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Ugly Holiday Travel Forecast; NYT: Trump Knew About Whistleblower Complaint; New Warning from "Anonymous"; Chemical Plant Explosion in Texas; UK Chief Rabbi's Scathing Rebuke of Labour Party. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanksgiving travelers on alert. Back- to-back storms unleashing snow, torrential rain and intense wind coast to coast.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: What did the president know and when did he know it? A damaging new report says he knew about the whistle-blower complaint before allowing military aid to Ukraine.

ROMANS: A new insight from the official known as anonymous. They will reveal themselves before the 2020 election, and a surprising admission about that op-ed.

PHILLIP: And breaking overnight, a powerful explosion at a chemical plant in Texas. Windows blown out. The blast heard for miles, lighting up the night sky.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START and I'm Abby Phillip.

ROMANS: Nice to have you along today.

PHILLIP: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: A pre-Thanksgiving edition. I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, November, 27th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

Not one, but two powerful storms threatening holiday travel from coast-to-coast. AAA predicts more than 55 million travelers taking to the roads and sky for Thanksgiving.

West of Spokane Washington, a 60-plus car pileup on an icy highway following a snowstorm there. A state patrol says at least six people were injured. Thankfully, none seriously.

Overnight, weapon learned part of Interstate 5, a key link from Oregon into California, has been shut down due to whiteout conditions.

PHILLIP: Parts of Colorado buried under three feet of snow, stranding more than 1,100 passengers at Denver International Airport Monday night. In the mountains west of Denver, a rock slide during the snowstorm adding the misery, temporarily closing westbound Interstate 70.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put this fence out because we were worried about some minor instability might be coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't anticipate this.


ROMANS: Wow, in Nebraska, pile crews and homeowners with shovels trying to stay ahead of the falling snow. The state advising motorists not to travel at all in this storm. I-70 closed in western Kansas.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation says it has 800 plow trucks and 1,800 workers ready to go.


JED FALGREN, MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: We also -- we do have some times where we're expecting over an inch an hour of snowfall. And that coupled with some very high winds is going to make it a bit of a challenge in terms of visibility.


PHILLIP: And the Chicago area is under a high wind warning today. Expect the powerful winds to play havoc with air travel throughout the country's biggest hubs, one of them.

ROMANS: All right. New developments in the impeachment probe have president Trump on shakier ground this morning. According to "The New York Times", the president already knew about the whistle-blower complaint that ignited the inquiry before he decided to release military aid back to Ukraine in September. This would suggest that alarm among officials at least factored into that decision to unfreeze aid helped -- meant to help Ukraine fend off the Russians.

Lawyers from the White House briefed the president, told him they were trying to figure out whether they were obligated to turn the complaint over to Congress.

PHILLIP: CNN has learned the first official move to withhold aid came on the evening of July 25th. That's the same day that Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president had that controversial call that spawned the whistle-blower complaint. The official who initially put the money on hold was Mark Sandy in the Office of Management and Budget. A transcript of his closed-door testimony was just released.

He says his boss -- he told his boss withholding the aid may violate federal law. That was days before his boss, a Trump appointee, took over responsibility for the Ukraine money. According to the testimony, two people left their jobs at the budget office at least partly because of this Ukraine mess. ROMANS: And the House Judiciary Committee has now announced its first

impeachment hearing, but there's one big difference this time. President Trump and his lawyers have been cordially invited to attend.

More now from Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Now, the House Judiciary Committee is moving forward, opening up the new phase of the impeachment proceedings in the House, when they'll have a hearing, testimony from experts who will weigh in on the constitutionality of impeachment and whether the president's conduct meets the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. This expert panel of witnesses expected to have a discussion about the facts that were found as part of the two-month investigation that the House Intelligence Committee and two other committees found in looking into the president's handling of the Ukraine policy and whether or not he abused his office, violated a law in withholding key military aid for Ukraine, as well as a key meeting of the Ukrainian president had sought with president Trump, in exchange for investigations.


All of that will be discussed in the series of hearings the Judiciary Committee will have starting on Wednesday. Expect to report first to come out from the House Intelligence Committee, detailing the findings. Then next Wednesday will be that hearing. Before there will actually be votes on articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee.

That could probably take place in the second week of December and maybe even spill into the third week of December. By the third week of December, probably will be the week to watch, in which the full House will have the opportunity to vote on articles of impeachment against a president.

Democrats are moving full-speed ahead. At the moment, they're discussing the size and scope of the articles of impeachment, how many articles to include, whether it's abuse of power, whether it's bribery, whether it's obstruction of Congress or even obstruction of justice.

This announcement by the House Judiciary, significant, because it signals a new phase of the impeachment probe is coming and is coming soon.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Manu, thank you for that.

New insight this morning from the anonymous Trump insider who wrote a book and an op-ed documenting the troubling inner workings of this White House. During a question and answer session on Reddit, he or she says they plan to unmask eventually, no specifically timeline was given, but they say, quote: I am not afraid to use my own name to express concern about the current occupant of the White House, adding, President Trump will hear from me in my own name before the 2020 election.

PHILLIP: And so far, anonymous has only been identified as a senior official in the Trump administration. Neither CNN nor Reddit can verify that this author of the book -- that this is the author of the book, but the book agent did confirm to CNN's Josh Campbell that it was, in fact anonymous doing the Q&A.

The author does admit they were wrong about one important thing. Quote: My original argument has been thoroughly debunked. In "The New York Times" op-ed, I suggested that the steady state of top officials in the administration could ameliorate Donald Trump's lapses in judgment. I was dead wrong. No one can thwart his attraction to wrongdoing.

The White House has referred the anonymous author as, quote, a gutless coward.

ROMANS: All right. The 2020 election ad wars are heating up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie fights for the average Joe. That's the thing I like about him the most.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president is going to face enormous challenges of picking up the pieces of American foreign policy.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Enact a green new deal and lead the global effort to save our planet.


ROMANS: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren rolling out new campaign ads in Iowa. They know a lot of eyeballs will be watching television over the Thanksgiving holiday. Sanders is focusing on farmers, Biden on foreign policy, Warren on the climate crisis.

PHILLIP: The Massachusetts senator is standing by her call for a wealth tax to pursue her agenda. Here is what she said in a very important interview with the "Des Moines Register" editorial board.


WARREN: We can't simply say, debt, therefore, we can't do anything. When I'm out there arguing for universal child care or for housing, I'm going to show first how to pay for it. When I'm arguing for a Green New Deal, I'm going to show you exactly how I'm going to pay for this.


PHILLIP: Warren's ultra-millionaire tax charges 2 percent on every dollar of net worth above $50 million. Households with assets over $1 billion could face a 6 percent tax.

ROMANS: Climate change is making home insurance unavailable or unaffordable in areas at the greatest risk for natural disasters. In data first compiled by "Axios", payouts for natural disasters for 2017 and 2018 was $219 billion. The highest ever for a two-year period. Data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners shows every state, every state saw annual premiums rise from 2007 and 2016. States in Tornado Alley saw the biggest jump.

Oklahoma, for example, saw premiums jump 78 percent over a decade. That's an extra $821 a year. Insurers are also limiting coverage in states deemed too risky, like Florida, because of hurricanes. Homeowners there have seen insurance costs rise in areas considered more at-risk.

And in California, the problem is wildfires. Insurers are pulling back from high-risk areas, leaving homeowners scrambling. Merced Property and Casualty in California filed for bankruptcy last year after it was unable to pay out millions of dollars in claims after the devastating campfire there.

PHILLIP: And we have breaking news this hour. A powerful explosion early this morning at a chemical plant in Port Natchez, Texas. That's east of Houston. Witnesses say the blast shook homes and shattered windows more than 40 miles away. There is a mandatory evacuation for everyone within half a mile of the plant.

Police say a local -- tell a local CNN affiliate that everyone else should shelter in place. Officials say no doubt -- assessing chemicals are being released into the air. So far, there are no reports of injuries.

ROMANS: All right, it understand the out, it was a slow-moving blob that forced this lockdown of the U.S. capital on Tuesday.


That blob may have been a flock of birds. Initial assessments indicated an unauthorized aircraft entering restricted air space. Military jets were scrambled.

Defense officials tell CNN it's still not known exactly what triggered the event, but three possible causes are being analyzed: birds, an atmospheric anomaly, or a drone.

PHILLIP: The annual White House pardoning of the turkey featuring a side helping of presidential griping this year. President Trump had to choose between sparing Bread or Butter, two turkeys raised by butterball farmer Wheelie Jackson. But it didn't take long for him to veer off-topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bread and Butter have been specially raised by the Jacksons to remain calm under any condition, which will be very important, because they've already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday.


PHILLIP: Can't let impeachment go.

The president spared Butter, defying the will of the American people on the White House Twitter poll.

ROMANS: What happens to bread?

PHILLIP: I don't know. I think he gets to live, too.

ROMANS: I hope so.

Troubling news on life expectancy. Young Americans are dying at an alarming rate. We'll tell you why.



PHILLIP: New evacuations ordered in Santa Barbara County, where the Cave Fire continues to burn. Officials say a strong storm is increasing the risk of debris flow in and below the burn area. The fire began Monday in Los Padres National Forest and has grown to more than 4,300 acres. It is 10 percent contained. Thousands have been forced to flee.

ROMANS: A patient at a southern New Jersey hospital was accidentally given a kidney intended for someone else. Both patients at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital were on the transplant list, have the same name, and are around the same age. Hospitals say mistakes of this magnitude are rare and additional verification would have prevented this error. Now, the patient who was supposed to get the kidney did receive one six days later. The hospital says both patients, both are doing well and has taken steps to prevent a repeat.

PHILLIP: More people are dying young in the U.S. than any other country. That's despite the U.S. spending more on health care per person. A new study in the "Journal of American Medical Association" shows death rates climbing among young and middle-aged adults. For half a century, American life expectancy grew by nearly 10 years to 79, by 2014. But then it reversed, creeping down to 78.6 years in 2017. The study blames increasing suicides, drug overdoses, alcoholism, and epidemic obesity.

And it says the problem is focused on four Ohio Valley states and northern New England. Just four states in one area.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) got it. They've got a time-out. They don't use it. Yes! The lumberjacks have done it!


ROMANS: It's the upset of the year in college basketball. The top- ranked Duke Blue Devils losing to Steven F. Austin 85-83 on a last- second bucket in overtime. The replay showing the shot definitely beat the clock.

The loss snaps Duke's 150-game non-conference home winning streak at Cameron. The streak dating back to the year 2000. Wow!

PHILLIP: A surprise of the U.K. election. London's chief rabbi with a harsh attack on the Labour Party leader over anti-Semitism. How Jeremy Corbyn responded live from London.



ROMANS: Britain's chief rabbi wading into the U.K. election, launching a blistering attack on the Labour leader or the Labour Party, rather, and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In a commentary for "The Times of London", Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis writes: Anti-Semitism is a poison inside the party. He raises deep worries about the Britain's moral compass if Labour wins next month's election, and calls Corbyn's assertion that his party is confronting anti-Semitism in its ranks, quote, a mendacious fiction.

Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, was there any reaction from Corbyn?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, for more than three years now, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, the potential prime minister, has been criticized for first allowing anti- Semitism to spread in his party and then from the view of the Jewish community, simply not doing enough to clean it out. And for years he's been saying, we're on top of this, we're dealing with this.

But the Jewish community hasn't agreed with him and now, as you touched on, the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has given his view and it is damning, damning because we're in a middle of a general election campaign, and because of what he says. He argues that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be prime minister.

He goes on to say this. He says: It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison -- sanctioned from the top -- has taken root in the Labour Party.

Now, the chief rabbi's remarks have received support from across faith leaders in this country, including the archbishop of Canterbury. Jeremy Corbyn spent much of the day fighting back against this.

Here's a little bit of what he said.



JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER OF THE LABOUR PARTY: There is no place whatsoever for anti-Semitism in any shape or form or in any place whatsoever, in modern Britain. And under a Labour government, it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.


BLACK: Now, later in a formal sit-down interview, Jeremy Corbyn was asked four times if he would like to apologize for Labour's handling of anti-Semitism, he ignored that question four times.

All of this is incredibly politically damaging, especially for Corbyn who is consistently trailing in the opinion polls and the election day here is now just two weeks away, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. Phil Black in London. Thanks, Phil.

PHILLIP: Fifty-five million people traveling for the holiday and they have a pair of awful storms standing in the way.

ROMANS: And why did the president let military aid resume to Ukraine? A new report says he knew a whistle-blower had filed a complaint.