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EARLY START

Freeze On Ukraine Aid Came 90 Minutes After Call; Explosive Emails; Democrats Want OMB Official To Testify; Impeaching Trump, Pelosi's Position Untenable; America's Choice 2020, Warren Gifted Wine Bottles At Senate Fundraiser; Bloody Weekend In Chicago And Baltimore; Holiday Travel Trouble; Reps For Cosby Take On Eddie Murphy; Wildfire Nearly Wipes Out Australian Town; Star Wars Leads At Box Office; Teen Missing For Two Plus Years Found Alive In Germany; Human Remains Found In Joshua Tree National Park; Texas Barber Shot In Dispute Over Son's Haircut; Green Liquid Oozes On Michigan Highway; You've Got To Be Kitten Me; Stocks Close At New Record Highs; Starliner Lands After Botched Test Flight. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Stop the aid, 91 minutes after Trumps calls Zelensky, and said keep it hush hush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Newly released e-mails give some of the strongest proof yet the White House knew the perils and feared backlash over pausing Ukraine's security aid.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Millions are hitting the roads for the holiday, running into weather trouble. We are going to tell you who gets the worst of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Eddie Murphy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: A sweet and very funny SNL homecoming for Eddie Murphy. Now, reps for Bill Cosby with harsh words, invoking slavery over a joke Murphy made about the comic turned convict.

Welcome back to Early Start I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning.

JOHNS: And good morning, I'm Joe Johns. It is 31 minutes past the hour here in New York. Even after President Trump impeachment by the House, new details are emerging that could damage him in his eventual Senate trial. Newly released government documents show the effort to freeze aid to Ukraine that began only about 90 minutes after the now infamous call between Trump and the Ukraine leader.

KOSIK: A spokeswoman for the White House budget office said it would be reckless of the media to tie the hold of funds to the phone call. She notes, the hold had been announced a week before the call at an inter-agency meeting, but the new documents also show a White House budget official knew at the time the hold on aid could raise eyebrows. CNN politics reporter Jeremy Herb has more.

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JEREMY HERB, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Joe and Alison. Newly released e-mails reveal that the White House's order to freeze Ukraine aid came roughly 90 minutes after President Trump's call with President Zelensky on July 25th. The e-mails provide new detail to our understanding of how exactly the White House held up the aid.

In the July 25th e-mail, White House Budget Official, Michael Duffy, ordered the Pentagon to hold the aid and signaled the decision could be politically explosive. Duffy wrote, given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate you keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.

We already knew the broad timeline of withholding of these aid. The Security assistance was first ordered held in early July and agencies were notified on July 18th. Then the order was formally sent to July 25th, the day of the president's call. What we learned from these new e-mails is that the two actions occurred roughly 90 minutes apart. The president got off the phone with Zelensky at 9:33. And Duffy sent the e-mail, ordering the aid to be held at 11:04.

Now, the greater context of Duffy's emails, unknown because he defied a subpoena during the House's impeachment inquiry. The question will be now forced into the Senate as to whether to pursue Duffy's testimony as Democrats have demanded. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has not signaled he will accept any witnesses Democrats are pushing for. But the key number is 51. That's how many Senators are needed to approve any witnesses for the trial. Joe and Alison, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Mike Duffy was the Trump appointee at the Budget Office responsible for overseeing national security money. He's defied a subpoena from the House impeachment panel. But Senate Democrats, still want him to testify.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: This e-mail is explosive. A top administration official, one that we requested to saying stop the aid, 91 minutes after Trump called Zelensky and said keep it hush hush. What more do you need to request a witness?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: The Senate will only begin a trial once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And she is withholding them until McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer reach a deal that Pelosi believes will result in a fair trial. But a top White House official does not think Pelosi can sustain that position.

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MARK SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We're confident that this position is untenable and she's going to move it along. And that Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell reach a deal and the House will proceed in the Senate.

[04:35:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you think that she'll eventually --

SHORT: She will yield. There's no way she can hold this position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Assuming the Senate does eventually get the case, one moderate Democrat is raising concerns. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, says he's keeping an open mind to, quote, see if the dots get connected.

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SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): What I really want to see, though, is to fill in the gaps. There are gaps, now people can make up their mind with gaps in testimony. But I would like to see a full and complete picture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Jones is a key moderate, as Democrats try to keep the party unified through the impeachment process. Even if that happens, 20 Republicans would have to flip sides and vote against President Trump to remove him from office.

JOHNS: Today marks six weeks to the Iowa caucuses, there's new backlash against Elizabeth Warren for her attack on Pete Buttigieg over his high-dollar fundraiser at a California wine cave. Buttigieg called Warren out for holding him to a purity test, she could not pass. Since she took big donor money for her 2018 Senate bid.

And now, the A.P. has revealed she held a fundraiser in June 2018, where she gave out, you guess it, souvenir wine bottles in exchange for hefty donations. Warren says she's learned her lesson, but will not reveal who those donors are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), 2020 U.S. DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: I saw how the system worked and I decided when I got in the presidential race that I wanted to do better than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, no release of the past funders? WARREN: This is about what we're doing now and the conflicts that

people are creating right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: The argument from Buttigieg -- private fundraisers did not corrupt Warren and they aren't corrupting him. He says, he is not worried about how big-money fundraisers look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND-IN) 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not focusing on optics. I'm focusing on what needs to change in this country. I made very clear what my positions are, what we are going to do. And anybody chipping into this campaign, no matter their background, their story or how much they can give is supporting that vision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: On the policy front, Buttigieg just rolled out his immigration policy. He plans to pass legislation in his first 100 days that provides a path to citizenship for among others, DREAMERS and refugees with temporary protected status.

JOHNS: A bloody weekend in Chicago and Baltimore. Two big cities trying to shake their violent reputations. Chicago police have charged one man who they say was at the scene with a gun, when 13 people were shot at a home in Englewood early Sunday. But investigators are not sure if that man actually fired any shots. They say the incident happened during a memorial gathering. Police say some victims remain in critical condition.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't normalize this kind of behavior and tragedy in our city. To call upon the people who were inside, who have information about what happened, to step up and let their faith overcome their fear. That is the only way that we're going to bring down violence across our city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Meantime, Baltimore police are looking for as many as four suspects in a shooting outside of a hookah lounge. They say a blue car pulled up near the lounge and two men walked up to people in line and opened fire. Seven people were shot. The car used in the incident has been recovered, but it had been set on fire. Three others were shot to death this weekend in Baltimore. The mayor calling this level of violence completely unacceptable.

JOHNS: Ugly weather across the country making for a messy holiday travel. Heavy fog and icy roads lead to a 69-vehicle pileup on Interstate 64 in Eastern Virginia that closed both sides of the highway, 51 people needed medical treatment, two of them in critical condition. Now, a low pressure system in the southeast is putting more than 7 million people under a flash flood watch. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good morning, guys. An absolute soaker in place two across portions of the Gulf Coast. The storm system here has been very slow to move in the past 24 or so hours. So plenty of rainfall already observed across parts of Florida and to Georgia, as well. But notice, it is going to gradually shift on towards the coastal region of the Carolinas.

Finally, by Christmas Eve, we'll see the storm system offshore. But before it gets there, look how much rainfall we expect from Charleston down towards Savanna. That's three, four, in some cases more than five inches of rainfall possible across that region. And it's very localized to that region, as well. So, we'll watch that carefully here for some flooding across that particular area.

But back towards the west, speaking of flooding, look at what's happening into the southwest. Also a potent storm system. In fact, Southern California, namely Los Angeles, as much as two to three inches possible within the next three to four days. So an absolute soaker here, even for their standards of getting in some heavy rainfall.

Some temperatures, only climbed to around 60 degrees for Los Angeles. The middle 40's out of Seattle and about 76 in South Florida. Now, as we go in towards Christmas day, we'll enjoy sunny skies for much of the East Coast. Temperatures, not too bad. Middle 40s around New York City. Guys?

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[04:40:15]

KOSIK: OK. Pedram, thanks so much. It looks like it's going to be warm here in New York. I'm thankful for that.

JOHNS: Absolutely. Beautiful weather, considering what it could be.

KOSIK: What it could be, exactly.

OK, time is on the side of the proliferator. A tough assessment from the president's former national security adviser amid renewed threats from North Korea. CNN is live in Seoul.

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JOHNS: Breaking overnight, another American soldier killed in Afghanistan. The Taliban claiming responsibility, saying U.S. and Afghan forces were targeted with improvise explosive devices while conducting a raid.

[04:45:00]

U.S. officials are withholding the name of the next of kin until all are notified. The U.S. and Taliban had just restarted peace talks. More than 2,400 American troops have died in America's longest war between 12 and 13,000 troops are currently serving in Afghanistan and a drawdown of about 4,000 is expected soon.

KOSIK: Former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, sharply condemning the White House approach to North Korea, in a new interview with Axios. Bolton saying, he does not believe the White House, quote, really means it, when President Trump pledges to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

He says, the idea that were somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just unfortunately not true. Time is on the side of the proliferator. CNN has learned North Korea may now be preparing to test engines and other missile components. For the latest now, let's turn to CNN's Paula Hancocks, she is live for us in Seoul. Good morning, Paula. So, we know that talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled. But how concerned are U.S. officials that North Korea could do something?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly been the concern, especially as North Korea promised a Christmas gift and a year-end deadline. We are hearing though from one source that the chances of an ICBM, an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or a nuclear test around Christmas is very low.

We do know also that satellite imagery is being pored over by officials in the U.S. and around the world, trying to figure out exactly what is happening. There is increased activity at one site, where production of ICBMs has happened in the past. And also at the Sohae satellite launch site. This is where, over the past couple of weekends, we have seen suspected engine tests.

And administration officials have told CNN that they believe there will be further engine tests or components related to North Korea's missile program. Now over the weekend as well, Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, held a meeting with his top military officials. We are expecting a wider and more significant worker's party meeting later in December. They haven't given an exact date for that.

But that is potentially where a new policy could be decided or at least dictated to the rest of the regime by Kim Jong-un. Within that meeting, we understand that he did tell everybody what the complicated internal and external situation was. And they discussed military steps to bolster the overall armed forces.

Now, a source also telling CNN, as well as the fact that an ICBM or nuclear test around Christmas may be low. Also saying that they believe the North Korean leader could take a wait and see approach when it comes to -- when it comes to Donald Trump because of the fact he has domestic issues and maybe politically weakened in order to carry out a deal. Alison?

KOSIK: OK, CNN's Paula Hancocks, live for us from Seoul, thanks very much.

JOHNS: The Australian town of Balmoral all but wiped out by wildfires ripping across the state of South Wales. At least, 100 of the tiny towns building destroyed by fires across South Wales. More than 105 fires were burning as of Sunday morning, fueled by a catastrophic dry and windy conditions. A state of emergency declared with no significant rainfall expected in the next two months.

KOSIK: It's just amazing what's going on there. Those pictures are just stunning.

JOHNS: Unbelievable.

KOSIK: The Rise of Skywalker capped off a big year for Disney. But the opening wasn't as big as a blockbuster as they hoped. CNN business coming up next.

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[04:50:00]

KOSIK: Welcome back. A teenager in Germany missing for more than two years has been found alive. Police discovered the 15-year-old boy in a closet while searching the apartment of a man suspected of distributing child pornography. They say there is no indication the boy was being held against his will. He remains under police protection. The 44-year-old suspect and another man in the apartment were arrested. The other man was later released.

JOHNS: Human remains discovered this weekend on Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park. The national park service and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department are investigating the find in a remote area of the park. Park rangers say the skeletal remains and personal items appear to be had been there for some time. The identity of the person and the cause of death have yet to be determined. But authorities say there doesn't seem to be any foul play involved.

KOSIK: A dispute over a 13-year-old haircut leads to a shooting of a barber in Texas. Authorities are searching for the teen's father, who they say argued with the barber about his son's haircut, and then shot him and fled the scene.

[04:55:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He went home, came back. They fixed the haircut for free. And then that's when the altercation occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's one of the worst ones I've heard, especially with your son being here, witnessing what you're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: The barber is said to be in stable condition. He is expected to survive.

JOHNS: A strange sight for drivers outside of Detroit. The bright green liquid oozing on to a Michigan highway, snarling traffic, forcing lane closures to let hazmat teams in. Thee goo is believe to be (inaudible) the cancer causing substance featured in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. A state official says there's no imminent risk to the public and hazmat crews say air and drinking water were not contaminated.

OK. You got to be kitten me. Check out this pictures. Firefighters in San Joaquin County, California, rescuing a German shepherd that chased a black cat up a tree last week. They posted the pictures to Facebook, even as the helpful humans were positioning the ladder, the dog seemed to be shimmying his way closer to the cat. A local station says in the end, while firefighters rescued the dog, the cat jumped out of the tree and was not hurt.

KOSIK: Figures. The cat can take care of itself.

JOHNS: Right, why must I be like that?

KOSIK: I'm a cat person.

(LAUGHTER)

I love that story.

OK, let's get a check on CNN business this morning. Taking a look at markets around the world. Looking like a mixed picture. Asian stocks ending higher. European shares looking like a mixed picture there. As far as Wall Street goes, looking like a flat open. Keep in mind that it is a holiday week and usually volume is a little light. That could sometimes cause exaggerations and moves. But at this point, seeing it nice and calm on Wall Street.

Stocks finished the week at record highs. The DOW closed up 78 points, the NASDAQ logged its seventh-consecutive high. And it's likely to be a quiet Christmas week on Wall Street. But trade remains a risk. And analysts say if the phase one deal isn't signed next month, talking about trade here, optimism will begin to fade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liftoff. Engine at full thrust. We've cleared the tower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: That was Boeing's Starliner spacecraft launching an unmanned test flight on Friday. But it had to abort its mission to dock with the international space station, when it failed to put itself on the right trajectory. Officials attributed the problem to an unsynchronized clock. It's not clear yet if NASA will require Boeing to repeat the test launch before clearing the spacecraft for missions that have people on them.

One unfortunate outcome of the incomplete mission here. There were holiday gifts onboard that were supposed to be delivered to astronauts on board the space station. So, clearly, they didn't get those gifts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing there, CPO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking one last look, sir, at my friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Star Wars, the rise of Skywalker, capping off a big year for Disney. The 9th chapter of the series bringing in an estimated $176 million at the box office. That is a big number by any standard but by Star Wars standards, that's a little light. The previous two installments, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi, those brought in over $220 million for their openings. Still, the Rise of Skywalker's debut, makes it the third-highest opening of the year.

JOHNS: Wow. All right, it was a reunion 35 years in the making.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Eddie Murphy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Eddie Murphy made his much-anticipated return to Saturday Night Live, for the first time since 1984, now a father of 10 kids, Murphy did not pull any punch lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDDIE MURPHY, ACTOR: My kids are actually pretty much my whole life now. And you know what, but if you had told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring, stay-at-home, you know, House dad, and Bill Cosby would be in jail --

(LAUGHTER)

-- even I would have took that bet. And say, who is America's dad now?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Mean joke still funny, but one person not laughing at that impersonation of Cosby as Cliff Huxtable, Cosby's indignant publicist who wrote, one would think Mr. Murphy was given his freedom to leave the plantation so that he could make his own decision, but he decided to sell himself back to being a Hollywood slave. As for the rest of the show, Murphy revived some of his most memorable characters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURPHY: I am still your neighbor

END