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Electoral College Votes Today; U.S Intelligence says Russian Hackers Aimed to Influence the Election; Mass Evacuations from War- Torn Aleppo; Zsa Zsa Gabor Has Died; Security Forces in Jordan Killed Four Gunmen Linked to a Terror Attack; Apple and Ireland fighting the European Union over the Record Setting $14 billion Fine. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump's formal election expected later today. Will any electors go rogue and break with tradition?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And U.S. intelligence says Russia hackers aimed to influence the election. The Russians say, put up or shut up.

ROMANS: Escape from Aleppo. Sabotage. Buses set on fire delaying evacuations from the war zone. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: I'm Miguel Marquez. Good morning to you. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Today is Election Day not for hundreds of millions of Americans, but for the select 538 members of the Electoral College who officially directly vote for president. Donald Trump's formal election is pretty much foregone conclusion even so there is more drama behind today's electoral vote than there's been in generations.

Trump's opponents have been furiously lobbying electors to try to convince them vote against the man they are pledged to elect. This as the Trump transition fights back against the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russian hacking was intended to help Trump win. For the latest, let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

RYAN NOBLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, after wrapping up his thank you tour this weekend, Donald Trump and his family are here at his resort in South Florida getting ready to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The Trump administration still has a couple of holes to fill including the secretary of the Veterans Administration.

No word if that announcement will come before the Christmas holiday. The Trump transition is pushing back on this U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia attempted to intervene in the United States election to help Donald Trump. This is what incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said this weekend. Take a listen.


REINCE PREIBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I mean if there is this conclusive opinion among all of this intelligence agencies, then they should issue a report or they should stand in front of a camera and make the case.


NOBLES: And Monday is of course an important day for Donald Trump as electors from around all around the country will formally cast their ballots to elect him the next president of the United States. And of course there has been an effort by some liberal groups to try and either stall this election to allow the electors to hear an intelligence briefing about this alleged hack or to convince them to not cast their ballots for Trump.

Now, there is not expected to be any sort of widespread revolt by these electors, but it is something that has the president-elect's attention. In fact on Sunday, he tweeted the following, "If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned and called terrible names."

And there have been reports that electors have been receiving death threats, others receiving tens of thousands of e-mails a day trying to convince them to vote for someone other than Donald Trump. That being said, we don't expect anything to happen out of the ordinary in this process. And as expected, it will play out that Donald Trump will formally be elected the next president of the United States. Christine and Miguel.

ROMANS: All right, Ryan Nobles, thank you for that Ryan. Senator John McCain sounding alarm on the Russian election hacking saying it could destroy democracy. The influential Republican joining with incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

They're calling for a select committee to investigate hacking not only by China but possibly by other countries. On CNN's state of the union, McCain slammed the response of the Obama administration to the cyber attacks calling it paralyzed.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were especially if they had an effect on our election. There is no doubt they were interfering and no doubt it was a cyber attacks.

The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we've been totally paralyzed. This is serious business. If they're able to harm the electoral process then they destroyed democracy, which is based on free and fair elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Senator McCain talking about Russia and other countries --

sorry, not china. I misspoke. Since the Republican congressional leaders have rejected McCain and Schumer's idea of a select committee. They said the Russian hacks can be investigated through existing committees.

MARQUEZ: Now in Russia, President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson strongly denying Russia was behind any election cyber attacks and arguing that the U.S. should either prove the claim or shut up. The spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling the ongoing accusations indecent and unseemly.

Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us with the latest. Matthew, those are pretty tough words from the spokesperson. Is this posturing by the government or where does this go now? What is the government actually believe and say?

[04:35:07] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are pretty tough words. You are right. They're very similar aren't they to the words of the Trump campaign coming (inaudible) in terms of looking for evidence in U.S. intelligence community to prove this allegation that Russia was behind the hacking. Russia had its thumb on the scales when it came to Donald Trump's election.

In terms of the Russian government, I mean, you get the sense that they been saying the same thing, denials consistently since October when the story, this allegation first floated at the height of the U.S. election campaign. You get the sense they're very confident that there is no concrete proof that anyone's going to be able to put out though in the public (inaudible) look, this is, you know, undoubted now that it was the Russians responsible for this.

I mean they've got very smart people they're engaged in cyber espionage of course that cover their tracks very well. We don't know exactly what U.S. intelligence sources are but there is this grand swell of calls both in Russia and the United States and elsewhere around the world frankly as well because these are such serious allegations. Because we're talking about a potential act of war from a country with nuclear weapons so the consequences could be very serious indeed.

There is this grand swell of opinion that there is evidence out there that can be declassified that U.S. intelligence officials should try and do that. Although, you know, obviously that could potentially be compromising for their sources. But nevertheless, that's the Russian position. We have nothing to do with it. And again, it's exactly what the Trump campaign is saying as well. That there's no evidence that Russia was involved.

MARQUEZ: Despite the strong front the Russians have put forward, Vladimir Putin made a speech the other day saying that they were going to bulk up their defenses against any cyber intrusions. They must be taking some of it seriously.

CHANCE: Oh, yes. I mean they're taking -- I think they're taking it seriously. But they've always taken cyber security seriously here in Russia. They've spoken about it for many years. The idea that the country's computer systems are vulnerable to attack by outside. And of course that vulnerability is real and of course the threat that they feel is even more real now that President Obama has come and say it for the second time now.

That you know, if it's decided that Russia is responsible, the United States has the capability to strike back at a time of its choosing. Obviously, that leaves open a whole range of possibilities, of vulnerable possibilities here in Russia that the Russians are concerned about. Whether the United States is actually going to take the step and strike back at a time of its choosing.

Obviously that leaves open a while range of possibilities, of vulnerable possibilities here in Russia that the Russians are very concerned about that whether the United States is actually going to take the step and strike back using its considerable capabilities when it comes to cyber warfare.

It's think it's very much unclear at this stage. It could result in a cycle of, you know, kind of measures being taken by each party. Nevertheless, Russia is certainly vulnerable to cyber attack and the United States has the ability to carry out cyber attacksif it chooses to do so.

MARQUEZ: So now we all wait to see what President Obama presents in the reports and what happens shortly for the hours before he leaves office. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right, this morning, the U.S. Navy is still waiting for China to return an underwater drone seized in international waters late last week. This nearly two days after the Chinese government promised to return it, escalating tensions in the midst of their diplomatic effort. Donald Trump sending out provocative tweets accusing China of stealing the drone and saying the U.S. should just let them keep it. CNN's Matt Rivers has more on China's reaction from ba Beijing.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the seizure of this U.S. Navy underwater drone by a Chinese Naval ship really played out along the entirety of the weekend. We found out about it on Friday. It was on Saturday that the Ministry of Defense here in Beijing confirmed what had happened and said it would returning that drone to the United States. And then it was president-elect Donald Trump's turn to weigh in.

He tweeted twice about this issue with the second tweet appearing to be a little bit more aggressive saying that the United States should let China keep the drone and not worry about getting it back. And then on Sunday, it was the state-run media here in China. It was their turn to weigh in on all of this. And it was a state-run tabloid newspaper called, "The Global Times" which is known for its very provocative views on issues like this that really stood out to us. Let me read you some of the editorial that was written about the subject.

It read in part, "the tone of a bystander fanning flames in Trump's second tweet is particularly worrisome that he might treat the relationship between super powers as a game given that he has not been in the White House, the official Chinese rhetoric about him has so far has been measured. But this restraint will not last when he officially becomes president, if he still treats China the way he tweeted today. And that really matters because state-run newspapers in China are just that. They are state run.

Nothing gets published here even if it is an editorial without the sign off of Communist Party sensors. And so while you might not hear a spokesman with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs getting up and making a provocative statement like that, the fact is that this is a state-run newspaper expressing state views.

[04:40:00] Now, a big question here that's remaining in Beijing is how will this incident affect U.S. Chinese relations going forward. If you look at what has happened over the past couple of weeks. It's just the latest negative incident frankly in terms of the relationship between both sides and it all surrounds the incoming Trump administration.

Donald Trump taking a call in early December from the president of Taiwan and questioning the one China policy and then tweeting about this latest incident and it's drawn the ire of the Chinese government. And so whether that is part of the Trump administration plan moving forward, we're still not sure of this kind of tough take on China.

But it is safe to say here at least on the Chinese side of things and the Chinese government given their statements and what you're seeing in state media, not really happy so far with the take and the track of the incoming Trump administration. Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.

ROMANS: (Inaudible) Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

And all of that black Friday hype. All the deals are still there folks. Retailers rolling out new deals ahead of Christmas weekend. Saturday was what the retail folks call Super Saturday. Sixty six percent of Americans, more than 155 million people said they would shop for holiday gifts. That makes a so-called Super Saturday busier than Black Friday. You can credit procrastination.

MARQUEZ: Don't know about that.

ROMANS: Only 10 percent of shoppers have finished getting everything on their lists. Retailers are looking to take advantage of that and finish strong after a solid first half. Sales jumped 3.8 percent in November and online revenue jumped 11 percent. Now, how are you getting all these packages if you're not going to the stores? You're going to FedEx, at U.P.S.?

They are the ones who are handling your Amazon orders and your orders, your Target orders. They expect a record number of packages this year. They have ramped up hiring. They've built some new facilities to handle the rush. So far, no reported slowdowns even with the winter weather last week.

Good thing because online retailers are pushing a ton of shipping deals right now to get packages delivered by this weekend. That's right, buy today, get it by the weekend. Some are offering two-day shipping for free or deep discounts, especially if you spend $50 or more. Are you done, Miguel?

MARQUEZ: Yes. I'm referred to as the Grinch, pretty much done. Yes, I like to go to the store and buy things.

ROMANS: You like to keep your list lean.

MARQUEZ: I like to keep it lean. Plenty of gift cards. I'll e-mail them. You know you can do that on Christmas day.

ROMANS: That's so thoughtful.



MARQUEZ: Plans to escape from war-torn Aleppo, they go up in smoke. Buses set on fire delaying the evacuation of desperate survivors. A live report from the Syrian border coming right up.


ROMANS: Evacuations have resumed in Aleppo. The Red Cross says ambulances and buses started carrying at least 1,000 people who have left rebel held areas in the war-torn city. Now, initial efforts to get civilians out of the danger zone were put on hold after a number of buses were set on fire. Right there, that is a picture. Those buses were carrying -- meant to carry people who are trying to get out of that city.

All of this as the U.N. votes today on a plan to monitor evacuations. CNN's Muhammad Lila live on the Turkish-Syrian border with more. Muhammad, you know, just seeing the pictures of the burning buses, I mean (inaudible) a big fear of people trying to evacuate and people trying to organize the evacuations all along here that, you know, somebody could try to disrupt the entire process here by causing violence.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine. And of course, those images show just how fragile this process is and how easy it is for a rouge group to try to derail this entire process. I'm live on the Turkish side of the border. If you look behind me, you can see this row of trucks. These trucks had been crossing into Syria with relief supplies over the weekend, but there was no movement of those buses over the weekend.

Finally this Monday morning, there is some good news. Those buses that are taking people from the besieged parts of Aleppo to the country side are moving once again. The latest estimates that we have suggested about 3,000 people have already been evacuated. But it's now become more than just a simple evacuation. It's actually a population transfer in exchange for allowing those people in the besieged parts of eastern Aleppo to leave and to get to freedom and to get to the medical treatment they desperately need.

There are a couple of villages that have been surrounded by militant Jihadi groups for about a year and a half. People inside those villages are being allowed to leave as well. So effectively, you have people being transferred from both sides into safety. The problem, Christine, is that whenever you have a transfer, it much more harder o monitor on the ground. These things have to take place at the same time. There has to be protection. There has to be security.

And some of that security might get bolstered today because the United Nations Security Council is talking about a plan to send independent observers who could monitor the situation on the ground. And Christine, that is so crucial because up until this point, the U.N. and the Red Cross have been saying look, we just don't have the security guarantees to make sure that this evacuation process can go on without a hitch.

So if there are international observers, the hope is the evacuations will continue. This people in this besieged areas will be allowed to get into freedom, and of course the could be the first step and maybe -- and I got to say maybe in establishing some tenuous or nationwide cease-fire.

ROMANS: Yes, maybe the operative word has been for four long years. All right. Muhammad Lila, thank you so much for that in Turkey.

MARQUEZ: Attorney general Loretta Lynch opening up about that controversial meeting with Bill Clinton over the summer. Lynch told CNN's Jake Tapper she did not know their talk would turn out to be so problematic. She insists she did not discuss anything inappropriate with Bill Clinton especially not to probe into his wife's private e- mails server inappropriate.


LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do regret sitting down and having a conversation with him because it did give people concern. And my greatest, as I said, my greatest concern has always been making sure that people understand that the Department of Justice works in a way that is independent and looks at everybody equally.

And when you do something that gives people a reason to think differently, that's a problem. It was a problem for me. It was painful for me. And so I felt it was important to clarify it as quickly and as clearly and as cleanly as possible.


MARQUEZ: Now, the meeting became right before the FBI which Lynch supervises, was set to deliver its findings in the Hillary Clinton e- mail probe.

ROMANS: All right, so big news for home buyers. Beware. Mortgage rates are jumping. Have you refinanced? You've got to refinance.

MARQUEZ: I got to buy a home first.

[04:50:00] ROMANS: Okay. All right, we'll work on that in the break. I'll show you how much more you're going to be paying for a mortgage and I'm going to tell you why all of a sudden this popping. We're going to check CNN Money stream next.


MARQUEZ: Security forces in Jordan killed four gunman linked to a terror attack. Authorities say the gunman targeted an ancient castle popular with tourists. Ten people died in the attack including two civilians and a tourist. Thirty-four people were wounded. We get more now from CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Amman.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Miguel, Jordanian authorities are saying the attack was a terrorist attack carried out by a group of attackers. There were several shootings in southern Jordan. Now, the worst shooting incident was in and around the castle in the city of Karak. This is a 12th century crusader castle. One of the main tourist attractions in southern Jordan.

What happened there according to authorities was that a number of gunmen moved in, position themselves in this castle that's on a hill top overlooking the city. They opened fire on security persons. A gun battle ensued and they were surrounded. Now, when the operation ended, we heard from security authorities here who say that at least four attackers, they describe as terrorists, were killed.

They say they found a large amount of weaponry on them, automatic weapons and ammunition.

[04:55:03] Now in a house in a nearby town, they say that the terrorists were also using, security forces, say that they found suicide belts as well as explosives. The majority of the casualties in this attack were members of the Jordanian Security Forces, but there were also civilians and one Canadian tourist was killed. This sort of attack is rare in Jordan.

This is a country that prides itself with its security and stability in the midst of this turbulent region. But over the past year, authorities here say that they have foiled several terror plots including one by ISIS. Now, it's unclear who is behind Sunday's terror attack but Jordanian authorities say they are investigating this. They are trying to identify these attackers and their affiliations. Christine, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Thank you to Jomana. Actress, socialite and perennial talk show host, Zsa Zsa Gabor has died. Her long time spokesman says she passed away Sunday of heart failure in her Bel-Air mansion at the age of 99. She was always very secretive about that.

The Hungarian actress and socialite emigrated to the U.S. with her sisters, Eva and Magda in the 1940's. Gabor appeared in several movies. Perhaps the most well-known is her role in 1952, the movie "Moulin Rouge." But she was mainly know as a pioneer in the art of being famous mainly for being famous. Being chatty, being gossipy. Gabor spent nearly 75 years in the public eye, darling.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour. Let's get check on CNN Money Stream this morning. This could be the day Dow Futures are up. The Dow could take another shot at the 20,000 mark today. Stocks markets have been open two hours in Europe. They are down. Shares in Asia, they are closed now. They began the week with losses. Oil is higher. There are just nine trading days left in the year. You look at the dollar down a little bit I think on some profit taking.

In just five months, mortgage rates have jumped one full percentage point. The national average for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage hit 4.38 percent over the weekend in the first week of July. A 30-year fixed home loan was just 3.34 percent. It was below 4 percent before the election. The said interest rate hike last week is one big reason but the rise began (inaudible) before then as investors bet Donald Trump's pro-growth, big spending policies will keep pushing interest rates higher.

To put the 1 point rise in perspective, a $250,000 loan of the low of 3.34 percent costs $1,100 a month which is less than $400,000 of the (inaudible) alone. OK, we did all the math for you. At the current 4.38 percent, it's $150 more a month for the very same house, $54,000 more over 30 years for the same house and the very same loan. Real money. When those rates rise, it's real money to real families.

All right, Apple and Ireland are fighting the European Union over the record setting $14 billion fine Apple was ordered to pay earlier this year. Apple says European officials singled the company out as a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. And Ireland is accusing the European Commission of meddling with its sovereignty by demanding that it recover that $14 billion of back taxes from Apple.

Both vow to fight the ruling in court. Experts say that fight could take a long time. Ireland has one of the lowest tax rates in Europe. It is a known tax haven for big companies. The Irish government is afraid multinationals will be less likely to invest. If it's tax regime changes, that could cost the country thousands of jobs. So this is just the early innings of what proves to be a fight with the Eu, Apple and Ireland.

MARQUEZ: All this as Brexit makes Dublin and Ireland more attractive to multinational. Confusing times. EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: The Electoral College votes just hours from now. The outcome not in doubt, but plenty of reasons to pay attention.

MARQUEZ: And U.S intelligence says Russian hackers aimed to influence the election. The Russians say prove it.

ROMANS: Mass evacuations from war-torn Aleppo in Syria. A race against time to get survivors out alive.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: And I am Miguel Marquez. It is Monday, December 19th. Oh my goodness, Christmas just around the corner. It is 5:00 a.m. here on the east. Happening today, members of the Electoral College cast their votes for president of the United States. Donald Trump's formal election is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even so, there is drama behind today's Electoral College voted than

there's been in generations. Trump opponents have been furiously lobbying electors trying to convince them to vote against the man they are pledged to elect. This as the Trump transition team fights back against a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russian hacking was intended to help Trump win.

[05:00:02] For the latest, let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.