Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Vows Retaliation for Russian Hacking; Ceasefire: Thousands of Aleppo Residents Evacuate; Dylann Roof Convicted in Charleston Church Massacre. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama saying the U.S. will take action against Russia after high level politicians likely, including President Putin, himself meddled in the U.S. election.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands fleeing Aleppo. A tenuous truce holding, despite days of violence in that city.

KOSIK: Dylann Roof found guilty for the Charleston church massacre. We'll tell you what is next in the trial.

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

ROMANS: So nice to see you this morning. Happy Friday, Alison.

I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, December 16th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everyone.

And new this morning, President Obama vows to take action in response to Russian hacking of the U.S. election. In an interview with NPR, the president said he has directly confronted Vladimir Putin, warning the Russian president of a potential U.S. response.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing.


ROMANS: The president was not specific about the form of U.S. response might take. But he said some of it may be explicit and publicized. Some of it may not be. This as the U.S. official confirms to CNN that U.S. agencies believed Putin ordered those cyber attacks.

For the latest on that, let's get to chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's been the belief of the U.S. intelligence community since they called Russia out for this a month before the election, that this hacking operation would have required the senior most Russian officials approval. On the way Russia works, it's a top heavy system. That means Vladimir Putin.

Since then, their confidence has increased and we've been learning today why that is the case. And that's because of the sophisticated hacking tools, cyber weapons really, that were used in this attack, really the most sophisticated which will require Vladimir Putin to okay the use of those tools.

That in addition to other intelligence and human sources leading to that conclusion today that Vladimir Putin ordered this attack on the U.S. democratic system. And the word they are using is it continued unabated since the election on party institutions, party organizations, including but not limited to the Democrats. We understand that there was another attempted phishing attack as it's known. It's basically where you click on a link and it takes -- it allows malware to get into your computer, which is the origin on the hack on the DNC more than a year, failed attack on the Clinton campaign since then.

This has been expected in the U.S. intelligence community. Part of the reason being, it worked, right? They interrupted. They interfered with the U.S. election system whether or not they wanted Donald Trump to win. It's been successful for them here, western democracies in Europe, Eastern Europe and, frankly, they expect it to continue.


KOSIK: All right. Jim, thanks.

And as you mentioned, Jim, an unsuccessful phishing attack on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Overnight, Clinton herself spoke out about the Russian election hacking at a closed door thank you party for top campaign donors. Clinton called the hacking, quote, "an attack on our national security and attack on our democracy." She said the cyber attacks stemmed from a grudge Vladimir Putin holds against her, dating back to her criticism of the Russian president when she was secretary of state.

ROMANS: She had some criticism about the freeness and fairness of elections there.

KOSIK: Right, in 2011.

ROMANS: All right. The Russian cyber attacks requiring a scathing rebuke of the FBI from Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. Just this very sharply worded op-ed in "The Washington Post". Podesta suggests there was a double standard in the FBI's urgency, investigating Clinton's private email server because its response to Russian hacking. He writes this, "Comparing the FBI's massive response to the overblown

e-mail scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI." Podesta was a direct target of hacking during the campaign. His emails were leaked and used as ammunition against Clinton.

KOSIK: The White House is taking a more aggressive stance toward Donald Trump, alarmed by the president-elect's dismissal of U.S. intelligence on Russian election meddling. This week, Trump called CIA warnings ridiculous and he hasn't eased up since.

Thursday, he tweeted this, "If Russia or some other entity was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?"

But that claim is false. The administration first publicly accused Russia of hacking in early October. That was a month before the election. And privately, Obama met with Putin in September, reportedly warning him then to stop the hacking or face consequences.

ROMANS: The issue now increasing friction between the Obama administration and the incoming Trump team.

[04:05:04] On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted it was obvious Trump knew Russia was meddling in the election.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just a fact. You have it on tape, that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed it would help him campaign. I recognize the defense from the Trump campaign that he was joking. I don't think anybody at the White House thinks it's funny.


ROMANS: So, then, last night, Trump lashed back at the White House spokesman Josh Earnest there during his "thank you" rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty was there. She brings us the latest.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Alison. A transition official tells CNN that Donald Trump is concerned about the intelligence community's findings that Russia engaged in hacking during the election. He made absolutely no mention of this issue here at his rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

He did seem to however, wade a bit into this personal rift that's growing between the incoming administration of his and the White House right now, hours after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest from the White House podium told reporters that Donald Trump had to have known about the Russian hacks. Well, Donald Trump attacked Josh Earnest by name here.

Here's what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Although the foolish guy, Josh Earnest. I don't know if he is talking to President Obama. Having the right press secretary is so important because he is so bad the way he delivers a message.

He can deliver a positive message and it sounds bad. He could say, ladies and gentlemen, today, we have totally defeated ISIS and it would not sound good, OK? All right? I have a feeling they won't be saying it, but I know we will be saying it.

SERFATY: And the president-elect will be back on the road today. He will be heading to Orlando, Florida, for the next stop of his "thank you" tour -- Christine and Alison.


KOSIK: OK. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.

President-elect Trump has picked a campaign advisor aligned with Israel's far right as an ambassador to that country. In a statement announcing the nomination of David Friedman, the Trump transition makes reference to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would break with decades of U.S. policy based on the fact that Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital. Friedman has said in the past, he does not believe Israeli settlement activity is illegal, a stance that also runs counter to longstanding U.S. policy.

ROMANS: All right. With concerns growing of Donald Trump's potential conflict of interest, new data shows his company is bigger than ever. The Trump Organization is now the 48th largest privately held company in the U.S. That's according to PrivCo. It was number 62 last year. It employs more than 22,000 people and brought in $9.5 billion in revenue last year.

For perspective, that makes the Trump Organization bigger than Major League Baseball, McKinsey & Company, Bloomberg LP, and Pacific Life Insurance.

Despite his popularity and presidential victory, researchers expect the Trump Organization's revenue to drop significantly next year mainly because the luxury real estate market in New York is starting to struggle a bit.

What is not struggling? Donald Trump book sales. His iconic book titled "The Art of the Deal" cracked the Amazon's top 100 bestsellers list yesterday, sitting there now at 97. It is number one in the entrepreneurial section.

Not bad for a book published nearly 30 years ago, Alison.

KOSIK: You know, it's amazing. We're going to watch that book sort of rise through the numbers. People want to kind of learn everything they can if they don't already know it.

All right. Facebook says it's going to start sticking warning labels on some fake news stories. The social network says that users will still be able to post anything they want on their feeds, but Facebook says stories known to be false apparently aiming to trick readers will appear with a red label that says disputed by third party fact checkers.

Facebook has been the target of intense criticism for fake news stories posted in users' feeds during the election campaign.

ROMANS: Have you been on be Facebook and seen someone you know who is very clearly has something on their Facebook feed you know is not right?

KOSIK: Absolutely, yes.

ROMANS: I know, it happens to me. I would be interested to me to see how many red flags are going to be all over the feed.

KOSIK: Who's going to actually paying attention to the red flag?

ROMANS: Right. Well, yes.

All right. The latest installment of the "Star Wars" saga opens at movie theaters around the world today. The heroes of "Rogue One: A Star War Story" face a daunting challenge, not defeating Darth Vader. They've got to beat a lot of bad buzz from critics and do say with the handicap of the story line that doesn't directly involve the Skywalker family saga. The likely characters in the film, it's a safe bet, "Rogue One" will triumph in the end. It is expected to take in more than $250 million worldwide this weekend.

And I can guarantee you, it doesn't matter what the critics say. Everyone I know who loves "The Force Awakens", every little kid I know who is really newly involved in "Star Wars" will see this movie.

[04:10:04] KOSIK: That legacy will continue.


KOSIK: All right. Thousands of people trapped in Aleppo. More evacuation efforts are under way. We're going to tell you the latest, next.


KOSIK: A new cease-fire is under way in Aleppo and evacuations are also under way, as many as 9,000 refugees fleeing the eastern part of the city. The first convoy of buses and ambulances arrived Thursday and carted people into the countryside, west of the war-torn city.

But they're not out of the danger zone just yet.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live in Amman, Jordan with the very latest. So, I understand that a lot of these civilians are heading to Idlib

province which is also under regime fire as well. So, it's almost like these civilians are going from one war zone to another.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Alison. Being evacuated out of eastern Aleppo doesn't mean that they are safe. Doesn't mean they are leaving the war zone, and a lot of concern about that. What we do know right now is that these evacuations are ongoing, 24 hours -- more than 24 hours these evacuations taking place.

The number of people who've been evacuated depends on who you talk to. We are getting different figures from different governments anywhere, between 6,000 people to 9,000 people. The Turkish government senior official there saying that about 8,000 people had been evacuated in five convoys and that a sixth convoy was on the move.

Now, evacuees include civilians, they include wounded in desperate need of medical attention, as well as rebel fighters. This is expected to be a lengthy process. They have about 19 buses and about 13 ambulances to evacuate these people. It is moving on rotation.

No one really knows how many people are left in the besieged neighborhoods. The estimates by the United Nations a few days ago was about 50,000 people.

[04:15:01] What happens is they are moved into the Aleppo countryside that is under rebel control. And from there, people decide, if they want to go, as you mentioned, to the neighboring Idlib province that's under the control mostly of rebel groups, including the al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or they can move to the Turkish border.

Now, we also heard from President Assad yesterday boasting about what he describes as the liberation of Aleppo calling this a victory, a historic one. For the people of eastern Aleppo that we have been speaking to, they call these evacuations forced displacement. They are relieved to be getting out of there, but at the same time, they are devastated and absolutely heart broken to be leaving and don't know if they will ever see their homes again.

KOSIK: Desperate to leave, but also kind of torn about leaving their home as well. Jomana Karadsheh, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Turkey lending a hand to help the wounded and sick and exhausted civilians fleeing Aleppo. The country's transporting truck loads of humanitarian aid and medicine to those who need it.

For more on that, let's go live to CNN's Muhammad Lila on the Turkish- Syrian border.

We know that some of these early buses were filled with just the most fragile of those residents, people who were sick and really needed care. What can you tell us? MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me set the scene for you.

I'm live at one of the border crossings behind me. Past the gate is Syrian territory. We have seen a steady stream of ambulances both going into Syrian territory and coming out of Syrian territory. They're carrying some of the critically wounded people. These were people wounded in the siege of Aleppo that need desperate medical care. They're being brought into Turkey to a nearby hospital, to get some of that care. That is as far as the medical evacuations are concerned.

But just on the way here, we saw a row of about 50 to 75 18-wheeler trucks that were all lined up, loaded up with humanitarian relief, ready to enter Syria. Since we've got here, we have been told that only eight of those trucks are going to be crossing the border today. They're specifically going across the border because Turkey's announcement is going to set up a refugee camp that can house 80,000 people. Most of those people will be some of those evacuees that Jomana was mentioning who have been evacuated from Aleppo.

But there's a slight complication. That refugee camp is going to be built and maintained inside Syria, but is going to be administered by the Turkish government and Turkish relief organization. So, there's a bit of a complication there, because the area where that refugee camp is going to be set up, obviously, there are other militant groups there and they're operating within Syrian territory.

So, there are some security concerns. There are some political concerns as well. And it's not exactly clear how soon that refugee camp can be set up, because we know those people have been evacuated, desperately need help right now because they have nowhere to live.

ROMANS: We should really stress is a very complicated situation where you have multiple competing and overlapping splinter groups of rebels and some groups with different religious affiliations, all of them sort of odds here. But we know that the Syrian regime is saying it has retaken control of Aleppo. And at least that conflict four years later now, that conflict is over.

Muhammad, thank you so much for that, on the Turkish-Syrian border. We'll check with you again later in the hour. Thank you.

KOSIK: All right. Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof found guilty of killing nine people during a bible study. The details of the verdict coming up next.


[04:21:53] KOSIK: A South Carolina jury has convicted Dylann Roof on all charges in the shooting death of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church. Jurors will decide next month if the 22-year-old should be sentenced to death.

CNN's Nick Valencia has more outside the courthouse in Charleston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alison and Christine, it came as no surprise to those in the courtroom, Dylann Roof guilty of all charges in the murder of nine people in June of 2015 at the historically black Emanuel AME church.

As the verdict was read out loud, Roof stood silently. His right hand noticeably fidgeting, his ears turning as the guilty verdicts were read one count after the hour. Jurors unanimously deciding that Dylann Roof was guilty in the murders of those nine people.

There was little emotion shown by the defendant. The most emotion came from the family members of the victims. Some bowing heads, seemingly in prayer. Others wiping their brow and others wiping the tears from their eyes.

Thursday, it was quite emotional. The emotion punctuated by an image of the bloody bodies of those worshippers lying down on the floor of that bible study. Dylann Roof accused of shooting those victims 77 times in all. The prosecution in their closing arguments saying that Dylann Roof should be held accountable for every single one of those shots.

For the defense's part, they said they hope the jurors took into consideration that their client might be delusional and that there was something skewed about his perception in reality. The next part of this sentence, of this trial I should say is the penalty phase. That's expected to pick up on January 3rd -- Alison, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that, Nick Valencia.

Long time Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager has died after a long battle with leukemia. The iconic sideline reporter loved across the NBA by players and fans and colleagues. He was best known for his warm personality, professionalism and, of course, his colorful and at times fluorescent wardrobe. He died just days after he was inducted in the sports broadcasting Hall of Fame. He left behind a wife and five children. He was 65 years old.

KOSIK: He continued working while he was sick and bringing his joy into others' lives.

ROMANS: I know. Real role model and great guy. We wish his family all the best.

KOSIK: Absolutely.

All right. Switching to weather. Bitter cold gripping the Northeast. We know it for sure here with another strong winter storm moving in from the West.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis has more.

Good morning.


KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: If there were a weather misery index, we would be seeing some pretty staggering numbers. But right now, here are the numbers. We got right around the Arctic Circle, Barrow, Alaska, 19 degrees. But in Chicago and Boston, it is colder there than it is in Barrow, Alaska, with single digits.

All right. Our windchill factors are really going to be pronounced here as we start to see the winds gusting between 25 and sometimes over 60 miles an hour. Certainly, we have seen that out on the cape in Massachusetts. We have winter weather advisories out and temperatures along with windchills factor, it is bone-chilling cold from Philadelphia to New York, all the way to Rochester.

Rockford, Illinois, North Central Illinois, the high temperature was only 8 degrees on Thursday.

[04:25:03] So, you see just how cold that air will be across the northern tier. Single digits, but 70s along the Gulf Coast. So, huge temperature change.

So, we've got this weather system moving out of the interior west, heavy rainfall expected across California. But now, we've got that icy mix across the Ohio River Valley and Central Appalachians.

Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: OK. So, anybody who wants to go skiing this weekend, all of these places are open.

KOSIK: There you go. There's a glass half full.

ROMANS: I'm trying to get something happy about the cold.

Harsh new words from President Obama. He is pledging retaliation against Russia for intruding on the election. His message to Putin, next.


ROMANS: Brand new this morning, President Obama with a message to Vladimir Putin. Obama promising the U.S. will retaliate for Russia's attempts to influence the election.

KOSIK: Hillary Clinton and her campaign chair both issuing their own scathing assessments. John Podesta out with an op-ed criticizing the FBI over their handling of the hacking.

ROMANS: "Reuters" reporting evacuations stopped in Aleppo. Thousands of people still trapped now inside this war-torn city. We've got the latest on the fragile peace agreement and what apparently here reports from "Reuters" and others saying the evacuations have stopped. We're going to look into that.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.