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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: President Zelenskyy In Washington, Pleading For Aid; Israel Warns Hezbollah To Pull Back Forces To Avert War; Supporters, Attorneys Say They've Lost Contact With Alexei Navalny; Storm Wraps In Northeast, New System In The West. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, President Zelenskyy in Washington with a warning. Putin could win if Congress doesn't help.

Plus, the path to impeachment. Republicans take a key step today, even though they failed so far to find any direct evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.

And, is former President Trump immune from prosecution? The U.S. Supreme Court will now have to rule on this fundamental question in the election subversion case.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Tuesday, December 12th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, where in just hours, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will start a series of meetings on Capitol Hill with senators and members of the House.

He'll be urging them to pass billions in proposed military aid to his country that have been hung up over Republican demands for major changes to Biden administration border policy. Speaking to national security officials yesterday, Zelenskyy said the big winner of a stalemate in Washington is Russia.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: If there is anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it's just Putin, and his sick clique.


HUNT: Zelenskyy's visit here is a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate as Republicans and Democrats each refused to budge on rolling border policy back to something closer to what we saw in the Trump era.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us now live from London. Clare, good morning.

CNN has reported that there's only about two billion dollar still available in aid to Ukraine. What happens after that? I mean, can Ukraine hope to hold off Russia without this money?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it doesn't look good, Kasie. It's not that clear cut. I think Ukraine wouldn't immediately collapse. Obviously, there's a difference between holding off Russian in terms of defending and attacking but conventional military wisdom is that to successfully attack, you need something like three times the number of equipment and forces to do that. And we have now seen that that there has not been a significant breakthrough frankly, on either side for a year, since Ukraine took back the city of Kherson in November of 2022.

So, look, the U.S. is by far the biggest player when it comes to military aid, some $44 billion so far. It's pretty much as much as everyone else in the world combined, every other donor country. Not only that, but it's a catalyst for other countries to provide sort of political cover for European countries to sort of step in and offer the same kind of aid.

So, a really, really important player in all of this, and potentially critical. Zelenskyy has said this before. His wife even warning last week, if the world gets tired, they say that they will simply let us die.

And the other hand, we have Russia, which still outnumbers Ukraine in terms of its military in pretty much every metric, and is not a static enemy. It has been learning from this. It's been able to erode the advantage that Ukraine got from some of those Western weapons by coming out with new ways of the thwarting them like electronic warfare, for example.

So, all of this combined, the fact that we are going into winter now with Russia stepping up attack, it shows why Zelenskyy was willing to take the risk of making this trip.

HUNT: All right. Clare Sebastian for us in London, thanks very much for that report.

And the U.N. General Assembly is set to vote on a resolution today, demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, as the humanitarian crisis there worsens.


HUNT: Israel's defense minister claims the last two Hamas stronghold in northern Gaza are now surrounded. Heavy fighting also reported in the south after Israel's military expanded their offensive there. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have warned Hezbollah to pull back as clashes increase at the northern border with Lebanon.

Journalist Elliott Gotkine joins us live from London.

Elliott, good morning.

Tell us what's happening there for the Israelis to issue this warning.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kasie, I think ever since the start of this war and October the 7th, after the Hamas massacre took place and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed proxy in Lebanon, started firing towards Israel. It's been a concern that Israel's retaliation to those firing from Hezbollah could lead to an escalation of a new front in that war, which could then have wider implications for the border region.

Just today, we've seen more firing from Hezbollah, from Lebanon, towards Israel, and Israel retaliating. And there was a conversation between Benny Gantz, he's a member of the war cabinet. He spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and said and warned that if this continues, Israel will have to respond against saying that the international community must act to ensure the state of Lebanon stops such aggression along its borders.


Now, of course, the last time there was a major flood between Israel and Hezbollah was in 2006, resulting in thousands of deaths. And Israeli officials and lawmakers have been warning since October the 7th, for the past two months, that if Hezbollah crosses the line, we don't know where that line is, clearly, it hasn't been crossed just yet. But it does cross that line, then it will bring destruction upon Lebanon.

Israel doesn't want to open a new front in the north. International community clearly doesn't want it. Ultimately, it could depend on the instructions or what Iran says or encourages Hezbollah to do.

But, clearly, we have seen an uptick of at least five Israeli soldiers being killed in the last month and there are concerns it could get worse there -- Kasie.

HUNT: Indeed. Al right. Elliott Gotkine for us in London, thank you very much for that.

Still ahead here, the Supreme Court now fast-tracking a ruling on whether Donald Trump can be prosecuted.

Plus, where in the world is Alexei Navalny? What the jailed Russian opposition leader's lawyers are saying about his disappearance?

And later, border crisis an immigration reform with Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.



HUNT: Welcome back.

There is growing concern in Russia and here in Washington this morning over the sudden disappearance of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Lawyers for the 47-year-old imprisoned Putin critics say he didn't appear yesterday that this court scheduled appearance, and they've not been able to find him at either one of the penal colonies where he's supposed to be.

Overnight, a spokesperson for the Russian prison system told Navalny's attorneys he was no longer at the IK9 colony, but claimed not to know where he was taken. And there's added worry that Navalny is not in good health.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Berlin.

Fred, good morning. You've covered Navalny for years. What does this tell us? What do we know?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly tells us it's pretty difficult to get any sort of answers out of the Russian prison system. And, you know, you mentioned some of the stages that Navalny's lawyers have gone through and trying to find Alexei Navalny.

It really is even worse than that because for a while, the prison services putting out this narrative that allegedly wasn't showing up to these meetings by video link because of some sort of power outage in the prison that he was supposed to be. And then only now are they admitting that he is actually no longer in that prison. But at the same time, not saying which prison he's been transferred to.

Now, one of the things, Kasie, that we do need to mention is that he was up to be transferred to a different jail, which is supposed to be an even tougher jailed in the one that he has been in so far. We know he spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. You just mentioned very correctly that he has had some serious health issues. In fact, a spokeswoman said yesterday that he fainted in his cell last week and had to be put on an IV.

So, at this point in time, he is supposed to be transferred to a different jail. It's not clear where that is though and whether or not he is already there. This is actually something that's not that uncommon in the Russian presence system, that during that time of transfer, that prisoners do not have any sort of communication with the outside world or not allowed to communicate. It's actually something that happened to Alexey Navalny the last time that he was transferred to the jail he was supposed to be in now.

So, it's not unheard of. Nevertheless, there are some pretty big concerns because all of this is happening pretty much at the same time that Vladimir Putin announced he was running for reelection again. There is also a campaign by Alexey Navalny's supporters against having Vladimir Putin elected once again. So, that is also out there. One

of the things I also want to mention is that you mentioned that the U.S. is very concerned about the whereabouts of Alexey Navalny. We just heard from a spokesman from the Kremlin who said that this is none of the America's business and accused America of meddling in Russia's domestic affairs -- Kasie.

HUNT: I see. All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much for that report.

So, let's take a moment to step back and look at all of these Russian related developments with kind of a wider lens. As we just heard, even lawyers for the opposition leader, Navalny, they don't know where he is.

The American journalist, Evan Gorsuch of "The Wall Street Journal" has been stuck in a Moscow jail for 258 days and counting. Vladimir Putin's critics, even billionaire former cronies, they fall out of windows or they die under mysterious circumstances with some degree of regularity.

And now, Ukraine's president is in Washington practically begging lawmakers to renew military aid.


ZELENSKYY: Putting must lose -- must lose so that everyone else who sees Russia's war on Ukraine as his personal lecture at the so-called university of aggression gets the message loud and clear. Putin must lose.


HUNT: Max Foster is live for us in London.

Max, I think that sort of lays out the stakes pretty clearly here, now? As Republicans in Washington dig in.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, you got the immediate picture, haven't you, where this Ukrainian aid is being tied to U.S. border policy and this domestic issue. He has a find some sort of way through that with Biden. So, you know, that big meeting today with House Speaker, extremely important, to Ukraine and to Europe.

But then you got the bigger picture. It's also looking into trying to explore with American politicians. And this is -- this idea that Russia, if you allow Russia, to invade another country and take territory, and that sets a really wearing precedent. Not just that it's trying to do it, but it's being allowed.


So, then you got countries like Finland, where there's genuine concern that they may be invaded if Russia succeeds with invading Ukraine and taking that land, in the longer term. And these are American allies. If you undermine American allies, you undermine American national security.

These are sort of arguments I suspect he's going to go into. And there is a very current example that we can point to much more closer to home, which is Venezuela's claim over Guyana, will Venezuela be pushing that if Russia hadn't gotten away with invading Ukraine? I think that is a very different story that he can really sheds light on, simply because the biggest company exploring oil in Guyana, which is what Venezuela is interested in is Exxon. So, again, you're seeing a U.S. interest being undermined --

HUNT: Right.

FOSTER: -- by a movement, which might not of happen if Putin hadn't tried this.

HUNT: Right. So, Max, I mean, the fundamental dynamic here, and, you know, James Lankford is a Republican, very conservative Republican, but someone who Democrats typically believed is negotiating in good faith, basically saying, I can't go home to my constituents and say, I'm willing to help out these other countries across the globe, but I'm not going to help out for my own country by protecting the southern border, right?

And again, it's an immigration relay to think. The politics feel familiar to me. I mean, do you recognize that in terms of how -- I mean, this seems to be part of a broader story about the fracturing of the West and it's kind of an inward turn.

FOSTER: Yeah, nationalism rising up everywhere, really, and being more interested in domestic affairs because they're generally problems domestically and having less of an eye on global events. And it's a lack of intervention I think that you're seeing here, particularly from America. Obviously, America is still the world's policeman but there's a lack of will domestically to continue with that, and that does have these global repercussions and allows countries like Russia to take advantage of it.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure.

All right. Max Foster, thanks very much. I really appreciate it. See you tomorrow, my friend.

FOSTER: Thanks, See.

HUNT: Still ahead here, a high-profile Texas abortion case may cause ripple effects in post-war -- Roe America.

And Harvard University bracing for a decision on the future of its president. We'll have those details up next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Quick hits across America now.

The Supreme Court has agreed to special counsel Jack Smith's request for a ruling on whether former President Donald Trump could be prosecuted in the federal elections subversion case or if he has immunity. Team Trump has until December 20th to submit a response.

Attorneys for Kate Cox say the Texas woman has left the state to obtain an abortion. Hours later, the state's Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling authorizing her to get an instate abortion. The court agreeing with the state attorney general that Cox's pregnancy was not life-threatening.

Harvard's governing body is expected to finalize a decision on its president, Claudine Gay, as soon as today. Gay has been under fire following her remarks on countering antisemitism at a congressional hearing last week. Hundreds of faculty members have rallied to her defense.

All right. Now, let's get to weather. Storms wrap up in the Northeast, bringing warmer weather to the region later on this week. But, we've got a new storm brewing in the West, from Colorado to New Mexico and west Texas.

Here to break it all down for us, our weatherman, Derek Van Dam.

Derek, good morning.


Yeah, you know, it's -- compared to this weekend, this is going to be a walk in the park across the Northeast. So, that's the goodness. So, we'll kind of ease into the rest of the work week with slightly warmer temperatures than what we've experienced yesterday. And slightly better conditions, and I say a major improvement because we don't anticipate the rain and the snow that we saw.

So, here's a look at your temperatures. We're running above average, maybe a dip in the temperature for the Northeast tomorrow. But in the meantime, enjoy, right where we should be this time of year for places like Atlanta, all the way to D.C.

But talking about the storm that was, it produced a lot of rain, right along that I-95 corridor. And, of course, on the north side of that, the cold air produced a snowfall for the higher terrain of New York, Vermont as well as New Hampshire.

Check of some of these snowfall totals, exceeding a foot in Upstate New York, impressive for Vermont as well. Equally impressive were the winds. You probably felt that as you stepped outside of Monday morning.

But that system is long gone. So like I said, this is a walk in the park today. Much clearer skies overhead. The winds will not be as breezy as what we experienced yesterday. No real concerns in terms of travel, maybe a few flurries entering the equation by middle of the work week for Upstate New York and into northern New England. But not a major concern.

So there is the cold front. That's going to allow for that brief dip in our temperatures. Casey mentioned the new developing storm that we're going to keep our eye on. That is going to form near the four corners and into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle. So this is going to be a rain and snow maker, depending on where you are located. We do believe it will be generally rain across Texas. But on the cold

side, in the higher elevations of Arizona, into southern Colorado, perhaps a bit of much-needed snowfall running a bit below average for this area. You can see that relief to the drought conditions expected to come across the central parts of the U.S. -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, thank you very much for that. I'll see you tomorrow, my friend.

VAN DAM: Have a great day.

HUNT: You too.

VAN DAM: All right.

HUNT: Just ahead, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy in the U.S. to press for more money and meet with President Biden.

And a deep dive into Biden rival and Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips and his campaign for president in 2024.



HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt, just before 5:30 here on the East Coast.

The president of Ukraine is on 11th hour visit to Washington this morning. Eleventh hour because he's here to plead with lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine at the very last-minute. Negotiations on Capitol Hill have stalled over Republican demands to roll U.S. border policy back to something like it was late in the Trump administration, which Democrats are refusing to do.

And the clock is ticking. There are only about two billion dollars left in previously approved aid to Ukraine. Zelenskyy is here, trying to win converts and break the stalemate, but the battle lines have hardened.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We understand the crisis there. I understand the necessity of ensuring that Vladimir Putin does not prevail in Ukraine and march through Europe.

I explain to him that while w understand that, I've made my position very clear, literally, since the day I was handed the gavel, that we have to take care of our border first.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Republicans and only Republicans are holding everything up because of unrealistic maximalist demands.