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Obama Vows Retaliation for Russian Hacking; Aleppo Evacuation Suspended; Sports World Mourns The Loss of Craig Sager. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2016 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is saying the U.S. will take action against Russia after high level politicians, likely including Putin himself, meddled in the U.S. election.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton and her campaign chair both weighing in. John Podesta issuing a scathing criticism of the FBI over their handling of the hacking.

ROMANS: Fast moving developments in Aleppo right now. Syrian state TV reporting evacuations are suspended in Aleppo. Another truce broken. Thousands of people stuck inside the war-torn city.

Good morning, everyone, this Friday morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's Friday, December 16th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And new this morning, President Obama vowing to take action in response to Russian hacking of the U.S. election. In an interview with NPR, the president said he is 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 a place of our own choosing.


KOSIK: And President Obama wasn't specific about what kind of form a U.S. response might take or when something like that would happen.

[05:00:00] But he did say some of it may be explicit and publicized. And some of it may not be. This as a U.S. official confirms U.S. agencies believe Putin ordered the cyber attacks.

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


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.


ROMANS: All right, Jim Sciutto.

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 is not easing up.

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?"

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

KOSIK: The issue now increasing friction between the Obama administration and the incoming Trump team. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted it was obvious Trump knew Russia was meddling in the election.

Last night, Trump lashed back at the White House spokesman during a thank you rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty was there and she's got 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, thank you.

And 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: There's concerns, of course, about Donald Trump's potential conflict of interest. Amid those concerns, new data shows his company is bigger than ever. Trump Organization now the 48th largest privately held company in the U.S. That's according to PrivCo. It was 62 last year.

[05:05:01] It employs 22,000 people and brought in $9.5 billion 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, they 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.

What is not struggling? Donald Trump book sales. Look at this, the iconic "The Art of the Deal" cracked the Amazon's top 100 bestsellers list yesterday. It currently sits at 97. It is number one in the entrepreneurial section. Not bad for a book published nearly 30 years ago. >

KOSIK: All right. Russian election hacking now dominating talk about the Trump transition. So much to talk about.

Helping us, let's bring in CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott live in Washington.

Good morning. Happy Friday.

ROMANS: Good morning.


KOSIK: You know, there is so much to read. I'm reading all of this that happened overnight. You know, let's start this off by saying a U.S. official confirms to CNN that agencies believe that Vladimir Putin ordered the cyber attacks. So, since then, you have President Obama coming out and saying, there will be retribution for this and consequences.

And then some may say Josh Earnest coming out and being more poignant. Listen.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just a fact. You all 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 that the defense from the Trump campaign that he was joking. I don't think anybody at the White House thinks it's funny.


KOSIK: And, of course, President-elect Donald Trump had something to say about this. He went to Twitter and said, "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?"

You know, the one thing that comes to mind here is that photo-op between President-elect Trump at the White House right after he was elected with President Obama. And then thereafter, President Obama saying, "I want to help the transition."

ROMANS: So much for detente.

KOSIK: I feel there is a huge rift. All bets are off because the gloves are off.

SCOTT: Well, that's certainly what I was thinking when I read that statement. I remember writing the article where Donald Trump said, "I really like President Obama and I love his ideas." That love is no extending to the administration.

I think what he will have to do is deny the accusations that Earnest is making if it is really true. If he did not know and if he did not ask Russia to do what it is that intelligence believes he did. The problem is we have the recording saying, Russia, if you are listening, we hope you can find help these e-mails.

And so, whether or not Donald Trump is going to be more aggressive after this administration leaves the White House in pursuing this, time will only tell.

ROMANS: Time will only tell. You know, the president promising that there will be some sort of retribution, you can say what it was, but he only has 36 more days to get it done.

John Podesta, someone's e-mails why hacked and broadcast for the world to see. This is what he said in "The Washington Post" op-ed last night, just a few hours old, six to seven hours.

"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."

He is demanding declassifying some of the material surrounding the source of the Russian hack. He demanded the Electoral College be briefed on this before the December 19th deadline.

What does the Podesta op-ed do to change this story or is that sour grapes, as some Trump supporters have been saying?

SCOTT: Well, it furthers the concern that the motivations of Comey may have been political. Whether or not that can be proved, we need to see what the investigation reveals. But it would be helpful to have more information about why this department decided to focus on these e-mails opposed to the alleged hacking when there was intelligence suggesting it was happening. Not that investigating both are mutually exclusive, but I think people on both sides certainly want more information.

ROMANS: And he was sort of complaining that, you now, the FBI alerted DNC I.T., and I.T. office about the potential for Russian hacking. They had a whole team investigating on the premises with the tech firm that set up her private server. It just showed a very different level of importance.

SCOTT: Right. The focus was not the same. People want to know why the focus was what it was. I think what's been interesting is these recent revelations about how

high up involvement went with Russia in terms of the alleged hacking.

[05:10:00] What we will be interested in seeing more of is how far up intelligence went here statewide regarding what was happening.

KOSIK: You know, one of the big concerns with the Trump camp is the talking of Russia interfering in the election, undermines and de- unifies the country, but undermines a Trump presidency. We have the Electoral College voting on Monday. There is a storm brewing to convince these folks not to vote for Trump, even though obviously that wouldn't work. The House of Representatives has the final say in that situation. It's a Republican.

There's the effort brewing to undermine the fact that Trump won the election.

SCOTT: Yes, you would think, though, that Americans, the future of president-elect and everyone supporting him would just want more information about this. This is not about Trump. This isn't about the election. This is about Russia violating the trust of the American people and getting involved in our election process. That should be a bipartisan issue if I ever heard of one. This is not about Trump at this point.

KOSIK: And many Republicans are coming out and saying Donald Trump, you have to acknowledge this happened.

ROMANS: The FBI should investigate the role. There are cyber security experts who say it is ongoing.

So, thank you so much. Come back in a few minutes. We know at 2:15 Eastern Time, the president giving a press conference. Trump is going to Orlando today. So much happening. I look forward to it. Get a cup of coffee and come back.

KOSIK: All right. Syrian state TV now reporting evacuations have been suspended in Aleppo. Thousands of people are still trapped in the city. We're going to tell you the latest, next.


ROMANS: Fluid and fast changing situation. Breaking news this morning in Syria. The evacuation of civilians out of Aleppo has now stopped. Syrian state television says the evacuations were halted because rebels breached a cease-fire with the Syrian government.

[05:15:06] Now, Syrian activists are blaming the suspension on Shiites who lived in Aleppo and there's some reports of firing on these convoys of people leaving, evacuating the city.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh monitoring the situation. She joins us live to explain the complex and quick-changing conflict.

Jomana, what do we know right now? JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we do know,

Christine, is that these evacuations seem to have been suspended for now. Of course, we don't know what prompted this pause in the evacuations. We are getting different versions of events, a very complex situation on the ground, with so many parties and players involved in this agreement on the ground.

Now, we heard a short time ago from the regional director of the international committee of the Red Cross tweeting saying, "Regretfully, the operation was put on hold. We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched and proceed in the right conditions."

Now, first news of this breakdown in at agreement was through Syrian state media. The regime state media in which they reported the rebels they described at terrorists violated the agreement. They say that they attacked the crossing point where people are evacuated to outside the besieged neighborhood, that main crossing point with east and regime-held west.

They also say there were several other violations by the rebels. They say they tried to smuggle out captives being held in eastern Aleppo, as well as heavy weapons, something that is not part of the deal.

We are hearing also from activists on the opposition tonight who's saying that the regime simply just shut that crossing.

So, so many different versions. We will try to get you more on the situation on the ground. I can tell you earlier today we spoke to people on the ground in eastern Aleppo. Activists very concerned we were going to see something like this. This is a very fragile deal. We heard from aid officials. They were very concern that we could see something like this happen.

ROMANS: Yes, so many hopes have been dashed four years of this conflict.

Tell me how many refugees have been evacuated at this point. What is their situation?

KARADSHEH: Well, what we do know, Christine, is that the numbers be -- we got different figures. The numbers vary from 6,000 to 9,000 according to a Turkish senior government official a few hours ago. He said that about 8,000 people had been evacuated in five convoys. That six convoy was on the move to get out.

What we do know is that this is a combination of civilians wounded who are in real need of medical attention as well as rebel fighters. They were taken out of the besieged neighborhoods into the western Aleppo countryside and people decide if they want to go to neighboring Idlib province under rebel control or if they want to proceed to the Turkish border.

So, we don't really know how many people are left in the besieged neighborhoods. A few days ago, the estimate was about 50,000 people. And we're talking about an estimate now of about 8,000 people have left. So, there's concern that there are still tens of thousands who may still remain in these besieged neighborhoods. This is all up in the air right now.

ROMANS: Certainly when you see the pictures of children in the windows of buses getting out and trying to get out of there in the cold and uncertainty in a refugee camp. Frightening to think people still stuck there. Let us know if there are developments. Thank you so much.

KOSIK: And the basketball world is remembering a beloved figure who left a colorful legacy. Sideline reporter Craig Sager passing away after courageous battle with cancer. Coy Wire with this morning's "Bleacher Report". That's coming up next.


[05:22:30] ROMANS: Sad news this morning to report. The Turner family losing a broadcaster and man who brought joy to everyone he touched.

Craig Sager passed away at the age of 65 after a courageous battle with leukemia.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Good morning.


You know, I'm wearing my Sager Strong shirt this morning. You can't see it. It is a quote from Craig Sager's speech at the Espys, "Time is simply how you live your life," is what he said. Sager made the most of his time bringing joy to everyone he came in contact with.

Most fans know him for the wacky suits in the NBA games. But he's going to be remembered most for the courageous fight with leukemia. A fight that didn't stop Sager from doing what he loved, and that was reporting sports for us fans at home.

Sager made his television debut in an iconic moment in sports. He was at home plate in the white trench coat after Hank Aaron broke the record back in 1974. Sager reported for CNN and then Turner Sports from the World Series to the Final Four.

Tributes from all over the sports world pouring in once the news broke yesterday. All the teams in action last night honoring Sager before the games. Many wearing Sager Strong shirts during warm ups.

And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr who is a former colleague of Sager at Turner Sports, he gave a beautiful tribute before their game.


STEVE KERR, WARRIORS HEAD COACH: We mourn his loss, but while we considered a moment of silence, we thought it is more appropriate given the way Craig lived his life and the joy he brought to so many people to have a moment of joy instead. So, I like all of you to join me in applause for a great man and a life well-lived. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)


SCHOLES: Sager died just days after he was inducted in the sports broadcasting Hall of Fame. He leaves behind a wife and five children. Craig Sager was 65 years old.

All right. Elsewhere in the sports world, the Seattle Seahawks are now NFC West Division champs once again after defeating the Rams last night. Seahawks looking like human highlighters with the color rush uniforms. Russell Wilson putting the game away with the 57 yard touchdown pass of Tyler Lockett. Seahawks beat the Rams by a final 24-3.

Guys, back --

ROMANS: Human highlighters, just about right.

SCHOLES: Guys, back to Craig Sager. I got to be around him during the Final Four last year in Houston and NBA Finals.

[05:25:01] And just to know what he was going through and watch him still report the way he did truly was an inspiration.

ROMANS: Yes. I love it. Time is simply how you live your life.

KOSIK: Not a dry eye -- not a dry eye from the sports world. That speech was given at the Warriors game.

All right. Thanks so much, Andy Scholes.

SCHOLES: All right.

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


KOSIK: New this morning, President Obama out with a message to Vladimir Putin. Obama promising the U.S. will retaliate for the Russian attempt to influence the election.

ROMANS: Hillary Clinton and campaign chair both issue their own scathing assessments. John Podesta with an op-ed this morning, criticizing the FBI over its handling of the hacking.

KOSIK: Syrian state TV reporting evacuations of Aleppo has been suspended. A rapidly changing situation on the ground there with thousands of people trapped in the war-torn city. We have the latest.

And welcome back and good morning to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

ROMANS: Great to see you this Friday morning, Alison.

KOSIK: Good morning.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 29 minutes -- almost exactly 30 minutes past the hour.

Let's begin here with the news of President Obama vowing to take action in response to Russian hacking g 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.