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Remembering George Michael; Harsh Response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Donald Trump Trying To Quiet Critics; Russian President Vladimir Putin Declaring A National Day of Mourning; Christmas to Remember in An Iraqi Town. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:00] GEORGE MICHAEL, ARTIST: Freedom, freedom, freedom, you've got to give on what you take.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, the unforgettable voice of George Michael. This morning we are remembering the pop legend who passed away suddenly on Christmas. We have more on his life and his legacy. We are live in London.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: A harsh response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the U.S. abstains from an anti-Israel resolution at the United Nations. Netanyahu summons the U.S. ambassador and pins the entire resolution on President Obama. We'll have more live from Jerusalem.

KOSIK: And Donald Trump trying to quiet critics, who states conflict of interests will hurt him in the White House. He says he'll close his charitable foundation. The question is can he get it done before he assumes the presidency?

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

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns. It's Monday, December 26. Its 31 minutes past the hour. Christine and john are off. This morning, fans and fellow musicians all over the world remembering George Michael, who died suddenly at the age of 53 on Sunday.


GEORGE MICHAEL: Last Christmas I gave you my heart.


JOHNS: The British pop icon first rose to fame in the 1980's as part of the two-man group Wham. Michael went on to have a long and successful solo career, selling more than a 100 million records and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the music business. His manager reportedly saying it is suspected that George Michael died of heart failure. CNN's, Ian Lee, live now outside Michael's home in London where fans are gathering to pay tribute. Ian. IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe. And yes, fans have

been coming in slowly streaming throughout this morning, leaving their tributes here at his high gate residency. A lot of people just talking about who the person was. Who George Michael was. He's famous for his music. But we've talked to one person here in the community who said he was very approachable, someone who cared deeply about this community, who would come into his shop and buy things, someone who's just like an average person. And so for the people coming here and leaving their tributes it's really is just heart wrenching for them that he died so suddenly. But, of course, we all know him as a music icon. Someone who rose in the '80's, who was the sound track to many people's lives growing up with many -- had sold over a 100 million albums. And we are starting to hear from other celebrities today reacting from this news. We have Andrew Ridgeley who was one of the other members of Wham, who was a childhood friend, who said heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend, Yog, me, his loved ones, his friends, and the world of music, the world at large, forever loved. Yog being the nick name that Andrew gave to Michael saying, for yours only George. We're also getting a statement from Elton John who said, I'm in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend, the kindest, most generous soul, and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all his fans. But George Michael was someone who, of course, known for his music, but also an activist later in life, someone who was strong for the LGBT community, also someone who advocated strongly against aids. So this is someone who not only left his mark in the music world, but also in the world in general.

JOHNS: Just a real shocker. Why don't we just listen to a little bit of music, let it breathe, and I'll ask you a question in a minute.


GEORGE MICHAEL: Ain't no joy for an uptown boy whose teacher has told him good-bye, good-bye.


JOHNS: Ian Lee, any sense of what was going on in George Michael's life over the last few years? We haven't heard so much from him musically, at least over here in New York. But what was going on in his life, if you know?

LEE: Well, you know, in the '90's and to the 2000's, he did have -- struggling -- he was struggling with drugs. In 2010, he spent about a month in prison because he was caught driving under the influence of marijuana. In 2011, he had a real serious health scare when he got pneumonia. Even he said for a few weeks there was really touch and go, and that the doctors were able to save his life.

And about two weeks ago it was announced that he was going to collaborate and make some new music for the world working with musical producer Naughty Boy. And that was something that people were really looking forward to. This is someone whose music spanned decades. There are people who are excited about this new music. Naughty boy said that he was really looking forward to this collaboration, working with such a legend, but unfortunately that isn't going to happen now.

[04:35:27] JOHNS: Ian Lee in London. Thanks so much for that.

KOSIK: All right. Tensions between the U.S. and Israel are rising in the last days of the Obama administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoning the U.S. ambassador just days after the U.S. refuse to use its veto power to stop a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemn Israel settlements in the West Bank. The prime minister accusing the U.S. of being complicit in the resolution saying this, from the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed. We will do whatever is necessary so that Israel is not be damaged by this shameful resolution. CNN's, Oren Liebermann is following the latest development on this live from Jerusalem. Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alison, it wasn't just the U.S. ambassador who was summoned, it was ten other countries who also voted for the Security Council resolution. The difference is, those ten countries met with the foreign ministry. And remember they were all summoned on Christmas Day. It was the U.S. -- specifically, U.S. ambassador, Dan Shapiro, to Israel, that was summoned specifically to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We don't have too much on the details on either side on what was said inside that meeting, but I don't think it was surprises. Netanyahu has express his fury not only in the U.N., but also specifically with President Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry over their decision not to abstain here. He's made it very clear he considers the U.S. behind this. You read that statement from his spokesperson that he directed that anger directly in this meeting at the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Shapiro. Here is what Netanyahu had to say in the cabinet meeting.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER: Over decades, the American administration and Israeli government had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace further away. And as I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council.


LIEBERMANN: And, Alison, let me point out one thing about what Netanyahu said there. That was in the Israeli cabinet meeting. He almost always speaks in Hebrew there because he's addressing Israeli public and Israeli politicians. That's speaking in English at the cabinet meeting was very much a message to the U.S.

KOSIK: And with the Trump administration coming in, in less than an month, what about potential action that the U.S. could take against the United Nation next year?

LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu made it very clear that he's done working with Obama. He's very much looking forward to a fresh start with President-elect Trump. Meanwhile, the U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, in fact, said the U.S. would consider cutting its funding to the United Nations. Israel had already taken that step, cutting funding to five different U.N. organizations, and reevaluating their relationships with U.N. representative here in Israel. So, Netanyahu promised there may be more steps in the future against the U.N.

KOSIK: All right, more to come. Oren Liebermann, thanks so much.

JOHNS: Here at home, 25 days until Donald Trump takes office, and the president-elect is moving to address potential conflicts of interest in his administration that includes dissolving the charitable foundation that bears his name. But it appears the plan is already hitting a big legal snag. We've get more from CNN's, Jeremy Diamond.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPINDENT: Good morning, Joe and Alison. President-elect Donald Trump is staying at his Mar-a-Lago residence here in Palm Beach, Florida, today. He's got nothing publicly scheduled, but that comes after this weekend where he spent the Christmas holiday with his family. He also attended services, Christmas Eve services at a church here in Palm Beach, Florida. But on Saturday, he did make a bit of news. The president-elect announcing in a statement that he plans to shutter the Trump Foundation, that's the charitable foundation in his name. But that may be a little bit easier said than done. The New York attorney general's office releasing a statement saying that Donald Trump cannot legally shutter that foundation because an investigation is ongoing. The New York attorney general launch that investigation in relations to -- accusation of self-dealing, meaning that Trump has been accused of using his charitable foundation to settle private legal disputes -- business disputes involving him, using the charity's money. Donald Trump has actually not donated himself to the charity since 2008. And has not released his tax returns so there is no public record yet of how much money Donald Trump has given over the years to charitable causes.

The Democrats have been quick to pounce on Donald Trump's announcement of shuttering his foundation saying that it is nothing but a fig leaf, and that it is simply a distraction. Not really showing anything as far as Donald Trump resolving his conflicts of interest. But we will see over the coming weeks. Donald Trump is expected to announce more steps to disentangle himself from conflicts of interest between his business and his duty as president of the United States. We're expecting him to give a press conference on the matter sometime next month before he takes office. Joe and Alison?

[04:40:35] KOSIK: All right, Jeremy Diamond. Thanks very much. Question for you, did you get a gift card for the holidays? One you have no intention of ever using? How to get cash for the card that will never leave your drawer, next.


KOSIK: Welcome back. So don't you hate it when you get a gift card for the holidays to a store you don't really want to go shop? Well, you've got some options here on what the heck to do with that card. Personal finance site, nerd wallet, outline the following options. Gift card granny and card pool, these are two web sites that essentially let you sell your gift cards for around 90 percent of their value.

You can also buy cards from other stores on the site. Some coin star machines that grocery store, they let you trade in gift cards as well. And get this, many Target location will actually make you an offer on your gift cards from other retailers. And then, what you do is you load the amount on to a Target gift card. As for those gifts you just don't want, well consider returning them sooner rather than later, that way you don't have to deal with, you know, expiring return dates, and lots of stores having those after Christmas sales. So you could score bargains on the stuff you actually want. The trick is you have to be willing to wait in line, and probably everybody be rushing out today and returning them.

[04:45:31] JOHNS: Right. I had no idea you could actually cash those things in.

KOSIK: Yes, so just give up a little bit of the money on there, at least you can have enough money to shopping, you what to shop.

JOHNS: Coin Star, who knew?

KOSIK: Who knew?

JOHNS: All right, weather. Whiteout Christmas from the Rockies to the northern plains as much as foot and a half of snow falling in the nation's mid-section. Blizzard warnings still in effect through this morning, along with dangerous accumulations of black ice on the road, parts of North Dakota buried in a deep freeze. The state department of transportation closing portions of three major highways because of what they call life-threatening conditions. No travel advisories in effect from Bismarck where the national weather service says traveling is both dangerous if not impossible. So now, let's get some more news on this from meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Joe and Alison. Pretty sure the calendar says this the day after Christmas, but certainly not feeling like that when we have the potential of breaking 22 record high temperatures across the Eastern and Central United States. Take a look at this map, and then take a look at the four-day temperature forecast for places like Chicago, 54 degrees today. Atlanta, lower 60's, potentially, breaking the 70-degree mark by this time tomorrow. Temperatures for the Big Apple also relatively mild, we're talking about 10 to 15 degrees above where we should be this time of year. We do have a full pledge blizzard on the backside of a cold front that's producing whiteout conditions for North and South Dakota. That will continue through the middle of the day today, and part of the system is also bringing a wintry mix, to parts of New England, including New York into Pennsylvania, parts of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. So drive with care as you travel through the course of the rest of the week. Back to you.

KOSIK: OK. Derek Van Dam, thanks very much you. Do you know there's just four trading days left in the year? Four. How's your 401K looking? Have you even taken a look? Well, the big gift the market is giving investors when we get an early start on your money next. JOHNS: Probably pretty good. And we'll go to London for more on the

life and legacy of George Michael, the pop icon, dies at 53. More coming up next.


[04:50:59] KOSIK: Russian president Vladimir Putin declaring a national day of mourning today after a military jet crashed, Sunday, killing all 92 people on board, the first plane carrying the victims' bodies arriving in Moscow overnight, the passengers including members of the military choir who were scheduled to perform for Russian troops in Syria on New Year's Eve. Well, now Russian officials are weighing in on the likely cause of the disaster. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow with the very latest. You know, when reports first came out about this crash, officials were ruling out terrorism, but that seems to be changing now.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not really, I mean the Russian transport minister has been on the Russian state television this morning saying, look, we're still looking at technical failure or pilot error as the main version of events that will account for the sudden loss of this Russian Tupolev 154 aircraft over the Black Sea, just a few minutes after it took off. And -- but, you know, perhaps softened a little bit on the idea that not all investigations into the possibility of terrorism have been closed. But certainly in the Russian state media, there's been a lot of speculations, a lot of articles about when an aircraft suddenly drops off radar like this it's not wise to rule out terrorism so quickly, particularly before the investigation is completed, and that investigation is nowhere near completed. There still very much in recovery phase of the operation trying to retrieve the bodies, first of all, 92 people on board that aircraft, including 64 performers who are part of the Russian army military choir that were, as you're saying, on route to Syria to give a New Year's performance to the Russian troops that based in Syria. Also trying to retrieve aircraft parts as well, to try to piece together what exactly happened to this aircraft, which again, had crashed in the Black Sea, shortly after takeoff from the Russian city of Sochi on Christmas Day on Sunday.

KOSIK: OK. All right, CNN's, Matthew Chance, live from Moscow. Thanks very much.

JOHNS: Japan's prime minister is set to make a historic visit to Hawaii. Shinzo Abe will take part in ceremonies today before tomorrow's visit with President Obama to Pearl Harbor. Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit the wreck of the USS Arizona, more than 75 years after the surprise attack by Japan, left 2,400 Americans dead, most of them military personnel. Abe's visit comes a few months after President Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima, the site of the U.S. atomic bombing.

KOSIK: All right. We've got an update now on actress Carrie Fisher, who's recovering after an in-flight medical emergency which happened on Friday. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, tweeting this on Christmas Day that Carrie is in stable condition, and thanking fans and friends for all of their prayers and good wishes. The 60-year-old, Fisher, suffering a cardiac event while flying from London to Los Angeles.

JOHNS: For the first time in nearly three decades, Queen Elizabeth did not make it to the traditional Christmas Day church service, a palace spokesman said the 90-year-old is still recovering from a bad cold and will stay indoors to help with that recovery. In a Christmas message taped before she got sick, the queen urged Britain to come together and work toward peace, especially after a turbulent election year.

And it was a Christmas to remember in an Iraqi town, which until only a few weeks ago, had been held by ISIS. About 200 former residents of Bartella, just 13 miles east of Mosul, returned to celebrate mass in their restored and now reopened church. CNN's Muhammad Lila has the story.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a moment that many at this historic church thought they'd never see. Celebrating the birth of Christ in a place once desecrated by ISIS.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Even if it's ISIS, the lord taught us to love and forgive our enemies and to pray for them. The most important thing is for us to live in harmony and peace.

[04:55:04] LILA: ISIS overran this town more than two years ago. Everyone fled. Look closely. Bullet holes on the walls are scars that remain. ISIS broke the church's glass, but not its heart.

UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happiness and sadness at the same time. This town used to be full of life. Now look at it, such a desolate place. We can't live here now.

LILA: The town was recaptured by Iraqi forces in October this year. Thousands of ISIS fighters are just a few kilometers away. This is now a place of razor wire, broken buildings and the reality of war.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: I could never imagine this would happen. We have lived here for more than 1,000 years. We never thought we would be displaced. Our houses are destroyed. We won't be able to come back.

LILA: In town, the green of a single plastic Christmas tree breaks up the misery surrounding it. This is a place guarded by the army now, just holding this mass requires armed soldiers at the door.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: We need a guarantee of international protection. There is no safety, we cannot live in this area. Today, we have no dignity. We are displaced in our own country.

LILA: Displaced but not disheartened.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: We have to have hope in this life. If we don't have hope, then we are finished.

LILA: The ancient hymns of one of the world's oldest Christian communities are being sung here once again, a small act of life in a country that's seen so much death. Muhammad Lila, CNN. KOSIK: All right, Muhammad Lila, thanks very much. Let's get an

early start on your money, just four days -- four days left in 2016, and today is not one of them. I'm talking about how many days you have left to trade. U.S. stock markets are closed following a Christmas holiday. But I want you to check out the gains for this year. Your 401K is likely showing similar returns. Nice. The Dow is up 14 percent, the NASDAQ up with a 9 percent gain. The S&P 500, which is the broadest measure of the market, that's rising more than 10 percent. That's good news for your 401K.

The big winners of the Dow are posting some stunning gains. Caterpillar is up 38 percent, that company getting a big boost, thanks to Donald Trump's infrastructure plans. United Healthcare up 37 percent despite worries about Obamacare. JP Morgan Chase leading the charge among financial stock, stock is up more than 30 percent. Same with oil giant, Chevron, it's a major recovery there as crude oil prices rebounded. But perhaps, the most impressive gain belongs to Goldman Sachs. It's not only a former employer to several of Trump's pick for top administration posts, it's also the darling of the Dow's post-election rally. Look at this. The iconic Wall Street Bank up a stunning 32 percent since Trump's victory. That's helped Goldman Sachs stock price to finally recover from the financial meltdown of 2008.

But get this, that jump, is contributed 24 percent or about 385 of the Dow's 1,600-point rally since early November. That's amazing. It's also the most expensive stock on the average trading at $240 a share. And because of the way the Dow is calculated, what that does it makes it even more influential in the index. So what's behind the strong performance we are seeing? High interest rates, more trading activity we're seeing, and the hope of less regulation under a Trump presidency. So a lot of these is expectations of what a Trump administration is going to bring for the economy and for business as well.

JOHNS: For the average person, check your 401K, right?

KOSIK: That is maybe a good time.

JOHNS: You got it. All right. Now EARLY START continues, right now.


GEORGE MICHAEL: The sun going down on me.


KOSIK: Oh, gosh, we love that voice. Remembering a pop icon, George Michael passes away overnight at just 53-years-old. We've got details and a lot of tributes from London.

JOHNS: And a fierce response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the U.S. refuses to stand in the way of a U.N. resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu meeting with the U.S. ambassador behind closed doors. We'll have the latest. KOSIK: And Donald Trump looking to calm concerns about conflicts of interest. He says he'll shutter his charitable foundation, but is that even possible to do before he takes the oath of office?

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

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns. It's Monday, December 26th. It's 5:00 AM in the east. Christine and John are off. Up first, the entertainment world mourning the sudden death of singer George Michael at the age of 53.


GEORGE MICHAEL: Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away.


[05:00:02] JOHNS: The British pop icon first rising to fame in the 1980's as part of the two-man group, Wham. Michael went on to have a long successful solo career, selling more than a 100 million records and collaborating with some of the biggest names.