Return to Transcripts main page


Filling Out the Trump Cabinet; Union Boss Versus Trump; Tennessee Wildfire Suspects Detained; Aleppo on the Verge of Falling. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 8, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump tapping an ally of big oil, someone who has questioned the science behind climate change to head up the EPA. The president-elect also with some other new key picks.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And Indianapolis union boss claims he is receiving threats after accusing Donald Trump of lying. Now, the president-elect is piling on with a new Twitter tirade.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you. It is Thursday, December 8th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And breaking overnight: President-elect Donald Trump in a remarkable back and forth with the steelworker union leader, a man who now says he is receiving death threats as a result. And this all played out on CNN, with Chuck Jones saying the Trump team's claim that it is savings more than 1,000 jobs in Indiana at Carrier, that claim is inflated.

We'll get to all of this in a moment. First today, the president- elect meets with retired Admiral James Stavridis who is said to be on the short list for secretary of state. Noteworthy about this meeting is Stavridis was vetted as a possible vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton.

Overnight, the Trump transition team announced picks for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Now, this is a controversial nomination, especially with environmental groups. Pruitt has said the science of climate change is debatable and he is a fierce critic of the agency he would now run.

For the very latest on the transition, let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Alison.

Well, the Donald Trump transition barrels on. And while as a candidate on the campaign trail, Trump may have said dismissive things about the generals, he is relying an awful lot on them as he builds out his White House team. A source tells CNN that Trump has chosen retired General John Kelly to be the next head of the Department of Homeland Security. It's just one of a number of staffing issues taking shape this week.

Yet another one the Trump transition team made official is Linda McMahon, the former CEO of WWE. That's Donald Trump's pick to lead the Small Business Administration. And a source tells me that Donald Trump is impressed with her business experience. That's part of the reason he felt she was the right pick for the job.

Now, he won't be spending all day Thursday cloistered in Trump Tower. He's going to be heading out to Ohio where he'll be meeting victims and first responders in Columbus around that Ohio State attack and then, he's going to be going on to Des Moines, Iowa. That is, of course, a state he won that helped him fueled his trip to the White House, part of his victory tour and also an opportunity to reveal yet another one of his staff picks, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, and that's Donald Trump's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Back to you, guys.


KOSIK: OK. Sara Murray, thanks very much. One likely reason Donald Trump picked Governor Branstad for ambassador to China is Branstad's close decades long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

For some background now on the odd couple relationship and friendship between the very conservative governor and the communist president, let's bring in CNN's Matt Rivers live from Beijing.

So, one thing that came to mind when I saw this appointment was, this nomination was, hmm, Trump hasn't been too kind to China. Maybe it's Branstad who will go in and kind of clean up the mess afterwards?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be an olive branch, if you will, to the president-elect to China after what is a week of some tense relations between the president-elect and his counterparts here in China.

But this is a relationship between President Xi Jinping here in China and Governor Branstad that goes back all the way to the mid-1980s. President Jinping actually as a 31-year-old mid-level bureaucrat from a rural province in China at the time went to Iowa as a part of a state delegation to try and learn about agricultural policy. And he said that that visit helped shaped his visit of what America actually is.

Fast forward to 2012, Xi Jinping is at that point the vice president, getting really to be president in 2013. And he went back to Iowa. Governor Branstad was in charge and involved on both of those state visits. And so, the two men both say they have a close relationship with one another, which is something you don't always see with ambassador picks, personal relationship between the man that will be coming here to Beijing and President Xi Jinping, at a time when the U.S. and China have a lot to navigate. One thing that's interesting is that the economics of this

relationship. Governor Branstad has overseen a push towards China for China exports, things like corn and soy beans get exported from Iowa to China, one of their biggest export markets. It has been a friendly relationship and one that you can expect both sides will count on moving forward at the time when the president-elect certainly doesn't shy away from challenging his Chinese counterparts -- Alison.

[04:05:02] KOSIK: He certainly does not.

Matt Rivers, thanks so much.

And now to Donald Trump lashing out at a union leader who criticized the Carrier job deal as the promise halfway delivered.


CHUCK JONES, PRESIDENT, UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 1999: We have a lot of the members when the word was coming out of 1,100. They thought they would have a job. Then, they find out the next day after or next Friday, they most likely they weren't. The 550 would still lose their jobs.


KOSIK: OK. So, just a few minutes after that live interview, Donald Trump went into a tweet rampage saying, quote, "Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country." Then, an hour later, saying this, "If United Steelworkers was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana."

So, let me give you the facts. Initially, Carrier planned to move 1,400 jobs to Mexico. Carrier and Trump struck a deal that they said would save 1,100. But 300 of those administrative and engineering positions that were never at risk to being moved to Mexico. So, in total, 800 factory workers who would have lost their jobs will stay employed. Those were saved.

Bottom line here: Carrier is still shifting 600 jobs to Mexico some time next year.

BERMAN: And United Technologies plant nearby is also sending 700 jobs to Mexico. Those were not safe either. So, Chuck Jones' math is right here in this back and forth.

KOSIK: And he is doing what he should do, is representing the members.

BERMAN: The workers.

KOSIK: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Although he does point out that nearly 800 jobs are being saved and he is grateful for at least those jobs.

KOSIK: Yes, he has said.

BERMAN: All right. A day after the president-elect threatened to cancel order to buy at least two new Air Force One jets, the head of Boeing promised Trump the aircraft maker will work to control costs.

Now, the president-elect's tweet on Tuesday said that the costs of the new Air Force One is out of control. That tweet ended "cancel order". But after Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and President-elect Trump spoke on the phone, Boeing said it would work with the administration. And the president-elect said, quote, "We're going to work it out."

KOSIK: A federal judge has halted the recount of votes for president in Michigan. One of three battleground states where Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton. Lawsuits seeking recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were filed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. District Judge Mark Goldsmith says Stein's suit raised serious issues, but that she had offered no evidence of tampering or mistakes.

BERMAN: The vice president appears to be throwing cold water on the very hot water he created about a possible 2020 White House bid. The outgoing vice president raised eyebrows this week when he said or maybe just joked that he planned to run for president in four years. He even told Stephen Colbert never say never.

Yesterday, maybe, he seemed to walk those comments back. He told reporters, "I have no intention of running", although I only point, you say you have no intention of running while leaving the door open, I could say I have no intention of eating breakfast and then I could change my mind and have a bagel in three hours.

KOSIK: It is all about mincing those words.

BERMAN: No means no. He didn't say no. He said no intention. Just saying.

KOSIK: Good point.

OK. Two arrests in Tennessee in the aftermath of those deadly wildfires. Two teenagers charged with arson. New details when EARLY START continues.


[04:12:36] KOSIK: Two teenagers are facing aggravated arson charges in connection with the deadly Tennessee wildfires. Because they are minors, police are not releasing their names. Right now, they are being held in the juvenile detention center. But the case could be moved to the adult court and more charges could be filed.

Let's get more now from CNN's Polo Sandoval.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John and Alison. Good morning. Officials there in Tennessee will only say that these two are juveniles, that are from Tennessee, but not from Sevier County. Tennessee which is a region that was heavily scorched by those wildfires, started about two weeks ago, and eventually spread to nearby town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The two juveniles arrested yesterday according to investigators as part of this arson case that's been worked by local, state and federal investigators.

Local district attorney James Dunn (ph) saying that they do believe that other charges are possible. According to him, they are keeping all of their options on the table. And that includes seeking the transfer of these cases to an adult criminal court. You recall, 14 people lost their lives. Nearly 1,400 structures there in Tennessee either damaged or destroyed after this fire.

We had an opportunity to travel to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to see the devastation for ourselves. You could see just smoldering rubble that all that was left of what is typically very picturesque, very scenic area there in eastern Tennessee. Recent heavy rains actually helped those firefighters finally gain the upper hand in taking out, extinguishing the flames. And now, residents are beginning to rebuild their lives. They've been able to access the region already for several days that the general public will access Gatlinburg come on Friday as the investigation presses forward with two juveniles behind bars -- guys.


BERMAN: All right, Polo. Thanks so much.

Disturbing details are emerging in that Oakland warehouse fires that killed 36 people. City officials say it had been inspected the warehouse in more than 30 years. They say there had been no request for construction permits in that time, but records show there were repeated complaints over the years about the warehouse. Many of them about trash piling up in the empty lot next door. This comes as investigators found the warehouse had a makeshift stairwell, no smoke detectors or sprinklers, and no exits to the street from the second floor.

KOSIK: A dramatic day in court as the Dylann Roof murder case gets under way. The 22-year-old is accused of killing nine people last year during a bible study class at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

[04:15:05] Prosecutors are painting him as cold and calculating. And while one of the shooting survivors called Roof evil in tearful testimony.

We get more now from CNN's Nick Valencia.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Alison, Wednesday's court proceedings begun with 67 prospective jurors being whittled down to 12 jurors and six alternates. We also heard opening statements from both the prosecution and defense. Dylann Roof sat mostly emotionless and expressionless. His eyes trained downwards. His hands clasped in his lap as the prosecution laid out their case as to why they believe he should be found guilty in this federal hate crime charge.

Earlier, I spoke to State Senator Marlon Kimpson about his reaction to what he saw in Wednesday's courtroom.

STATE SEN. MARLON KIMPSON (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's sad. What we have to do is not just cry about it. We've got to do something about it. He's a ninth grade drop out, very little hope, bases his whole life existence on racism.

Now, as odd as that seems to you and I, there are people in the country who are Dylann Roofs. There are more Dylann Roof out there. What we have to do as a nation is recognize the next one early on.

VALENCIA: According to the source inside the courtroom, Dylann Roof's mother collapsed during the lunch recess and had to be transported by EMS. Wednesday's court proceedings also saw the first witness called to the stand, Felicia Sanders, one of the survivors of that attack of June 2015, she had to take a break as well. Some of the most gut- wrenching, heart-wrenching testimony we heard throughout -- John, Alison.


BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia, thanks so much.

Former astronaut and U.S. Senator, John Glenn, is in the hospital. A spokesman confirmed the 95-year-old was admitted more than a week ago to the hospital on the campus of Ohio State University. At this point, it's not clear what his condition or his illness is. Senator Glenn did suffer a stroke back in 2014 after undergoing heart value replacement surgery.

You know, our thoughts are certainly with him. You know, you throw on the term American hero. I mean, this guy is the epitome of that all.

KOSIK: The epitome of it.

BERMAN: You know, what an important contribution he made over a long, long time.

KOSIK: Ninety-five years young. We certainly wish him well.

All right. John Boehner, ask him who the biggest winner of the 2016 election season really was and he's going to tell you it's him.

BERMAN: And he means it.

KOSIK: I know he does. Why the former House speaker is feeling especially grateful right about now. That's next on EARLY START.


[04:21:55] BERMAN: Most of Aleppo is now back in the hands of the Syrian regime. Neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, once a rebel stronghold, have now been flattened. Bodies can be seen lining the streets. The remaining opposition forces are now proposing a five-day cease-fire. The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says those rebels in the United States are, quote, "begging for a truce".

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is tracking the latest developments for us.

And, Jomana, Secretary of State Kerry and his Russian counterpart, they now are going to meet. They're going to try to negotiate a ceasefire. Where do things stand?

KARADSHEH: Well, John, on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry and Lavrov met in Germany for about 45 minutes. They are scheduled to meet again today.

It's very unlikely that we're going to be seeing a cease-fire coming out of these talks. We've heard the Russian position on this. We've heard the Syrian regime's position on this from President Assad himself yesterday. The Syrian regime and its allies are on the verge of recapturing most of Aleppo, it seemed and they won't agree to a truce at this point.

What we might see is some sort of an agreement on the humanitarian conditions. They are on eastern Aleppo. They would include medical evacuations, delivery of aid. But also, very critical here is this idea that the United States floated last week that would allow for the safe passage providing that option to the rebels in eastern Aleppo to have passage to other parts of the country that are rebel-held. We are hearing from the Russians through state media that they agree to this idea by the United States.

So, it would seem right now, John, that the rebels are on the verge of defeat, but how will this defeat look like in eastern Aleppo? Are they going to try and make a last stand fight until the end or are they going to reach some sort of agreement like they have seen in other parts of the country where they will be allowed, this sort of surrender by allowing them safe passage to other parts of the country, John.

BERMAN: And what it means for the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people caught in the middle of it all.

Jomana, thanks so much.

KOSIK: The death toll now rising to 102 following the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that rocked Indonesia. The government has declared the state of emergency in Aceh province. Houses, mosques, shops all leveled. The earthquake has displaced more than 3,200 people. Search and rescue operations are still under way. At least one person is still unaccounted for. Officials say at least 136 people were injured.

BERMAN: It appears that Donald Trump's rise to the presidency is triggering a surge in applications for U.S. citizenship. This is because of the president-elect's immigration rhetoric we are told. A lot of legal U.S. residents say they fear deportation and need an insurance policy.

There are more than 100 -- I'm sorry. More than 718,000 applications filled from October 2015 to June 2016, 25 percent increase over the previous year. That's according to the federal numbers.

[04:25:01] KOSIK: John Boehner, he's back, sort of. He's just commenting on how things are going politically. He is thankful this holiday season.

Topping his list, being on the sidelines during the mayhem of the presidential race. I want you to listen to the former House speaker respond to a reporter who asked him if he wishes he could have been more involved in the process.


JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Oh, my God, no. Really? Every day I watch and I think thank God I'm not in the middle of this. It was the most bizarre political year that we have seen in 100 years.


KOSIK: That's the pot calling the kettle black. I'm just saying.

BERMAN: John Boehner. He is happily retired. Happily retired.

KOSIK: So, yes. He has no regrets about walking away from Congress 14 months ago. He is kind of feeling like he is sitting pretty.

BERMAN: He wants to mow his lawn, you know --

KOSIK: Play golf.

BERMAN: And drink his merlot and play golf, seriously.

All right. Team Trump is growing. The president-elect has tapped someone who questions his science behind climate change to head up the EPA. Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, has a long history of actually suing the agency that he may be running. We're going to take a closer look at some of Donald Trump's new picks. That's coming up.