Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Negotiators Nearing a Deal for the Release of Dozens of Hostages Held By Hamas; Microsoft Hires OpenAI Co-founder Sam Altman; Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Dies At Age 96. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 20, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, negotiators nearing a deal for the release of dozens of hostages being held by Hamas. We're going to have new details about the timing. And his sudden ouster shocked Silicon Valley. Now the founder of OpenAI Sam Altman has a new job.

And the world says good-bye to humanitarian mental health activist and "Steel Magnolias", the former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Kasie Hunt, it's Monday, November 20th, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, 12:00 noon in Gaza where the Israel Defense Forces have released surveillance video that they say shows a remote operated camera being lowered into the tunnels that Israel claims are a Hamas command center beneath the hospital.

The IDF also released video that it says shows Hamas fighters bringing two hostages into Al Shifa Hospital on October 7th. One man is forcibly marched through the main entrance, another wheeled bleeding down a hallway into a room. These are handout videos, CNN cannot independently verify these IDF claims.

CNN has learned a deal for the release of some hostages may be just days away. Sources familiar with the negotiations say a recent draft proposes a four to five-day pause in the fighting for the initial release of 50 hostages. Deputy National Security adviser Jon Finer didn't get into the details with Jake Tapper, but he did have this to say.


JON FINER, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER OF THE UNITED STATES: We think that we are closer than we have been, perhaps at any point since these negotiations began weeks ago. That there are areas of difference in this agreement that have been narrowed if not closed out entirely.


HUNT: Finer added that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. And meanwhile, doctors in southern Gaza are treating 31 Neonatal Unit babies that were evacuated from Gaza city. They say they're all fighting serious infections. Those infants were being transferred to hospitals in Egypt this morning.

And that's where CNN's Eleni Giokos is standing by. Good morning to you. What is the latest on the condition of those seriously ill babies and the plans to transfer them out of Gaza?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, as you say, all of them are fighting serious infection, that's according to the World Health Organization, and 11 of them are in critical condition. Speaking to some of the doctors inside the Emirati Hospital which there are now in -- still in Gaza, but in the southern part of Gaza.

They say that the condition right now is difficult, but it's stable, and they could deteriorate, given the fact that they might run out of electricity because of the fuel situation. So while they've evaded some of the biggest risks at Al Shifa Hospital where they've essentially been trapped, now, they're in the southern part of Gaza where medical supplies and also fuel is running short.

We know and you've spoken about Al Shifa Hospital. We know there was an IDF raid there over the past week. The Egyptian authorities have been waiting for 36 neonatal babies for over a week now. They would -- sounding the alarm bells, they were saying that every minute is absolutely critical. We know that number has now changed, Kasie, we know that it's now gone to 31 babies.

Some of them have tragically died. We don't know if they're going to be accompanied by parents. W.H.O. says only some of them have living relatives. We're still waiting to hear news of that. But what we do know is the Egyptian Health Ministry is currently at the border crossing. We know there are ambulances with ventilators as well as incubators ready for them.

They've been waiting on high alert for the whole week, and now we're seeing that they're closer to moving into Egypt where they will receive the care that they need. We know the conditions in Al Shifa has been absolutely catastrophic. And so many more patients are stuck inside. Evacuation efforts are currently under way to get more people out, but all lies on what we're seeing with these babies.

We've seen images currently from the Emirati Hospital, it is really harrowing and difficult to look at. You hear the babies crying and they need intervention right now. The Egyptians are hoping to offer that.

HUNT: All right, Eleni Giokos for us in Cairo, thank you very much for that report.


Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, it's always good to see you. I want to bring us back to some of that video we showed at the beginning, because at the end of the video, we see a closed metal door. And the IDF says that, that door under the hospital has not been opened out of fear of it being booby- trapped. What could be behind the door that we see in the IDF video? CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, good morning, Kasie.

There could be a lot of things behind that door, one supposition is that it's an armed storage facility by Hamas. That they have a lot of weapons stored behind that door. More likely, though, given the type of door that it is, it's a blast door that's designed to withstand explosions, it's possible that it contains communications gear for Hamas.

And if that's the case, that could be in line with the gear that the Israelis have reported that it's a command and control center for Hamas. There are all kinds of other possibilities, but those are the two most likely. And it could be a combination of those two. So, that's the kind of thing that we're looking at, clearly, they wanted to protect this area, Hamas did.

It's also possible that there may be other elements there of -- you know, actual troops there, actual Hamas fighters there. So, that's -- you know, that's always a possibility. But of course, the Israelis are worried that this might be a booby-trapped area so they're trying to figure out how to get in there without destroying themselves or damaging in the evidence that might be behind that door.

HUNT: Right, OK, so, we also showed on the CCTV footage that the IDF released of Hamas moving two hostages, one of them is Nepali, the other one is Thai, you see them there going through the hospital. Where might those hostages be now? And what is the fact that they came through the hospital tell you?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's hard to say where they might be now. The supposition would be that they would be in the tunnels somewhere else, perhaps, within Gaza. Of course, one other possibility, you know is that they could be behind that blast door which I don't think is likely. But you never know in a case like this. You know, as far as the fact that they came into this hospital, if everything checks out in terms of the accuracy of this video and the Israeli assertion that according -- you know, to the IDF.

That tells you that, you know, clearly, Hamas has some kind of activity at the Al Shifa Hospital. Normally, hostage takers will bring their hostages to a place that is safe for them. And it could also be a major node for them, either a headquarters-type element or some other installation that they feel that they have control over, and that's why this is particularly noteworthy.

HUNT: All right, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much for getting us started today, I really appreciate your time today. See you soon. All right, new overnight, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin makes a surprise visit to Ukraine. We're going to have a live report from Kyiv up next.

Plus, a big shift in President Biden's poll numbers when it comes to foreign policy. We'll get into that. And severe storms in the south could delay travel plans just ahead of your Thanksgiving Holiday. We'll be back in just a moment.


HUNT: Welcome back. In a show of U.S. support for Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Kyiv overnight for high-level talks with their leadership including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This is his second trip to the region since Russia's invasion. In the meantime, Ukraine's military says its forces have pushed back Russian troops at the southeastern front of Dnipro after months of a slow counteroffensive. CNN's Anna Coren joins us live from Kyiv. Anna, good morning to you. What's the goal of this unexpected trip?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kasie, this is really about showing support for Ukraine. You have to remember that this is a war that has fallen from the global news headlines because of the war in Israel. Ukraine has felt very neglected and overshadowed by what's been taking place in the Middle East. So Lloyd Austin arriving here in Kyiv in this surprise visit is really a shot in the arm.

A show of confidence and support in the timing, you know, is crucial. This comes at an incredibly difficult time in the war here. You mentioned that counteroffensive which, quite frankly, has been dismal. They have not been able to produce the results that they had hoped for, you know, those breakthroughs that the West wanted Ukraine to make.

But this is now a war of attrition on the eastern front and the southern front. That operation that you mentioned in Kherson, the Dnipro River where Ukrainian Marines have managed to cross the river and create a foothold on the left bank. I mean, this is no doubt significant. But they are coming under heavy Russian bombardment. We spoke to a Marine on an operation there last night, and during the interview, you could hear the explosions taking place around him.

He says he has not heard silence there for more than an hour. It is constant bombardment. So, this is heavy fighting taking place in the south and the east, and Lloyd Austin coming here, as I say, a show of support that America has Ukraine's back.

HUNT: All right, Anna Coren for us in Kyiv, thanks very much for that report. And President Biden is drawing a connection between the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and in Israel. Writing in a "Washington Post" op-ed this weekend, quote, "both Putin and Hamas hopes to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder.


America cannot and will not let that happen for our own national security interests and for the good of the entire world." Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster. Max, good morning, happy Monday to you. So Biden has made this point before, he's talked about it, you know, in the Oval Office address that he gave after the Israel-Hamas war started.

But this new "NBC" polls, they show that just 33 percent of Americans approve of Biden's handling of foreign policy, and that has dropped 8 points since September, only 34 percent approve of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war, clearly, trying to build support for these conflicts is a very significant challenge for him. This is especially true among young voters, if you dig into some of these numbers. What do you make of this? And what does it -- what does it spell for the West and our focus on these two challenges?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean -- I mean, raising a few eyebrows, obviously comparing Hamas to President Putin, you know, one is a prescribed terror organization, one is an internationally-recognized leader. So some controversy there, I think outside America, certainly. But in America, you've got a situation where the numbers suggest there's broad support for Israel in that war.

I think outside America, there's broad support, obviously, for the way America has backed Ukraine in that war. Biden trying to tie the two together. He's been doing this over time, hasn't he? Because he needs to get that funding to continue supporting Ukraine in that war. And to do that, he's tying it to the Israel war. That's a U.S. politics thing, and the speaker of the house largely against more Ukrainian funding.

So, it's a very complex affairs for President Biden. He wants to support Israel, he wants to support Ukraine, and he's bringing the two together. And I think that's what this op-ed speaks to. But I think this is more about Washington politics in trying to keep the funding for Ukraine going.

HUNT: Yes -- no, I mean, for sure, it absolutely is. In that, you know, the challenges in Congress, you're absolutely correct. I guess -- I mean, do you see the ties he's trying to make as being relevant here, or do you think it's a stretch?

FOSTER: Well, if you take Europe, for example, there's, you know, a broad support for Ukraine against Russia, so that's not controversial at all. The support that America has given Israel is more controversial outside America. Because there is support, obviously, for Palestinians, particularly in the Arab world. But there's a lot of support here in Europe as well.

We've seen those protests and demonstrations here. So I don't think outside America, the two wars are seen as comparables, certainly, defending freedom is very much part of the debate when supporting Ukraine. But there are two freedoms in the Middle East, which some groups here keep pointing to and there's not always a balance there in their view.

HUNT: Right, interesting. OK, Max Foster, thanks very much for being here, I'll see you tomorrow. I really appreciate it.

FOSTER: Thank you.

HUNT: Coming up next for us, Shakira, the pop star's tax fraud trial begins this morning in Spain. And after his shocking firing, the former CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman just offered a new job.


HUNT: Welcome back. We've got quick hits across America now. The OpenAI Co-founder Sam Altman has a new job three days after he was fired as CEO. Overnight, Microsoft announced they would hire Altman to lead a new advanced artificial intelligence team. There were reports over the weekend that OpenAI's board was reconsidering Altman's firing, but ultimately they decided against reversing their decision.

This morning, Shakira is on trial in Barcelona in Spain, accused of not paying more than $15 million in Spanish income taxes between 2012 and 2014. Shakira denies the allegation, insisting she didn't live in Spain during that period.

And California's I-10 freeway, one of L.A.'s vital arteries reopening last night. The Interstate was down after a massive fire last weekend. Authorities released new images of a person of interest captured on video near the time and place of the blaze. All right, now to weather, severe storms including possible tornadoes, it could all get in the way of holiday travel in the south.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar tracking all of it for us, and has the latest forecast. Allison, what can Americans expect ahead of this busy travel week?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, likely at least a few delays in terms of both in the air and on the roadways. But it's going to depend on the day because this system right here is going to be making its way across the country as we head through the holiday week. So right now, you've got some rain and snow mixed across the inter-mountain west.

And a lot of rain beginning to develop across portions of the Midwest and even some thunderstorms as you push a little bit farther south. And that's really going to be the area to watch late this afternoon and into the evening. Because as that low pressure intensifies and deepens, it's also going to help produce some severe thunderstorms across much of the Gulf Coast region, from Texas all the way over towards Alabama, late this afternoon and into the evening.

So, the main threats here are really going to be damaging winds, the potential for some tornadoes and large hail, you're talking Memphis, over towards Galveston, this includes New Orleans and Shreveport as well. But also, that area you see kind of right there in the center, this has the greatest probability of not just a tornado in general, but the potential for a strong tornado as we go through the afternoon and the evening hours.

Now, it's all part of this low-pressure system right here, but outside of this severe weather, you've also got a lot of rain that's going to be sliding across. So, if you have a connection, say today or tomorrow, especially tomorrow across Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington D.C., a lot of those big connector airports, you may encounter some delays as this system continues to slide off to the east.


Once we get to Tuesday overnight and especially Wednesday morning, now becoming more of a factor for a lot of the northeastern cities and the ones along the east coast, so do keep that in mind, too, as you go through your travel plans today, but also into tomorrow that you may encounter some delays. Also some snow up in portions mainly focused in interior New England, but those higher elevations could end up getting rather half a foot if not even more.

In terms of rain, most of these areas as this system slides through, looking at about one to two inches, but you could have a few spots to pick up three to four. And if you have travel plans out to the west, specifically L.A., you could end up having delays there, Kasie, but a different reason for the high winds.

HUNT: Got it. All right, Allison Chinchar, thank you very much for being with us this morning, I really appreciate it. All right, coming up next here, new video of what Israel claims are hostages taken by Hamas and brought into Al Shifa Hospital. Plus, former President Trump ramping up his anti-immigrant rhetoric and securing a Texas- sized endorsement. That's next.