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EARLY START

Members of the Electoral College Cast Their Votes Today; Sen. McCain Sounding An Alarm on Russian Hacking; U.S. Navy Waiting for China to Return Seized Drone; Evacuations Back Under Way in Aleppo; Security Forces in Jordan Killed Four Gunmen Linked To Terror Attack. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:01] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The Electoral College votes hours from now. No surprises expected, but plenty of reasons to pay attention.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. intelligence says Russian hackers aimed at the election. The Russians say prove it.

MARQUEZ: And a mass evacuation from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, a race against time to get survivors out.

Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Nice to see you, too. Big week here. I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, December 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east. Good morning, everyone.

And happening today, members of the Electoral College cast their votes for the president of the United States. Donald Trump's formal election pretty much a foregone conclusion here. Even so, there is some drama behind today's Electoral College vote, more drama there has 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 fights back against a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russian hacking was intended -- was intended to help Trump win.

The very latest, let's bring in Ryan Nobles from Trump's Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida.

RYAN NOBLES, 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 the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia attempted to intervene at the United States election to help Donald Trump. This is what incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said this weekend. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I mean, if there is this conclusive opinion among all of these intelligence agencies then they should issue a report or should stand in front of a camera and make the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And Monday is of course an important day for Donald Trump as electors from 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 to stall this election, to allow the electors to hear an intelligence briefing about this alleged hack or to convince them not to cast ballots for Donald 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 received death threats and others receiving tens and thousands of e- mails a day trying to convince them to vote for someone other than Donald Trump. And they said we don't expect anything to happen out of the ordinary in this process and it is expected as it plays out that Donald Trump will be elected the next president of the United States. Christine and Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Thank you, Ryan Nobles.

Senator John McCain sounding an alarm on the Russian hacking saying it could destroy democracy, the influential Republican joining with incoming senate Democrat Chuck Schumer for an investigation. They're calling for a select committee to investigate hacking not only by Russia 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We need to get to the bottom of this. 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's no doubt they were interfering. And no doubt it was a cyber attack. The question now is how much and what damage, and what should the United States of America do. And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.

This is serious business. If they are able to harm the electoral process, they destroyed democracy, which is based on free and fair elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: And so far, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have rejected the idea of a select committee saying the Russian hacks can be investigated through existing congressional committees.

ROMANS: And 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. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the ongoing accusations indecent and unseemly.

Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance he is in Moscow for us where he has been following all of the latest twists and turns of this part of the story. Matthew, they are saying for the United States, put up or shut up.

[04:05:01] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, they have been saying this basically since October when these allegations first surfaced at the heightened of the presidential campaign. And they have not changed their line ever since then. Basically on a daily basis, they have been denying any connection with this, saying there is no concrete proof to connect them with it. And they are saying the Russian State does not engage in that kind of hacking. Of course, the circumstantial evidence is so strong that it casts doubt on what the Russian government has to say. It is strong in the sense that it was only those that are perceived as being critics of Russia that were targeted in the hacking and Donald Trump wasn't. The state media has made no bones about the fact that it wanted Donald Trump to win the election. They ran whole loads of pieces on how he was the person that was sympathetic to the point of view of Russia. He himself, of course, Donald Trump, expressed very sympathetic during the election campaign toward Russia, saying he would look again at the annexation of Crimea, which showed Russia annexed from Crimea in 2014. And would it be great to get on with Russia. It is the standout memorable quote from the Trump's campaign when it comes to Russia. They said they had an interest in him winning. What they're arguing about is the extent to which the Kremlin went to try and make that a reality, to make it happen.

ROMANS: What do you think of the chances that there is some sort of evidence that the United States government could be able to put forward, intelligence agencies, something that is not classified that could be released before the beginning of the Trump administration?

CHANCE: You know, I don't know what evidence they got, but they are extremely confident this is a Russian connection. Again, there are really not many people out there that doubt that seriously. It is such a serious allegation. It is potentially an act of war, an act of war between two countries that have nuclear weapons, remember. And so, the consequences of this could be extremely serious indeed. And so, if there is evidence that can be declassified and put out there for the public to see, I think there is a ground swell of opinion both here and in Russia and elsewhere. United States intelligence services should do that. But obviously, there are complications. It could compromise intelligence sources. And that is why, it seems, at this moment, they are holding back.

ROMANS: How does the U.S. -- how do they know so sure and in fact, by showing their evidence, do they tip their hand at that, all complicated and you know that kind of stuff? All right. Thank you so much. Matthew Chance for continuing to follow that for us.

MARQUEZ: This morning, the U.S. Navy is still waiting for China to return an under water drone seized in international water late last week. This nearly two days after the Chinese government promised to return. Escalating tensions in the midst of the diplomatic effort, Donald Trump sending a provocative tweet accusing China of stealing the drone and saying the U.S. should just let them keep it.

CNN's Matt Rivers has more on Beijing's reaction from China.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The seizure of this U.S. Navy under water drone by a Chinese naval ship really played out along the entirety of the weekend. We found out about it on Friday. It what's Saturday that the ministry of defense here in Beijing confirmed what had happened, and said they would be 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. The second twit appearing to be a little bit more aggressive saying the United States should just 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 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 this subject. It read in part, quote, the tone of the 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 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 censors. And so, while you might not hear a spokesman with the minister 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. Now, a big question here that is remaining in Beijing is how will this incident affect the U.S.-Chinese relations going forward? If you look at what has happened over the past couple of weeks, it is 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 has drawn the ire of the Chinese government. And so, whether that is part of the Trump administration's plan moving forward, we are still not sure. This kind of tough take on China, but it is safe to say, here at least on the Chinese side of things, 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)

[04:10:10] ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that Matt.

President-elect Donald Trump is tapping South Carolina Congressman Mike Mulvaney to head the office of management and budget. If he is confirmed by the Senate, he would manage White House proposals of the annual budget, plus his spending program and policies. He will also set up the federal government's purchases of goods and services, and oversee the performance reviews of government agencies and federal employees. Mulvaney has been in Congress since 2011. He is a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmaker who have clashed with party leadership over issues like government debt. He wasn't always a Trump supporter, endorsing Kentucky senator Rand Paul during the primaries, but he threw his support behind Trump a few hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan did in June. Ryan praised his nomination over the weekend, saying he is absolutely the right man for that money and budget job.

MARQUEZ: It is all taking shape. Escape from the war zone in Aleppo is delayed. A fleet of buses sabotaged. A live report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: Evacuations are back under way in Aleppo. The Red Cross says ambulances and buses carrying at least 1,000 people have left rebel-held areas of the war-torn city. Initial efforts to get civilians out of the danger zone were put on hold after a number of buses were set on fire, all this as the U.N. votes today on a plan to monitor evacuations.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is live just over the Turkish-Syrian border. Muhammad, what is the scope of things? How many more people are in there and how is this likely to move going forward?

[04:14:55] MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Miguel. To answer those questions, there are still several thousand people that are in eastern part of Aleppo that are trapped, that are awaiting evacuation after a very long and disappointing weekend where there was no movement. Finally, there has been some good news to start the week. We understand that about 3,000 people or so have already been evacuated from the eastern part of Aleppo out to the countryside. What has started out as a simple evacuation has now effectively turned into a population transfer, a swap, and in exchange, for those rebels and civilians in the eastern Aleppo being allowed to leave, there are a couple of towns that have been besieged by militant groups. And people in those towns are allowed to leave as well.

So now, it is a swap. And of course, anytime there is a swap, it gets much more complicated on the ground, because you need more security guarantees. And these things have to happen simultaneously. And of course, there are so many different groups on the ground that are fighting each other, whether it is the Assad regime forces or the pro- Assad militias or one of many militant Jihadi groups on the ground, all it takes is one of them to step and say you know what, we don't want this evacuation deal to happen, to start firing or in the case in the weekend, set a few buses on fire, and the whole plan gets to be derailed. But at least for now, the good news is that the evacuations have resumed once again. And it is going to be a question of how long and how many people are able to be evacuated and how long this holds.

MARQUEZ: So if they can get Aleppo evacuated, what then? That's the last rebel stronghold essentially. And if you move rebels out of this or pro-Syrian forces out of these other cities or individuals out of the cities, what then becomes the battle field in Syria?

LILA: Well, that's the million dollar question. You know a lot of these groups leaving the eastern part of Aleppo going to a province called Idlib, which is along the Turkish border. Turkey is saying it is going to set-up a refugee camp for up to 80,000 people in that province. So the question remains what happens to all of the fighters? Are they just going to put down their arms? Is the Syrian government going to stop attacking all of these people? The answer to that is probably no, the Assad regime has come out and said they intend to retake every inch of Syria. So even thought the battle for Aleppo clearly seems to be over, the war for Syria is probably going to still continue.

MARQUEZ: My God. Muhammad Lila for us on the Turkish-Syria border. Thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right, 17 minutes past the hour. Here at home, the hunt is on to find a man who shot and killed a 3-year-old during an apparent road rage incident. The incident unfolded Saturday in Little Rock, Arkansas. Authorities say he got mad at a grandmother who was moving too slow in front of him. They said he started honking his horn. When she stopped at an intersection, he got out and opened fire. One of the bullets pierced the window and hit the boy. Crime Stoppers is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do regret sitting down and having a conversation with him because it did give people concerns. And as I have 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUEZ: You think that Director Comey's press conference -- now that meeting came right before the FBI, which Lynch supervises was set to deliver its findings in the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe.

ROMANS: All right. A deadly terror attack on a popular tourist spot in the Middle East. We got the details on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:22:25] ROMANS: All right. Welcome back, 22 minutes past the hour this Monday morning. Security forces in Jordan killed four gunmen linked to terror attack. Authorities say gunmen targeted an ancient castle, a castle popular with tourists. Ten people died in the attack, 2 civilians and a tourist, 34 people wounded.

Let's get more from CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Amman.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, the 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 was in and around the castle in the city of Al-Karik. This is a 12th century crusader castle, one of the tourist attractions in southern Jordan. What happened there according to authorities was that a number of gunmen moved in, positioned themselves in this castle that is on the hill top overlooking the city. They opened fire on security forces. A gun battle ensued and they were surrounded.

Now, when the operation ended, we have heard from security authorities here, who said that at least four attackers, they described as terrorists, were killed. They say they found a large amount of weaponry on them, automatic weapons and ammunition. Now, in a house, in the nearby town, they say that the terrorists were also using security forces say they found suicide belts as well as explosives. The majority of the casualties in this attack were members of the Jordanian security forces, but 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 the turbulent region. But over the past year, authorities here say that they have foiled several terror plots including one by ISIS. Now, it is unclear who is behind the 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: Jomana, thank you very much.

Now, actress, socialite, and perennial talk show guest, Zsa Zsa Gabor has died. Her long time spokesman said she passed away on Sunday of heart failure in her Bel-Air mansion, at the age of 99. Always a mystery what her age was. The Hungarian actress and socialite immigrated to the U.S. with her sister Eva in the 1940s, and her sister, Magda.

(CROSSTALK)

[04:24:55] MARQUEZ: Gabor appeared in several movies, perhaps most of all known for her 1952 in Moulin Rouge. But she was mainly known as a pioneer in the art of being famous, mainly for just being famous chatty self. Gabor spent nearly 75 years in the public eye. Darling.

ROMANS: Sad.

MARQUEZ: Sad.

ROMANS: All right. The Star Wars franchise came out top again this weekend. The Star Wars took over $290 million at the box office, making it the top movie around the world. That number does not include China, the world's second largest movie market. This film opens there January 6th. In North America alone, it scored an impressive $155 million. This exceeds the forecast and it is stirring strong excitement for next year's highly anticipated episode eight. And I think it is validation of the Disney strategy, honestly, to you know give us the film while we wait for the big blockbuster again. It is not the Skywalker family part of the saga, but it is enough for fans to spend $290 million to quench their thirst until next year.

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: Star Wars, that's a movie? Star wars?

ROMANS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: I'm going to see that.

Today, all eyes on a single event. We usually take it for granted, the Electoral College vote for president. What to expect next on EARLY START.