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Singer George Michael Dies At 53; Israel Summons U.S. Ambassador After U.N. Vote; Trump Foundation Under Investigation In New York; President-elect To Dissolve Trump Foundation; Israel Summons U.S. Ambassador After U.N. Vote; Americans Just Spent $655B On Gifts. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 05:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: -- British pop icon first rising to fame in the 1980s as part of the two-man group, Wham! Michael went on to have a long successful solo career selling more than 100 million records and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the music business. His manager telling British press it is suspected George Michael died of heart failure.

CNN's Ian Lee outside of Michael's home in London where the fans have been gathering. What are they saying this morning, Ian?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, that is right. I'm here in Highgates where George Michael had a home. We have been seeing fans trickling in all day leaving their tributes at his door step. It really -- when you think of a pop star or pop icon and legend, you rarely think of the person as an individual. That's what we have been fortunate to get here with fans coming by.

A lot of these people actually knew him because he was a member of this community. He would shop here. He knew people. So they were giving us personal stories about how he was such a loving and caring person.

Yes, he struggled with drugs, but this is a person they remember has just a big heart who really cared about the community. Here is a bit more about the late legend.


LEE (voice-over): Global superstar, George Michael, launched into pop culture history in 1984 as half of the British boy duo, Wham! Singing the chart topping ballad "Careless Whisper."

By 1986, Michael launched an incredible solo career. His number one album "Faith" raising eyebrows with its first single. The risque lyrics and provocative video drawing sharp criticism from those wanting to bring awareness to the growing AIDS epidemic and the need for safe sex. "Faith" producing four number singles including "Father Figure," "One More Try" and "Monkey."

By the '90s, Michael became a more serious artist celebrating his independence from the pop machine. Refusing to appear in the video "Freedom 90," which featured cameos from pop models lip-synching his lyrics.

But the late '90s were rough for the pop icon, he was arrested by an undercover police officer and charged with engaging in a lewd act at a park in Beverly Hills leading him to reveal in a CNN interview that he was gay in 1998.

In later years, there were drug-related arrests and nasty car accident in 2010. He served a month in jail for driving under the influence of marijuana.

But his career continued to flourish thanks to his powerful vocals. At nearly 50, Michael once again found critical success with his sixth and final album, "Symphonica," a creative masterpiece backed by a full orchestra.


LEE: Joe, George was gearing up to go back in the studio to create another album. Sadly he won't be able to do that. This is also a legend that's known more than his music. This is someone who is a strong advocate for the LGBT community as well as raising awareness about AIDS.

Elton John released a statement saying, "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 friends."

So Joe, again a lot of people mourning here. Really a lot of people in shock over George Michael dying at the age of 53.

JOHNS: And Ian, to our knowledge, he hadn't began recording that new album, correct? There aren't some partial tracks that might appear somewhere down the road?

LEE: As far as we know, no. It doesn't appear that he was in the studio yet. This announcement was made earlier this month. Naughty Boy was going to be the producer on this. They were looking forward to this collaboration, but it did not look like they were able to make it in the studio. Probably not any recorded material out there.

[05:05:14]JOHNS: Ian Lee in London. Thanks so much for that.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: All right, tensions rising between the U.S. and Israel in the last days of the Obama administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoning the U.S. ambassador days after the U.S. refused to block a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The prime minister now even 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 will not be damaged by this shameful resolution." CNN's Oren Liebermann is following the developments live from Jerusalem. So Oren, do me a favor and talk to me a little bit about the significance of Netanyahu summoning the U.S. ambassador. Netanyahu is making a big statement here, isn't he?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He could have waited a few weeks here. He's already made it clear he is done working with President Obama and looking forward to President-elect Trump. The relationship, what was a strain relationship between Obama and Netanyahu is now deteriorating rapidly in its final days.

Netanyahu choose to make a big statement and in the final days of this relationship calling in the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and letting him know exactly what he thought about of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

He did this on Christmas Day. He also called in the ambassadors of ten other countries, who voted for the Security Council resolution. But they met with the Foreign Ministry.

It was specifically the U.S. ambassador who met with Netanyahu. Netanyahu expressing his anger. Anger that he already made clear in the cabinet meeting. Listen to what he had to say.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Over decades, the American administrations and Israeli governments have 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. As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don't take friends to the Security Council.


LIEBERMANN: Let me also point out, Alison, that this is the Israeli cabinet meeting. Netanyahu here is addressing Israeli politicians and Israeli public. He very rarely speaks in English. When he does, it in of itself is a big statement. Here he wasn't addressing the Israeli public, but here he was addressing President Obama.

KOSIK: You know, and Donald Trump tweeted as to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th. What kind of potential action could we see the U.S. take against the United Nations next year?

LIEBERMANN: Well, it was already Senator Lindsey Graham who said the U.S. would consider pulling funding for the United Nations. Israeli has already taken that step. Netanyahu announced shortly after the vote, the day after the vote, in fact that Israel would cut funding to five different U.N. organizations totaling nearly $8 million.

He also said that Israel would reconsider relationships with the U.N. ambassadors and U.N. representatives working here and promised more steps may be ahead.

KOSIK: And taking away that funding could be a big deal. The U.S. funds 22 percent of the U.N. All right, CNN's Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

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

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, Joe and Alison. President-elect Trump is staying at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida today. He has nothing publicly scheduled. That comes after the weekend where he spent the Christmas holiday with his family.

He also attended Christmas Eve services at a church here in Palm Beach, Florida. 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 launched that investigation in relations to accusations of self-dealing meaning that Donald 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. He has not released his tax returns. There is no public record yet of how much money Donald Trump has given over the years to charitable causes.

[05:10:06]The Democrats have been quick to pounce on Donald Trump's announcements 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 the conflicts of interest between his business and his duties as president of the United States.

We are expecting him to give a press conference on the matter sometime next month before he takes office -- Joe and Alison.

KOSIK: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much. So the question is will Trump's plan to quiet his critics work? CNN political reporter, Eugene Scott with analysis right here when we come back.


JOHNS: OK, it was a quiet holiday weekend. That's only relative term in the political world. Donald Trump looking to ease conflict of interests and concerns, certainly easier said than done. Let's bring in CNN politics reporter, Eugene Scott. Merry Christmas first of all. So Donald Trump dissolving his foundation. It's big news, certainly. On the other hand, expected, but very difficult to do especially when you have an investigating body saying you can't dissolve until we finish looking at this.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely, which is why we are saying he is intending to dissolve the foundation. Whether or not it actually happens remains to be seen. As you know, there has been some criticism of his foundation throughout this campaign because the charitable contributions of it have been questionable.

He himself has not given to his own foundation in nearly a decade. It is currently under investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office. So whether or not he will be able to do what he said he wants to do to avoid conflict of interest is still not clear.

[05:15:04]KOSIK: All right, another big talking point over the weekend is the action by the U.N. and the inaction by the U.S. to veto a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And over the weekend, we saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summon these ambassadors from China and France and Angola and Egypt. He's clearly upset. Even summoning the ambassador for the U.S. to Israel.

So what ramifications does this have? Clearly he did not wait until Donald Trump came into office. Obviously, we know where he is standing after his tweet saying things will change come January 20th in the U.N. But what are the ramifications of what Benjamin Netanyahu is doing on the world stage?

SCOTT: Yes, I think one of the biggest ramifications that this appears to be the end of the potential collaborations between the prime minister and President Barack Obama. Regardless of what happened in November, it's been said quite a few times, we only have one president at a time.

And the current president is Barack Obama. So it seems like Prime Minister Netanyahu is finished working with him and putting his sights on hoping that the Trump administration will support policies that benefit the Israeli government as he sees it.

KOSIK: Do you agree what many critics are saying that this was, you know, President Obama's kind of parting shot on his way out the door? No love lost between Netanyahu and Obama. Some are saying it was Obama pretty much thumbing his nose at Netanyahu after years and years of less than friendly relations and Mideast peace process that is non- existent.

SCOTT: I think it was a clear move from the Obama administration articulating their frustration with not being able to reach the two- state solution that they were hoping they'd be able to get with the Israeli government as we know they see things very differently.

JOHNS: Israel is pointing the finger at the Obama administration very directly. In fact, we have a little sound from the spokesman. Let's listen.


DAVID KEYES, SPOKESMAN FOR THE ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We have iron clad information frankly that the Obama administration really helped push this resolution and helped craft it from sources internationally and sources in the Arab world.


JOHNS: So you listen to that and it sounds like subterfuge. But the Obama administration has kind of been upfront about its concern about the West Bank settlements.

SCOTT: They certainly have. This is not new. The Obama administration has said THAT they were not pushing this. They were not the originators of this. That involved an Egyptian delegation and Palestine, but that their commitment to helping this region remain peaceful has been steadfast and consistent with U.S. policy for at least 50 years.

KOSIK: All right, Eugene Scott, thanks so much for your analysis. We will bring you back in about 25 minutes or more.

SCOTT: Great. Awesome. See you.

KOSIK: Thanks. The holiday shopping season is wrapping up and Americans have unloaded hundreds of billions of dollars on gifts. The National Retail Federation forecasting a 3.6 percent jump in sales from last year. The total amount spent $655 billion. Americans plan to spend an average $935 on gifts.

That is second only to last year's. They are ready to dig deep from their pockets. Mobile was a bright spot for retailers. Stores like Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy revamped their mobile sites to make it easier for shoppers.

And there is also an employment bump from the holiday rush. The National Retail Federation saying as many as 690,000 seasonal workers scored jobs this holiday season. That is actually in line with last year's 675,000 new holiday positions.

Many of those jobs will wind up disappearing in the New Year, but a steady level of holiday jobs shows consumer demand is strong and retail sales during the first quarter will be important to the broader economy.

It has been a sluggish past few years. It is going to be interesting to see when the retailers come out with their numbers as time goes by, how much retailers have been able to make up.

JOHNS: Things are looking up, at least so far. The defending Super Bowl champs are out and the Pittsburgh Steelers are in. Punching their ticket to the playoffs with a thrilling come-from-behind win over their arch rivals. Coy Wire with this morning's "Bleacher Report" coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


JOHNS: Well, it was Christmas, but it was also a football Sunday. The Chiefs punched their ticket to the playoffs and knocked out the defending Super Bowl champion, Broncos, at the same time.

KOSIK: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and Joe. Chiefs had to play second fiddle and watch the Broncos own the AFC the last five seasons, but this season, the Broncos were ripe for the taking. They don't have Peyton Manning anymore. So Chiefs fans knew this was the year.

They were even willing to weather these conditions, rain, winds, blustery. Wasn't going to keep the die-hard fans away and they witnessed history. On Christmas day, Santa wasn't the only jolly fellow delivering gifts. Dante Poe throwing a pass for a Chiefs touchdown. Chiefs dominate 33-10.

In one of the NFL's most heated rivalries. Steelers and Ravens in a Christmas day classic. Steelers with the ball down by three under 10 seconds to go. Slings to Antonio Brown. Look at that effort. Delivers that Christmas day gift in front of the home crowd. The Steelers scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to complete a comeback, 31-27 win earning their first division title since 2014. They knockout Ravens out of playoff contention.

Finally, basketball fans expecting a great game and rematch of last year's NBA finals. Not disappointing. Lebron James and the Cavaliers plunging this down the chimney. Kyrie Irving with 15 of the 25 points in the fourth quarter. The most important were these two, the fade away. Look at that with 3.4 seconds to go. Remarkably similar to the shot that won the finals in June. Cleveland with the 14-point comeback last 10 minutes of the game. Final score, 109-108. A lot of great stuff.

KOSIK: That was a great game. What a score.

JOHNS: I watched a little bit. That was just incredible, very big ending.

[05:25:06]WIRE: Joe, your hair is looking great this morning.

JOHNS: I'm following your lead.

All right, an update now on actress, Carrie Fisher. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, tweeting this on Christmas. She says, "Carrie is in stable condition and if there is a change, she will share." Reynolds also thanking Carrie's fans and friends for their prayers and good wishes. The 60-year-old Fisher suffered a cardiac event Friday while on a flight from London to Los Angeles. KOSIK: We wish her well. Meantime, the music world is remembering a great voice, George Michael. The pop icon passing away on Christmas at just 53 years old, so young. We're live in London where fans are remembering the one-of-a-kind talent.


JOHNS: The eternal sounds of George Michael. This morning, we're remembering the pop legend who passed away suddenly on Christmas. We're going to have more on his life and legacy. We're live in London.

KOSIK: 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 hints the entire resolution on President Obama. We have more live from Jerusalem.

JOHNS: And Donald Trump trying to quiet critics who say conflicts of interest will hurt him in the White House. He says he will close his charitable foundation, but can he get it done before he assumes the presidency.

And good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Joe Johns.

KOSIK: Good morning, Joe. I'm Alison Kosik. It is Monday, December 26th. It's half past the hour. John and Christine are off.

This morning, fans and fellow musicians around the world are remembering the iconic singer, George Michael, who died suddenly at the age of 53 on Sunday.