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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

NATO Adviser from U.S. Killed in Kabul; Fiscal Cliff Finger- Pointing; Egypt's Opposition Plans Fight; "Newsweek" Releases Last Print Issue; United Way Raises Millions for Newtown; Wounded Veterans' Christmas Wishes

Aired December 24, 2012 - 06:30   ET

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


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

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And the winter storm is headed east. And it could wreak havoc for lots of travelers today. Now, we know what you need.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. Very chilly in New York City this morning. I'm Alina Cho.

Good morning, Dana. What is it like it there in D.C.?

BASH: Good morning. It's a little rough. Probably not as cool as it is up north, but I am in D.C. and John and Zoraida are off today.

It is now 30 minutes past the hour.

The latest on a developing story from Kabul. Afghanistan's capital city, the scene of another apparent green on blue killing. NATO confirming an American contractor serving as an advisor to the Afghan police were shot and killed, this happened this morning, by a woman wearing an Afghan police uniform. There have been dozens of attacks this year involving Afghan officers and NATO personnel. This would be the first by a woman. The suspect is in custody. So far, the victim's name is being withheld.

CHO: This wasn't on our Christmas list, but it's starting to look like all of our stockings will be stuffed with a tax hike and spending cuts. It is crunch time. Just eight days left until America goes off the fiscal cliff. With both sides on holiday break, all we're getting is finger-pointing.

Some Republicans say the scenario that's unfolding is part of a White House scheme.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. 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 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)

CHO: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar traveling with the president. She joins us live from Honolulu, Hawaii. But I suspect, Brianna, that this is a working vacation for the president.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is somewhat of a working vacation. Of course, he is always keeping his on eye on things. But there's not a whole lot going on to tell you the truth when it comes to the fiscal cliff. There are not a lot of discussions going on.

Of course, the White House is talking to Senate Democrats, but the White House no longer really having any substantive conversations with House Speaker John Boehner or now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will be key in finding something to get through the Senate and perhaps, because of that, I guess some of that pessimism that you are hearing from Republicans like Senator Barrasso, shared by Democrats. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel that it's more likely that 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)

KEILAR: So all eyes now on the Senate, which will reconvene on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now has the task of trying to cobble something together that can get through, not only the Senate, probably with Republican support, but also through the House of Representatives with some Republican support. The White House still publicly saying they want the threshold for tax cuts to remain at $250,000 and below for folks to see tax cuts preserved.

But what we are hearing Alina from both sides here, Democrats and Republicans, is there is a significant possibility we go over the fiscal cliff. And I think -- what is it they are saying? Merry cliff-mas?

CHO: Yes, they are. "The USA Today" editorial today, "'Twas the night before cliff-mas." Absolutely right.

Brianna, listen, I think as you well know, the president has been saying that at this point, there will be no grand bargain. That, obviously, they're just hoping for some sort of measure to stop us from going over the fiscal cliff. Having said that, what is the smart thinking on that? Do you think that will happen? And if so, will the president come back early from Hawaii to deal with it?

KEILAR: It's -- the thinking on it is very much up in the air. It's unclear what is going to happen, there's a thought that will people's paychecks be affected right away? No. If we were to go over the cliff, of course, the markets are going to be very much affected. It's unclear what credit rating agencies would do.

President Obama is officially here through the New Year, but I think the safe money is on betting that he's going to be heading back to Washington, because if something is to pass the Senate, Alina, it's going to take some arm-twisting and it's going to take it from the big guy.

CHO: That's right. All right. The big guy is right.

Brianna Keilar, live for us in Honolulu, Hawaii, where you can actually hear I think the waves crashing behind you. Brianna, great assignment. We'll talk to you later on -- Dana.

BASH: That must be nice.

Well, we expect to find out on the official results of Egypt's constitutional referendum today. Unofficial results of the second round of voting published by state-run media show a commanding 64 percent of Egyptians approved the constitution, which was drafted by an assembly dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ian Lee is following developments.

Ian, what's the latest?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, we're hearing now that they're going to postpone the announcements of the results of the constitutional referendum until tomorrow, but this is still a very contentious process. We're seeing opposition file two legal challenges. The first one is looking at the irregularities they say took place during two days of voting. The other one, they're challenging the referendum itself, saying that it was illegal, saying that they didn't follow the guidelines previously set up.

So, the opposition is still very much challenging the process. They're also getting ready for the parliamentary elections which are supposed to take place within two months. The opposition is trying to show a united force in that parliament reelection. In the past, we've seen them very much divided.

BASH: Ian Lee, thank you. Another piece of evidence that democracy is not always clean. It's often very messy. Thanks, Ian.

CHO: Well, Dana and I will be working. But it's Christmas Eve, of course, and across the country, many travelers rushing to reach their final destinations on time. Big storm out west is delayed some of those travel plans.

Heavy rains and high winds have been slamming the San Francisco Bay Area and lots of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Some other areas across the country are also going to experience a white Christmas. Our Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN weather center with a look at the holiday weather forecast. What's it looking like, Bonnie, for all those people who are on the roads and, rails, and planes, trains, automobiles today?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A lot of people, Alina, you are right. And they are going to encounter all types of extreme weather today and tomorrow.

Right now, heavy rain, stormy activity all the way from Birmingham, Alabama, through Knoxville, Tennessee , and then backs eastward towards Greensboro, North Carolina, and even into Roanoke, Virginia. All of these places seeing heavy rain it will get worse tomorrow.

So, if you're driving or traveling on Christmas Day, I just want to give you the heads up. We're looking at possibly dangerous conditions across parts of Louisiana, into Mississippi and even into Alabama. And you can see, we're looking at the stormy threat as far to the north as Atlanta as well.

Currently this morning in the Northeast, temperatures are noticeably cold. You can see we have them in the 20s, in Providence at 27 degrees. You are slightly above freezing in New York City. I know Alina you mentioned that it's feeling brisk there and it is, we're going to see temperatures staying very cold there as we go through the holiday. But not as cold as these numbers here.

Right now, this morning, bitterly cold, below zero in Minot, North Dakota. As well as Bismarck, well below zero. So bundle up if you are headed to the Plains for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

You know, as we look to today's forecast, strong storms overnight through Texas and Louisiana. Out to the west, we are anticipating snow. So, what does that mean for air travelers? No delays right now, but these are the cities we anticipate delays as we go through the day today, most of them should be under an hour.

If you are looking for a ski trip in Utah, you're going to get beneficial snow there. Watch out for snow as well in western Oklahoma. Stormy conditions as we go through the forecast for Christmas Day in New Orleans, as I mentioned to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and possibly some snow showers as well the day after Christmas in the Northeast and heavier snow in the Great Lakes -- Alina.

CHO: Bonnie, all I have to say, it's a good thing we're working, because, you know, we don't have to be outside and have mess traveling on vacation.

SCHNEIDER: I agree.

CHO: All right. Bonnie Schneider, thanks so much.

Dana, and the same I would say to you. It's a good thing we're working.

BASH: I was thinking the same thing. You absolutely read my mind. You know, just have to get in the car and come here and go back after that.

CHO: That's right.

BASH: Well, there's a bit of history we are about to have here and that is in journalism history. "Newsweek", it is saying goodbye to print. We're going to take a look at the last cover ever, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Forty-two minutes after the hour. Get you update on this morning's top stories.

Police in India have locked down a large section of New Delhi following two days of violent street protests. Demonstrators clashing with police, demanding justice for a 23-year-old woman who was beaten and gang raped on a bus. Security is especially tight today with Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting the country.

BASH: And the NRA is making clear they're not about to consider tighter gun laws in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. The group CEO Wayne LaPierre repeated his school for an armed officer in every school in America, and that has Newark Mayor Cory Booker fired up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK: I don't know if anybody has ever seen somebody shot. I have. I don't know if anybody here has had to put their hand in somebody's chest and try to stop the bleeding so somebody doesn't die. I have.

And what's frustrating about this debate is this is a false debate. It's a false debate. This is a convenient trick to try to divide our country, where most of us in America, including gun owners, agree on things that would stop the carnage that's going on in cities all over America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Booker is offering up an array of ideas, including universal background checks and tighter anti-trafficking laws. Newark's mayor also announced last week that he is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Now, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has responded to an interview request from a Pennsylvania newspaper with a letter from prison, written on a small scrap of paper. Sandusky says he wants to talk to the "Citizens Voice" newspaper but he's been told to keep quiet by his attorneys as they appeal his conviction for sexually abusing at least 10 boys.

In a letter, Sandusky says he spends 23 hours a day inside his cell at a super maximum security prison 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

CHO: Really, it's the end of an era. "Newsweek" has released the cover for its final print edition. It features an archive photo of the former "Newsweek" offices in New York, mixing the old and new, the cover reads, "#lastprintissue".

"Newsweek" editor Tina Brown says the magazine simply could no longer afford to keep producing that print version. It will continue in the New Year as a digital-only publication.

BASH: And in sports, the Seattle Seahawks making a statement, stopping the division rival 49ers on Sunday night football, 42-13. The rookie Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes and the Hawks ran back and blocked a field goal 90 yards for another score. Seattle clinched a playoff place with this -- major, major rally.

CHO: Elves and dwarves working Tom Cruise at the box office. "The Hobbit" topping the box office for the second week in a row, earning an estimated $37.6 million. Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher" simply a no match. It was a distant and very disappointing second place with $15.6 million. And the adult comedy "This is 40" opened in third, pulling in 12 million bucks.

I have to say I do want to see that film. Got to love Judd Apatow.

BASH: Oh, yes.

CHO: Well, helping the victims of Newtown, you're going to hear about the incredible outpouring of support for a community trying to heal. They have raised nearly $3 million so far, Dana.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: 42 minutes after the hour, get you up to date on this morning's top stories. Police in India have locked down a large section of New Delhi following two days of violent street protests. Demonstrators clashing with police, demanding justice for a 23-year-old woman beaten and gang raped on a bus. Security is especially tight today with Russian president Vladimir Putin visiting the country.

BASH: The NRA is making clear they are not about to consider tighter gun laws in the wake of the Newtwon school massacre. The group's CEO Wayne La Pierre repeated his call for armed officers in every school in America. That has Newark mayor Cory Booker fired up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORY BOOKER, MAYOR, NEWARK NEW JERSEY: I don't know if anybody here has ever seen somebody shot. I have. I don't know if anybody here has had to put their hand in somebody's chest and try to stop the bleeding so somebody doesn't die. I have. And what frustrates me about this debate is this is a false debate. It's a false debate. This is a convenient trick to try to divide our country, where most of us in America, including gun owners agree on things that would stop the kind of carnage going on in cities all over America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Booker is offering up an array of gun control ideas, including universal background checks and tighter anti-trafficking laws. Newark's mayor also announced last week that he is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Former Penn state defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, has responded to an interview request from a Pennsylvania newspaper with a letter from prison, written on a small scrap of paper. Sandusky says he wants to talk to the "Citizen's Voice" newspaper but told to keep quiet by his attorneys as they appeal his conviction for sexually abusing at least ten boys. In the letter Sandusky says he spends 23 hours a day in his cell at a super maximum security prison 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

CHO: The end of an era. "Newsweek" released the cover of its final print edition. It features an archive photo of the former "Newsweek" offices in New York, mixing the old and new, the cover reads #lastprintissue. "Newsweek" editor Tina Brown says the magazine could no longer afford to keep producing the print version. It will continue in the new year as a digital only publication.

BASH: And in sports, the Seattle Seahawks making a statement, stopping the division rival 49ers on Sunday Night football 42-13. The rookie Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes and the Hawks ran back and blocked a field goal 90 yards for another score. Seattle clinched a playoff place with this. Major, major rally.

CHO: Elves and dwarves. Dwarfing Tom Cruise at the box office. "The Hobbit," topping the box office for the second week in a rom earning an estimated 37.6 million. Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher" simply was no match; it was a distant and very disappointing second place with 15.6 million. And the adult comedy "This is 40" opened in third pulling in $12 million. I have to say do want to see that film. Got to love Judd Apatow.

Victims of Newtown, you will hear about the incredible outpouring of support for a community trying to heal. They have raised nearly $3 million so far, Dana.

BASH: Well, look, that's one phenomenal story and another is Christmas miracles. All of them are Christmas miracles. Wounded veterans who made it home from the front lines. The message for troops still serving overseas, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, so many people across the country, around the world really, have been asking how can I help? The United Way of western Connecticut has set up a fund to provide support services for those Newtown residents affected by the tragedy. We can report this morning that they have now raised $3 million. That is incredible. Joining me now are two leaders of this fund-raising effort. Will Rogers, a selectman of Newtown and Kim Morgan, CEO of United Way of western Connecticut. Good morning to both of you.

WILL ROGERS, NEWTOWN SELECTMAN: Good morning.

CHO: $3 million, an incredible milestone. Congratulations. And you will raise so much more in the coming weeks and months. I know there has been a debate about how to distribute these funds. Kim what is the latest thinking on that?

KIM MORGAN, CEO, UNITED WAY OF WESTERN CONNECTICUT: When we started the fund, our intent was really to be a guardian, and a way for people to give to a legitimate fund. We set it up immediately. Our intent is then to hand over the funds over to the community and let them decide.

CHO: The families as well, I would imagine right?

ROGERS: I would imagine they would be a cross section of the community input, yes. But the fund was solicited as an un-designated fund. We are trying to be as broad as possible at this early stage in terms of contemplated uses.

CHO: What are some of the suggestions floating out there? There are so many ways people could use this money.

ROGERS: Right.

MORGAN: This is unprecedented and people are very quick to react, and we really want to take the time to think about this thoughtfully and ensure we are matching resources to the established need, and ensure there is local control and local input. So some of the needs may be around mental health issues. We don't know at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

CHO: Right. And it's great that you are putting real thinking into that, because this money is so badly needed in the community. So many people need it. Tell me a little bit about how much money -- we know you have raised $3 million. But where is that money coming from, generally speaking? What is the average donation?

MORGAN: It ranges from $10 to $100,000 to be honest with you.

CHO: Wow.

MORGAN: Is has come from all over the world. As soon as this tragedy happened, my phone started ringing, mainly from communities that have gone through this before. They started saying, here is how you plan, here is what you will need. And then the phone started ringing with people that wanted to make a difference and give.

CHO: That's incredible. And Will, I understand it's not just money pouring in - it's food, toys, it's all kinds of gifts from around the world. How are you dealing with that incredible influx that's coming your way?

ROGERS: It is logistically very daunting. And in fact, we put a press release out on the town website. We're trying to encourage people to contact the particular entity they are donating to, to make sure their donation they have in mind is needed. It really is -- goods require human effort to move and distribute, and we are -- we are pretty swamped right now. We appreciate everything, we probably aren't interested in receiving perishables at this point. We're overwhelmed as far as that, but contact your particular entity you wish to donate to in terms of what they need for goods.

CHO: In terms of where the money goes as well. There are a lot of people who had suggested maybe that money should be set aside toward building a new school. Has that been something you have thought about?

ROGERS: It's certainly something that's out there. And surprisingly, there are people who have donated directly to the town for the purpose of building a school. That wouldn't be what this fund is envisioned for. I feel quite sure. This is a fund for long-term uses or at least holding back to see what needs arise. The fund is not categorically precluded from anything.

CHO: And of course, Kim, very quickly. So many people want to help. How can you do it? Just very quickly.

MORGAN: Go to our website, www.westernct.org or you can text to give, 888-NEWTOWN

CHO: Kim Morgan, CEO of United Way of western Connecticut, Will Rogers Selectman of Newtown. Thank you for coming in on this Christmas Eve. And congratulations and I hope you raise a lot more money.

ROGERS: Thank you very much.

CHO: Dana.

BASH: Well, Alina the greatest gift this holiday season is that they are still here. Wounded veterans working through Christmas as they recover from terrible injuries. Their thoughts are with friends overseas who aren't home from the holidays. Here is Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it pushes forward it opens, throw my elbow, it unlocks it. That's how you maneuver.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wounded troops in rehab at the holiday time. All Christmas miracles. Meet Travis Mills. One of the troops I visited with, asking them to send holiday wishes to their buddies.

TRAVIS MILLS, STAFF SEARGENT: Hi Everybody, I'm staff sergeant Travis Mills of the 82 Airborne Division Fourth Brigade Combat Team. I want to wish everybody a merry Christmas, happy new year, to all military forces overseas and home and special shout-out to guys in the first platoon, fourth squad, the gun show, miss you guys. Love you, have a merry Christmas.

STARR: Eight months ago, he stepped on an IED.

MILLS: We thought it was clear, but it wasn't. And It took all four limbs, but it didn't take my life. I'm thankful for that.

STARR: It can be a struggle just to walk again.

BO REICHENBACH, U.S.NAVY: I'm Bo Reichenbach with the U.S. Navy. I want to give a shout-out to my friends and family. Have a good holiday, say safe.

STARR: Army specialist, Tyler Jeffries also lost his legs.

TYLER JEFFRIES, U.S. ARMY: I just want to give a shout to my friends and brothers back in Afghanistan, say happy holidays and I wouldn't be here without you guys.

STARR: Tyler is already getting ready for next Christmas.

JEFFIRES: I want to start walking as fast as I can. I'm in the wheelchair for hours upon hours all day and I want to be able to get up in my own house and get a cup out of the cupboard.

LANCE CPL. JOSHUA LANGSTON WHITE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I'm Lance Corporal Langston White. Happy holidays to my family and a bunch of guys from my unit getting purple hearts today, and I am thinking about you today and a special place for you guys in my heart.

STARR: Joshua says it's a good holiday season because of his buddies.

LANGSTON WHITE: It is. Definitely. They are there, alive and breathing. So that's good -- it's good in my eyes.

SGT. ADAM KEYES, U.S. ARMY: I'm Sergeant Adam Keyes, combat (ph) engineer, 20 (INAUDIBLE) brigade Airborne out of Fort Bragg. I just want to give a shout to the guys in the 27th still overseas.

STARR: A triple amputee, there's one thing Adam didn't lose. His airborne wings tattoo.

KEYES: Yeah, you could take this one off.

STARR: Yeah, no, no, I didn't even realize. Yes.

KEYES: The wings are still there too. Airborne wings. So that's good.

STARR: And that's good.

KEYES: Yes, of course.

STARR: So that's actually pretty cool, the airborne wings.

KEYES: They made it.

MILLS: As a quadruple amputee eight months ago, laying in a bed hooked to hoses. I can walk now. First pump, lean a little bit here. And first pump and jellyfish, jellyfish, jellyfish, jellyfish, jellyfish.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Those are heroes and people who have a lot of courage. For more inspiring stories of heroes and ways you can help, go to CNN.com/impact.

CHO: Coming up, a developing story out of Afghanistan. A deadly green on blue attack in Kabul. Unlike anything we've seen before.

BASH: Forget the night before Christmas, we're approaching the night before cliff-mas. I said it. As we head closer to the fiscal cliff, an op-ed takes an interesting look of what's going on here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)