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New York Times Interviews Trump; Romney Mulls Potential Sec. of State Job; Chattanooga Grieves School Bush Crash Victims; Iraq Ramps Up War on ISIS. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump transition team keeping America in suspense. Who will be next to land a cabinet position?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Curious comments on conflicts of interest. Why the president-elect says the laws are on his side.

SANCHEZ: And a strange trend uncovered in three battleground states. Why some computer scientists say Hillary Clinton should demand a recount.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Boris Sanchez.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning, Boris.

I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, November 23rd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everyone.

We'll get an update on the latest from the Trump transition team when they hold a conference call with reporters. We'll also hear from President-elect Donald Trump today. He is set to release a Thanksgiving video message from Mar-A-Lago, where he is spending the rest of the holiday week.

Trump flew down to Florida after a wide-ranging on the record sit-down with "The New York Times" reporters, editors and columnists. Among the news-making highlights, Trump backed off his promise to prosecute Hillary Clinton. This as sources tell CNN, Mitt Romney is thinking hard about taking the job of secretary of state if Trump should offer it to him.

Let's bring in CNN's Jim Acosta for all the latest.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Christine, CNN has learned that Mitt Romney is seriously considering the possibility of joining Donald Trump's transition team as secretary of state. A source familiar with the transition discussion says it's likely the 2012 Republican nominee will be consulting with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The decision to select Romney would send a message that Trump is open to moderating the situation. Trump himself seemed to reveal he is open to toning down his positions

in a wide-ranging interview with "The New York Times." The President- elect told "The Times" he is leaning against urging the prosecution of Hillary Clinton, something he vowed to do during the campaign. And his top advisers say it's a signal Trump is ready to move on.

RUDY GIULIANI (D), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Look, there's tradition in American politics that after you win an election, you sort of put things behind you, and if that's a decision he reached, it's perfectly consistent with sort of historical pattern of things come up. We say a lot of things. Even some bad things might happen and you can sort of put it behind you in order to unite the nation.

ACOSTA: As for the prospect of Romney joining the Trump administration, a source tells CNN a decision is not expected until next week -- Boris and Christine.


SANCHEZ: Certainly, one of the most intriguing positions for Mitt Romney to fill, right?

Trump's 75-minute with "The New York Times" yesterday wasn't televised or live-streamed. Instead, "Times" reporters put out his remarks to the world live on Twitter 140 characters at a time.

In many cases, Trump's statements came in sharp contrast to remarks or promises he made on the campaign trail. For example, on whether climate change is manmade or not, Trump said, quote, "I think there is some connectivity. Some something. It depends on how much."

On conflict in the Middle East, he said, quote, "I would love to be the one who made peace with Israel and the Palestinians. That would be such a great achievement." Trump was a bit fuzzy on how exactly how to do that, but he did suggest his Jewish 35-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner could help.

ROMANS: On the white supremacist movement known as the alt-right celebrating the Trump election, Trump disavowed and added, "It's not group I want to energize. And if they are energized, I want to look and find out why."

On his campaign CEO, a newly appointed top adviser Steve Bannon, Trump said, if I thought he was racists or alt-right, I wouldn't even think about hiring him." Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, a site that Bannon himself called the platform for the alt-right.


And, finally, Trump swept aside any questions of conflicts of interest with his far-flung business empire, saying, quote, "The law is totally on my side. The president can't have a conflict of interest."

ROMANS: That raised a lot of questions yesterday in political journalism and legal circles. Also in that "New York Times" meeting, Donald Trump says selling his assets to avoid conflict of interest will be difficult because most of his holdings are real estate properties.

Trump said, quote, "In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this," unquote.

Federal law does not prohibit the president from holding assets that clash with official duties. Trump will be required to disclose what he owns and the debt he holds.

Trump tells "The Times" that he does not have to set up a blind trust, but he is turning his businesses over to his adult children. He said his new hotel in Washington just blocks from the White House is more valuable because his brand is hotter.

That maybe true, but the Trump is even hotter in the stock market. I want to show you this. Yesterday, Boris, all three closing at record highs for a second day in a row. The Dow cracked above 19,000 for the first time ever. Since Trump was elected, the averages of the Dow Jones Industrial Average up almost 700 points.

It's as if the markets and people around the world are not taking Donald Trump's campaign promises literally.


ROMANS: They don't think he's going to be tough on Mexico. They don't think there's going to be a trade war with China. They don't think he's going to be tough on Mexico. They think he's going to tax cuts, infrastructure and cut regulations. That's really why small cap stocks in particular are rallying so strongly.

[04:05:00] SANCHEZ: All great for 401k. Let's see how things play out over time.

ROMANS: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: Another potential appoint, President-elect Trump tweeting that he's seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson for secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The former rivals met at Trump Tower on Tuesday. Dr. Carson's spokesman tells CNN the retired neurosurgeon is honored by Trump's insistence that he'd take a cabinet post and that he's going to spend the next couple of days, the holiday, thinking it over. We're also told Dr. Carson made it clear he would actually prefer to advise Trump from outside the administration.

ROMANS: Michele Rhee said she would not be pursuing the role of education secretary in the Trump administration. The former chancellor of Washington, D.C.'s public schools met with the president-elect last weekend, despite having criticism from the education community. On Tuesday, she tweeted, "I have appreciated the opportunity to share my thoughts on education with president-elect of the United States. Our job as Americans is to want him to succeed."

SANCHEZ: Jared Kushner revealing he played a pivotal role in the stunning election for his father-in-law by setting up a sophisticated secret data operation. Kushner tells "Forbes" magazine he called some friends from Silicon Valley and they helped him develop a social media micro-targeting strategy that involved a 100-person team at a data hub in San Antonio, all working to unify fund-raising, messaging and voter targeting to get the most out of the leaning marketing budget.

It's one of the most fascinating things about the campaign.

ROMANS: It really is.

SANCHEZ: If you look at how much money Hillary Clinton and the Democrats spent, versus how much Donald Trump spent, a lot more bang for the buck on the Republican side.

ROMANS: Absolutely. If you look at the traditional TV advertising, how much money the Clinton campaign, and super PACs affiliated with the Clinton campaign spent on advertising. All along, remember how many, you know, election gurus were saying he's not spending enough money, he's not spending enough money on advertising -- well, guess what?

A group of top computer scientists urging Hillary Clinton to demand a recount. The computer experts say they have found evidence that vote totals in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been hacked. Now, they say Clinton performed 7 percent worse in counties that use electronic voting than in counties that use paper ballots and scanners.

The scientists, these computer scientists have not told Clinton campaign officials they have not found evidence that proves hacking, but they say this is a pattern that needs to be investigated. Clinton would have to take all three states to change the results of the election. The deadline to file for a recount in Wisconsin is Friday. Interesting.

SANCHEZ: Election officials have maintained that there's really -- it's almost impossible to hack these voting machines, but it's interesting to look at the data.

Well, federal investigators are on a scene of a tragic school bus crash in Chattanooga where five children were killed. They're focused now turning to the driver's record. Should he have been behind the wheel?


[04:11:39] SANCHEZ: Grief and anger gripping the city of Chattanooga this morning. Tears were flowing last night at a vigil for five young children killed in a gruesome school bus crash. Mourners paid tribute by releasing dozens of balloons into the night sky. Neighbors and friends try to make sense of this really unimaginable tragedy.

We get more now from CNN's Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Boris. Good morning, Christine. Investigators will once be sifting through the wreckage of the school

bus but also going over the crash site itself trying to determine not just what happened, but also why it happened. A lot of the focus of their investigation is on the bus driver, that's 24-year-old Johnthony Walker. It turns out he only had this commercial driver's license since April and he was involved apparently in a bus car crash as recently as September. He's continuing to cooperate with authorities.

And then another facet here. And that is the treatment of those children still injured. There are six said to be in critical condition. The focus there is on trying to heal what are very severe spinal cord as well as possible head injuries.

There were a lot of children when they came in, one of the things that was unexpected was the fact that they were so young, they had no way to identify them. And many of these children couldn't say who their parents were, couldn't say where they live, didn't know even know their telephone numbers.

How did they reunite them? Parents came in with photographs. Most of them carry them as we all do, on their cell phones. And that worked very, very well. They were able to find out what children they had at the E.R. and match them up with the photographs the parents have.

That's one very poignant moment when they realize that there were parents showing up with photographs that children were not back in the E.R. -- Boris and Christine.


ROMANS: Oh, Martin, just a terrible story. Thank you, Martin.

A Kansas City water park tearing down a slide linked to the death of a young boy. Caleb Schwab suffered a fatal neck injury while reading this waterslide back in August. Authorities say they found the 10- year-old boy dead at the bottom of the slide. Officials of the Schlitterbahn Water Park say their Verruckt, billed as the world's tallest water slide, it will be demolished and replaced once the investigation into Caleb's death is complete.

SANCHEZ: Overnight, police in Michigan arrested a suspect in connection with the shooting of a Wayne State University police officer. Officials say Officer Collin Rose was shot in the head while stopping a man on a bicycle just off the campus. The officer is now out of surgery, listed in critical but stable condition. Officials say he faces, quote, "a tough roe to climb."

ROMANS: All right. To the fight against ISIS now, entering a new phase in and around Mosul. Shia-led units are launching a fresh military operation west of that area. They're trying to fully surround Tal Afar, a major hub for ISIS.

CNN's Phil Black has more on how this operation fits into the larger efforts to bring down the terror group -- Phil.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine, Boris. Iraqi forces are continuing a slow but difficult advance through the neighborhoods of eastern Mosul. Every day, they are taking new ground, but then they're having to fight to clear and hold it. And it seems they're paying a price.

Iraqi officials won't reveal the casualty figures while the operation is still under way. But the reports we're hearing from inside the city and surrounding hospitals indicate those casualties are high. The waves of suicide car bombs, the narrow streets, the commitment of the ISIS fighters who are resisting themselves fiercely, it's all making progress very slow and difficult.

[04:15:04] Now, there is also important fighting taking place west of the city, in the region between Mosul and the Syrian border, that's where paramilitary groups are working to clear ground. But also cut Mosul off from that ISIS controlled territory across the border in Syria.

There's paramilitary groups and now working to surround the city of Tal Afar. They are backed up by the Iraqi air force, which says it killed 10 ISIS fighters in recent airstrikes. And we're told these paramilitary groups are now getting ready to move into the city of Tal Afar.

This is potentially a real concern. The population of Tal Afar, its remaining population is around 50,000. All of the Sunni Muslims, the paramilitary groups are predominantly Shia, and they have a terrible reputation for inflicting terrible retribution against Sunnis that are thought to have collaborated with ISIS.

So, the real concern now is that Tal Afar could become the scene of the terrible bloodletting this country has become so famous for. What happens there could define the credibility of the entire military operation against ISIS in northern Iraq.

Christine, Boris, back to you.


SANCHEZ: All right. Phil Black, thank you.

President Obama has reduced the sentences of 79 more federal prisoners. That now marks as 1,000 commutation, a milestone for his record setting efforts to reduce harsh sentences. The president says he hopes to bring the existing sentences of inmates more in line with current shorter sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug crimes.

ROMANS: All right. A growing number of Democrats are hoping Joe Biden will head up the DNC once he leaves office. What does the vice president think about that? Details ahead on EARLY START.


[04:21:12] ROMANS: The crisis in Aleppo growing more dire by the hour. The rebel-held city reduced to rubble by the heaviest Syria are regime airstrikes since2011. More than 300 people killed since last week, 275,000 civilians are trapped without access to medical care. Both sides are now accusing each other of using chemical weapons.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh tracking the latest developments live from Amman, Jordan.

And it is a terrible, awful, violent broken record here, this city reduced to rubble. People trapped in here, and really no end in sight. What you can tell us here?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely no end in sight at this point, Christine. To this violence that seems to be escalating in and around the Aleppo, a lot of concern about ground movement, of a ground incursion in eastern Aleppo by regime, this is them fear what you hear from people that we speak to on the ground in eastern Aleppo.

Now, when it comes to claims of use of chemical weapons, very dangerous escalations here on both sides in this conflict are now accusing each other of using chemical weapons over the past few weeks. We've heard from the Syrian regime and their allies, the Russians, also saying that the rebels have used chemicals in their attacks on regime-held western Aleppo.

They say they have proof of this. They have evidence. They have fragments of cells that they say contained chemicals like chlorine and white phosphorous. And they called for an international investigation. They have contacted the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

And last night, we heard from the OPCW saying that the situation is really dangerous on the ground in Aleppo. They will not able to investigate this on the ground. And they're asking the Russians to provide them whatever samples they have to investigate this.

Now at the same time, we're seeing images, videos, also, more claims, allegations coming from eastern Aleppo. Medical staff there, activists and residents are saying that the regime has been dropping barrel bombs infused with chlorine gas. That has led in one case, they claim to the killing of one family and several other incidents including last night, where they say there had been another incident. Four barrel bombs containing chlorine gas allegedly dropped on a neighborhood.

Yet again in this conflict, it's not the first time that we hear these allegations of use of chemical weapons and these red lines being crossed again and no one accountable for it, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, meaningless red lines I guess at this point.

Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much for covering that difficult story for us. Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Back to the U.S., North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory has filed papers demanding a recount, claiming why spread election fraud. Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in the state's unofficial vote

count by more than 6,000 votes. He's declared victory and started calling himself governor-elect. But state law does allow for recounts in races that are closer than 10,000 votes, though Cooper's campaign manager says that McCrory's last-ditch effort offers no path to victory.

ROMANS: Vice President Joe Biden shooting down the idea of becoming chairman of the DNC. His spokesman says he is not interested, although he does plan to remain deeply involved in the reshaping of the Democratic Party.

An election will be held in the spring to succeed interim chair Donna Brazile. Biden leaves office in January after 36 years as a Chinese senator and eight years as vice president.

SANCHEZ: A lot of people getting ready to travel. But the snow is moving through the upper Midwest. One of the year's busiest travel days.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us now with the latest -- Pedram.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Boris and Christine.

One of the busier travel days of the year, of course, upon us and you take a look, the weather pattern across the southern U.S. really the place to be as far as clear conditions generally speaking, mild temperatures across Alabama, Mississippi, even Georgia and parts of Florida remain mild.

[04:25:04] Work your way back out towards parts of Texas, some severe weather, we had a report of a tornado, the first of the month, actually, yesterday afternoon. That could spark a few isolated strong storms across the region. And that same front takes you all the way to the Upper Midwest. That's when the major headaches could be in place when it comes to really wet weather but wintry weather as well.

And you could see, Chicago, they're aiming for about 43 degrees. Get up north of Chicago, towards Minneapolis, should be just cold enough to mix in snow across the early morning hours and certainly could accumulate a few inches off of this.

That storm eventually pushes off in towards the Northeast and could impact parts of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade there on Thursday for New York City. But you notice the biggest storms really going to be looked in around parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. What about two to four inches of snowfall across that region for this afternoon -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Pedram, thank you so much. Donald Trump backing away from a signature campaign promise in a wide ranging interview with "The New York Times" as we wait for word of possible cabinet appointments from the president-elect, next on EARLY START.