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More Than a Dozen Killed in Kazakhstan Plane Crash; Impeachment Stalemate Continues; Benjamin Netanyahu Wins Party Leadership Race in a Landslide. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 04:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, more than a dozen killed when a plane goes down after takeoff from Kazakhstan. The plane tore into pieces and miraculously there are survivors. A live report moments away.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Snow and rain moving fast. The west already pummeled. The plains and Midwest preparing for a very ugly weekend.

PHILLIP: The president wants answers but Senate leaders are no closer to a deal on the impeachment trial. The latest efforts to break the logjam.

KOSIK: And I would venture to say here your secret Santa wasn't this nice. What one woman got and which billionaire was behind it.

Good morning and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

PHILLIP: And Abby Phillip. It is Friday, December 27th. 4:00 a.m. in New York and 38 days to the Iowa caucuses.

Breaking news overnight, more than a dozen people killed in a crash in Kazakhstan. 93 passengers and five crew members were onboard the Bek Air Flight that went down just after takeoff.

CNN's Nathan Hodge is live in Moscow.

Nathan, what do we know about what happened to this flight?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Abby, a horrific scene there in Kazakhstan, where the Bek Air Fokker -- the Fokker 100 aircraft operated by Bek Air crashed shortly after takeoff from Almaty International Airport. The plane was on route to the capital of Nur- Sultan but only stayed in the air for seconds, really, before it hit the ground and fragmented and crashed through a concrete wall and hit a two-story building.

First responders have been on the scene. They have pulled a number of people out and taken them to local hospitals. At this stage, authorities say that 15 people have died, including the captain of the aircraft. And we're still getting more reports about how authorities are planning to respond, including barring further flights by that company, Bek Air, as well as grounding those Fokker 100 aircrafts -- Abby.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Nathan.

KOSIK: Also breaking overnight, the coast guard is searching for seven people on a missing tour helicopter off the Hawaiian coast. Two minors are among the missing. The owner of the helicopter company reaching out to officials in Honolulu 40 minutes after the chopper was due to return from a tour of the Napali coast. One pilot and six passengers were on board. Weather conditions are said to be challenging.

We're going to have more on this story as the information becomes available.

PHILLIP: China, Russia and Iran will hold joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman beginning today. The Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman are among the world's leading trade routes. The Gulf is where two oil tankers were attacked in June and the U.S. blamed Iran for that. It is also just a short distance from the Strait of Hormuz, a major site of contention between Iran and the West over the passage of oil tankers.

The military drills come after the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and as it faces geopolitical threats from Russia and China after the end of a key cold war missile treaty.

KOSIK: Christmas is in the rear-view but for millions the trip home could be complicated by rain and snow. Lots of it. A major winter storm that brought heavy snow in Southern California is rolling towards the Plains and upper Midwest. The snow brought traffic to an absolute standstill on Thursday on Interstate 5 over Grapevine Pass. That's northeast of Los Angeles. The stuck vehicles, forcing the entire freeway to close.

PHILLIP: That same system sparking a tornado in Ventura Harbor, California, that brought down trees and flooded roads. As the storm moves east, it's expected to intensify over the central plains. Winter storm watches are in place and more than a foot of snow could fall in some states through Monday.

Here's meteorologist Derek Van Dam with more on the forecast.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Abby and Alison.

Here's the storm system that caused all the havoc across Southern California and I want you to see the slew of colors that stretch from Southern California all the way through the northern Great Plains. This is all thanks to the storm system's evolution over the next few days.

We have winter storm warnings across the southwestern U.S. and then winter storm watches across the Plains in anticipation of this system moving eastward. And move east it will because you can see how it's going to tap into some Gulf of Mexico moisture and it's going to bring in a lot of warm air ahead of it, so that will keep it predominantly rainfall across the eastern third of the country.

But on the backside of the system where you saw the winter storm watches, that's where we have the potential to see over a foot of snowfall in the northern Plains and across portions of Minnesota as well.


You can see the snow accumulation over the next four days or so could really pile up in excess of 12 to 18 inches in some locations. Now, look at the warm air building ahead of the system. Will remain in the 50s for the weekend across Chicago all the way to New York City.

Back to you.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Derek.

And freshly impeached by the House and eager for a Senate trial to begin, President Trump is spending the holidays in a tense intermission, filled with tweets, as lawmakers argue over their next steps. And it appears the state of play has not changed much. There are no signs of a break in the Christmas impasse over how and when his impeachment trial will unfold.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has all the details on what's coming next.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alison and Abby, the week coming to a close and still no firm answer on when the articles of impeachment passed by the U.S. House will actually be sent to the U.S. Senate for the -- for them to be considered.

Don't expect any firm answers anytime soon. The United States Senate isn't coming back into session until January 3rd. Lawmakers aren't expected back for any votes until January 6th. The expectation is sometime in that week of the 6th the articles of impeachment will make their way over and the Senate will start the actual trial process related to impeachment.

Still, they are at an impasse when it comes to the negotiations as to whether or not a bipartisan structure for that trial can be in place. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer making very clear he wants witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed as part of any bipartisan agreement between he and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell making clear he will not budge on that. He wants the start of the trial to just be presentations from the defense, from the Democratic House managers, and then if people want witnesses they can vote on those witnesses.

One thing to remember, as you've seen, one Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, come out and raise some concerns about how McConnell has acted with the White House throughout all this. At this point in time, there is no expectation the votes will be there to remove President Trump at any point during this trial process. The bigger question right now, raised by Murkowski, is whether or not

there are enough Republicans to join with Democrats to vote to actually subpoena witnesses, to subpoena those documents. Always remember, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a pretty good control over his Republican conference. Right now, the vast majority of those members are in line with him and that means decisions will have to be made here in about a week or two -- guys.

KOSIK: President trump is reportedly on the hunt for his next secretary of State. Mike Pompeo says he isn't running for the Senate despite signs of interest.

But our colleague Our Josh Rogin at the "Washington Post" says competition is heating up in the administration over who could replace him. President Trump is said to be sounding out lawmakers and officials. The person most often mentioned, National Security adviser Robert O'Brien. He is considered competent, polished and works well with all factions of the administration.

PHILLIP: The other main contender is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But National Security officials are concerned about Mnuchin's dovish positions on China and that could undermine his fitness to lead U.S. diplomacy. The president has also asked about ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. The German government has complained about Grenell's aggressive style but that's actually a selling point for President Trump.

Other names often mentioned, secretary of -- State Department envoy to Iran, Brian Hook, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, and the Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, both of whom have presidential ambitions.

KOSIK: So would Pompeo actually leave? Here's what the president and secretary of State have said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he thought there was a chance of losing that seat, I think he would do that and he would win in a landslide because they love him in Kansas.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As long as President Trump will have me as a secretary of State I'm going to continue to do --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told us he's sure you'd win if you run. Are you sure you'd win if you run?

POMPEO: It's a tough race everywhere you go.


KOSIK: Pompeo has to decide before the official filing deadline which comes in June. He is also mulling a run for president in 2024. And Mitch McConnell has argued the Senate would be a perfect launching pad. PHILLIP: It's worth noting Pompeo has been implicated in the Ukraine

scandal. He was on the Zelensky call in July and Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified that Pompeo was in the loop about demanding an announcement of a Biden investigation in exchange for military aid.

KOSIK: And historic day on Wall Street. The Nasdaq logging its 10th record in a row, and finishing above 9,000 for the first time ever. The average is now up a whopping 36 percent this year. That puts it on track for its best year since 2013.

The Nasdaq wasn't the only index to have a good day. The Dow logged another record high, closing up 106 points. President Trump likes to use the stock market as his personal score card and stocks have been resilient all year.


Data from Bespoken Investment Group shows the S&P 500 has had a return of over 50 percent during Trump's first three years in office. That outpaces past presidents since 1928. The gains come, though, despite uncertainty about the U.S.-China trade war. Investors will be watching how the phase one trade deal affects stocks in the new year.

PHILLIP: And breaking overnight, a true tragedy unfolding at Los Angeles International Airport, where authorities say a 10-year-old girl died after suffering cardiac arrest Thursday night. The girl's Delta flight from LAX to Seattle returned to Los Angeles because of the medical issue and paramedics tried desperately to save the girl's life but she was pronounced dead at the scene. Police believe there was no foul play involved and her name has not been released.

KOSIK: Imagine being on the slopes when an avalanche bears down on you. What happened to six people in the path.


KOSIK: Israel's embattled prime minister calls it a huge victory. Benjamin Netanyahu winning his party's leadership race in a landslide. Despite facing criminal indictments and a third election next year, Netanyahu sounds supremely confident.

We get more now from CNN's Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alison and Abby, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was looking for a big win in this leadership contest to see who heads the Likud Party, the party he has led for more than a decade. And with the final results counted, that is exactly what Netanyahu got.

According to the Likud Party, Netanyahu brought in 72.5 percent of the vote. His rival, challenger Gideon Sa'ar bringing in just 27.5 percent of the vote. That's the kind of margin Netanyahu wanted to show that he's not only in charge of his own Likud Party, he's also pretty much the undisputed leader of Israel's right wing.

About an hour after voting ended, Netanyahu claimed victory in a tweet, saying, "Huge victory, I thank the Likud members for the trust, the support and the love.


"With God's help and with your help, I will lead the Likud to a great victory in the coming election and will continue leading the state of Israel to unprecedented achievements."

A short time later, the challenger conceded defeat, saying he will back Netanyahu and do what he can to support him heading into the elections in March.

Keep in mind here the challenges Netanyahu faced. He is very much an embattled prime minister. He faces criminal indictments on charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption investigations. He's also failed to form a government after two straight elections in April and September. And early polling suggests that may happen well again in March.

But the Likud Party is a party known for its institutional loyalty to its leaders. And that was very much on display, with Likud members very much voting to keep Netanyahu as their leader heading into those elections in March -- Alison and Abby.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Oren. Staying on the latest developments there.

And over in the Philippines, the death toll is rising from a typhoon that struck on Christmas Eve. 28 people are now confirmed dead and thousands of people who were displaced by the storm are still in temporary evacuation shelters.

Typhoon Phanfone was the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane when it made landfall on Tuesday, with sustained winds of 93 miles an hour and gusts of 120 miles an hour.

KOSIK: A severe to extreme heat wave is expected to worsen. Catastrophic fires raging in Australia. Three large fires now threatening communities on the east coast. More than 1.1 million acres have been scorched in the Wollemi National Park, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

The North South Wales Fire Service says 77 fires have yet to be contained and that high to severe fire danger is likely early next week. The fires have killed at least nine people and destroyed more than 800 homes since September.

PHILLIP: Six people are lucky to be alive after an avalanche hit a resort in the Swiss Alps. All six were rescued or freed themselves from the slopes at Ski Arena Resort. Two people with minor injuries were flown to a hospital and rescue crews do not believe that more people are trapped. An internal safety process had declared the slopes safe but it will remain close today as police get to the bottom of what happened.

KOSIK: Police in Brazil are investigating an attack on a comedy group after their film depicting Jesus as gay debuted on Netflix. The comedy group Porta dos Fundos says Molotov cocktails were thrown at their production house in Rio de Janeiro. Authorities say a video of a group claiming responsibility is being investigated.

The film, "The First Temptation of Christ," has sparked outrage in Brazil, home to the world's biggest Catholic population. More than two million people have signed a petition to have the film removed. There's been no comment from Netflix.

PHILLIP: They've been hazards in the sky for years. And now a new proposal would allow authorities to track down their owners. More when we come back.



PHILLIP: The search for a missing autistic boy in Michigan has now come to a tragic end. Five-year-old Beau Belson who went missing on Christmas Day was found near his grandmother's home where he was last seen playing with relatives. News of Beau's disappearance brought out nearly 1,000 volunteers from the community to help with the search. But his body was found on Thursday in a pond that was partially covered by ice.


LT. DAVID COPE, MICHIGAN STATE POLICE: We're not sure at this point if he just wandered into the water or fell in. We're not sure at this point.


PHILLIP: And police say no foul play is suspected in the boy's death.

KOSIK: Authorities have released a teenager questioned in connection with the stabbing death of Barnard College freshman Tessa Majors. But a source tells CNN charges against him and another teen who was released are still possible. The 14-year-old was found in the Bronx after a two-week search. A 13-year-old boy was arrested a day after the stabbing and he's facing second-degree murder and other charges. Majors was walking in a park near the Barnard campus when she was attacked earlier this month.

PHILLIP: The FAA now wants to track virtually all drone locations. Under its plan, drones weighing just over half a pound or more would be required to incorporate tracking technology allowing authorities to track down the operator. All registered drones would be required to carry a remote I.D. system that broadcasts over the Internet within 36 months. The proposed legislation would be open for comment for 60 days before becoming law.

KOSIK: People in Minneapolis are banding together to help more than 200 neighbors displaced by a Christmas Day fire. The four-alarm blaze consuming the Francis Drake Hotel as temperatures dipped into the low 30s. This happening on Christmas morning. People who lived in the building, which is used for low-income housing, face an uncertain future. But officials say the response has been so overwhelming they had to stop accepting donations of diapers, socks, mittens, blankets, and other essentials.


BRANDON BRUNDIDGE, DONATED HIS CHRISTMAS PRESENTS: I've decided to give it away because I was so excited to play it.

TIANNA TERRY, FIRE VICTIM: I've lived in Minnesota a long time and I've never seen anything like this. So this made me have more hope in my city.


KOSIK: The fire which burned almost 36 hours destroyed the building. The city has already ordered part of it to be demolished. The cause is still under investigation.

A Michigan woman is enjoying the Secret Santa gift of a lifetime from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The woman named Shelby receiving an 81-pound package through an annual gift exchange on Reddit Gifts. Inside was the original manuscript of "The Great Gatsby," signed by Gates, books, toys for her cat, and "Harry Potter" and "Twin Peaks" memorabilia.


SHELBY, RECEIVED GIFTS FROM SECRET SANTA BILL GATES: When I logged into my tracking page and I saw that the package weighed 81 pounds. We wheeled the big giant box back into the FedEx location, and everyone was really delighted to get a peek at what was inside.


KOSIK: I guess it wasn't a secret. The billionaire has participated in the exchange since 2013. This is an uplifting way to end a hard year for Shelby because he mother died unexpectedly 10 days before her wedding in April.


Shelby said the most personal gift from Gates was a donation in her mother's memory to the American Heart Association.

PHILLIP: He's been impeached and now President Trump is spending the holiday week tweeting his grievances over another very urgent matter.


MACAULAY CULKIN, ACTOR, "HOME ALONE 2": Excuse me. Where is the lobby?

TRUMP: Down the hall and to the left.


PHILLIP: That's the scene from a classic holiday movie, "Home Alone 2," that was edited out in Canada. Trump supporters and conservative media quickly took note. Just the other day, the president was asked about this -- about his cameo by troops overseas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is "Home Alone 2" your favorite holiday movie?

TRUMP: Well, I'm in "Home Alone 2." And --


TRUMP: So -- a lot of people mention it every year especially around Christmas. I was a little bit younger, to put it mildly. And it was an honor to do it. And it turned out to be a very big hit, obviously. It's a big Christmas hit. One of the biggest.


KOSIK: This is the important stuff, guys. Donald Trump Jr. fired off a tweet calling his father's omission from the beloved holiday film, pathetic. And the president himself with a reference to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, tweeting this, "I guess Justin doesn't much like my making him pay up on NATO or trade." Then, adding, "The movie will never be the same. Just kidding."

Mr. Trump may have been joking about Trudeau, either way, Canada's public broadcaster insists it was about time constraints, not politics. The CBC says it cut multiple scenes from "Home Alone 2," totaling eight minutes in all so this wasn't a personal thing against Trump. They actually cut the Trump cameo in 2014 before he launched his presidential campaign.

PHILLIP: You know, I hear the weather is nice in Florida. The president could be golfing and not tweeting about this stuff.

Well, breaking overnight, we have more news on that deadly crash. A dozen killed when a passenger jet goes down shortly after takeoff in Kazakhstan, and a desperate search for seven people including two kids after a tour helicopter fails to return from a trip off the Hawaiian coast. More when we come back.