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Senators Calls For Probe Of Russian Meddling; Tillerson's Past Under Scrutiny; Trump Tangles With China; Twin Bombings Rock Istanbul; Netanyahu "Excited" About Working With Trump; Cairo's Coptic Christian Cathedral Bombed. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2016 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Alison Kosik. It's Monday, December the 12th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the east. And this morning, Donald Trump is rejecting the CIA's conclusion that Russia sought to throw the election to him. U.S. intelligence agencies say they have high confidence that Russian hacking was intended to help Trump win. But in an interview with Fox News, Trump scoffing at that assessment, calling it politically motivated.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody -- it could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: So why would the CIA put out the story that the Russians wanted you to win?

TRUMP: I'm not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.


KOSIK: The president-elect also discounting the importance of briefings by intelligence officers, saying that daily briefings are repetitive.


TRUMP: If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one minute's notice. I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in same words every single day for the next eight years.


BERMAN: Back now to the situation with Russia. This morning, a bipartisan group of senators is demanding an investigation into the Kremlin's activities. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the latest.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, this has the potential to be a major showdown in the early days of the Trump administration. A bipartisan group of senators calling for a full investigation into Russia's role in interfering with the United States election. Among them, powerful senators like Republican John McCain and Democrat Chuck Schumer.


[05:00:03] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They did hack into this campaign. Were they hacking the Republicans the same way? The Republican National Committee, and if so, why -- there's a whole lot of issues out there. It requires an investigation.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The fact that the CIA and FBI disagree shows the need for a bipartisan investigation that gets to the bottom of this. The investigation should be tough, strong and bipartisan and should have access to all materials, classified and not.


NOBLES: Both Schumer and McCain making the argument that this shouldn't be a partisan issue. McCain in fact saying that even though it was Democrats this time around, it could easily be Republicans that are the victim of the hack the next time around.

One person who doesn't think this is something that should be investigated that thoroughly? The current President-elect Donald Trump, who said outright that he doesn't believe of the assessment that the Russians are behind the hack and he strongly believes it had nothing to do with the outcome of the election -- John and Alison.

BERMAN: All right, one of the important things going here is there is an apparent difference of opinion between the FBI and the CIA. The CIA reporting believes that the Russians hacked both Democratic and Republican groups -- hacked both the Democratic and Republican National Committees, but only leaked documents from the Democrats.

The FBI on the other hand concluded that the Republican National Committee itself was not hacked. Only people connected to the party including conservative groups and pundits.

A law enforcement source tells CNN the FBI did not find clear evidence the hacking was done to help Trump. The CIA feels differently. They feel there is evidence or a preponderance of evidence there.

While there is some disagreement about Russia's motives. The intelligence agencies do agree that Russia was trying to meddle overall in the U.S. election.

KOSIK: All right. President-elect Trump expected to announce his choice for secretary of state as soon as tomorrow. The candidate that tops his list is thought to be ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, an executive with long ties to Vladimir Putin. Tillerson joined the company in 1975 as an engineer. He has been chairman and since 2006. He made more than $27 million last year. His ties to the Middle East and Russia is what is getting the most attention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship. That's a top designation given to foreign nationals. That came after a multibillion dollar deal that Tillerson signed with Russian oil giant, Rosneft.

Three key members of Trump's own party are expressing reservations about Tillerson, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Marco Rubio. Trump defended Tillerson's experience over the weekend saying he is a successful deal maker.

BERMAN: I want to discuss all of this with Ellis Henican. He is a political analyst and bestselling author. Ellis, thanks so much for being with us.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BERMAN: All of a sudden there is a lot tied up in the secretary of state nomination that is not just about finding the top diplomat here. Rex Tillerson is a CEO of ExxonMobil and he is a CEO with ties to Vladimir Putin. This on the heels of these reports, although a disagreement with the FBI and CIA. But there is agreement that Russia trying to meddle in the election and now Donald Trump wants to pick an executive with close ties to Russia?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST AND BESTSELLING AUTHOR: Right. And those ties which 24 hours ago might not have been quite as big a problem or getting more and more burdensome for Rex Tillerson.

BERMAN: Let's play some of what John McCain has said about the Exxon CEO. Listen to Senator John McCain, a Republican, the chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee.


MCCAIN: It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and obviously they have done enormous deals together. That would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat. That is a matter of concern. We will give him his chance.


BERMAN: John McCain joins Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, who have expressed concerns about Tillerson's side to Putin. If you are counting the Republicans will have 52 votes. If three Republicans were to flip and all the Democrats stuck together, it would be enough to defeat the nomination.

HENICAN: I'm glad you pulled up the McCain bite because truly the risk here involves the Republicans, right? Maybe we can assume pretty solid Democratic opposition, but on this issue of Russia, don't forget, John. The Republican Party has such a long anti-Russian tradition, right. I mean, we had the cold war.

That's been exacerbated by some of the more aggressive actions that have been coming out of the country lately. So there really is a wedge here that you can drive between Trump's views on the topics and those of so many establishment Republicans.

KOSIK: You know, China's one policy certainly coming -- becoming discussion this weekend with Trump's comments saying we don't have to adhere to this longstanding policy. The "Global Times" editorial on Trump was interesting, calling him a child because of his ignorance on foreign policy.

[05:05:02]Saying the "One China" policy cannot be bought and sold. Only by going through some tough times, will he be able to come to realize that China and other international powers are not to be bullied."

Is there a point in time where you think someone in his soon-to-be administration will step up and say, listen, those words that you are saying they matter, they resonate globally?

HENICAN: Tough times is a little bit of an eerie phrase coming from the Chinese, right? Because they do have the ability to extract some tough times from us, yes. I mean, I think those conversations, Alison, are already going on. How much do we want to push? How far do we want to go? What might they actually do in response?

BERMAN: Look, I think there is every reason to believe this is a change in policy. That Donald Trump is going to be much tougher on China? He already is during this transition between, you know, talking to the Taiwanese president and now the statement about the "One China" policy.

So you see that. I mean, they have telegraphed. He has made clear he will be tougher on China and closer to Russia. These are two things that seem abundantly clear right now.

HENICAN: Absolutely. One of the traits with Trump is believe what you hear. We keep thinking there is going to be a new Trump. That was a casual friendly congratulatory phone call, right, from Taiwan.

BERMAN: That wasn't casual or friendly. Can we play the "One China" stuff that Donald Trump said with Chris Wallace? I don't think we have it, but he made clear, he said, well, I don't need --

HENICAN: Reconsidering the policy. Let's make a deal. Let's use that as a negotiating ploy.

KOSIK: Let's talk a little bit about the investigation into the hacking from Russia into the presidential election. Do you think this is going to undermine Trump's presidency in a significant way or is this just politics?

HENICAN: I would say it is too soon to say that. Clearly, the sides are teaming up at this point, right? The Dems are looking for ways to get underneath the skin of the Trump administration. They can't attack every single thing.

There is a million crazy tweets and all kind of policy questions. Those choices are being made right now. Clearly the relationship with Russia is at the very top of the list. Tillerson is a big reason for that.

BERMAN: Tillerson aside, what is to gain for Donald Trump in the Trump transition saying let's not even bother investigating Russian meddling? No one is talking about overturning the election results here. They are not.

HENICAN: How can you be against the investigation? Particularly frankly if there is some kind nuance of differences between the various intelligence agencies? The only answer to that, John, is let's investigate.

BERMAN: All right, Ellis Henica, great to have you here.

HENICAN: Always be for investigating. Not against.

BERMAN: We're for disclosure. We're for leaking, we are for investigation. Ellis, thank you.

Two big explosions in Istanbul killing dozens and wounding more than 150 people. We're live on the ground next.



KOSIK: The death toll in two bombings over the weekend in Istanbul has just climbed to 44, 36 of them police officers. At least 155 others were wounded in the blast. A Kurdish militant group is claiming responsibility for the Saturday night attacks. The group calling itself the Kurdish Freedom Hawks has now put a message on its web site insisting the Turkish people were not the target.

Let's bring in CNN's Becky Anderson live from Istanbul. You know, these attacks, these bombings, really caps off the year of such violence in Turkey.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, Alison. This is a group that goes by the acronym of TAK. (Inaudible) tell me emerged around 2004. It's signature tactic to strike a blow against Turkey's economy and its security apparatus. It is 24 hours since it claimed responsibility for the twin bombings outside a soccer stadium.

The first a couple hours after the end of a match between two of Turkey's top teams and the second, a suicide bomb attack less than a minute later. That soccer stadium is next to our position here in the heart of Istanbul, which of course is the engine of Turkey's economy and one of its main tourist attractions.

Imagine attacks on or close to a sporting complex like Flushing Meadows or Yankee Stadium for example. It is no surprise that Turkish leaders from President Erdogan right down are vowing revenge.

Yesterday was a day of mourning, Alison. Today is a day of retribution. Earlier Turkish war planes targeting the army here and the positions were attacked in neighboring Northern Iraq.

Reports of more than 100 pro-Kurdish political activists rounded up in raids countrywide. This is the issue. This is what you were alluding to and rightly so.

Saturday's attack in Istanbul was the 17th major terrorist attack by either Kurdish militants or ISIS in Turkey this past year alone. Then you have the political instability and polarization brought by that failed coup in the summer.

It would not be an understatement to suggest this is one of the most tumultuous years in modern Turkish history -- Alison.

KOSIK: All right, Becky Anderson, live from Istanbul. Thanks very much.

BERMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is excited about the prospect of working with Donald Trump. Netanyahu told "60 Minutes" that he plans to meet with the president-elect soon specifically to discuss other options to the nuclear deal with Iran. President-elect Trump vowed during the campaign to tear up the pact which the Israeli prime minister calls a threat to Israel's existence.


[05:15:06]BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think his attitude and support for Israel is clear. He feels very warmly about the Jewish state, about the Jewish people and about Jewish people. There's no question about that. I had differences of opinion with President Obama on most well-known is Iran.


BERMAN: The prime minister says despite those differences, his feelings toward President Obama were never personal.

KOSIK: Boeing has finalized a $16.6 billion deal to sell 80 airplanes to Iran. Iran Air will be getting fifty 737s and thirty 777s. Many U.S. lawmakers oppose the sale and President-elect Trump opposes the nuclear deal that made it possible. That deal lifted many economic sanctions against Iran in September. Boeing needed special approval to ensure Iran does not use the planes for military purposes.

BERMAN: All right, CNN's 2016 Hero of the Year revealed.


KELLY RIPA, HOST: Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 CNN Hero of the Year is Jeison Aristizabal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right. This was a wonderful emotional night. The 33- year-old Jeison Aristizabal, who battles cerebral palsy, he was honored with the big prize. He launched an advocacy foundation that supports children with disabilities in his native Colombia.

CNN also named its first superhero that is 2012 winner (inaudible). She gets additional $50,000 to continue her work helping kids forced to live in Nepal's prisons.

Now Jeison will be a guest on "NEW DAY" at the 8:00 hour. It was a wonderful inspiring night. I can't tell you how honored it was to be in the presence of all of the CNN heroes.

KOSIK: It is my dose of inspiration for the year, I certainly got cheered up.

BERMAN: It was one of those things where you felt good when you left. It warms your heart to know there are people out there who care that much and works so hard.

KOSIK: Absolutely. All right, at least 25 dead and dozens injured in Cairo. An important church targeted, but still no claims of responsibility. We're live in Cairo next.



KOSIK: In Cairo, at least 25 people are dead. Dozens more injured in a bomb blast at a Coptic Christian Church on Sunday. There's been no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which tore through a small church attached to the St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral.

Senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is monitoring the situation. He is joining us live. Nick, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alison, angry tense scenes at the funerals today. Really it's the heart of the Egyptian Christian Coptic faith, St. Mark's Cathedral Church just adjacent to St. Peter and Paul's Church. It was the scene of that blast yesterday, 25 dead, 31 injured.

Many of those victims were women. Three sisters among the dead. It is unclear what kind of device caused it. State media suggesting maybe TNTs or dynamite or heavy explosives used, maybe 12 kilograms, 26 pounds or so.

The police that we've spoken to has said it is too early to tell. A lot of anger in the crowds around. Focus towards the media as well before and after asking how security could collapse to that particular point.

President Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi has said to the Christian Coptic of Egypt often persecuted a minority there, about a tenth of the population said he would provide better security. That hasn't always been the case. This struck the very symbolic heart effectively the headquarters of the Christian Coptic faith in Egypt. So a lot of questions being asked now. A lot of messages from the across world trying to sooth any sectarian tension this maybe aiming to try and enflame.

Still no at this point claim of responsibility for this. Perhaps ISIS might come out and claim responsibility. It really is not clear at this stage. Great tension, though, and great sadness. Carnage inside that ancient church.

You have to imagine that blast ripping through on an early Sunday, the day of worship on an otherwise peaceful crowd. Some were there to enjoy the act of being a Christian.

KOSIK: A sacred and historic church, supposed to be a safe place. Now the scene of such violence. All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.

BERMAN: Two days of mourning now being observed in Nigeria after the collapse of a church killed at least 50 parishioners. That was in the southern city of (inaudible) over the weekend. It was during the dedication of the church which was still under construction.

The building fell apart without warning, you can see the steel girders just gave way. The governor was among the dignitaries inside the church and he has ordered the immediate arrest of the contractor and also a task force to find out what went wrong.

KOSIK: All right, Donald Trump and the CIA at odds. The president- elect saying he doesn't believe their report on Russian hackers helping him win the presidency. The bipartisan response coming up next,



BERMAN: Did Russian hackers help Donald Trump win the election? The CIA says they tried. The FBI says maybe. Donald Trump says he doesn't believe it.

KOSIK: Thousands of residents fleeing Aleppo with thousands more trapped within the city. The latest on the fight for Syria.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning.

BERMAN: Nice to see everyone. I'm John Berman. It is 29 minutes after the hour right now. This morning, Donald Trump is rejecting the CIA's new assessment of Russia, did not just meddle in the U.S. election, but did it to steer the presidential race toward him.

U.S. intelligence agencies say they are increasingly competent that Russian hacking was intended to help Trump win, but an interview with Fox News, Trump scoffed at that assessment and called it politically motivated.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it is ridiculous. I think it is just another excuse. I don't believe it. They have no idea if it is Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea --

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Why would the CIA put out the story that the Russians wanted you?

TRUMP: I'm not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.


BERMAN: The president-elect also discounted the importance of briefings by intelligence officers saying that the daily briefings are repetitive.


TRUMP: If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one minute's notice. I don't have to be told. You know, I'm like a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years.