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Trump & Romney Break Bread; 1,000 Jobs Saved; Trump's "Money" Team; Tennessee Fires Force Mass Evacuations; Thousands of Civilians Fleeing Aleppo. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2016 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:10] MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, Mitt Romney dines with Donald Trump, embracing the man he tried to derail just a few months ago. But did he do enough to convince the president-elect to pick him as secretary of state?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president-elect announcing an agreement with Carrier Air Conditioning to keep 1,000 jobs from moving to Mexico. So, how did he get that deal done?

BERMAN: The Trump economic team coming into focus. The president poised to pick a former Goldman Sachs banker and a billionaire to head up Treasury and Commerce.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, November 30th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Up first, Donald Trump dining with Mitt Romney. On the menu, diver scallops, caramelized cauliflower, and the top job, State Department. This is the scene last night at tony Jean-Georges Restaurant located inside Trump International Hotel.

BERMAN: Look at the ambience there, very nice moon lightning.

ROMANS: Very good lighting, absolutely. You know, it's about a spit -- it's right over there, it's like across the street --

BERMAN: You can spit at Jean-Georges.

ROMANS: No, no, no. I know, of course. You know what I mean. But it's just short distance is what I'm trying to say.

The president-elect and the man who tried to derail his campaign joined at the table by chief of staff Reince Priebus. Afterward, Romney sounded humble and impressed.


ROMNEY: I had a wonderful meeting with President-elect Trump. We had a discussion about affairs throughout the world. And these discussions I've had with him have been enlightening and interesting and engaging. I enjoyed it very, very much.

I was also very impressed by the remarks he made on his victory night. By the way, it's not easy to win, I know that myself. He did something I tried to do and was unsuccessful in accomplishing. He won the general election and he continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together, and his vision is something which obviously is connected with the American people in a very powerful way.


ROMANS: CNN's Jim Acosta asked President-elect Trump if Mitt Romney will be his pick for secretary of state, Trump's answer, we're going to see what happened.

BERMAN: But he was speaking the language that Donald Trump understands right there. He noted that Trump won. There's nothing that Donald Trump wants to hear more than that. So, while Mitt Romney didn't offer an apology, which is what a lot of people were looking for, he did use some language that may have been seen as conciliatory there. Fascinating.

All right. This morning, what could be a different victory for Donald Trump even before he takes office and a victory for some workers in Indiana as well. The president-elect and the air conditioner manufacturer Carrier reached a deal to keep nearly 1,000 jobs in the state of Indiana. During the campaign, Trump blasted Carrier's plan to close two plants in that state and opened a facility in Mexico.

So, Donald Trump tweeted this last night, he said, "I will be going to Indiana on Thursday to make a major announcement concerning Carrier A.C. staying in Indianapolis. Great deal for workers." Vice President-elect Mike Pence, of course, the governor of Indiana right now will join him for that announcement.

ROMANS: You know, terms of that Carrier deal were not released yet, but there are also some critics. CNBC reports that Carrier received new inducements from the state of Indiana, translation, money, either in the form of tax breaks or other incentives. Credits say taxpayers in the state then could be on the hook. It's also unclear how many jobs will be lost. Carrier said close to 1,000 will be saved, but 2,100 work at its two factories in the area.

What is clear -- this is a deal, this was a negotiation, and it is a win, a big win for Donald Trump, making good on his promise to stop companies from shipping jobs overseas, John, at least in this case. Now, remember, Carrier is owned by United Technologies. What does United Technology do? It makes big engines for things like, oh, things you used in the military.


ROMANS: If you look at the overall picture, Donald Trump had leverage. Team Trump had leverage even if a little tiny bit of revenue for United Technology was diverted to other company for the defense contracts. That would more than make up for the rounding error of what you would make from sending those jobs to --

BERMAN: We still don't know the terms of the deal. I mean, Indiana taxpayers may have put forth a fair amount of money there but for workers and their jobs, it's a big deal.

All right. The president-elect is expected to roll out his economic team today. A former Goldman Sachs banker, movie financier, his choice for treasury secretary, and a billionaire known for resurrecting some failing companies the bid for commerce secretary.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Christine.

President-elect Donald Trump is now making some major steps to fill out his cabinet, making a slew of staffing decisions, including four key cabinet posts. Transition sources confirmed to CNN that Trump has chosen billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary and former Goldman Sachs partner Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary.

[04:05:03] Those announcements are expected formally to come as some point today by Team Trump.

The president-elect also announcing on Tuesday, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to now lead the Transportation Department and GOP Congressman Tom Price as his pick for secretary of health and human services.

But it is really this palace intrigue over who will be chosen as secretary of state which continues to take center stage. Trump hosting more of the contenders here in New York on Tuesday. He met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, and having a more personal second sit-down with Mitt Romney last night. A big dinner meeting at the restaurant Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel here in New York City.

A lot of deep divisions within Trump's top aides, still, over who would make the best pick for this job, the most high profile cabinet position of them all -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Sunlen. Thank you for that.

So, those are the names you've been hearing about, right, Mnuchin and Ross. Let's talk about Donald Trump's pick for Treasury Secretary, former partner of Goldman, who spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs and then he was off to Hollywood to produce movies. He was also Trump's campaign finance chairman.

Expect him to be grilled during confirmation hearings on the purchase, his purchase of failed mortgage lender IndyMac. He bought the company for pennies on the dollar. Paid millions of fines due to spotty foreclosure practices, and then sold it for a big profit.

Trump is also tapping a fellow billionaire, longtime friend and colleague to run the Department of Commerce, Wilbur Ross. He runs his own investment firm. He made huge money off of buying distress companies and turning them around. He has deep roots in steel and coal industries. He represented the bond holders in Trump's casino bankruptcies. He succeeds sitting Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, also a billionaire.

Trump's choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is worth billions as well.

But, you know, I've known Wilbur Ross for years. You know, we've gone to, you know, real estate conferences and the like, and he's somebody who has thought really deeply about, I guess, upward mobility for people in this country, you know? And he had concerns about, you know, education, how well we're educating our students. How well we're doing things to be prepared to lead this century.

These are things that I've spoken to him personally about. So, he's an interesting pick for commerce.

BERMAN: He is interesting. And Mnuchin is interesting as well, given that Donald Trump ran against Wall Street and high finance, Mnuchin is Wall Street and finance. So, really interesting to see how that plays out.

CNN has learned that retired Marine Corps General John Kelly is emerging as Donald Trump's pick for homeland security -- secretary of homeland security, I believe. A source in the Trump transition team tells our Mark Preston that the president-elect likes Kelly's views on border security. Kelly, the former head of Florida-based U.S. Southern Command.

If retired General James Mattis is up in the Pentagon as expected, that will make three retired generals in the cabinet along with Mike Flynn, who will be the national security adviser.

ROMANS: All right. The president-elect plans to kick off a "thank you" tour on Thursday, starting with a rally in Cincinnati. The tour will focus on key battleground states that propelled Trump to victory. Vice President-elect Mike Pence is expected to join him in Ohio. Team Trump is not revealing which other cities will be included in this tour.

BERMAN: Green Party candidate Jill Stein has paid a $3.5 million fee to clear the way for a recount in Wisconsin beginning tomorrow. But a judge has rejected her demand that all of the counties do their counting by hand, ruling that there's not enough evidence of fraud or abuse. Stein is also trying to initiate recounts of Pennsylvania and Michigan and says she needs to raise another $2.4 million because of the excessive fee charged by Wisconsin election officials.

Wildfires in Tennessee turning deadly. More than 150 buildings burned. Thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes. The question now, will rain bring an end to this crisis? That's next.


[04:12:55] BERMAN: Rain could come to the rescue in Tennessee. Wildfires fuelled by extreme dry conditions and 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts are being blamed right now for at least three deaths. Authorities say the fires are, quote, "human cause". Smoke and flames have damaged about 150 homes and buildings, and forced thousands of people in the city of Gatlinburg to evacuate.

Let's get the latest this morning from CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, the mayor of Gatlinburg says this was a situation where people were basically running for their lives as they were trying to get out of town, trying to escape the flames.

We talked to one man who escaped with his family on Monday. He said that the smoke and the flames were so intense and so thick, that when he was caravanning out of Gatlinburg with his wife in the lead car ahead of him, he was trailing in the car just behind her. He could not see his car, the smoke is that thick. And he said his 1-year-old daughter was choking in the backseat.

There were harrowing tales like that all over the place here in Gatlinburg. People trying to get out. Some of them did not. As of now, we know at least three people who were killed at different locations in the wildfires. The local fire chief said they don't know if more people might have been killed because they have not been able to get to every affected area.

You've got fire crews back here staging behind me, of the shelter just outside of Gatlinburg. They're getting ready to deploy another fire truck here. A short time ago, we saw a bunch ever them stream out of here with sirens blazing.

You know, this came up on people so very fast that a lot of people did not have time to get out or had very, very little time. This is a situation where high winds, some as strong as hurricane force high 80s ands miles per hour, were blowing embers miles from where they picked these embers up and dumping the embers on trees like they were match sticks because this place has experienced a drought since April.

I talked to a National Park Service spokeswoman a short time ago. She said, as of now, there's about 15,000 acres that have been charred. And she says, a very important piece of information she gave us, she said this was human caused. Now, I pressed her on whether this was arson or not, she would not go there, she said she's not ready to say that.

[04:15:03] But they do know that this is human caused. And that part of this is under investigation.

Now, into Wednesday, they were expecting some rain to come here, and hopefully, that is going to help douse some of the flames. But with the rain, they're expecting some winds, maybe gusts up to 60 mile an hour. So, the wind m flame flames in other areas making firefighters' lives even more difficult -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: Thanks for that, Brian Todd.

A beautiful part of the country there. You know, Dolly Parton has her big Dollywood there, near Pigeon Forge, that's closed. Some lodging is open on a limited basis. Basically, they're focusing on the community. She just shot a public service announcement about stopping forest fires.

I mean, this is a beautiful part of the country that really has been hurt there. So, we'll continue to watch. Hope that rain can help a little bit today.

Meanwhile, at Ohio State, a show of unity, one day after a stabbing spree on campus. The university tweeting out this picture, more than 1,000 gathering last night to reflect in an attack that left 11 people injured. Authorities now confirming suspect Abdul Artan purchased knives on the morning of his rampage. He was likely inspired to carry out stabbings by ISIS and the late Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al Awlaki.

BERMAN: Investigators in Colombia are trying to determine whether a plane that crashed in the mounts of Medellin ran out of fuel. At least 71 people died, including most of the members of a Brazilian soccer club that chartered the flight. Six people survived apparently because of a lack of fire damage in the wreckage. That is leading investigators to consider fuel starvation as a contributing factor.

ROMANS: The Obama administration has decided not to send in official delegation to attend Fidel Castro's funeral on Sunday. But the president is sending national security advier Ben Rhodes and U.S. diplomat Jeff DeLaurentis to represent him. Rhodes has played a key role in normalizing relations with Cuba.

BERMAN: A mass exodus underway in Syria. Thousands fleeing. Hundreds of thousands caught in the cross-fire. We'll have a live report on the widening crisis. That's next.


[04:21:35] ROMANS: Thousands of civilians fleeing Aleppo this morning. Syrian government forces unleashing a ferocious ground assault and airstrikes in a bid to take back the city from rebel control. Some 200,000 residents caught in the cross-fire. Now, they've been told to get out or face annihilation.

CNN's Muhammad Lila tracking the latest developments live from Istanbul. And this is just a real, real strong attempt here to turn the tide

against these rebel elements.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, that's exactly right, Christine, and what we might be seeing is effectively the rebels' last stand. Just this morning, we have reports of a new round, fresh round of regime air strikes targeting a number of neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo as the regime continues its chokehold to try to force the rebels to surrender or die and, of course, this has created a humanitarian situation.

There is drone footage of hundreds, perhaps thousands of civilians from Eastern Aleppo trying to escape to the western part of the city that's controlled by regime. We understand a lot of the displaced people are going to be put up in a camp that's close to the airport.

But, you know, Christine, for a number of days, we've been talking about just how dire the situation is, that they're running out of fuel, they're running out of medicine. They're running of food. The U.N. says there's no more fully functioning hospitals left.

But let me spell out just how dire that situation is right now. There's an organization call the White Helmets. We've all seen that dramatic footage there, that ones go in after a air strike and try to pull the victims out of the rubble, well, the White Helmets now they can no longer do that because they don't have the fuel into their ambulances just to drive to those locations where those air strikes have taken place.

Now, the White Helmets are the first line of defense and only responders to these crises. And when the White Helmets say they can no longer basically do their job, it basically means the last line of defense in the besieged part of Aleppo is no longer operating.

And so, you can say that this is perhaps that's the most hopeless this situation has gotten in the last four years.

ROMANS: All right. Last stand for those rebels and certainly frightening for the civilians caught there. Thank you so much for that, Muhammad.

BERMAN: Former police officer Michael Slager took the stand in his own defense in his murder trial in South Carolina. Slager is charged in the shooting death of Walter Scott following a routine traffic stop last year. Slager told the jury that Scott grabbed his stun gun and that he feared for his life. The former officer says he fired until the threat was over. Cell phone video shows Scott who was unarmed running away from Slager when he was shot. Closing arguments are expected sometime today.

ROMANS: Tulsa police officer Betsy Shelby will stand trial for manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. A judge ruling there was enough evidence after reviewing police chopper and dash cam video. Shelby is accused of shooting and killing Crutcher who was unarmed during a traffic stop in September. BERMAN: It is decision day for Democrats in the House of

Representatives. Members are set to vote on their incoming leadership for the new Congress. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is challenging longtime Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Representative Ryan said it's time for new blood and fresh ideas. Pelosi, though, is expected to retain her position as House minority leader.

ROMANS: Legendary director Martin Scorsese is getting the red carpet treatment Vatican style. Scorsese expected to meet privately with Pope Francis following a screening of his epic new movie "Silence", for an audience of 400 priests today in Rome.

[04:25:02] The film is a longtime passion project for Scorsese about the persecution of Jesuits in 17th century's Japan. "Silence" has its world premier at the Vatican Thursday. It opens in the U.S. on December 23rd.

BERMAN: Finally, he'll make some new movies, Martin Scorsese.

ROMANS: Yes, I had heard of him before.

BERMAN: No, new guy.

ROMANS: You had to tell me how to pronounce his name.

BERMAN: A new guy in the scene.

Mitt Romney calls his dinner with the president-elect enlightening, probably delicious also considering it's in Jean-Georges. But did he make a convincing case to become Donald Trump's secretary of state? That's next.



ROMNEY: I had a wonderful evening with Preside-elect Trump.


ROMANS: Mitt Romney's dinner with Donald Trump, afterward heaping plateful of praise for the man he called a fraud just a few months back.

BERMAN: The president-elect delivers on a campaign promise. Details on a deal to keep 1,000 Indiana factory jobs from moving to Mexico.

ROMANS: The Trump administration's economic team now taking shape. One pick is from Wall Street, the other from Wall Street and Hollywood.