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Man Claims to Be Assassin for Duterte; Human Trafficking Survivors Start Unique Business; Winter Storm Hits Northeast U.S.; U.S. Slaps Russia with Sanctions Over Hacking; Syria Ceasefire Appears to be Holding; How Syria's Civil War Began Aired 3-4a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:06] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama retaliates against Russia. Sanctions issued, diplomats ejected. While Donald Trump says it's time to move on.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, in Syria, a nationwide ceasefire, but not all groups are involved in it.

ALLEN: And later, a killer with a conscience. Meet the man who claims he killed dozens of people under orders from Rodrigo Duterte who is now the president of the Philippines.

HOWELL: A person who himself has admitted to doing the same.

ALLEN: He has.

HOWELL: Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with Russia at the center of a cyber war and a ceasefire.

HOWELL: It is presently 11:00 a.m. in Moscow. We're still monitoring, waiting for any new reaction coming from that nation. This after the United States slapped Russia with unprecedented new sanctions all punishment for its alleged meddling in the U.S. election.

ALLEN: It is 10:00 a.m. in Syria and the world is holding its breath as a fragile nationwide cease-fire appears on the holding. Russia and Turkey brokered the truce. We'll get more on that in a moment.

HOWELL: All right. But first to those sanctions. Russia vowing to respond in kind. Moscow denies hacking the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, or trying to influence the U.S. election.

ALLEN: Mr. Obama isn't convinced. He is expelling 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S., imposing sanctions on Russian intelligence and on three Russian companies. The U.S. is also closing two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

CNN's Athena Jones has details on what other punishments the U.S. has in store.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a statement, the Treasury Department named nine entities and individuals now subject to expanded sanctions including Russia's military intelligence unit and its head, as well as the Domestic Security Service.

The State Department following suit declaring 35 Russian intelligence operatives persona non grata and giving these spies just 72 hours to leave the country.

The government also shutting down two Russian government owned compounds, one in New York and this one, on the eastern shore of Maryland.

In a White House statement, the president said, "All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions." And repeated that the activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.

These moves come as President-elect Donald Trump continues to dismiss the U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian interference in the presidential election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we need to get on with our lives. I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly. And all, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on.

JONES: While Trump has resisted blaming Russia, members of his own party are standing behind the Obama administration, promising to impose additional sanctions in Congress. Senator Lindsey Graham on a congressional delegation to Russia's neighboring states took on Trump's comments.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think most of us, democrats and republicans, really believe that Russia's up to no good all over the world. They're trying to break the back of democracies and if we don't push back against Putin, Iran, and China, they could hack into our systems.

JONES: Intelligence officials have publicly attributed the cyber- attacks on U.S. political groups and individuals including the Democratic National Committee to Russia. Even before the announcement of the U.S. retaliation, Russia promised a response. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry saying in a statement, quote, "Frankly speaking, we are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top, and we can only add that if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer."

The White House is ready to respond whatever actions Russia takes.

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We can anticipate a response of some kind, but the truth is that we enjoy the greatest capabilities of any country on earth. That's offensive and defensive. That applies to cyberspace but it also applies to diplomatic resources, intelligence resources, and tools we have in our toolbox to hold countries accountable like sanctions.

JONES (on camera): And that Russian response is coming soon. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman saying in a statement on Facebook that Russia will announce retaliation measures on Friday, saying, quote, "Tomorrow will be the official statements, countermeasures and a lot of other things." Back to you.


HOWELL: We're joined now by Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and South Korea. Also these he is author of the book "Outpost: A Diplomat at Work."

Ambassador Hill, it's good to have you with us. First, I'd like to get your insight. Given your post around the world, your relationship with allies who count on the U.S. to stand up for them, is the United States sending the right message around the world that it will not tolerate this type of behavior, not only for itself but also for other allies if they might be challenged?

[03:05:17] CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA AND IRAQ: Well, I think the U.S. is sending out a very strong signal. But it's pretty clear that the -- you know, they had the goods on the Russians. I mean, this is not one agency. This was all of the agencies. And they all came to the same conclusion based on the evidence. That also goes for a number of the congressmen who are in various committees come, have also been briefed on this, they also come to the same conclusion.

So I think it's a very strong and necessary move. Of course the question will be, what are the Russians going to do next and then what do -- what will our response be to that response and that's where this whole issue can get very dicey.

HOWELL: Well, you say they all come to the same conclusion except for the president elect, soon-to-be President Trump come January 20th. He has a very dismissive tone to all of this.

HILL: Yes, he certainly has had that. I must say his latest utterance on the subject was he's going to get briefs somehow in the next few days and so I think he is leaving the door open a little to his joining with everyone else. But you're right. And I think it speaks to the fact that he really does need to start going to these briefings and taking a lot of these seriously because it's going to land and smack dab in the middle of that after January 20th.

HOWELL: But are you also concerned about this escalating since Russia is already promising to retaliate?

HILL: Yes. I mean, escalating, that's always the trick with these types of moves. I remember when I was serving in Poland, way back, my first time I was in Poland was with the communist government and they had done some things and so we went after them. They threatened to come after us. And I remember -- the assistant secretary for Europe at the time, Leonard Eagleburger, said, look, if you want to come after us we'll go right back after you.

We were willing to take this relationship to zero because frankly speaking we don't care. And I don't think that's a position we'll want to take with the current Russian government. But nonetheless, I don't think we can allow them to get the better of any of us and any installation.

HOWELL: As a former U.S. ambassador help us to understand who these 35 diplomats are that are ordered to leave. Who are they? Why is this an important step for the White House to take?

HILL: You know, the technical term is usually with diplomats that they are being expelled because they are engaged in activities that are not consistent with their diplomatic standing. So usually they pick out people who they believe are involved in clandestine gathering of information. Normally they don't just go after people who are -- people doing what diplomats do, that is talking to other diplomats, talking to members of the State Department and reporting on those conversations.

They usually are going after people that they have reason to believe are involved with clandestine activities. So I think it was a very targeted response. They didn't just pick these names out of a phone book. They really knew who they were talking about and they also knew something about the facilities in Maryland and New York that were also shut down.

HOWELL: All right. So these are the sanctions. We know the 35 people that are involved here, but the question is, will president elect, soon to be President Trump reverse it all? Are you concerned about that and what message would that send?

HILL: Well, you know, we have to see what he does after he sees the evidence.


HOWELL: The evidence has been out there from many different intelligence agencies. It's been out there but still seems to dismiss it.

HILL: Yes. I can assure you there's more evidence even than the evidence that's been out there. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff that the administration has not wanted to release but will do so in private briefings. So, I mean, he'll have to look at all this. And how can he reverse it? Well, let's say the Russians come back and ask for 35 -- ask for those 35 people to come back to their posts. I suppose he can issue an order that they should be. I have a feeling he's not going to do that. So I think this is -- he's probably going to let this one stand. But, you know, he's -- he prides himself on doing the unexpected so we'll have to see.

HOWELL: We will have to see. Former Ambassador Christopher Hill, thank you so much for your insights and your time today. HILL: Thank you.

ALLEN: Joining us to talk more about the sanctions against Russia and the presidential transition is Betsy Woodruff, a politics reporter for "The Daily Beast" and Larry Sabato is the director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Thanks for joining us.

HOWELL: Good to have you guys with us. So let's start first with these sanctions and Donald Trump's response to these sanctions if we can take it here full.

[03:10:01] He says, quote, "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people I will meet with the leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of the situation."

Larry, this first question to you. So despite the fact the U.S. intelligence agencies, these many agencies with confidence came together with this very specific finding, Donald Trump still has doubts. What's the play here?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, it's an extraordinary statement by the president-elect. It's odd in a lot of ways because Donald Trump is in disagreement not just with the intelligence community, not just with the Obama administration, but also with Republicans and the leadership of the GOP in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. They all think it is a big thing. So this is just another indication of the massive change that we're going to experience in the United States on January 20th.

HOWELL: Betsy, though, quickly to you, if Donald Trump, though, were to accept the finding of the U.S. intelligence community, would that, in fact, be him accepting also the questions about his legitimacy with regards to his win for the presidency?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I don't think it would. And that's because these Russian hacks that occurred didn't actually affect the way that votes were casts. We know conclusively the intel community has said as conclusively as possible that Russian actors did not manipulate the number of votes that were cast. You know, what they did was present information that otherwise would not have been available, that may have influenced the way some people thought about the election but didn't actually change the way the voting is passed.

So that means, look, people are going to decide the vote based on whatever they want to decide the vote on, this is how democracy works. And if people decided to vote based on the WikiLeaks e-mails or things that John Podesta wrote to Neera Tanden, that's their decision, that's not Russia's decision.

ALLEN: Right. So there is concern that the sanctions, Betsy, may only last until Trump gets sworn in. But listen to what White House Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco told CNN.


LISA MONACO, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I will say the reversal of sanctions, such as what you've described, would be highly unusual. Indeed, the sanctions usually remain in place until the activity and the reasons for them being imposed in the first place has been removed.


ALLEN: So, of course, the Trump team doesn't seem to acknowledge fully that Russia is behind the hacking. So, Betsy, do you expect that President Trump will undo all of this?

WOODRUFF: It's a really good question. And it's not something that's going to be easy to predict. I think there is certainly a possibility. That said Trump hasn't filled a number of administrative jobs. He hasn't picked who his closest advisers who are going to be handling Russian issues. Of course Rex Tillerson, his nominee to be secretary of State, heads Exxon. We know that Exxon lost upwards of a billion dollars after the U.S. sanctioned Russia in the wake of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

So that might potentially, or some folks in some quarters are concerned that that might inform the way that Tillerson thinks about these Russia sanctions. That said, of course, it would be sort of a whiplash change in American foreign policy for these sanctions to be in place for just a few weeks and then to immediately be overturned. So it's really -- it's hard to game out. It's something that we'll be paying attention to what Trump says about it.

HOWELL: All this -- Larry, pushing forward on that question, the president of the United States has, what, about three weeks to go before Donald Trump takes the oath of office? So the question many are asking, the Trump team is accusing the Obama administration of playing politics here. Listen here to how Kellyanne Conway, a Trump senior adviser, describes it.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to, quote, "box in" President-elect Trump. That would be very unfortunate if that were the -- if politics were the motivating factor here, but we can't help but think that that's often true. Even the "New York Times" characterized it as such that this may be an attempt to box him in to see what he'll do as president. That's not the way that peaceful transitions of administrations work in our great democracy.


HOWELL: You know, the Obama administration at one point was criticized for not speaking up, doing more during the election itself when it had this information. You'll remember that was back in October. So now the question, you know, three weeks to go before President Obama is out, Donald Trump is in, is this a matter of playing politics?

SABATO: Well, politics always enters in to these decisions. But listen to the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. What did they say today? While they backed what President Obama was doing, they actually wanted stronger action and they criticized Obama for not doing this earlier. I think there is a better case to be made that Obama didn't take action in October because he thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and that it might play into Donald Trump's attempts to call the election rigged if he had taken action against Russia at that time.

[03:15:08] So that's when the politics came into play. I don't think you can fault President Obama for taking some action against the Russians assuming he has the information that Russia that proves was responsible and just about everybody in the intelligence community says that that's exactly what happened.

ALLEN: You know, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement that appears to be at odds with Donald Trump and let's quote him right here, "Russia does not share America's interests. In fact it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today's action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia," speaking about the Obama administration.

So, Betsy, Republicans are sending mixed messages. Some blame the DNC for lack of security, some deny Russia's involvement. Some want to be tough on Russia. Where exactly does the party stand?

WOODRUFF: You know, I think most of the criticism of the DNC and most of the defense of Russia is coming from folks who are in Trump's immediate, very close circle because they're still trying to push this narrative that Russia might not necessarily be responsible. That we don't know enough, that we don't have conclusive information. For the most part, though, outside of that, sort of insular campaign -- post- campaign transition team sector of the Republican Party which is quite powerful of course. But outside that the general consensus, the mainstream view in the GOP is that Russia has overreached, that it's become much militant, that it's become -- it's incursions particularly in Ukraine, the Crimea, are deeply troubling.

So that's why Paul Ryan, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, are so (INAUDIBLE) in supporting not just the sanctions that Obama has put in place but also in gunning for even more sanctions to be implemented in the future and of course it's not just Republicans who believe that. Adam Schiff, who's one of the most influential members of the House of Representatives and who's also a Democrat, who works on oversight of these intel issues, said that it's likely that he believes the U.S. should amp up its sanctions of Russia next year in the next Congress.

HOWELL: Betsy Woodruff, Larry Sabato, we appreciate both of your insights. Thank you.

ALLEN: Thank you.

The Syrian ceasefire enters its first full day but even the key players admit its fragile. Coming up here, what has to happen to make this deal stick.



[03:21:17] HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM. Syrians are holding out hope this hour that a new cease-fire will hold after nearly six years of non-stop war.

Take a look at this. This is what it is like in Syria. And many of the cities there just destroyed, ravished by war.

Russia and Turkey brokered a nationwide peace deal between the Syrian regime and a number of the rebel groups that have been fighting but it is worth noting that many of those -- many groups were excluded from that deal.

ALLEN: The U.S. is also on the outside looking in as talks went on without Washington. However, the Kremlin is inviting incoming president Donald Trump to join in as soon as he takes office.

Our Ian Lee is monitoring the cease-fire from Istanbul, Turkey. He joins me now live. Certainly so much on the line here with this one, Ian, how is it going so far? And how long has this cease-fire been underway?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, it started at midnight local time here. We've talked to people on the ground and they've told us so far it's remained quiet. This is a staged process, though. In the first stage, they are looking for just a cessation of hostilities between the rebel factions and the Syrian regime and their allies.

This is being brokered by Turkey who is overseeing the rebel side and Russia who's overseeing the Syrian regime side. The second part is to have a mechanism so if there are already violations they are able to talk it out and then the third is to have negotiations for a final peace deal which will take place next month. Now both sides have admitted that this is fragile. But when you look at the battlefield right now the momentum is with the Syrian regime and the Russians.

After taking Aleppo, they have control over the major cities in the country on the western side. So the rebels more focused in the countryside. They are -- have been on the defensive. So it seems like for the rebels a good time to negotiate especially for the Russian side as they are in a position of power.

ALLEN: Right. So what could derail this cease-fire, Ian?

LEE: A lot of different things could derail it, Natalie. First you just have to look at the different factions. There are so many of them. And not all players are on board with this so far. You also have other international players like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We haven't heard if they're going to stop funding groups or at least come on board with these negotiations.

Also, the status of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that is going to be a major sticking point, too, whether he is allowed to stay, allowed to -- or if he is forced to go. Turkey for the longest time has said that he must go. And when the other factions, too, you have Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which is an al Qaeda associated group, they're not part of this. ISIS is not part of it. And so you do have all these other factions. And just -- it is very fragile as both sides have said.

ALLEN: Well, certainly hope it holds and they can move on to what's next hopefully.

Ian Lee for us there in Istanbul, thank you.

HOWELL: Well, this civil war in Syria has been going on now for six devastating years. Six long years of war. The human death toll has been just horrendous.

ALLEN: And the violence still hasn't completely ended. Our Phil Black looked back on how we got here.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Political graffiti, that's how it all started in the Syrian city of Daraa. Children were arrested for the crime and the street responded. Huge peaceful demonstrations demanded change.

[03:25:05] The Syrian government's response wasn't peaceful. That crackdown began driving people from their homes, from their own country.

These were among the first in what was to become a wave of refugees, seeking safety beyond Syria's borders. Eventually demonstrators and activists became rebels. They picked up weapons and fought back.

Civil war has torn Syria apart for almost six years, as the world watched and talked. U.N. Security Council resolutions were vetoed by Russia and China. International negotiations floundered, ceasefires were ignored.

All while seemingly endless images have documented suffering on a scale difficult to comprehend. We've seen the faces of whole communities enduring bombardment and starvation, like here at Yarmouk, in Damascus. Stories of Syria's children repeatedly damned the world's impotent like those gasping for breath after a chemical weapons attack.

President Obama said this would be a red line. It wasn't.

The body of Aylan Kurdi, faced down on a Turkish beach after his family's failed attempt to reach Europe. And a stunned little boy, dusty and bleeding, after being pulled from the rubble in Aleppo.

Syria's uninterrupted chaos allowed ISIS to evolve into a powerful force. The world had a frontline view as it took the might of American air power to drive ISIS fighters away from Kobani, a city right on Turkish border.

The group proved its brutality with violent propaganda videos, including the executions of foreign hostages, and with the attacks in Paris and Brussels, ISIS showed it could project terror far beyond its Syrian base.

The West's limited intervention in Syria also provided opportunity for Russia. In September 2015, its air force began striking the enemies of Syria's regime with devastating effect. That campaign recently broke the opposition's desperate resistance in the city of Aleppo, while inspiring Western critics to accuse Russia of war crimes.

Now, only weeks later, Russia and Turkey say they've finally found a diplomatic way forward in a war that's devastated the country and destabilized the region. More than 11 million people, around half of Syria's population have been forced from their homes, 400,000 have been killed. For almost six years, intense hatreds have been deepened through blood and loss.

The heartbreaking realities of Syria's war, leave little space to optimism despite this latest effort of diplomacy.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


HOWELL: Still ahead, a man who says that he was hired as a hitman in order to kill.

ALLEN: And the man he claims was his boss. The Philippine president. We'll have more of his shocking allegations. Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM.




ALLEN (voice-over): And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. This is CNN NEWSROOM with the headlines we are following for you this hour.


HOWELL: In that interview with the CNN Philippines on Thursday, Mr. Duterte implied that he was just playing with the media with his claims about violence but a man who once said that he worked for the Philippine president insists that it is no joke.

ALLEN: He says he was part of a death squad and killed on Mr. Duterte's orders.

Our Will Ripley has more in this CNN exclusive. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Edgar Matobato says he and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte have something in common: they both have blood on their hands.

"I want him to say pay for what he did, for the many killings he ordered," he says.

"If we bring back the death penalty, I hope Duterte is the first to hang and then I will follow."

Decades before the president took his bloody war on drugs nationwide, Matobato says he was part of a group in known in the Philippines as the Davao death squad. A 2008 U.N. investigation found the shadowy band of assassins was committing hundreds of murders in Davao, targeting street children and criminals, all during Duterte's decades- long run as the southern city's gun-toting, crime-fighting mayor, beginning in 1988.

"I personally killed around 50 people," Matobato says.

He shows us a journal with names and dates of some of his victims, written by his wife because he cannot read or write. Matobato also showed his Davao City ID. He says he was a ghost employee, earning just $100 a month, to murder --


RIPLEY (voice-over): -- on command.

RIPLEY: Who was ordering the death squad to kill all these people?

"We got the orders from Mayor Duterte," he says.

CNN cannot verify his story. But Matobato's graphic testimony in September before a Senate hearing on vigilante killings shocked the Philippines. The country's human rights commission is investigating. The president's office says he changed some details in his story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very inconsistent. If you go through the transcript in the senate, you will see for yourself that Matobato is lying through his teeth.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The president's communication secretary, Martin Andanad (ph), says if the testimony was credible, police would have built a case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Davao death squad that people are talking about, this is all legend. It's a legend. There's no death squad.

RODRIGO DUTERTE, PRESIDENT, THE PHILIPPINES: I did kill. I was only three months mayor.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Duterte told me he personally gunned down three people while mayor of Davao to set an example for his officers. But in media interviews, he said he doesn't remember Matobato and denies ordering vigilante killings.

For several years, Matobato was in official witness protection. Now that Duterte's president, he is just in hiding. We meet at a safe house, several hours from Manila. He has moved at least 10 times in the last year and is currently facing charges of kidnapping and illegal firearms possession.

"I was told to cut the body parts into pieces," he says.

Matobato claims they dumped bodies in crocodile farms, in the streets and even in mass graves. But those graves have never been found.

RIPLEY: Why are you the only one who has come forward?

RIPLEY (voice-over): He says, "Many of them are scared. If we try to change, we're killed."

RIPLEY: So you think if they find you, they will kill you?

RIPLEY (voice-over): "They will kill me," he says, "because now their secrets have been revealed."

Matobato says he is eager to confess his sins, to shine a light on the dark reality behind the president's deadly drug war -- Will Ripley, CNN, Manila.


ALLEN: Really strange from President Duterte there.

Thank you, Will Ripley.

The prospect of peace in the Middle East seems perpetually bleak but U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump is making big promises.

HOWELL: Especially in the wake of that U.N. resolution, the one that's calling on Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian territories.

While Donald Trump says he will be strong for Israel, critics say that his positions could hurt a future peace deal. Following the story, CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now live in Jerusalem this hour.

Oren, good to have you. I know that many Israeli leaders are counting down the day for Donald Trump to take the oath of office and they are expecting a change.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so. There's no doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can't wait for the next few weeks to be over. He's made it clear he's done working with President Barack Obama and is excited for Trump.

Trump has said he'd like to work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. That's not uncommon for presidents-elect. But he has made big promises, saying he can be the one to put forward or seal the ultimate deal, essentially, bringing these two sides together. And yet the Palestinians are certainly a little cautious here. They

are being political, saying they are willing to work with any American president who commitments to a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state but some of Trump's promises put that idea in jeopardy.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): A new political day dawns on the Middle East on January 20th.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) Israel. I think Israel's been treated very, very unfairly by a lot of different people.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): President-Elect Donald Trump says he can do what no president has done in half a century: solve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, calling it the ultimate deal and suggesting his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may be a part of the plan.

Trump tweeting the recent U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements was a big loss for Israel and will make it harder to negotiate peace but saying he'll get it done anyway.

The president-elect has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize the holy city as the capital of Israel. The move, welcomed by Israel, condemned by the Palestinian as the death of a two-state solution.

The unprecedented intervention from the president-elect coming as relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are as bad as ever.

The Obama administration led talks between Israelis and Palestinians in 2010 and again in 2013. The last round of negotiations, led by secretary of state John Kerry, broke down, with both sides blaming each other.

Two months later, Israel and Gaza were at war. Tensions have only worsened as the region descended into another round of violence late last year.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas --


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): -- last shook hands in September at the funeral for Israeli president Shimon Peres, who shared a Nobel prize for forging a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. It was the closest Abbas and Netanyahu had come to talking publicly in years.

In time we'll find out if President-Elect Trump can change that.


LIEBERMANN: Trump certainly brings an outsider's perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that of a businessman, not a politician and, maybe, just maybe, that is what the conflict needs.

And yet, George, presidents have always treaded very lightly when it comes to the conflict. Treading lightly is something Trump is not quite known for doing.

HOWELL: Oren Liebermann, live for us in Jerusalem. Oren, we will have to see how all this plays out after January 20th. Thank you, Oren.

ALLEN: Up next here, our latest Freedom Project report: former sex trafficking victims are getting help with unique donations. That's coming next.




HOWELL: The CNN Freedom Project: following the journey of sex trafficking survivors around the world.

ALLEN: In this report, CNN's Shasta Darlington takes a look at Free the Girls, a nonprofit, helping girls and women rescued from sex trafficking in El Salvador to start their own business.



SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Twenty-one-year- old Madison is going to work. She has an unusual job, selling gently used bras in the markets of El Salvador. She makes good money and dreams of one day owning her own business, a dream she never could have imagined just a few years ago.

"MADISON" SEX TRAFFICKING SURVIVOR (through translator): I didn't know what human trafficking was until I got to the safe house.


DARLINGTON (voice-over): Madison is a survivor of child sex trafficking. And the bras she sells, part of a unique reintegration program by a non-profit called Free the Girls.

KIMBA LANGAS, FREE THE GIRLS: When we started, we had this idea. And the idea was that this bra could change a woman's life. And we really did not have any idea how much those women would change their own lives.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): We first met Kimba Langas and Dave Terpstra shortly after they started Free the Girls in 2011. The plan was for Kimba to collect donations of new and gently used bras in the U.S. and send them to Dave in Mozambique, Africa, where sex trafficking survivors could sell them in the used markets there, providing them with a steady income that would prevent them from becoming vulnerable to traffickers again.

DAVE TERPSTRA, FREE THE GIRLS: The whole goal was just to be a very simple project, a very garage sort of project, where Kimba would check just a few bags' worth of bras and send them over in suitcases and things like that.

LANGAS: We thought we would work with one partner in Mozambique, have a handful of women, maybe bring some bras over a few times a year and that would be it. And so we never could have imagined how it exploded.

TERPSTRA: And now we have collected over half a million bras, sent them to three different locations around the world, helped dozens and dozens of women.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Terpstra says Free the Girls expanded to El Salvador because of Danielle and John Snyder. They run Mission to El Salvador, a non-profit that works with sex trafficking survivors.

DANIELLE SNYDER, FREE THE GIRLS: I remember early on, when I started working with Free the Girls, Kimba, one of the co-founders, said a woman wears a bra close to her heart. And I love that a woman in the United States can donate her bra and then it will come here and help the girls in our program.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Girls like Madison, who are just 14 years old, was lured into a sex trafficking ring.

"MADISON" (through translator): We had to have sex with them and do whatever they asked us to.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Madison was held captive for an entire year, forced to have sex with multiple men every day, until she escaped. Today, she speaks triumphantly about her recovery and her future.

"MADISON" (through translator): It is my dream to have my own business and keep selling bras and other things like clothes, but as my own business.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): When she's not selling bras, Madison volunteers at Mission to El Salvador, working with the homeless. She says she wants to serve others as a way to thank God for her recovery.

I asked her where she would be without the help she received here.

"MADISON" (through translator): Well, I wouldn't be telling you this story. I'd be dead, or I don't know, in a worse situation I was before. I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't have recovered.

SNYDER: It's hard. It's very difficult to hear their stories. There's nothing easy about it and it's hard not to carry that. It's hard not to carry that.

For me to be able to have an opportunity to help them it's worth it, to be part of the process of helping them to find healing. DARLINGTON (voice-over): Today, Madison's freedom comes with the money she earns by selling second-hand bras donated by strangers, yet they are connected.

LANGAS: It's very personal and there's something very poetic about the fact that something that you wore so close to your heart can make the difference in the life of a woman halfway across the world and really, truly help change the trajectory of her life for generations to come. And that's beautiful.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Shasta Darlington, CNN, San Salvador, El Salvador.


HOWELL: If you would like to help the nonprofit, you can head to to find out how to donate a bra or to give some money to that very important cause.

ALLEN: Next here on CNN NEWSROOM, parts of the U.S. are being socked by a major snowstorm. We will have your forecast. Pedram Javaheri will give us the latest right after this.






ALLEN: All right, well, take a look at this. This is Portland, Maine, everyone. A major snowstorm is clobbering this area.

HOWELL: Look at all that snow. By the time it is all over, more than a foot of snow could be dumped on some parts of the northeastern United States. Our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri, is here to tell us about the situation up there.

And I have been up there before; they mean business when they get their snow.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. It is a fascinating setup, too, because just 40 miles is the distance between where it transitions out of rain and into snow and heavy snow where you saw there in New England.

But the big cities, Boston, New York, even Philly, it is all rain and it is way too warm. And travel well to the north around parts of Montreal, want you show you some footage coming out of that area. They were hit with blizzard-like conditions as well in portions of Canada, where we know out of Toronto's Pearson Airport and Montreal there, cumulatively, 500 flights were either delayed or cancelled. The vast majority of them out of Toronto and being delayed. That's the biggest number of delayed flights on Thursday, came out of Toronto.

This is the scene out of Montreal. Showing you the scenes across that region. we know about 30 centimeters of snow or about a foot came down across Montreal. The officials there saying as we prep for getting the roads cleared for New Year's festivities Saturday night, over 10,000 kilometers or 6,200 miles of roads and sidewalks have to be plowed in the next couple of days.

That's equivalent to plowing every inch of land from New York to Los Angeles and then back to New York and even a little more than that in the coming days. Tells you how much work is ahead of them across some of these cities towards the north. Here we go with cancellations, almost 200 flights were cancelled on Thursday, almost 2,500 flights were delayed in the United States on Thursday as well.



HOWELL: All right. So we end the hour with some good news. Tennis star Serena Williams is getting married.

ALLEN: Game, set, match. She's engaged to Alexis Ohenian (ph), the cofounder of the social news site, Reddit. His spokesman said he popped the question while the two were vacationing in Rome. And Williams posted this cartoon on Reddit, proclaiming, "I said yes."

Well, if the diamond was that big, I guess --


HOWELL: I guess, yes. (INAUDIBLE).

The former world number one champ has dated Ohenian (ph) for about a year. No word yet on a wedding date.

ALLEN: New power couple.

HOWELL: Indeed.

Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. "EARLY START" is next for viewers here in the United States.

For everyone else, the news continues next with Isa Soares in London.