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Iran Conflict: Protesters Withdraw from Baghdad Embassy; North Korea May Resume Nuclear Weapons Testing; Another Big Haul for Buttigieg; State of Emergency in Australia. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 2, 2020 - 05:00   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, only he's not the only one.


JARRETT: And a state of emergency in southeast Australia. The death toll is climbing from ranging wildfires, and the forecast is only getting worse.

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

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, January 2nd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East, and 32 days to the Iowa caucuses.

But we begin here -- 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 a death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack.

JARRETT: The protesters managed to do some serious damage inside the embassy. Some rooms left totally charred there. Iraqi security forces have regained control of the area. But a spokesman for the militia group that organized the demonstration says America should have received the message.

And the embassy protests were only a first step. The embassy now says all public consular services are suspended until further notice.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is live for us in Baghdad.

Arwa, what can you tell us? ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Well, those rooms that were torched are not exactly fully inside the embassy compound. They're where you go in to get your initial security screening and your badge. But the fact that this group of people were able to just march straight through multiple checkpoints, into what is still a very restricted zone in many ways goes to the very core of multiple complex dynamics that are unfolding here. You have, despite the fact that the situation outside of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is over for the time being, the broader proxy battle that is playing out between Washington and Tehran, mostly within Iraq, that is far from being resolve.

The key group in all of this, which is the one that was targeted by the U.S. on Sunday, Kataib Hezbollah, is still demanding that the Americans leave Iraq, saying that they delivered their message and now, they're going to leave it up to the Iraqi government. But their patience is not necessarily open-ended. You have rhetoric being tossed back-and-forth between the U.S. president, the Iranian leadership, each side threatening the other. A lot of bluster, perhaps, but as we know, this bluster can turn very violent very quickly.

And there are grave concerns over the situation potentially escalating. And within Iraq and in and of itself, there are numerous fracture points that can be exploited by the Iranians, especially given the number of groups they have here who they support and fund and train and just how far their tentacles reach, not just through Iraq, but all the way through Syria and other areas.

JARRETT: Clearly, still, a very tense situation there. Thank you so much for that report, Arwa.

And we should note that the 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.

ROMANS: Another potential international crisis developing in North Korea. Kim Jong-un declaring his country should not longer feel bound by a self-imposed halt on nuclear weapons development, and the world will witness a new strategic weapon in the near future.

President Trump 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.


ROMANS: Let's get the latest from CNN's David Culver in Hong Kong -- David. DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, a new year, but we are

back to this 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 is essentially saying that because the U.S. will not bend on easing sanctions, North Korea, now leaving open the possibility, they could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing.

So, this comes after two years of what we saw summitry and diplomacy, what was a glimmer of hope in establishing that denuclearized Korean peninsula, all of that has now reversed course, it seems. And yet, despite these increased tensions, President Trump trying to convey that he and Kim have a good relationship, saying 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, well, they suggest that Kim does not feel the same way.


In his remarks to top officials, Kim reiterated over and over, how sanctions are crushing them. They are struggling.

And that's where the desperation comes in, because he said if the U.S. abuses the dialogue between the two countries, that they will pay for the pains of the North Korean people. Now, it is true that North Korea and Kim often put out the dramatic wordings, just to see how the world, especially the U.S., will react. But given this increased pressure that North Korea is feeling with sanctions, Christine, the concern is that they're going to be motivated to act drastically.

ROMANS: All right. David Culver for us in Hong Kong -- thanks, David.

JARRETT: Well, with the 2020 Democrats racing towards the Iowa caucuses, now just a month away, Pete Buttigieg remains a fund-raising force. His campaign revealing it saying it raised $24.7 million during the fourth quarter of 2019. The year end haul for him 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 2019's second quarter.

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

ROMANS: All right. Six minutes past the hour. The pope is apologizing for slapping a woman's hand away on New Year's Eve.


JARRETT: State of emergency right now in New South Wales. A serious, raging wild fires or fires in southeastern Australia have spread. Authorities are ordering visitors out of tourist leave zones 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 states of Victoria. The fires have burned almost 9 million acres at this point. For context, remember, that's bigger than the state of Maryland.

These extraordinary satellite images show the scale of flames, smoke and ash for miles in every direction there.


Firefighters who drove through the raging brush fire describe the terror of barely escaping with their lives.


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


JARRETT: CNN's Anna Coren has the latest from Nowra, in New South Wales.

It just sounds like a terrifying situation there, Anna.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura. It's been described as apocalyptic. That's certainly how it was described on New Year's Eve, and that was when many people lost their lives.

The death count as it stands nationwide is 17. That is over the last couple of months. That's also the lives of three fire service members who have been killed fighting those fires, 17 people missing. As you mentioned, millions of hectares have been burned out, thousands of homes have been lost.

These are the worst fires on record here in Australia. And what we've been witnessing this afternoon is a mass exodus of residents and holidaymakers from the south coast of New South Wales, one of the hardest hit areas this week, a steady stream of cars. But we understand that there are fires now along this major highway stopping people from leaving.

So, the mass exodus will continue tomorrow. Obviously, firefighters need to get those other fires under control to open up this highway. But we're getting reports of shortages of fuel, of no power -- communications have been cut off.

The people here, Laura, they are trying to get to the fire zone. They have loved ones who are trapped there, who cannot get out. So, there's a real sense of fear and anxiety.

And, Laura, before I go, we just heard local media reports that the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, he's being berated and attacked by locals in Cobargo, which is about a two-hour drive from where we are, who feel they have been deserted. They say he should be ashamed of himself, that he allowed them to burn. That was one of the quotes.

He left the country to burn, while as he was hosting the Australian and New Zealand cricket team at Kirribilli House on Sydney Harbor. He also went to Hawaii before Christmas on a family holiday. So, he has been criticized. So, really, this is --


JARRETT: A tough situation there. Thank you so much for that reporting, Anna.

ROMANS: All right. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kicking off a 2020 session of the Senate tomorrow. It remains unclear when President Trump's impeachment trial might begin.

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

JARRETT: And there's now a second Republican senator raising questions about McConnell's strategy. This was 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.


JARRETT: Now, remember, McConnell has been very reluctant to allow the trial to include any witnesses at all. But on Monday, he told Fox News he was not ruling it out either. And just last month, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said she was, quote, disturbed by coordination between McConnell and the White House over the impeachment trial.

ROMANS: All right. Some notable new laws to ring in the New Year. Marijuana is now legal in Illinois. Anyone 21 or over can buy and possess it. The long lines stretched for blocks yesterday. Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton was among hundreds of earlier morning customers.

New York is the latest state to end its cash bail system for nearly all misdemeanors and non-violent felony cases. That could free thousands of incarcerated people from pre-trial detention. These are people who have not been convicted of a crime. But they can't afford to get out of jail because they don't have money.

Oregon is the newest state to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. Shoppers are now required to bring their own bag or pay a fee for a paper bag.

And law enforcement officers in Florida will start writing tickets for anyone caught texting and driving. A similar law goes into effect in Massachusetts later this year. That seems like a real safe call.

JARRETT: Well, the change to the cash bail system is a huge, huge deal --


JARRETT: -- for people who really can't get out otherwise.

ROMANS: Well, I mean, people -- you lose your job. You can't go to school. I mean, you're stuck in the criminal justice system without a conviction because you don't have the money, right.


JARRETT: The money to get out, yes.

Well, he revolutionized the NBA in three decades as commissioner. Now, the greatest names in basketball are paying tribute to David Stern. Coy Wire has this morning's "Bleacher Report", up next for us.



JARRETT: Pope Francis is saying sorry. The pontiff in his New Year's address apologizing for slapping a woman's hand away, after she unexpectedly grabbed him during a New Year's Eve event. Look at that.

Francis said, even a pope can lose his patience and apologized for his bad example. He used the first mass of 2020 to denounce violence against women, comparing it to a desecration of God.

ROMANS: OK, Laura, the sports world mourns the loss of two iconic figures.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.


Former NBA commissioner David Stern passed away yesterday at the age of 77. He had been hospitalized since December 12th, after suffering a brain hemorrhage. His wife Diane and their family were at his bedside.

Stern helped reshaped the league in his 30-year tenure, marketing the NBA superstars and making them global icons. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, quote: For 22 years, I had a courtside seat to watch David in action. He was a mentor and one of my dearest friends.


With him, it was also about the fundamentals -- preparation, attention to detail and hard work.

Hall of Famer Michael Jordan echoed those sentiments saying: His vision and leadership provided me with the global stage that allowed me to succeed. I wouldn't be where I am without him.

LeBron James spoke about Stern after last night's game.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: Him and Dr. James Naismith are two of the most important people for the game of basketball. Obviously, Dr. Naismith because he created the game, and then David, his vision -- his vision to make this game global.


WIRE: Meantime, the only player in World Series history to throw a perfect game, Don Larsen, died of cancer yesterday. He played for seven teams in his 14 seasons, most notably with the Yankees where he won two World Series titles. Don Larsen was 90.

To college football. New Year's Day bowl games are as special as they come. Georgia and Baylor in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. And Georgia's George Pickens has a monster first half, 165 yards, 11 catches, including this touchdown, just a freshman. And he's named the Sugar Bowl MVP.

Listen to this, despite missing six starters in the game and 13 rotation players, the Georgia Bulldogs beat the number seven team in the nation 26-14.

To the granddaddy of them all, dating back to over a century, the Rose Bowl. Number six Oregon and eighth ranked Wisconsin, a thriller. Oregon's Brady Breeze goes beast mode. His one-handed scoop and score of the block, punt in the third put Oregon up 21-17.

Wisconsin was leading in the fourth, until Breeze blocks Danny Davis, forcing this fumble, given his team the ball back. It would lead to this, Oregon's 6-foot-6 quarterback Justin Herbert, running his way into the end zone for the third time in the game. The Oregon Ducks, taking down the Badgers, 28-27, to win, the 2020 Rose Bowl.

Finally, the play of the day comes from Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson and the outback ball, Johnson making a ridiculous one-handed snag. He gets that one foot in the back of the end zone for the score. How about the Golden Gophers this season? They end it upsetting ninth-ranked Auburn, 31-24.

Christine, if you need more college football --


WIRE: -- you have two more bowl games today. So, you can always kick your feet up and enjoy those, as well.

ROMANS: I've consumed so much football. I'm going to need a break soon. I really am.

Coy Wire, thank you so much.

All right, Laura. What's coming up?

JARRETT: All right, Christine. A New Year dawns with familiar threats renewed. Why Iran and North Korea are staring down the United States.



ROMANS: And a very fancy party at Mar-a-Lago on New Year's Eve. The first lady was asked by reporters for her New Year's resolution. She wished for peace on earth.

The president seized the moment to tell this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The country has never done better than it's doing right now. We have the best unemployment numbers. We have the best employment numbers, almost 160 million people are working. African-Americans, Asian-American, Hispanic- American, they have the best numbers in the history of our country.


ROMANS: The economy is strong. Ten years into the recovery, Americans finally believe it. Recent CNN polling shows 76 percent said that economic conditions are good. That's the highest rating in nearly two decades.

Politically, it is an advantage for the president, heading into an election, of course. He won the White House saying that the Obama economy wasn't working for everyone. That's why Democrats running for president have zeroed in on wages, health care, student debt, income inequality.

Now, my sources talking to the president, advising him, say that they want the president to pivot every moment to the economy. He's under pressure to stay on that message this election. The question is, will he?

JARRETT: Japanese prosecutors have raided the home of former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. Ghosn was living there while he was free on bail in Tokyo. He's facing trial for alleged financial misconduct before he fled to Lebanon.

Turkey's state media now reporting seven people have been detained in Istanbul on suspicion of helping Ghosn flee. "The Wall Street Journal" reports the escape was months in the making, with the help of associates. It's not clear however how Ghosn was actually able to leave the country since his passports had supposedly been confiscated.

A doctor's incredible save happens not in a hospital but in his apartment building and it's all captured on surveillance video. A dog belonging to Mohammed Ilhad's (ph) neighbor.

Look at this, gets her leash stuck in an elevator. As the doors closed, the doctor arrives just as the dog gets launched into the air when the elevator goes up. The doctor springs into action, tries desperately to break the leash before the dog chokes. The leash snaps, dropping the dog and the doctor to the ground.

JARRETT: It feels like this is the second time this has happened in just a week. I don't know where you see the videos more often, or this is actually a problem.


JARRETT: Well, 2020 is off to a very good start for one 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: And Danielle really needed a break. She's a 31-year-old single mother of three and a recovering opioid attack 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.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: 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?

JARRETT: The race for 2020 finally being waged in 2020. Pete Buttigieg with an early reminder he's a fund-raising force, and he's not the only one.

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

Good morning. Welcome to a new year. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's 29 minutes past the hour.

The U.S. and Iran appeared to be stepping back from the brink of confrontation, after days of 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.