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EARLY START

Kazakhstan Plane Crash Kills 12; Dems, GOP Still at Impasse Over Impeachment Trial; Constant Life on the Run in Syria; Landslide Win for Benjamin Netanyahu; Silence After North Korea's "Christmas Gift" Threat. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:33]

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, a dozen killed when a plane goes down after takeoff from Kazakhstan. Miraculously there are survivors. A live report just moments away.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: The snow and rain moving fast. The west already pummeled. The plains and the Midwest are preparing for a very ugly weekend.

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

PHILLIP: And your Secret Santa was not this nice. What one woman got and which billionaire was behind it.

KOSIK: Welcome -- welcome back.

PHILLIP: To EARLY START. I'm Abby Phillip.

KOSIK: I'm jumping her cue. I'm Alison Kosik. It's 30 minutes past the hour here in New York, and breaking news overnight.

Twelve people were killed in plane crash in Kazakhstan. 93 passengers and five crew members were onboard the Bek Air flight that went down just seconds after takeoff.

CNN's Nathan Hodge is live in Moscow.

Nathan, what are you learning about this crash?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Alison, I think we're looking at a crash that could have been far more catastrophic. Yes, in recent minutes, authorities have revised down the death toll in the incident to 12 people. Down from 15. And right now, rescue workers are still on the scene, clearing up the scene of this rather catastrophic scene that we see here just outside of the largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty, where a Bek Air plane, a regional airliner, crashed very shortly after takeoff on its way to Nur-Sultan, the capital of the country. Authorities have grounded the Fokker 100 aircraft, as well as has

suspended pending investigation operations by that airline. And Kazakh authorities have responded very swiftly. The former president and still a very important figure on the political scene there, Nursultan Nazarbayev, issued a formal note of condolence. And Kassym- Jomart Tokayev, the current president of Kazakhstan, has said that Saturday will be a day of official mourning in Kazakhstan.

So, certainly, all eyes on this, and as the scene moves forward. And of course, hoping for the best for all of those who have been taken to the hospital -- Alison.

KOSIK: Absolutely. You know, it's amazing so many survived that horrific crash.

CNN's Nathan Hodge live from Moscow, thanks.

PHILLIP: 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 reached 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. And weather conditions are said to be challenging.

We will have more on this story as it becomes available.

KOSIK: 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. 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.

Some good news in the U.S.-China trade war. Customs data shows China imported 2.6 million tons of soybeans in November. That's more than doubling October's imports. The surge coming after the announcement of the phase one trade deal with the U.S. Farmers have been hit hard by the tit-for-tat trade war, as China was their biggest market before Beijing retaliated against U.S. tariffs.

A spokesperson for China's Commerce Ministry said Thursday the two sides are in close contact and that they are still going through necessary procedures before signing the phase one deal.

PHILLIP: Christmas is in the rear-view but it's now time to go home but for millions that trip could be complicated by rain and snow. Lots of it.

[04:35:06]

A major winter storm that brought heavy snow in Southern California is rolling toward the plains and upper Midwest. The snow brought traffic to an absolute standstill on Thursday on Interstate 5 over Grapevine Pass northeast of Los Angeles. The stuck vehicles forcing the entire freeway to close.

KOSIK: 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. More than a foot of snow could fall in some states through Monday.

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

Phil Mattingly has all the details in Washington.

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. PHILLIP: The stalemate continues. Thanks for that, Phil.

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

KOSIK: There is no safe place for civilians in Idlib. One of Syria's last opposition-held territories is under siege. CNN went there. Arwa Damon has a live report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:42:09]

KOSIK: Desperation building as air strikes, barrel bombs and artillery pound Syria's last opposition-held territory in Idlib. Doctors Without Borders reports camps on the Syrian-Turkish border are overwhelmed and displaced people are no longer safe, as Syria's government and its Russian backers intensify attacks. For hundreds of thousands of Syrians, constant displacement has become a terrifying norm.

CNN's Arwa Damon is live for us in Istanbul.

You know, sadly, for civilians, as you know better than anybody else, this cycle is just something that seems to repeat. But I understand the violence has intensified over the past week.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has, Alison, over the last few weeks, in fact. And according to many of the civilians that we have been able to reach out there, that our colleagues have been able to reach out, when you asked them what message do you have, who you want to come in and help you, they say, we have been begging for so long, we now know that there is no one who is going to be able to stop this violence and save us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Abu Ismayed's (PH) children don't need an explanation anymore. They have done this so many times that the notion of a home, a warm bed to feel safe and snug, that ceased to exist long ago.

"We go, we come back," Abu Ismayed (PH) says. "We don't know where to go or where we will end up."

It's an existence on the move, trying, praying that the bombs won't catch up to them, or when they do, that they will somehow survive.

But this time, it feels different. The bombings, more intense, final, deliberate. Entire areas in and around Idlib Providence are emptying out again. Upwards of 130,000 people are on the move. "The children couldn't sleep through the night. They were crying

every hour," Abu Usama (PH) says holding his daughter. So young, this is all she knows.

It's a cycle they all know well. One that starts with renewed intense bombings. Then the panicked packing up, the overwhelming sense of feeling lost, not knowing where to go but having to flee, finding some sort of makeshift shelter.

"I'm taking my family and we're heading to a tent," Ibrahim Eltas (PH) says. "Whether or not we can have a tent is still unknown."

The province, Syria's last rebel stronghold, has never been able to meet the humanitarian needs of the growing displaced population. One of the few aid organizations the Turkish IHH that operated in Idlib says they don't have the resources.

"The first night we came, we slept on the ground. We didn't even have blankets," this woman says, begging for a tent, a stove, anything.

[04:45:09]

Many end up just establishing themselves along the road. Once they think they have reached safety. But as the regime with the Russian backing closes in, that may not be far enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: And Alison, there has been all sorts of warnings from humanitarian organizations about the humanitarian emergency and crisis that is ongoing inside Idlib. We have been hearing all sorts of condemnation from various global leaders. We heard from President Trump who tweeted out to the regime of Bashar al-Assad saying, "Don't do it."

But that rhetoric, all of it, is also part of a very familiar cycle. And until a country is actually willing to do what it takes to end the violence, as Syrians will consistently tell you, no one has actually had the interests of the civilian population at heart or been willing to do what it would actually take to protect the civilians.

KOSIK: And thus, the cycle continues.

CNN's Arwa Damon live for us from Istanbul. Thanks so much.

PHILLIP: A setback for any hope of a shakeup to break that political stalemate in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu with a resounding win in his party's leadership race. Despite facing criminal indictments and a third election, Netanyahu sounds supremely confident.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem following the latest developments.

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.

KOSIK: OK. CNN's Oren Liebermann, thanks so much.

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: 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, which is home to the world's largest Catholic population. More than two million people have signed a petition to have the film removed. And there's been no comment from Netflix.

KOSIK: A record-breaking holiday season means record-breaking returns. UPS is expecting its highest number yet. CNN Business is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:52:41]

PHILLIP: Welcome back. Radio silence from North Korea instead of that promised Christmas gift. But U.S. officials are still watching Kim Jong-un's regime closely for possible provocations. They are also puzzled as to why Kim chose not to conduct a missile test. Still, options to respond are already on the table.

CNN's David Culver is live in Hong Kong.

David, it seems that there's been so much bluster and then nothing. What is going on with the North Korean regime right now?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's the question that's being posed by several U.S. officials, Abby. One U.S. official in particular tells CNN that the Trump administration has preapproved a range of options to respond. They could fly bomber aircraft over the Korean Peninsula. They could even start military drills of ground weapons. But all of that depends on what, if anything, North Korea does in the next few days.

Earlier this month, the North warned it would give the U.S. that, quote, "Christmas gift." Ahead of the holiday, a source told CNN, that the gift could be the adoption of a hardline policy, taking denuclearization off the table. But U.S. administration officials are still braced for a weapons test in the near future.

Recent satellite images have shown movement on the peninsula, suggesting North Korea may be working towards an ICBM test. But it's unclear what exactly they would have to do so as to provoke the U.S. so as to see a response that would be really a show of military force. Since May, North Korea has launched several short-range rockets and missiles that President Trump quite frankly has downplayed despite their threat to U.S. troops and allies.

As the year nears its end, North Korea gets closer to its self-imposed deadline for successful denuclearization talks with the U.S. or else, Kim Jong-un has warned in the past, Abby, that his country will take a, quote, "new path." Not specifying what that would be.

PHILLIP: Yes. There's been so many ups and downs. And we should also note that U.S. officials seemed to believe that the window really for all of this is through Kim's birthday, which is in late January and there could be more to come on this.

CULVER: That's right.

PHILLIP: Thanks so much, David Culver, in Hong Kong.

CULVER: Sure.

KOSIK: The FAA now wants to begin tracking virtually all drones' 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.

[04:55:05]

All registered drones would be required to carry a remote I.D. system that broadcasts over the Internet within 36 months. The proposed legislation will be open for a 60-day comment period before becoming law.

PHILLIP: More news for your January reset. Getting the recommended amount of physical activity is tied to a lower risk of cancer. That is according to a newly published study in the "Journal of Clinical Oncology" that shows getting the recommended amount of exercise lowers the risk of seven different types of cancer, colon, breast, kidney, myeloma, liver, endometrial and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Researchers acknowledge that the data came from self-reported physical activity and since them majority of people were white, that could limit how broadly the findings can be applied. But previous studies have come to similar conclusions.

KOSIK: Kylie Jenner facing backlash for the extravagant Christmas gift she gave her 1-year-old daughter, Stormy. A diamond ring. Kylie posted a video of her daughter wearing the bling on her Instagram. She later deleted it. Immediately following the post, Jenner was slammed on social media for the over-the-top present. One person tweeting, "The money could have gone to feeding someone, paying for medical bills, or planting trees." Another blasted the Kardashian- Jenner clan for going out of their way to buy, quote, "stupid expensive gifts."

PHILLIP: The money could have also gone to me.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIP: In other good Christmas news, 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 the annual gift exchange on Reddit Gifts. Inside was an original manuscript of "The Great Gatsby" that was signed by Gates, books and toys for her cat, and "Harry Potter" and "Twin Peaks" memorabilia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHELBY, RECEIVED GIFTS FROM 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: The billionaire has participated in that exchange since 2013. But this is a really uplifting way to end what has been a hard year for Shelby. Her mother died unexpectedly 10 days before her wedding in April. And Shelby said the most personal gift that came from Gates was a donation in her mother's memory to the American Heart Association. KOSIK: Something tells me many more people will be taking part in

that Secret Santa next year.

PHILLIP: Absolutely.

KOSIK: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Taking a look at markets around the world. The Hang Seng closing at its best level in five months. European markets, they have opened higher, seeing green arrows there. Moving on to Wall Street, futures look like they're pointing to a positive open.

And it was another record-day for investors. The Dow closing up 106 points. So that logged yet another record for the index. The Nasdaq set its 10th straight record as well, closing above 9000 for the first time ever. The S&P 500 also finished at a record high.

Looks like Santa was very good to Amazon. The online retailer said it had its best holiday season on record, selling tens of millions of popular gadgets like the Alexa-enabled Echo Dot. Other top sellers included LOL Surprise Dolls and pet treats.

Online sales hit a record high this holiday season and UPS is expecting a record number of shipped returns. The carrier said it expects to process 1.9 million of returned packages on January 2nd, Nationals Returns Day. There's a name for it. That's up 26 percent from the year prior. UPS said the returns mark the seventh straight record as online shopping just grows and grows. The record number doesn't account, though, for FedEx or other carrier returns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing there, C-3PO?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: And his bank account. The force is strong with the latest "Star Wars" movie. "The Rise of Skywalker" bringing in over $500 million in its first week. The film made $32 million in the U.S. on Wednesday, the biggest Christmas Day for any movie since "The Force Awakens" in 2015.

"Star Wars" movies have made more than $9 billion worldwide, not accounting for inflation. I'd say the franchise, it's a keeper.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, that's not going away anytime soon. Folks are still sticking with it.

Well, thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day. For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.

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