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Trump Tips Ben Carson for HUD Secretary; Warehouse Fire a Criminal Act?; Judge Declares Mistrial in Michael Slager Murder Case; Aleppo on the Verge of Falling. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 6, 2016 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President-elect Trump widens his search for secretary of state again. Could the CEO of ExxonMobil now be the frontrunner for the State Department?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The death toll rising in Oakland. Now, investigators want to know if this city's deadliest fire in over a century was caused by a criminal act.

BERMAN: A mistrial in the case of the former South Carolina police officer fatally shot an unarmed African-American man in the back. Why prosecutors say Michael Slager is not off the hook just yet.

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

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's Tuesday, December 6th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And just when you think you have President-elect Trump's cabinet list all down, (AUDIO GAP) names today. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson will be going to Trump Tower for a visit. Tillerson is said to be under consideration for secretary of state. Also in Trump's datebook, a sit down with radio host Laura Ingraham. Then, this evening, Trump flies off on the next thank you tour in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This all follows some big announcement and meetings on Monday.

For the latest on all this, let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty.



Well, President-elect Donald Trump making some big decisions in terms of his cabinet, formally nominating Dr. Ben Carson, his former rival, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But as he moves to make some key decisions on these big cabinet posts, others seem to be taking almost a step back.

[05:00:04] Late last week, we knew according to sources that Donald Trump had really settled on the potential for four finalists for this big secretary of state job. But now, we know according to sources that Donald Trump is looking for more candidates, really expanding his search for secretary of state, now looking at people like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson who will be here today at Trump Tower who will be here today at Trump Tower, meeting one on one with Donald Trump.

Also, Senator Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia who has told our sources on Capitol Hill that he is indeed looking to potentially schedule a meeting with Donald Trump at some point this week.

Now, Donald Trump also holding a very intriguing meeting on Monday here at Trump Tower with former Vice President Al Gore. We know according to Gore that he was just supposed to sit down with his Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, to talk about climate change. But that meeting afterwards got expanded to include President-elect Trump.

Here's Al Gore after that meeting.

AL GORE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bulk of that time was with Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation and to be continued. And I'm just going to leave it at that.

SERFATY: So, that certainly an intriguing "stay tuned" comment there from Al Gore. But Gore later on saying this was truly a shared attempt to find common ground. Of course, the two have not always seen eye to eye over climate change -- John and Alison.


BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

And Donald Trump's meetings with Senate Democrats have party leaders concerned. Senior Democrats in the city are leaning on Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, worried that if Trump picks one or both for his cabinet, it could make the Republicans even more powerful in the Senate. It would mean the Democrats would lose a seat or two.

Senator Manchin is not ruling out a job with the Trump administration. He tells CNN that he has to make sure he is doing the best he can for his state, but he says no specifics have been discussed so far with the Trump transition.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: It was a very encouraging talk. We talked about my state of West Virginia and the country as a whole. And it was a productive cause -- I mean, productive talk, and I was pretty appreciative of that.

REPORTER: Would you take Department of Energy if offered?

MANCHIN: Well, basically, we haven't talked about anything on those, you know? There will be, I'm sure later date is going to be, maybe later this week or some time, a time when we might meet. But right now, that's not done.


KOSIK: Is it possible for President-elect Trump to tax U.S. companies that move jobs to Mexico? The short answer is yes. Tariffs are used for products, not companies.

Trump could ask Congress to do it or if he wants to avoid Congress, he'd have to go four steps. First, announce an investigation into the company for dumping its cheaper products in the U.S. markets. Second, the Department of Commerce would have to investigate. Trump's secretary of commerce pick, Wilbur Ross, he would likely approve this. Then, the International Trade Commission would prove that the company is causing harm by flooding goods into U.S. shores. That has actually never happened to a specific company.

But if Trump did get that approval, he could slap the company with a tariff on all goods coming into the U.S. So, bottom line, putting tariffs on companies, yes, it is possible. But it ain't going to be easy. It's a very difficult thing to do.

BERMAN: Let's talk about that and more, so much more. I want to bring in political analyst and best selling author Ellis Henican here in New York, and from Washington, political economist Greg Valliere. He's the chief strategist for Horizon Investments.

Before we talk about the transition, Ellis, let's talk about 2020. It's never too early.



BERMAN: Because Vice President Biden, he raised some eyebrows. He was up at the Senate yesterday, doing some work up there. When he left, reporters caught up with him, and they had this exchange. Let's listen.


REPORTER: You're going to run again?



REPORTER: For what?

BIDEN: For president.


BIDEN: You know, so -- what the hell, man. Anyway --

REPORTER: We're going to run with that, sir, you know. You dropped that. BIDEN: That's OK. That's OK. No, but I enjoyed every minute of my

time here in the Senate.

REPORTER: Just to be clear -- were you kidding about running for president in 2020?

BIDEN: I'm just -- I'm not committing not to run. I'm not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago.


BERMAN: All right, Ellis. What was that? Is he opening the door?

HENICAN: Two things to say. He would be 78 years old. But, you know, all 78 is not what it used to be. But does anyone really think Joe Biden could not have gotten an extra point or two in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, maybe Florida? He's got to be kicking himself. He's got to be saying, oh, man, I could have done this.

BERMAN: But this is more about 2016 than 2020 is what you're saying.

HENICAN: Well, yes, but you cast your gaze against the Democratic firmament and you tell me who would be the stronger candidate today.

BERMAN: I'm gazing frequently across --


KOSIK: Greg, let me go to you and ask you this, because it is too early to really say what President-elect Donald Trump will do as far as China goes.

[05:05:08] I mean, on the campaign trail, he put a lot of pressure on China. You know, he had tweets over the weekend, his call with Taiwan. So, clearly, he is ramping up rhetoric with China.

You know, listen, Trump is a disrupter. China hasn't done the U.S. any favors. I mean, he talks about -- let's talk about the tariffs. Listen, China tariffs -- taxes U.S. goods higher than the U.S. taxes China's goods coming in here. So, does he have a leg to stand on or is really he putting the U.S. at risk of a trade war here?

GREG VALLIERE, POLITICAL ECONOMIST: Well, a couple points. Number one, he's going to game China like he games everybody. Number two, he has to satisfy his constituents in the Rust Belt, in Pennsylvania and Ohio who all voted for him. So, I think he's got to do that. I think relations will be rocky with China economically.

Frankly, I would worry more about Iran. I think U.S./Iran relations are going to be really awful. So, yes, we've got a lot of posturing right now. Last time I checked, he hasn't been inaugurated.

BERMAN: He is doing all this and 49 days to go before inauguration.

Greg, let me ask you on the issue of tariffs and trade wars. You know, the markets, they seem to like parts of Trump more than they said they would leading up to Election Day. When it comes to tariffs and trade, where is the tipping point where the markets would start to be concerned he would begin some kind of trade war that they would find detrimental?

VALLIERE: I think two things the markets would really worry about. Number one, if China retaliates and says, OK, you want to do this, we're going to raise tariffs as well. That really could escalate. Number two would be a public fight with Janet Yellen.

Those are the things I think the markets would worry about.

KOSIK: Do you see that possible? Some public fight with Yellen?

VALLIERE: Well, he was very critical of her during the campaign. She should be ashamed of herself for creating bubbles. She's going to raise rates on December 14th. That's about the safest bet of the year.

So, with the Fed raising rates, we'll see. He might get a little testy with her.

BERMAN: I think the words "safe bet" in 2016 should never than placed in the same sentence.

VALLIERE: Right, good point.

BERMAN: Ellis Henican, you know, some of these meetings that Donald Trump is taking with Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin, obviously a concern for Democrats in the Senate right now.

What do you think the calculation is for a Heidi Heitkamp or a Joe Manchin as they're deciding -- if they decide to work in the Trump administration?

HENICAN: Well, that's tougher calculation. The one for the Dems is easy, right? Do not go.

BERMAN: Yes, you don't want to lose them.

HENICAN: But, listen, they've got long political futures. They are both in states where it's clearly not a political advantage to be a Democrat. Certainly, in West Virginia, it's clearly a detriment.

BERMAN: And North Dakota.

HENICAN: In North Dakota, I think the same is true.

So, you know, I don't know. It has to depend on the calculation of how much they see their own futures connected to the Democratic Party and whether they want to alienate all their fellow senators.

KOSIK: OK, for a minute, let's go to the cabinet picks because Al Gore walking into Trump Tower, I had to sort --

HENICAN: He is not going to be in the cabinet.

BERMAN: He's not going to be in the cabinet, yes.

KOSIK: But was this just for the cameras? Is Donald Trump softening? Is he throwing an olive branch toward --

HENICAN: I'll give you one word: Ivanka. I think this is all about Ivanka. Donald Trump is on record calling climate change a hoax.

Remember, Ivanka had also pushed that child care plan that had a lot of people scratching their heads a couple of months ago, very un- Trumpian.

KOSIK: This may be her new pet issue.

HENICAN: I think it's, daddy, please meet.

KOSIK: But it means, daddy, you have to admit that climate change isn't a hoax.

HENICAN: I don't know if we're there yet. I don't know.

BERMAN: Greg, it also shows enormous power that you have as the president-elect and incoming president. People will come meet with you. Even people who are not in power, even people who have been very critical. Why? Because you are going to be the most powerful person on earth for the next four years, whether they like it or not.

VALLIERE: I'd even go further. I'd say some people will make fools of themselves to curry favor with him or to get a cabinet position. They'll change previous stances. They'll bow down. They'll make abject apologies for criticizing him. We've seen a lot of that in the State Department contest.

BERMAN: Greg Valliere with a not at all cynical view of the people now looking for jobs of a Trump --

KOSIK: Thanks, Ellis. We'll see you back in 20 minutes.

BERMAN: Thanks, guys.

All right. Up next, we have new developments in the Oakland warehouse fire. Why investigators had the building on the radar long before it went up the flames.

KOSIK: And a mistrial for a former police officer who killed an unarmed black man. Why the family of the man he shot isn't about to give up hope.


[05:13:47] BERMAN: Heightened security in Los Angeles this morning after authorities received a tip about a possible bombing plot targeting the Universal City train station. The FBI tells us the information came from the tip line operated by an unidentified foreign government. Officials considered the threat specific and also imminent. But they say they are trying to determine its credibility. Commuters in Los Angeles are being told to expect an increase presence of uniformed police this morning, as well as K-9 units scouring the rail systems for explosives.

KOSIK: Investigators are sifting through the wreckage of the Oakland building fire that killed at least 36 people. Officials are still trying to determine what cause the warehouse turned art space to go up in flames. While prosecutors say it is still too early to speculate on any criminal charges, they do promise to leave no stone unturned.

We get more from CNN's Dan Simon in Oakland.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, it is a mind boggling number of victims. Many have been identified, but some will require scientific methods for identification. I want to show you what it looks like a block away. You can see this makeshift memorial where many people have come by to pay respects to those who died.

[05:15:00] As you can imagine though, there are still so many questions of how this fire started, and why people wanted to live in the warehouse. This is what the mayor had to say about the investigation.

LIBBY SCHAAF, MAYOR OF OAKLAND: The permitted use of that building was as a warehouse. It was not a legally permitted as either a living space, a residence or an event space.

SIMON: Still no theory about a cause. But investigators think they know where the fire started. So, hopefully, that will lead to clues.

As for the residents, one person told me that she viewed this community almost like a church, a way for people to come together to draw inspiration from one another for their art projects. Of course, that's going to be a big part of the investigation. Why people were living in that warehouse. But, of course, the main focus is on the victims and possible recovery of additional bodies -- John and Alison.


BERMAN: All right. Dan, thanks so much.

Prosecutors in South Carolina are promising to retry former police officer Michael Slager for the murder of Walter Scott, after the judge declared a mistrial on Monday. The jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision after deliberating for 22 hours. That's over four days.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Nick Valencia in Charleston.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, after more than five weeks of trials, days of deliberation, it was on Monday afternoon that the jurors handed a note to the judge saying that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether or not to convict Officer Michael Slager of first-degree murder. For those in support of the Scott family, this was a little bit of a surprise. However, some expected a mistrial. On Friday, we got indication there was one lone juror who said under good conscience, he could not convict Slager of first-degree murder.

Today, on Monday I should say, we learned that a majority of the jurors were still undecided. There was enough reasonable doubt cast by the Slager's defense in the case of the state for the jury pool to be deadlocked. It was the makeup of the jury pool that was considered some to be -- they took exception with this. Eleven of the jurors were white. Six of them white men. Five of them white women. One of them, African-American, actually the foreman in this jury pool.

It was on Monday afternoon, at a press conference, that the Scott family did not, choosing instead to take a religious tone, to focus instead of being optimistic that in a retrial sometime later next year, that they could get a conviction against Slager.

ANTHONY SCOTT, BROTHER OF WALTER SCOTT: Absolutely. Justice hasn't been served yet. But we have more chances. We're coming back.

VALENCIA: We should also mention, Michael Slager is scheduled to face federal civil rights charges some time in early 2017 -- John and Alison.


KOSIK: OK. Nick Valencia, thank you.

Aleppo on the verge of falling. Russian forces teaming with Syrian troops to win back the city from rebel fighters. Now, they are trying to win the hearts and minds of the Syria people. A live report ahead.


[05:22:20] KOSIK: This morning, Aleppo is on the verge of falling back into the hands of the Syrian government and its Russian forces which are now in a much more visible role fighting alongside Syrian regime troops. They are even launching an aid campaign to win over the civilian population.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is tracking the latest developments live from Istanbul.

You know, Muhammad, what's confusing here is that Russia seems to be trying to win over the hearts and minds of the Syrian people, yet it was Russia that voted against a U.N. resolution yesterday that would look to (AUDIO GAP) to bring in much-needed aid. How does that sort of jive with what is going on?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, how is this for mixed messaging? Just this morning, a new threat from Russia's foreign minister to the rebels directly saying that those rebels that don't leave the eastern part of Aleppo peacefully will be, quote, "eliminated" because there's no other way out. Now, of course, that threat comes on the heels of the U.S. and Russia trying to work out a deal where those rebels that are besieged in the eastern part of Aleppo will be given free passage to leave. Now, of course, from Russia's perspective, they're putting on, as you

mentioned, a very public show of the humanitarian aid that they are supposedly delivering, inviting the media to come and take a look as one of their convoys was heading towards eastern Aleppo. But, of course, Russia is still furious that one of its medical clinics was bombed yesterday. A number of their medics died in that attack. Russia says that was a pre-planned attack, that somehow the rebels had the coordinates of where that military and medical facility was.

Now, according to CNN's own team on the ground, as well as the Syrian army, more than half of the rebel part of eastern Aleppo has now been retaken by forces. And there is a very real fear that all of eastern Aleppo could fall in the coming days.

So, the question is, what will happen if the rebels refuse to leave? Well, if we take Russia's word for it, it could be a very nasty situation and it could be a bloodbath. Certainly, that's something that the U.N. and a lot of other relief agencies on the ground are desperately trying to avoid right now.

KOSIK: OK. Muhammad Lila, thanks so much for your report.

BERMAN: All right. A controversial West Bank outpost bill has cleared its first hurdle in the Israeli parliament. Right wing backers of the measure say it would pave the way for the annexation of the West Bank by legalizing more than 50 Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Lawmakers voted 60 to 49 in favor of the bill. Three more votes will be needed before it becomes law. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry calls the measure very concerning.

KOSIK: President Obama heading to Tampa later today to deliver his final speech on the administration's counterterrorism strategy. He is expected to address and give thanks to active duty members at MacDill Air Force Base this afternoon.

[05:25:02] That includes members of special operations team to have played key roles in counterterrorism efforts during his presidency.

BERMAN: All right. What a difference a day makes at Trump Tower. Yesterday --

KOSIK: And who visits.

BERMAN: And visits, right, exactly.

Yesterday, Al Gore was there. Today? The CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerman, stops by. More on that coming up.


KOSIK: Suspense builds as President-elect Trump searches for his secretary of state. A Texas oil man makes the trip to Trump Tower today.

BERMAN: Who saw this one coming? Former Vice President Al Gore talking about his surprise meeting with the president-elect. KOSIK: Never say never -- at least not for Joe Biden. The vice

president suggests he could run for president in 2020. Could he possibly be serious?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. About 30 minutes after the hour right now. It is 5:30 a.m. on the East Coast.