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Iranian-Backed Militia Halts Protests from Baghdad Embassy; New Warnings from North Korea on Nuclear Weapons Testing; A State of Emergency in Australia; Benjamin Netanyahu Formally Asks for Immunity. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 2, 2020 - 04:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Twin foreign crises for the U.S. A new stare-down with Iran and new weapons threat from North Korea. Are they sensing vulnerability at the White House?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The race for 2020 finally being waged in 2020. Pete Buttigieg with an early reminder he is a fundraising force, and he's not the only one.

JARRETT: Israel's prime minister will ask for immunity from corruption charges. Why the timing is no coincidence here.

ROMANS: And a very happy start to 2020 for a Michigan woman thanks to the generosity of a couple she waited on.

CNN live this morning in Baghdad, Hong Kong, Australia and Jerusalem.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. Good morning.

JARRETT: Good morning. I'm Laura Jarrett. 31 minutes past the hour here in New York.

And the U.S. and Iran appear to be stepping back from the brink of confrontation after days of violent protests by Iran-backed demonstrators at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But this could be the start of a longer protest campaign.

Thousands of angry supporters of an Iran-backed militia tried to storm the embassy. They were protesting deadly U.S. airstrikes launched in response to the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack.

ROMANS: The protesters managed to do serious damage inside the embassy. Some rooms left totally charred. Iraqi Security Forces have regained control of the area. But a spokesman for the militia group that organized these demonstrations says America should have received the message and the embassy protests were only a first step. The embassy says all public consular services are suspended until further notice.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is live in Baghdad. Now I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been for the

diplomats and the American personnel inside this very secure facility.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is meant to be. And there is something to be said about the fact that this group was able to just march through all of the checkpoints and reach the outer perimeter so easily because among the top leaders that we saw in the first images that came out when this was first unfolding were some key figures.

Notably one key figure, who was once detained by the Americans, back during the years of the U.S.-led occupation here. He was directly responsible for a number of attacks against U.S. forces. And this entire group of people, they're not your ordinary protesters. They're part of this very pro-Iranian, in many instances trained, equipped by Iran, paramilitary force that now is not only a heavy military entity within Iraq, but also has significant political weight.

When it comes specifically to Kata'ib Hezbollah, the group that was targeted by the U.S., they, for example, are currently stationed along the Iraqi-Syria border. They have in the past sent fighters into Syria, to fight alongside Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and are among the groups viewed as being one of the many tentacles that Iran has to extend its influence.

And when we look at what is unfolding between Washington and Tehran, and as these tensions between the U.S. and Iran are growing, Iraq is increasingly turning into this even bigger perhaps more significant proxy battlefield, of course at the expense of Iraq's stability.

ROMANS: -- for us in Baghdad this morning. Thank you for that.

A note, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has postponed a planned trip to Ukraine that was supposed to start tomorrow to deal with the developments in Baghdad.

JARRETT: And another potential international crisis, this one developing in North Korea. Kim Jong-un declaring his country should feel no longer -- should no longer feel bound by a self-imposed halt on nuclear weapons development, and that the world will witness a new strategic weapon in the near future.

President Trump is trying to remain optimistic, but listen to Joseph Yun, Trump's former special representative for North Korea.


JOSEPH YUN, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: Kim is definitely, definitely playing Trump. President Trump saying that Kim signed the deal for denuclearization. Well, not so far.


JARRETT: Let's get the latest from all this, from David Culver for us live in Hong Kong -- David.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Laura. Well, it's a new year but we are back to old and what is alarming rhetoric. Kim Jong-un's remarks to his top officials they reflect this angry and perhaps even more concerning a desperate tone. He essentially is saying that because the U.S. will not bend on easing sanctions, North Korea will now leave open the possibility that they could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing.

This comes after two years of summitry and diplomacy. What was a glimmer of hope in establishing a denuclearized Korean peninsula. All of that has now reversed course, it seems. And yet despite the increased tensions, President Trump is still trying to convey that he and Kim, in his words, have a good relationship. He even said this week that he thinks Kim is a man of his word.

Maybe there's something we're not seeing because the words and recent actions out of North Korea, in particular, satellite images showing movement in and around past ICBM test sites, suggest Kim does not feel the same. And in his remarks this week to his top officials, Kim reiterated over and over how sanctions are crushing them. They are struggling. That was emphasized throughout these remarks.

And that's where this desperation comes in. He said that if the U.S. abuses the dialogue between the countries that they will pay for the pains of the North Korean people. Now it is true, Laura, that North Korea and Kim often put these dramatic language and words out there just to see how the world especially the U.S. reacts. But the issue is, given the increased pressure that North Korea is feeling with the sanctions, there is greater concern that they're going to be motivated to act drastically -- Laura.

JARRETT: Something of a continuation mismatch between words and actions. Thank you, David.

ROMANS: All right, 36 minutes past the hour. With the 2020 Democrats racing toward the Iowa caucuses now just over a month away, Pete Buttigieg remains a fundraising force. His campaign revealing it raised $24.7 million during the fourth quarter of 2019. The yearend haul tops the $19.2 million the former South Bend mayor raised in the third quarter and just about matches the $24.8 million he raked in during the second quarter.

The numbers further cementing Buttigieg's position as one of the top fundraisers in the Democratic field. Meantime, Bernie Sanders' campaign says it has reached $5 million individual donors. We expect more details from the Sanders camp later today.

JARRETT: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell kicking off the 2020 session of the Senate tomorrow. It remains unclear when this impeachment trial of the president might actually begin.

CNN's Phil Mattingly reports McConnell's plan is to continue business as usual until the House sends over the articles of impeachment. We can expect movement on judicial and executive branch nominations, but Phil Mattingly says McConnell has no intention of doing anything impeachment-related until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the articles over.

ROMANS: There's now a second Republican senator raising questions about McConnell's strategy. This was Senator Susan Collins speaking to Maine Public Radio.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I am open to witnesses. I think it's premature to decide who should be called until we see the evidence that is presented and get the answers to the questions that we senators can submit through the chief justice to both sides.


ROMANS: McConnell has been reluctant to allow the trial to include witnesses but on Monday told FOX News he was not ruling it out either. Last month, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said she is, quote, "disturbed" by coordination between McConnell and the White House over the impeachment trial.

JARRETT: The new year begins here with the sad passing of two iconic figures from the sports world. David Stern was the NBA commissioner for 30 years presiding over the league's skyrocketing global growth. He died after a brain hemorrhage he suffered three weeks ago. He was 77 years old. Shaquille O'Neal among the NBA greats mourning his death. Shaq tweeting, "Rest in peace, Mr. David Stern. The best commissioner to ever do it."

And this from Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, quote, "Without David Stern, the NBA would not be what it is today. His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed."

ROMANS: And baseball has lost one of its World Series legends, pitcher Don Larsen. He was 90. Larsen played for seven teams in 14 seasons. But he famously pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in game five of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's the only perfect game in World Series history.

All right. A state of emergency in southeast Australia. The death toll climbing from raging wildfires and the forecast is getting worse.



ROMANS: President Trump expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland later this month. He skipped it last year because of the government shutdown. Now he wants to attend to tout his record in an election year.

Now Trump went in 2018 and people who spoke to him afterward told CNN at the time that he was pleased with the reception he received. I mean, this is kind of a swanky global stage of business leaders. This year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the delegation, which will also include presidential advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Trade representative Robert Lighthizer. The summit begins January 20th.

It's a little bit ironic because the president was actually kind of elected because he was the outsider and he wasn't kind of in the middle.

JARRETT: And now he's going to Davos.

ROMANS: And Davos is kind of like the representation of globalism and elites, so it's interesting.

JARRETT: It's pretty attractive. It's hard to turn down.


JARRETT: Well, a state of emergency in New South Wales as raging wild fires in southeastern Australia have spread. Officials ordering visitors out of a so-called tourist leave zone on the southern coast of New South Wales. Conditions are expected to worsen this weekend, with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The zone covers the area from Bateman's Bay down to the border with the state of Victoria.

ROMANS: The fires have burned almost nine million acres. That's bigger than the state of Maryland. And these extraordinary satellite images show the scale, flames, smoke and ash for miles in every direction. Firefighters who drove through this raging brush fire describe the terror barely escaping with their lives.


DEP. CPL. JASON CROFT, FIRE AND RESCUE NEW SOUTH WALES: We were in there, in the thick of it. We thought that this could be it.


ROMANS: CNN's Anna Coren now has the latest live from Nowra in New South Wales.


And, I mean, what are they telling tourists? I mean, they must have tourist no-go zones there. I mean, they're trying to protect people's lives and property. What are they saying to visitors?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, the problem is that we are here on the south coast in New South Wales. It's one of the worst-hit areas. And this is a big place, very popular place for holidaymakers. You are seeing a steady stream of cars now driving along the highway. This is a main artery along the east coast of New South Wales and these are residents and holidaymakers who've been trapped in those fire zones, in those real hot spots.

Interestingly, Laura, we are here at an intersection because authorities won't allow us any further in because there are fires breaking out down there and obviously still burning. But we're with residents who are desperate to get down to the fire, to see their loved ones, who they haven't spoken to in days. We spoke to a father whose 4- and 5-year-olds is with their grandparents and communications have been cut off.

He hasn't been able to speak to his children in the last few days. He doesn't know their whereabouts, how they are. So there is a great deal of anxiety. These people desperate to reconnect with their families. I spoke to one woman here who was trying to protect her house. That is the opposite of what authorities want. They want people to leave this fire zone because, you know, they need people out of there before there is this escalation in the fire conditions.

We're expecting the conditions to worsen dramatically over the weekend. And we've already seen eight deaths over the past few days, taking that death toll to 17. There are 17 people still missing in the state of Victoria.

So, Christine, the situation here is dire. People are very concerned. Authorities want people to get out as soon as possible.

ROMANS: We're seeing forecast for hundred-degree heat in some areas and it's just the middle of the summer. So this is, you know, early going here for what you're going to be facing down there. Keep us up to speed on what's happening, Anna. Thank you.

JARRETT: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms he will ask Israel's parliament to grant him immunity from corruption charges. In March, Israel is going to try for the third time to elect a majority government. The immunity request by Netanyahu is expected to delay any trial until after the election.

Oren Liebermann is live for us from Jerusalem with the latest developments.

Oren, what can you tell us?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, this was expected and yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waited pretty much until the last moment to submit his formal request for immunity. He had 30 days. He submitted it four hours until that deadline. But the speech he gave, the statement he made didn't sound like an immunity request. It sounded a heck of a lot like a campaign speech.

He began by talking about his historic achievements and then said he plans on continuing to lead the country by what he calls the will of the people for many years to come. Then, he said the immunity law was intended to protect politicians from what he calls fabricated indictments, continuing his attack upon the judicial system and upon the investigations.

He made a quick statement about the formal request for immunity and then he pivoted to an attack against his rivals, the head of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz, who responded moments after Netanyahu finished his speech, saying now it's clear voters have two options in the upcoming elections in March. Either they can vote for the interests of Netanyahu or they can vote for the national interests.

They can vote for the state of Israel or they can vote for the kingdom of Netanyahu. So this quickly became a political fight, as of course is everything else right now in what is a campaign cycle.

So where do the legal proceedings against Netanyahu go from here? Well, they are stuck, just like Israel's political situation. Netanyahu's request has to be heard by what's called the Knesset House Committee. Except since there is no function and coalition, there is no Knesset House Committee and the legal proceedings against Netanyahu are essentially in a stalemate at this point and they could well be until the March elections.

The opposition here will try to seat a temporary House committee. But at this point, Laura, it's unclear if they'll be able to do so.

JARRETT: So asking for immunity while also criticizing the system.

Oren, thank you so much for that report.

ROMANS: Pope Francis is sorry. The pontiff in his New Year's address apologizing for slapping away a woman's hand after she unexpectedly grabbed him during a New Year's Eve event. Francis said even a Pope can lose his patience and apologized for his bad example. He used his first mass of 2020 to denounce violence against women comparing it a desecration of God.

JARRETT: And a New Year's Day fire at a zoo in Germany killed dozens of animals. The flames tore through a monkey enclosure at the Krefeld Zoo in western Germany. More than 30 animals died in the blaze, including monkeys, apes, bats and birds.


The German police say several possible suspects have come forward already. They were questioned by investigators who were checking out their statements. The official cause of the fire is still undetermined.

ROMANS: All right, new year, new overtime rules. CNN Business has the details on where people will be making more money, next.


JARRETT: Well, public health groups are not so happy with President Trump's plan to limit flavored e-cigarettes. The administration plans to ban most fruity or dessert-flavored e-cigarette cartridges but not menthol or tobacco flavors. Groups like the American Lung Association tell the "Washington Post" the plan will not stop a surge in youth vaping and caves to the vaping industry during an election year.

The president has said the ban is not permanent. It's meant to allow for research before hopefully getting products back on the market.

ROMANS: The voice behind some classic "Schoolhouse Rock" songs in the 1970s has died.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sure got to climb a lot of steps to get to this Capitol building here in Washington. Well, I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is.

JACK SHELDON, MUSICIAN: I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill and I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.


ROMANS: Jack Sheldon voiced songs on several episodes of the children's animated series "Schoolhouse Rock." He was a veteran jazz musician. He also served as musical director and Merv Griffin's sidekick on "The Merv Griffin Show" for nearly two decades. Jack Sheldon was 88.

JARRETT: Breaking overnight, the Coast Guard has suspended its search for five crew members from an Alaskan crab fishing boat that sank Tuesday. Two crew members on the 130-foot crabber the Scandies Rose were rescued from a life raft. The ship went down off Sutwick Island. Coast Guard officials say their 20-hour search covered 1400 square miles.


ROMANS: Overnight the NYPD beginning its enhanced security in Jewish communities following that series of anti-Semitic incidents in and around New York City. There have been 15 since December 1st, including one on New Year's Day. New video from Christmas Eve shows a group attacking a 23-year-old Hasidic man, throwing a chair and punching him in the head.

JARRETT: And at a celebration in New Jersey marking the completion of Jewish learning that occurs every seven years, Jewish community leaders expressed their concern.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't walk around with our eyes closed. People are scared. They're nervous. People are walking around with their eyes a little bit more open than usual. Times like this, people get very scared. They and want to lower themselves under the ground, sort of reach out and hide. And I think the opposite is really what we need at this time. What we really need to do is shine. But shine with the best of what humanity has to offer.


JARRETT: The family of Hanukkah stabbing victim Josef Neumann says doctors are not optimistic about his chances of regaining consciousness.

ROMANS: A man whose laptop was snatched at an Oakland Starbucks was killed when he chased the thief. Police have arrested two suspects. They say one of them grabbed the laptop as the victim was working on it near noon on Christmas Eve. The man rushed after the thief, trying to retrieve his computer.


JULIE, WITNESS: And the kid jumped in the car. It was like a Superman-type dive. Like he made it pretty far into the car.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The victim dove into the car?

JULIE: Yes. And then there was a struggle. And then I think they tried to push him out and then he got dragged.


ROMANS: EMTs gave first aid to the victim whose name has not been released but he later died at the hospital from his injuries.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get it. I get it. Right there.


JARRETT: Some dramatic body cam video there of police in Alabama rescuing a kidnapping victim from a van and arresting the suspect. According to authorities, 51-year-old Sean Sanders admits assaulting the victim and trying to run over a police officer. He now faces multiple charges including first-degree kidnapping, attempted murder and attempted murder of a police officer. He's being held on $125,000 bond.

ROMANS: Well, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning, taking a look at markets around the world. You can see gains for European shares as they have opened. The Tokyo Exchange is closed for a holiday. On Wall Street, futures right now leaning higher here. Stocks finished off the year and the decade on a high note. The Dow closed up 75 points Tuesday. The average gained 22.3 percent in 2019 making it the third best year of the decade. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also finished higher, gaining 28 and 35 percent for the year, making it the second-best year of the decade for both of those averages.

New year, new overtime rules for small businesses meeting a pay raise for 1.3 million workers. The new rule kicked in January 1st raising the standard salary level to $684 a week. That's 35,560 bucks a year. The last time the thresholds were updated was back in 2004. The jobs most likely to be affected are assistant managers at retailers, manufacturing companies and restaurants. The rules most likely have a greater impact on small companies that don't have the revenue streams that bigger companies have.

All right. How would you like to lose $10 billion and still be the world's richest person? Jeff Bezos held on to the top spot of the 2019 Bloomberg billionaire index with an estimated net worth of a cool $115 billion. Trailing closely behind Bezos is Bill Gates with an estimated net worth of $113 billion. Gates briefly took the top spot in November after Amazon's profits fell. The only woman on the top 10, Julia Flesher Koch, widow of conservative businessman of David Koch. She's worth $62 billion.

JARRETT: Not bad.

ROMANS: Mm-hmm.

JARRETT: Well, 2020 is off to a very nice start for a Michigan waitress Danielle Franzoni. A couple left her a tip of $2,020 on a $23 check.


DANIELLE FRANZONI, LUCKY WAITRESS: Because of this, my kids have a future and I have a home. It's a big deal. It's a really big deal.


JARRETT: A big deal indeed. Danielle needed a break. She's a 31- year-old single mother of three and a recovering opioid addict who moved to Alpena from Detroit last year to start over. The couple behind the gesture remains anonymous. It was inspired by the 2020 tip challenge circulating online.

And 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.

Twin foreign crises for the U.S. A new stare-down with Iran and a new weapons threat from North Korea. Are they sensing vulnerability at the White House?

ROMANS: The race for 2020 finally being waged in 2020. Pete Buttigieg with an early reminder he is a fundraising force. Oh, and he's not the only one.

JARRETT: And a state of emergency in southeast Australia. The death toll is climbing from raging wildfires and --