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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

NATO Adviser From U.S. Killed In Kabul; Fiscal Cliff Hanger: Eight Days; Cliff Looms, Lawmakers On Hiatus; Obama In Hawaii For Holidays; Remembering Senator Inouye; Holiday Travel; "Call Me Crazy"; North Korean Missile Could Reach The U.S.; Heat On Hagel; Bakery Bombing in Syria

Aired December 24, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: A woman in a police uniform shoots and kills a NATO contractor in Afghanistan. We'll have details into the unusual green on blue attack in a live report.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The blame game. Republicans say the president wants the country to go off the fiscal cliff to gain political points. Are lawmakers playing chicken with your taxes?

CHO: And a winter storm may be headed your way. Who may be getting a white Christmas and what it means for your holiday travels? We'll have all of that, coming up. Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho in New York. Hi, Dana. Good morning.

BASH: Good morning, Alina. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. John and Zoraida are off today. It is 6 a.m. in the east. Let's get started.

CHO: That's absolutely right and we begin with a developing story from Kabul, Dana, where Reuters reports that an American contractor serving as an adviser to Afghan police has been shot and killed by a woman wearing an Afghan police uniform.

It appears to be the latest in the series of troubling so-called green on blue insider attacks and our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr up for us early. She joins us live from the Pentagon with more details on that.

Barbara, good morning. How unusual is this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alina, sadly this has become a story we have report so often during the year, haven't we? The details on this attack are different in one respect. As far as we know, this is a case where a woman, an Afghan woman in a police uniform conducted this shooting and killing a contractor in Kabul police headquarters.

The alliance, NATO alliance has already announced the incident, but has not said the nationality officially of the contractor involved. This typically does not happen where the perpetrator is a woman. They are going to have to determine, of course, if she really was an Afghan police officer or perhaps the uniform was stolen or she somehow came into possession of it. This has been a continuing issue in Afghanistan throughout the last several months. They've been trying to work on it. You know, get more visibility, keep an eye on things more closely, be aware of when these people who want to conduct these acts have basically infiltrated into a safe area, but again, it's happened again -- Alina.

CHO: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, thank you -- Dana.

BASH: Well, here in Washington, hope is fading for a deal before the country reaches the fiscal cliff. That is just eight days from now and we are counting really by the hour at this point until we go over the edge.

Congress and the president, they are not here. They have stopped trying for now. They're home from the holidays and not that optimistic about a Christmas miracle to prevent us from falling off that fiscal cliff. Just listen to retiring Senator Joe Lieberman yesterday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel it's more likely we will go over the cliff than not, and that -- if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever, in American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president. She joins us from the enviable assignment of Honolulu, Hawaii this morning. Good morning, Bri.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Dana. And as you know, even though members of Congress and the president are on vacation, they can still talk, right?

Well, true, however, they are not talking. At least the people who matter are not perhaps the lines of communication are open between the White House and Senate Democrats.

But the White House at this point is not in discussion with not only Speaker John Boehner, but also the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell and perhaps because of that, you have some of that pessimism of Senator Lieberman being shared by Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all this additional tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years and he gets to blame Republicans for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, all eyes are now on the Senate, which will reconvene on Thursday. It's seen as likely that President Obama will head back to Washington from Hawaii here. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, as you know, Dana, now has the task of trying to conjure up something that might be able to pass the House in addition to the Senate publicly.

The White House is still saying they want tax rates to remain in effect only for those making up to $250,000 per year. But it's unclear if that's something. Very unclear, very unquestioned that House Republicans could swallow that and because of that we're hearing from Democrats and Republicans a significant possibility that we go over the fiscal cliff.

BASH: Absolutely. Both sides are saying that. You know, you just played that sound bite from John Barrosso, who is, of course, a Republican saying it's politically expedient for the president to go off the cliff.

But I'm sure you're hearing what I'm hearing that it's both sides at this point are saying, you know what? Maybe it's better to go off the cliff and then taxes for everybody will go up.

And then politically what members of Congress will be able or have to vote on are tax cuts as opposed to now, which will be tax increases, which are much harder votes to take. What do you think about that?

KEILAR: That's right. Because the tax hikes are going to happen whether or not Congress acts, so the school of thought here is that if Republicans and Democrats were to allow this just to happen, then they could vote for infect only tax cuts, not be on the record voting for tax hikes.

Now for the very staunch anti-tax folks, it's unclear if that would really pass muster with them, but certainly this is something being considered you know, Dana.

BASH: Absolutely. I'm sure the markets are not going to like that. Brianna, thank you so much. Good to see you.

Now while in Hawaii, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama paid their respects to late Senator Daniel Inouye at a memorial service on Sunday in Honolulu. Inouye was a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor winner.

He died last week from a respiratory illness. He was 88 years old. Following that ceremony, the president went to visit the grave of his own grandfather, Stanley Dunnom, a World War II vet who is buried at the very same cemetery.

CHO: Highest ranking U.S. official of Asian-American descent. He certainly will be missed and remembered as he was on Sunday.

Well, it's Christmas eve, of course, it's crunch time for holiday travelers. A big storm out west has delayed some travel plans. Heavy rains and high winds have been slamming the San Francisco bay area and there has been snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, lots of it.

Some other areas across the country can also expect a white Christmas. That's good news for some people especially skiers. Our Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN Weather Center with a look at your holiday forecast. Hi, Bonnie. Good morning. Good to see you.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good to see you as well, Alina. You know, some people are getting a white Christmas or Christmas Eve. Others are going to see a wet and stormy one. We're seeing that across the south this morning. You will see some heavy downpours sliding through Nashville, Tennessee this morning and Knoxville.

Even here in Atlanta, we're getting some heavy rain. Waking up to temperatures also that are much colder in many locations. While you're above freezing in New York City, that colder air is on the way. Erie, Pennsylvania, 29 degrees and get ready, you are looking at a white Christmas for sure.

We also have some bitterly cold temperatures for those of you that are traveling. Bundle up if you're heading to the northern plains. Temperatures are below freezing in many locations and below zero in others. You can see we only have 1 degrees there in South Dakota.

So the cold air will be in place across the northern plains. As the front advances it will slide eastward and do a number of things for Christmas Eve. We are looking at severe storms possibly for areas of Beaumont, Texas, and Houston as well.

And then as the front side eastward, we are anticipating more delays possibly for tomorrow. So I actually think the weather will be worse in the east than today. If you're traveling, watch out for cities you see here, we may see some light snow in places like Denver and certainly more measurable snow for Salt Lake City.

But as we go through the forecast period into tomorrow, Christmas day, you will find the risk for not only stormy weather, but dangerous conditions if you're traveling across the gulf coast.

Notice the cold air wrapping around, we're going to see some wet weather and snowy conditions for parts of the mid-south. Heavy snow for Cleveland and yes, you may even see some snow north of New York City on Christmas day -- Alina.

CHO: The 93.3 million people traveling 50 miles or more. You are the most popular person at the network today. Bonnie Schneider, thanks so much -- Dana.

BASH: It looks like it's going to be a wet Christmas for us, Alina. Well, other top stories that we're following this morning. Some top Republicans are refusing to back the NRA's call for armed officers at every American school.

But it's not stopping the group's CEO from doubling down on the idea. Wayne Lapierre told NBC's "Meet the Press," it's the only way to keep our kids safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: If it's crazy to call for police in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. I'll tell you what. I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Well, top Republicans have come out against the idea of armed officers at every school. Most are resisting tighter gun laws.

CHO: The last of the Sandy Hook Elementary School students killed in the Newtown massacre have been laid to rest, 6-year-old Emilie Parker and Anna Marquez Green and 7-year-old Josephine Gay were buried this weekend. U.S. and Connecticut flags were at full staff yesterday for the first time since that shooting.

BASH: Well, this part of the world Alina that you've been in and that is North Korea. A rocket launch in North Korea earlier this month had the capability to travel 6,000 miles. That means one could conceivably reach the U.S.

That's the assessment of three officials in South Korea's Defense Ministry based in part -- on a part that they recovered from one of the rockets boosters. South Korea's military says the evidence shows its nuclear neighbor's intent and progress in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

CHO: Well, President Obama has not even nominated former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his choice for secretary of defense, but Hagel already taking some heat from lawmakers over his past positions on Iran and 2007 interview when he said that, quote, "Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: I would have serious questions to ask him, not just about Israel, but to me the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and its nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes. I like Chuck, but his positions, I really didn't know all of them, frankly are really out of the main stream and well to left of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Hagel has also been the subject of a new ad opposing his possible nomination for defense secretary. Dana, of course, this is your neck of the woods, so what do you think? He might not sail through like John Kerry, but is he going to get the votes you think?

BASH: I think at this point, the question is whether or not he is even going to get the nomination given the comments he displayed especially from Republicans. Remember, he was a Republican senator. You know, the Senate is a club, and so generally, they like to promote from within -- you know, give props to the members of the club. But Senator Hagel was not one of the most popular members of the club and I think that's coming out right now.

CHO: And John Kerry was and is as you well know. All right, Dana, coming up, a devastating story to tell you about this morning. More than 100 people killed when a bakery is bombed in Syria. We'll have the very latest on the devastation and why the government is firing on its own people next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to EARLY START.

The U.N. special envoy to Syria speaking with President Bashar al- Assad, in the wake of another gruesome day in the country. In the country-- in what the U.N. special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said afterward, here's what he said.

He said, "We have exchanged opinions about the possible steps that can we taken in the future. The Syrian president spoke about his view regarding the situation. I also talked about the meetings I had abroad in several cities with various officials in the region and outside the region. I also talked about which steps I see appropriate to be taken to help the Syrian people get out of this crisis."

Now, the meeting happened after more than 100 people who had gone without bread for one week were killed as they lined up at a bakery. The death toll is expected to go up. It's again now at 100. Opposition activists say Syrian warplanes bombed them.

You must be warned. This video you're about to see is extremely graphic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A voice filled with horror, a scene full of carnage. "A massacre in Halfaya," screams the man.

They targeted the bakery -- a bakery where hungry Syrians had been standing in line to get bread.

One eye witness reached via Skype described the grisly aftermath.

HASSAN AL RAJB, ACTIVIST (through translator): From 200 meters away, I could see corpses as I walked towards the bakery. The people can not be described. Bodies piled on top of each other. It was an impossible scene. There is no word to describe it.

JAMJOOM: Al Rajb, who says he was one of the first on the scene, filmed this video. The wounded are carried away as rebels and civilians dig up mangled corpses from the rubble. Shock and grief quickly turn to anger.

"Where are you, world?" asks this man, pointing to the destruction. "Come see the bodies. They were waiting for bread."

Activists tell CNN this town in Hama province is full of anti-regime sentiment.

AL RAJB: Halfaya was liberated a week ago, but regime surrounded it completely. Cutting us off from the world. Nothing was allowed in or out. Even water and bread were cut off. Today, we were able to reach an aid organization and we were able to obtain dough.

JAMJOOM: He says they were able to open one of the town's bakeries around 1:00 p.m. and that the rockets struck just hours later.

As nearby hospitals quickly filled up, activists began pleading for help.

(on camera): Now, as more and more rebel groups promise retaliation for this attack, fears mount that the unceasing violence in Syria, which already claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people, will only get worse.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Well, a just released poll numbers show a majority of Americans say the U.S. and other countries should not get involved in Syria. Fifty-two percent say they're against the idea of using U.S. or other countries military airplanes and missiles to try and establish safe zones for the Syrian opposition. Forty-three percent are for the idea, 55 percent say the U.S. and other countries should not send weapons or military supplies. But a whopping 80 percent are very concerned or somewhat concerned about what's going on there.

CHO: It's 18 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up-to-date on the rest of today's top stories.

Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho has issued an apology after being arrested and charged for driving under the influence in Alexandria, Virginia. Crapo was arrested early Saturday morning after failing a sobriety test. Police say the Idaho Republican was pulled over after being spotted running a red light.

A senior Navy SEAL commander's death is now being investigated as an apparent suicide. Military personnel in Afghanistan found Navy Commander Job Price's body after he didn't show up at an appointed time. He was serving as the commanding officer of a special warfare unit called SEAL Team Four. Right now, there are no indications that Price was involved in any military-related investigations or controversies.

BASH: Well, some disappointing news for the former President George H.W. Bush. It looks like he will not make it home for the holidays. He has been hospitalized with a lingering cough since last month. Doctors in Houston say he needs to build up his energy before they will consider releasing him. At 88, he is the oldest living former president. CHO: A woman --

BASH: A woman is attracting big crowds with this Griswold-worthy Christmas. Check this out. Check out that Christmas display. Jan Stewart (ph) has more than 65,000 lights synced with holiday music at her home in Fountain Valley, California.

She says it's a tribute to her late husband, but some her neighbors say it's like living next door to the Vegas Strip -- just a bit over the top.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More appropriate for the Las Vegas Strip than for a residential area. Most of the houses do have Christmas decorations, we're not opposed to that, but it's just very bright, very intrusive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Stewart has already been ticketed for the noise and she's trying to keep the volume down.

CHO: And a cyber war with Santa in the middle of you and your little ones want to keep tabs on Santa. You now have options, not one, but Santa trackers. That's right. The ever reliable stand by at NORAD at noradsanta.org.

And, Dana, right now, that shows him leaving Russia and headed or Turabati (ph).

Google's new version which includes games and activities, of course, are going to make it more fun. Find it at Google.com/santatracker.

BASH: I don't know, Alina. You know, I'm attempted to go old school and go with NORAD.

But, you know, Google Map is not bad. You remember --

CHO: I'm guessing you really not going to use either, Dana, but OK.

BASH: If I were, for me to give advice, even though Apple had to get Google Maps back on the iPad after they got rid of it, because it was no good.

CHO: That's right. Many, many people were not happy. It does work. All right.

BASH: All right. Well, next, big stock market sell-off on Friday. We'll see if there's going to be more of the same this morning. Just eight days until the fiscal cliff, we'll look at what the uncertainty in Washington means for the markets and your 401(k).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Very chilly and dark New York City.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It's 25 minutes this hour.

Minding your business this morning. Investors are heading into a short holiday week, worried about a fiscal cliff deal. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures all pointing to a lower open. It's a shortened trading day today. Markets close at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Gas prices have dropped by nearly 12 cents over the last two weeks. The average cost of a gallon of regular is now $3.26. That's according to the latest Lundberg Survey. In the last 11 weeks, gas prices have fallen by 58 cents a gallon. Publisher Tribly Lundberg says lower prices at the pump are not likely to continue. She says we can see an increase of 5 or 10 cents per gallon soon, due to increasing crude oil prices.

A potentially big snag for transport and trade. Close to 15,000 workers at 15 ports from Boston to Houston on the verge of going on strike. The International Longshoreman Association has been bargaining with shippers and port operators since March and a contract extension expires on the 29th.

Well, you've heard about the fiscal cliff. What about the dairy cliff? That's what dairy farmers and milk producers are calling the dairy subsidies set to expire next week.

Unless Congress extends this legislation, you could be seeing milk prices double next year to about $7 a gallon, 7 bucks a gallon. And with Congress' attention on the fiscal cliff, it could take a few weeks to address this. So, you might want to stock up on milk while the prices are still lower this week.

Coming up, a winter storm could become a big problem for millions of travelers. What you need to know before heading out this Christmas Eve, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Congress and the president are on vacation, and there's still no deal on the fiscal cliff. Why one top Democrat thinks we're going to careen right off the edge.

CHO: Numbers show Egyptians approve a constitution, but the fight is not over yet. Why the leading opposition plans to fight it.