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Secretary of State Sweepstakes; Warehouse Fire a Criminal Act?; Judge Declares Mistrial in Michael Slager Murder Case; Aleppo on the Verge of Falling. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 6, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: President-elect Trump widens his search for cabinet picks again. Could the CEO of ExxonMobil become the frontrunner for the top job at the State Department?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The death toll rising in Oakland. Now, investigators want to know if the city's deadliest fire in more than century was caused by a criminal act.

KOSIK: A mistrial in the case of the former South Carolina cop who's fatally shot an unarmed black man in the back. Why prosecutors say Michael Slager is not off the hook just yet.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, December 6th. It is 4:00 a.m. on the East Coast.

And do you know where your next secretary of state is? That seems to be the big question for President-elect Donald Trump as he heads into a big day of meetings. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson comes to Trump Tower. He is now said to be on the growing list of those under consideration for secretary of state. Also paying a visit today, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.

Then, this evening, the president-elect heads to the next stop on his "thank you" tour in North Carolina. This follows announcements and meetings on Monday.

For the latest, let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Alison.

Well, President-elect Donald Trump making some big decisions in terms of his cabinet, formally nominating Dr. Ben Carson, his former rival, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But as he moves to make some key decisions on these big cabinet posts, others seem to be taking almost a step back.

Late last week, we knew according to sources that Donald Trump had really settled on the potential for four finalists for this big secretary of state job. But now, we know according to sources that Donald Trump is looking for more candidates, really expanding his search for secretary of state, now looking at people like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson who will be here today at Trump Tower who will be here today at Trump Tower, meeting one on one with Donald Trump.

Also, Senator Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia who has told our sources on Capitol Hill that he is indeed looking to potentially schedule a meeting with Donald Trump at some point this week.

Now, Donald Trump also holding a very intriguing meeting on Monday here at Trump Tower with former Vice President Al Gore. We know according to Gore that he was just supposed to sit down with his Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, to talk about climate change. But that meeting afterwards got expanded to include President-elect Trump.

Here's Al Gore after that meeting.

AL GORE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bulk of that time was with Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation and to be continued. And I'm just going to leave it at that.

SERFATY: So, that certainly an intriguing "stay tuned" comment there from Al Gore. But Gore later on saying this was truly a shared attempt to find common ground. Of course, the two have not always seen eye to eye over climate change -- John and Alison.


KOSIK: OK, Sunlen Serfaty, thanks.

And Donald Trump's meetings with Senate Democrats have party leaders concerned. Senior Democrats in the city are leaning on Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota worried that if Trump picks one or both for his cabinet, it would further increase Republican domination of the Senate. Manchin has not ruling out taking a job with Trump, telling CNN that he has to make sure he is doing the best he can for his state. But he says no specifics have been discussed so far with team Trump.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Very encouraging talk. We talked about my state of West Virginia and the country as a whole. And it was a productive cause -- I mean, productive talk, and I was pretty appreciative of that.

REPORTER: Would you take Department of Energy if offered?

MANCHIN: Well, basically, we haven't talked about anything on those, you know? There will be, I'm sure later date is going to be, maybe later this week or some time, a time when we might meet. But right now, it's not done.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: And two more stops this week on Donald Trump's "thank you" tour. On Thursday evening, he goes to Des Moines. On Friday, he has a stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

KOSIK: New York City is sending taxpayers the bill for the high cost of protecting the president-elect and his family. Mayor del Blasio is seeking $35 million in reimbursement for police overtime and other expenses for safeguarding Trump and Trump Tower through inauguration day. That comes to about $500,000 a day. The good news is that figure is about half the city's cost estimate from last month.

BERMAN: So, the story may have been bogus, but the bullets were not. A judge has ordered a 28-year-old North Carolina man held without bond for firing an assault rifle inside a Washington, D.C. pizza place. Edgar Welch told police he was there to self-investigate a false, made-up, debunked, completely fake story about Hillary Clinton operating a child sex-trafficking ring.

[04:05:00] CNN's Pamela Brown has the latest.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John and Anderson.

The suspect who walked into Comet Ping Pong in D.C. armed with three guns appeared in court and for now, he will remain behind bars. But what took him there is bizarre. According to the criminal complaint, he told officers he went to the pizza restaurant, all the way from North Carolina to self-investigate something he read online. That there was a sex ring tied to the Clintons and John Podesta, the campaign chairman operating out of this restaurant.

This was a completely baseless claim. There was no truth to it. The owner of the restaurant has consistently denied it consistently.

But for the suspect, he clearly believed it may be true. He told police he went to make sure that there were no child sex slaves at the restaurant. He said he brought his weapons with him in order to protect the victims.

He was arrested after a confrontation he had with one of the employees. Officials say that he brandished his weapon and pointed it at an employee and then fired off three rounds.

No one was injured, but clearly, this is something that shook up a lot of the people in the restaurant, including families. I spoke to one witness who was there with his three daughters and wife. He said they quickly shuffled out and he says the incident shows fake news stories can have real life consequences.

But that did not stop people online from continuing to spread this conspiracy theory. In fact, a person tied to the Trump transition team tweeted out, Michael Flynn Jr., tweeted, "Until pizza-gate proven to be false, it will remain a story. The left seems to forget Podesta e-mails and the many coincidences tied to it." Michael Flynn Jr. is the son of Trump's national security advisor, Michael Flynn, General Michael Flynn. And he does have a transition email address as well.

We reached out to the Trump transition team about this, but so far no comment -- John and Alison.


BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Pamela Brown for that.

So, the vice president, Joe Biden, may not be riding off into the sunset following a visit to the Senate. Late last night, he was asked about his plans for what he would do after leaving office in January. Listen.


REPORTER: You're going to run again?


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STTES: Yeah. I'm going to run in 2020.

REPORTER: For what?

BIDEN: For president.


BIDEN: You know, so -- what the hell, man. Anyway --

REPORTER: We're going to run with that, sir, you know. You dropped that.

BIDEN: That's OK. That's OK. No, but I enjoyed every minute of my time here in the Senate.

REPORTER: Just to be clear -- were you kidding about running for president in 2020?

BIDEN: I'm just -- I'm not committing not to run. I'm not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago.


BERMAN: All right. So, Joe Biden turns 78 shortly after the 2020 election. He would become the oldest sitting president ever if he ran and won.

KOSIK: Here is a question for you. Is it possible for President- elect Donald Trump to tax U.S. companies that move jobs to Mexico? The short answer is yes. But tariffs are used for products, not companies.

Now, Trump could ask Congress to do it or if he wants to avoid Congress, he has to go through four steps. First, announce an investigation into the company for dumping its cheaper products into U.S. markets. Second, the Department of Commerce would have to investigate. Trump's secretary of commerce pick, Wilbur Ross, would likely be approved. And then, the International Trade Commission would have to prove that the company is causing harm by dumping its goods on U.S. shores. That's never happened to a specific company.

Now, if Trump did get that approval, he could then slap the company with a tariff on all goods coming into the U.S. So, the bottom line here, slapping tariffs on companies is possible, but it's kind of complicated. It's a pretty difficult thing to do.

BERMAN: No, it's a lot easier if he has congressional support, which he doesn't have across the board.

KOSIK: It looks like it is easier to tweet than actually --

BERMAN: Indeed.

All right. Up next, new developments in the Oakland warehouse fire. Why investigators had the building on the radar long before it went up in flames.

KOSIK: And a mistrial for a former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man. Why the family of the man he shot isn't about to give up hope.


[04:13:26] KOSIK: There's heightened security in Los Angeles this morning after a tip of a bombing plot targeting the universal city train station. The FBI tells us the information came from a tip line operated by an unidentified foreign government. The threat is considered specific and imminent. Commuters in L.A. are being told to expect an increase presence of uniformed police this morning, as well as K-9 units scouring the rail systems for explosives.

BERMAN: Investigators are sifting through the wreckage of the Oakland building fire that killed at least 36 people. Officials are still trying to determine what caused the warehouse turned arts base to go up in flames. While prosecutors say it is too early to speculate on criminal charges. They promise to leave no stone unturned.

CNN's Dan Simon has the latest from Oakland.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, it is a mind boggling number of victims. Many have been identified, but some will require scientific methods for identification. I want to show you what it looks like a block away. You can see this makeshift memorial where many people have come by to pay respects to those who died. As you can imagine though, there are still so many questions of how this fire started, and why people wanted to live in the warehouse. This is what the mayor had to say about the investigation.

LIBBY SCHAAF, MAYOR OF OAKLAND: The permitted use of that building was as a warehouse. It was not a legally permitted as either a living space, a residence or an event space.

SIMON: Still no theory about a cause. But investigators think they know where the fire started. So, hopefully, that will lead to clues.

[04:15:01] As for the residents, one person told me that she viewed this community almost like a church, a way for people to come together to draw inspiration from one another for their art projects. Of course, that's going to be a big part of the investigation. Why people were living in that warehouse. But, of course, the main focus is on the victims and possible recovery of additional bodies -- John and Alison.


KOSIK: All right. Dan Simon, thanks.

The owner of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando has abandoned plans to sell the property. It is the scene of the mass shooting back in June that left 49 people dead. Owner Barbara Poma was set to sell the club to the city so it could be turned it into a memorial for the victims. But on Monday, she announced a change of plans, saying she will work with the community and victims' families to transform the space into a, quote, "sanctuary of hope".

BERMAN: Prosecutors in South Carolina are promising to retry former police officer Michael Slager for the murder of Walter Scott after a judge declared a mistrial on Monday. The jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision after deliberating for 22 hours over four days.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Nick Valencia in Charleston.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, after more than five weeks of trials, days of deliberation, it was on Monday afternoon that the jurors handed a note to the judge saying that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether or not to convict Officer Michael Slager of first-degree murder. For those in support of the Scott family, this was a little bit of a surprise. However, some expected a mistrial. On Friday, we got indication there was one lone juror who said under good conscience, he could not convict Slager of first-degree murder.

Today, on Monday I should say, we learned that a majority of the jurors were still undecided. There was enough reasonable doubt cast by the Slager's defense in the case of the state for the jury pool to be deadlocked. It was the makeup of the jury pool that was considered some to be -- they took exception with this. Eleven of the jurors were white. Six of them white men. Five of them white women. One of them, African-American, actually the foreman in this jury pool.

It was on Monday afternoon, at a press conference, that the Scott family did not, choosing instead to take a religious tone, to focus instead of being optimistic that in a retrial sometime later next year, that they could get a conviction against Slager.

ANTHONY SCOTT, BROTHER OF WALTER SCOTT: Absolutely. Justice hasn't been served yet. But we have more chances. We're coming back.

VALENCIA: We should also mention, Michael Slager is scheduled to face federal civil rights charges some time in early 2017 -- John and Alison.


KOSIK: OK. Nick Valencia, thank you.

Pennsylvania judge ruling Bill Cosby's own words can be used against him at his criminal sex assault trial. In a deposition testimony from 2005 civil case, Cosby admits to having extramarital affairs and giving women drugs without their consent to have sex with them. The 79-year-old comedian is charged with drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand back in 2004. His trial is set to begin in June. Dozens of other women have publicly accused Cosby of some form of sexual misconduct.

BERMAN: A month after Election Day, the race for governor in North Carolina is finally over. Incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded the race to his Democratic challenger, the attorney general, Roy Cooper. McCrory had claimed voter fraud and demanded a recount, but now says it is time to celebrate the democratic process and is pledging to make it a smooth transition. The Cooper campaign will hold a long-delayed victory rally tonight in Raleigh.

KOSIK: Aleppo on the verge of falling. Russian forces teaming with Syrian troops to win back the city from rebel fighters. Now, they are trying to win the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. A live report, ahead.


[04:23:12] BERMAN: This morning, Aleppo is on the verge of falling back into the hands of the Syrian government. And it is Russian forces now in a much more visible role fighting alongside Syrian regime troops. They are even launching an aid campaign to help win over the civilian population.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is tracking the latest developments for us live from Istanbul this morning.

Good morning, Muhammad.


And, of course, Russians are making a public show of their humanitarian support, inviting the media to come and take a look at the one of their aid convoys departed they say to the eastern part of the city. Now, according to the Syrian army, as well as CNN's team on the ground, more than half of the eastern part of Aleppo has now been retaken by the Syrian government. And there is a very real fear that the entire city could fall within the next coming days.

If that does happen, it will essentially rip out the hearts of the anti-Assad rebellion in Syria. And, of course, none of this could have happened without Russian support. Russia coming out yesterday and saying that one of its mobile clinics was shelled by the rebels. A number of their medics were killed in a process.

And we are starting to see a small trickle of people returning to their homes in eastern Aleppo. Some of those refugees have been forced from their homes several years ago once the fighting began. And perhaps, the best hope for a cease-fire and some relief for that humanitarian suffering in the eastern part of the city, John, was dashed yesterday at United Nations when Russia and China vetoed the U.N. resolution that would have called not for permanent cease-fire, a long lasting ceasefire, but just for a seven-day cease-fire.

Russia saying they couldn't accept that because it would allow the rebels a chance to regroup and reconsolidate and the fighting to continue. But we do understand the Russia and the United States have been talking about another plan that would allow the expulsion or the removal of the armed militants from the eastern part of city. The problem with that is that militants have said they are not going anywhere and willing to fight to the death.

[04:25:03] And, unfortunately, John, death is a lot more of what we expect to see in the next few days in Syria and especially in eastern Aleppo.

BERMAN: All right. Muhammad Lila for us in Istanbul -- thanks a lot, Muhammad.

KOSIK: A controversial West Bank outpost bill has cleared its first hurdle in the Israeli parliament. Right wing backers of the measure say it would pave the way for the annexation of the West Bank by legalizing over 50 Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Lawmakers voted 60 to 49 in favor of the bill. Three more votes will be needed before it becomes law. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry calls the measure very concerning.

BERMAN: President Obama headed to Tampa later today to deliver his final speech of the administration's counterterrorism strategy. He is expected to address and give thanks to active duty members of MacDill Air Force Base this afternoon. This includes members of special operations team to have played key roles in counterterrorism efforts during this administration.

KOSIK: A glimmer of home for environmental activists after a meeting between Donald Trump and Al Gore. Could the president-elect be softening his position on climate change?

EARLY START coming back after this.