OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu firing off a series of diplomatic steps against the United Nations and countries on the Security Council that introduced this resolution critical of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel has decried this resolution and Netanyahu has condemned it as being anti-Israel and counterproductive to peace. As for the United Nations, Netanyahu has said he is canceling funding to five different U.N. organizations totaling nearly $8 million. He has also said he will evaluate the status of U.N. representatives and he's instructed the foreign ministry to look at other steps to take against the U.N.

He's also pulled back his ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, two of the countries that introduced this resolution at the Security Council. That's the diplomatic end.

As for government steps, Netanyahu has said he will not abide by this resolution, that Israel will not comply with it. His government ministers have called on more construction in the settlements, more construction in East Jerusalem. Some have even called on Israel to annex part or all of the West Bank.

Netanyahu saved his fiercest criticism for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, who he accuses of colluding behind Israel's back to get this passed at the Security Council. He's made it very clear he is done working with Obama and is --

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LIEBERMAN: -- very ready to work with President-Elect Trump, with whom he has a strong relationship and will start with a clean slate.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders say this resolution was long overdue. They'd hoped President Barack Obama would have made a move on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a long time ago. And that's why they say they've been waiting for this for some time.

They say it will hold Israel responsible for its construction and expansion of settlements. They say it's now up to Israel as to what it wants to do, if it wants to abide by this resolution. So far all indications are absolutely not -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

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ALLEN: Ahead here, from the rosy cheeks to the perfect beard, a school in Michigan is teaching the fine art of becoming Santa Claus.

Plus, old Saint Nick is getting help this season. You wouldn't believe how many packages FedEx is delivering. That's coming up.

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ALLEN: Christmas is being celebrated around the world. Merry Christmas to you. In Bethlehem, in the West Bank, services are being held at the very spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

What a beautiful picture there.

Mass is now being held at the Church of the Nativity, the religious heart of the Bethlehem celebrations. Pope Francis held midnight mass at St. Peter's Basilica Christmas Eve and told the congregation more humility is needed, not more gifts. The pope will deliver his annual Christmas blessing at noon local time. Well, Christmas has returned to one Iraqi town after years of ISIS

domination. The terror group seized Bartela in 2014 but was driven out in October. CNN's Muhammad Lila has more on how Christians there are celebrating.

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MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a moment that many at this historic church thought they'd never see, celebrating the birth of Christ in a place once desecrated by ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Even if it's ISIS, the Lord taught us to love and forgive our enemies and to love and to pray for them. The most important thing is for us to live in harmony and peace.

LILA (voice-over): ISIS overran this town more than two years ago. Everyone fled. Look closely: bullet holes on the walls are scars that remain. ISIS broke the church's glass but not its heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Happiness and sadness at the same time; this town used to be full of life. But now look at it, such a desolate place. We can't live here now.

LILA (voice-over): The town was recaptured by Iraqi forces in October this year. Thousands of ISIS fighters are just a few kilometers away. This is now a place of razor wire, broken buildings and the reality of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I could never imagine this would happen. We have --

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): -- lived here for more than 1,000 years. We never thought we would be displaced. Our houses are destroyed. We won't be able to come back.

LILA (voice-over): In town, the green of a single plastic Christmas tree breaks up the misery surrounding it. This is a place guarded by the army now. Just holding this mask requires armed soldiers at the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We need to get (INAUDIBLE) international protection. If there is no safety, we cannot live in this area. Today, we have no dignity. We are displaced in our own country.

LILA (voice-over): Displaced but not disheartened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have to have hope in this life. If we don't have hope, then we are finished.

LILA (voice-over): The ancient hymns of one of the world's oldest Christian communities are being sung here once again, a small act of life in a country that's seen so much death -- Muhammad Lila, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: They do have their city back and their church.

In the United States, a fleet of mall Santas bring joy, you know, to thousands of kids, who sit in Santa's lap and give him their list.

But how do they perfect that Christmas look?

Well, here's a glimpse inside Santa Claus Training Camp.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take doing Santa very serious and I said, if I'm going to do it I want to do it right. And this is the reason why I come to the best place you could ever come to, Santa School.

Looking good, Santa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ho, ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie Howard started this school in 1937.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's grown from five students a year to, I think, this year's 125.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the hair's not at your mustache, we're going to rob some, we're going to use it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're dress them to perfection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just put this around, you hold it right here and let's see if it's going to be the right size.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your beard: keep your beard as curled and as rounded as you can. The more your beard is pulled down, it pulls your face down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You learn so much in class. And they have different teachers and instructors. You learn something new every year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Children are going to ask. They're going to ask how toys are made. Santa makes toys. That's why we go to a toy shop and make toys. They're going to ask, what's it like on the Polar Express?

If Santa witnessed riding on the Polar Express, it's going to come to him really fast and he's going to be able to respond and expand on those stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ho, ho, ho!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We try to teach every Santa to make every visit the very best for the child, make them feel like the most important person in the world, that Santa loves them, that Santa cares about them, that he listens to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you see a child come in and leave with a huge smile, they leave and the parents leave, thinking how much we've given to the child when, in fact, you would never understand how much those children give to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a privilege and an honor to sit in that chair and be Santa Claus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something you don't do as a job. It's got to be something that you've got to love doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the Santa world this is home. This is family and this is home.

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ALLEN: Very sweet.

Well, we have reliable reports that Santa Claus is making rapid progress on his Christmas Eve trip around the world. Santa and his sleigh left Finland for the North Pole late Wednesday to load up that sleigh. And once it was all filled with toys and gifts, NORAD issued this bulletin.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): NORAD is receiving reports from Air Force Space Command-operated defense support program satellites or DSPs, that Santa has begun his journey.

ALLEN (voice-over): Progress can be tracked in real-time at noradsanta.org.

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ALLEN: Well, this year's Christmas is coinciding with Hanukkah. Jews around the world began their celebrations at sundown Saturday. Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day observance that remembers the Jewish people's struggle for religious freedom.

Each night, a candle on the menorah is lit. This is the first time Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah have coincided since 1978.

Well, FedEx could give Santa a run for his money when it comes to delivering presents. The U.S. shipping company is sorting millions of packages this holiday. And CNN's Richard Quest goes inside their operation into New York to see how they get the job done.

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RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST (voice-over): So all the ingredients are here. Everything is ready.

Now where are the packages?

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QUEST (voice-over): And so the containers arrive from the airport and enter the sorting system, where, remember, everything is designed to be accurate and fast.

Within FedEx's system -- this is New York. This is big stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. We handle over 100,000 packages a day. It starts with Black Friday, then Cyber Monday. That will be our heaviest four Mondays before peak.

QUEST: Do you want this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

QUEST: At Christmas time, holiday time, versus a normal day, how much does your volume increase?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve million packages in the network. We're looking at over 25 million packages in the network for peak.

QUEST (voice-over): If you're going to be carrying a lot of parcels over large parts of New York, you'd better be fit and ready for the battle ahead. After all, what they are carrying is the economy in motion.

The packages are now making their way down the final sorting line. The drivers are identifying the yellow stickers that tell them which packages go on their truck.

Tell me, where are you going to put everything?

Just throw it all in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we don't just throw it all in. We don't throw, first of all. First thing we do, we have everything labeled up by streets and avenues. And we set it up accordingly, going high and low.

QUEST: And also, what about in terms of time of delivery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put our Priority packages in the middle here so we can get them all done and when we empty out these shelves, we start hitting our standard services.

QUEST: Good. I don't want to be stopping you. You've got packages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

QUEST: Is this one of yours?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not. QUEST: That's yours. That's yours.

QUEST (voice-over): To say it is impressive is an understatement. The ability to double the number of packages being handled during the holiday period is outstanding. But as you can see, they've all gone -- that is, until tomorrow, when they'll do it all over again -- Richard Quest, CNN, at FedEx in the Bronx, New York.

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ALLEN: Well, we hope you all got your packages delivered on time. And Merry Christmas to you. We'll be back with our top stories in a moment.

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