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Major Storms Threaten Holiday Travel; NYT: Trump Knew About Whistleblower Complaint; New Warning from "Anonymous"; Chemical Plant Explosion in Texas. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 04:30   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Thanksgiving travelers on alert. Back-to- back storms unleashing snow, torrential rain and intense winds coast to coast.

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

PHILLIP: New insight from the official known as anonymous. They will reveal themselves before the 2020 election and a surprising admission about their own op-ed.

ROMANS: 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 back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

PHILLIP: I'm Abby Phillip.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

PHILLIP: It's 30 minutes past the hour here in New York. Not one, but two holiday storms threatening travel from coast-to-coast. West of Spokane, Washington, a 60-plus car pileup on an icy highway following a snowstorm. The state patrol says at least six people were injured. Thankfully none of them were seriously injured.

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

ROMANS: Parts of Colorado buried under 3 feet of snow, stranding more than 1,100 passengers at Denver International Airport on Monday night. In the mountains west of Denver, a rock slide during the snowstorm added to the misery, temporarily closing westbound Interstate 70.

PHILLIPS: In Nebraska, plow crews --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.


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


ROMANS: An inch an hour of snowfall.

All right. The Chicago area under a high wind warning today. Expect the powerful winds to play havoc with air travel through one of the country's biggest hubs. In total, about 21 million people from the west coast to the great lakes are now under some kind of winter weather advisory.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis has the latest.


KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine and Abby, this could be the thanksgiving that is memorable for perhaps the wrong reason, with back-to-back storm systems, one across the Midwest, the other for the West Coast, it's going to be getting stronger, and really producing really dire traveling conditions for travelers.

All right, this weather report is brought to you by Ninja Foodi, the grew that sears, sizzles, and air fry crisps.

The wind is going to be problematic, not just for Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis, and St. Louis, but even for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Might see some of the wind gusts outside the parameters there. We'll keep you updated on that.

And for the airports, problematic, because of volume, but mostly because of the weather. New York, along that I-95 corridor, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, out in San Francisco. Wow. They've already shut down some interstates. And some portions of the central U.S. in Nebraska. Also right around Ashland to the south along Interstate 5.

So we'll keep you updated on that. Back to you, guys. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Thanks for that.

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 the decision to unfreeze aid to help Ukraine fend off the Russians.

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

ROMANS: CNN has learned the first official move to withhold aid came the evening of July 25th. That's the same day Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president had the 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 he told his boss withholding 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.

PHILLIP: And the House Judiciary Committee has announced its first impeachment hearings for next week. But there's one big difference this time. President Trump and his lawyers have been cordially invited to attend.

President Trump took the stage for a homecoming rally last night in his newly declared home state of Florida. And he railed against the impeachment investigation with a familiar vulgar refrain.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're pushing that impeachment witch hunt and a lot of bad things are happening to them. Because you see what's happening in the polls? Everybody said, that's really bullshit.


PHILLIP: Actually, that comment is B.S. I'm not going to say it on this family program here.

A new CNN poll shows 50 percent of the country supports impeachment and removing the president from office.

Mr. Trump also claims he really would like his top officials to testify in the impeachment hearings. Let's not forget, he's the one who's stopping them. And the court ruled this week that they should testify. The president insists by blocking their testimony, he is fighting for future presidents.

ROMANS: All right. A House committee is suing the attorney general and commerce secretary in federal court for refusing to comply with a subpoena. The oversight committee is seeking documents on a citizenship question that the administration tried to add to the 2020 census.

It is the Democrats' first move after a federal judge shut down White House claims of absolute immunity for aides. That gives the House a stronger hand to enforce oversight requests. Democrats say the administration tried to add a citizenship question to discourage non- citizens to responding to the census. That would cut into Democrats' electoral strength. President Trump ultimately caved on adding the question.

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

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

The author does admit they were wrong about one important thing. 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 to the anonymous author as a, quote, gutless coward.

PHILLIP: The 2020 ad wars are heating up. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden --


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.


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

ROMANS: The Massachusetts senator is standing by her call for a wealth tax to pursue her agenda, to pay for her agenda. Here's what she said in a very important revenue 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.


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

PHILLIP: And we have breaking -- and we have breaking news. 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 tell a local CNN affiliate that everyone else should shelter in place. Officials are likely assessing what chemicals are being released into the air, but so far, no reports of injuries.


ROMANS: Google used to be seen as the gold standard of office life. That reputation is quickly changing as it faces growing backlash from its employees. Employees have protested a growing list of concerns, ranging from its handling of sexual misconduct allegations and climate change, to its business dealings with the military. But now, tensions appear to be reaching a breaking point.

On Monday, Google fired four employees who it said violated its data security policies. Some employees are accusing Google of trying to suppress its critics. One software engineer who had organized protests tweeted: Google just fired four of my coworkers for daring to ask the question, is Google helping to separate families or cage children at the border? Others described the firing as an attempt to intimidate workers, calling it union-busting dressed up in tech industry jargon.

PHILLIP: Overnight, new evacuations in California as the Cave Fire expands. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Developing overnight, 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 the Los Padres National Forest. It has grown to more than 4,300 acres now. It is 10 percent contained. Thousands of people have already been forced to flee.

PHILLIP: And a patient at a southern New Jersey hospital was accidentally given a kidney that was intended for someone else. Both patients at Virtua Our Lady Lourdes Hospital were on the transplant list. They have the same name and are around the same age. The hospital says mistakes of this nature are rare and additional verification would have prevented this error.

The patient who was supposed to get the kidney did receive on six days later. The hospital says both patients are doing well and it is taking steps to prevent a repeat.

ROMANS: We hope so.

All right. A Colorado couple faces animal cruelty charges for dragging a horse behind a truck. I want to warn you here, this video is difficult to watch. John and Amber Saldate actually tied the animal to a back of a pickup to drag it off the ranch. Amber was calling the horse names as it tried to resist.

Officials have seized the horse. The Saldates will face a judge in January. Hard to understand why anyone would think that's all right.

PHILLIP: It's really awful, awful.

Not what you want to hear before Thanksgiving. More E. coli cases linked to romaine lettuce. According to the CDC, 67 people have now been sickened in 19 states, with 27 new cases reported in the last few days alone, the outbreak is connected to lettuce harvested in Salinas, California. Stores and restaurants nationwide are being urged to stop selling the lettuce.

ROMANS: The FAA pushing back against pressure from Boeing to clear the 737 MAX for a return to service. The FAA normally lets manufacturers sign off on the safety of their own planes, but in the wake of two crashes that killed 346 people, the FAA wrote a letter this week telling Boeing only the agency can sign off on returning the 737 MAX to the skies.

Meantime, Boeing is in a crunch. Its finances are stressed by the month-long grounding and is scrambling to find space to add the 42 737 MAX jets it is manufacturing every month.

ROMANS: All right. Global car sales are on track for a terrible years. Have you bought a car this year? CNN Business has what that means for manufacturing, next.


ROMANS: Syracuse University is beefing up security in the wake of several racist incidents on campus earlier this month. That includes the immediate deployment of 19 new residential community safety officers. School officials also plan to install a new security camera system in stairwells, elevators, exterior locations and common spaces.

And public safety officers will work to increase shifts while classes are in session. The school chancellor says he hopes to have these changes in place by the time students return from Thanksgiving break next week.

PHILLIP: An elite climber is recovering after a bad fall on the famous El Capitan peak in Yosemite National Park. Emily Harrington was trying to scale a route on the grand monolith when she fell and pin-balled down the rock face. She was rescued by a number of fellow campers.

Remarkably, she only suffered cuts and bruises. Harrington posted a message on Instagram, sharing photos of her injuries and saying she is extremely grateful for her rescuers.

ROMANS: I'm going to stay on the couch. It's very safe to be on the couch, watching people climb El Capitan.

New York City wants no part of FedEx's package delivery robots. The company's same-day delivery bot called Roxo was spotted in the city last week. Lawyers for the New York City Department of Transportation delivered a cease-and-desist letter to FedEx, warning that the robots were violating multiple traffic laws.

Mayor Bill de Blasio piling on with a tweet saying, if we see any of these bots, we'll send them packing. FedEx says the bot was in the city for special event. The company has tested the delivery bot in four U.S. markets, which do not include New York.

ROMANS: A group of New Yorkers serving up a full Thanksgiving dinner on the subway. The video of the mobile friendsgiving this past weekend went viral. The train was decked out with tables filled with Thanksgiving stables and riders were serving food as the train made its scheduled stops.

The people behind it say it's been in the works for months and they wanted to give back to their community in a unique way.


REPORTER: What are they saying to you?

JODELL LEWIS, HELPED ORGANIZE 'SUBWAY THANKSGIVING": Thank you. For the most part, thank you. And that mac and cheese is on point.



PHILLIP: The group says going forward, they plan on making this an annual Thanksgiving tradition. And I could use a little Thanksgiving food.


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 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 goes all the way back to 2000.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Take a look at markets around the world right now. A little bit of optimism here. Looking at U.S. futures, could lean higher here this morning. We'll closely watch the futures' market, got about four hours until the market opens.

New government data shows China's industrial profits posted the biggest decline since 2011, as it battles slowing growth amid the trade war on Wall Street right now. There are the futures up just a little bit. Stocks finished slightly higher Tuesday, logging their second record close in a row. The Dow closed up 54. The S&P 500, the Nasdaq, also higher.

These are records, folks. President Trump suggested U.S./China trade talks are in the final throes after a call between the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, Robert Lighthizer, the trade rep in the U.S., and Liu He. China's Commerce Ministry said the two countries reached a consensus on how to resolve key issues.

Watching closely to see if there's news of a skinny, skinny, skinny deal some day soon here.

ROMANS: Farmers are a key demographic for President Trump in the 2020 election, as prices for corn, soybeans, pork, and other products fall, because of the U.S.-China trade war. Trump has handed out $28 billion in taxpayer bailouts no farmers. New data from the Department of Agriculture shows who is getting that money.

Iowa farmers have received $767 million so far. That's the most nationally. After Iowa, the states with the most assistance, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Kansas.

Important to point out, data shows the top 10 percent of farmers received the bulk of the money. That means the big corporate farms with already deeper pockets and bank accounts, they are receiving more of the money than the small family farmers who are really on the bubble here.

It looks like 2019 will be a terrible year for global auto sales. Only a month left in the year, sales are on track for a 4 percent drop. That would be the biggest decline since 2008.

It's not good news for manufacturing, folks. American factory activity slowed for the third month in a row in October, as the effects of the U.S./China trade war took their toll. Things aren't much better around the world. It all comes back to trade. It's possible that global manufacturing could rebound next year. Again, that depends on a deal with China.

PHILLIP: Yes, all of these trade headlines, big for the winds next year.

While keeping the time-honored tradition of pardoning the national turkey, President Trump couldn't help but get in a dig at his impeachment nemesis.


TRUMP: 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: No days off for the impeachment griping.

And while you were sleeping, Stephen Colbert took that opening and ran with it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up next, continuing coverage of the impeachment hearings.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If you would please rise. Raise your right hand. I will begin by swearing you in.

Do you swear or affirm the testimony that you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.


SCHIFF: You are now recognized for your opening statement.






PHILLIP: OK. That's hilarious.

ROMANS: That's funny.

PHILLIP: Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of the day.

For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.


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

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

ROMANS: New insight from the official known as anonymous. They will reveal themselves before the 2020 election and the surprise admission about what they got wrong.

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.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Abby Phillip.

ROMANS: Nice to see you here today. Great to have you onboard.

PHILLIP: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, November 27th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Not one but two holiday storms affecting travelers from coast to coast. AAA predicts more than 55 million travelers taking to the skies and roads for Thanksgiving. West of Spokane, Washington, a 60- plus car pileup on an icy highway following a snow storm. The state patrol says at least six people, none seriously.

Overnight, we learned parts of Interstate 5, that's a link between Oregon and California, a part of Interstate 5 has been shut down due to whiteout conditions.

PHILLIP: And parts of Colorado buried under 3 feet of snow, stranding more than 1,100 passengers at Denver International Airport on Monday night.

In the mountains west of Denver, a rock slide during the snowstorm adding to the misery, temporarily closing westbound Interstate 70.