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Scott Pruitt to Head EPA; Union Boss Versus Trump; Tennessee Wildfire Suspects Detained; LeBron Explains Trump Hotel Boycott. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 8, 2016 - 05:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump tapping an ally of big oil and climate change denier to head up the EPA, and also making some other key picks.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Indiana union leader claims he is receiving death threats after accusing Donald Trump of, you know, baking the books, making up some numbers on how many jobs he saved at Carrier. Now, the president-elect has very harsh words for this man.

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

KOSIK: And I'm Alison Kosik. It is Thursday, December 8th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And breaking overnight, the battle between the next leader of the free world and the leader of United Steelworkers Local 1999. President- elect Trump rips the blue collar boss who said Trump exaggerated the number of jobs that were saved at the Indiana air conditioning plant. We will have more on that back and forth, and the numbers behind it coming up in just a bit.

Also today, the president-elect gets ready to sit down with retired four-star Admiral John Stavridis who is said to be on the short list for secretary of state. Noteworthy about that meeting is that Stavridis was vetted as a possible vice president pick for Hillary Clinton.

Overnight, the transition team announces the pick for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Now, this will be a highly controversial nomination.

[05:00:02] Pruitt is a prominent denier of climate science and a fierce critic of the agency he would actually now run.

For the latest on the transition, let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray at Trump Tower.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: 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.


BERMAN: All right. Governor Branstad, by the way, is known to have a close relationship with China, including a decades-long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who believe it or not, has long ties to Iowa himself.

I want to bring in CNN's Matt Rivers live in Beijing.

And, Matt, we were talking about this. The reaction from China to this nomination really, really warm, calling Terry Branstad an old friend of China, which is very high praise.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right.

You rarely hear Chinese officials specifically refer to American officials with such high praise. And yet, at yesterday's ministry foreign affairs briefing here in Beijing, they specifically singled out the governor as a lao peng you or an old friend. That is a term of endearment here. It is more than saying I have known that guy for a long time. That is a phrase you refer to someone who you hold in high regard.

And that is obviously because President Xi Jinping and Governor Branstad go back a long way back. In fact, in 1985, when President Xi Jinping was 31 years old, a mid-level bureaucrat making his first trip to the United States, he met Governor Branstad on a tour in Iowa. He actually slept in an average person's house in a small town in Iowa in 2012. He returned to that same area and told reporters that the trip to Iowa in 1985 really shaped his vision of America.

So, the fact that both of these men referred to each other as old friends really signifies something that is quite different, I would say, than what you heard from the President-elect Donald Trump over past week or so. There has been a dust-up over President-elect Trump taking a call from the Taiwanese president. That certainly goes against decades of international norms from the U.S. and China.

And so, this could easily be seen as an olive branch from the incoming Trump administration which is what is considered to be a complicated relationship between two of the world's biggest super powers -- John.

BERMAN: You know, it's really interesting. The Chinese leader has a unique relationship with the state of Iowa. And so, you send the governor of that state to China. It is unique outreach.

Matt Rivers, great to see you. Thanks so much.

KOSIK: OK. Now to Donald Trump lashing out at a union leader who has criticized the Carrier job deal as a promise halfway delivered.


CHUCK JONES, PRESIDENT, UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 1999: We had a lot of our 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, that most likely they weren't. The 550 were still going to lose their jobs.


KOSIK: And just a few minutes after that live interview, Donald Trump tweeted this. "Chuck Jones, who is president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee the country." Then an hour later, tweeting this, "If United Steelworkers was any good, they would have kept the jobs in Indiana."

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

So, bottom line, Carrier is still shifting about 600 jobs to Mexico some time next year.

BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott to talk about all this.

Eugene, you know, if you were watching CNN overnight, this was an interesting back and forth. Chuck Jones, the union leader saying, hey, look, the numbers Donald Trump has said out loud don't add up. And in fact, they don't. Yes, he is saving jobs, he's not saving all the jobs he said he was.

And then Donald Trump responding and calling him out by name. Yes, on Twitter. It doesn't matter, when you have the president-elect, the man who will be president, calling out someone by name, has an impact. Now, Chuck Jones is getting death threats.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, he got calls at his home, telling him to watch out for his car, what kind of car is he driving and some suggestion about him needing to be mindful of where his kids are.

The thing that I think is most confusing about this, it's awesome to save hundreds of jobs especially before the holidays. But the reality is, if the number that was given to the media and to the public and to employees wasn't accurate, it was going to come out eventually. So, why not give us the correct number and take credit for that?

KOSIK: But it's one thing to go let's say a company. Like he went after Boeing. But to go after an individual, it feels a bit more personal. We did see Robert Reich, the former Labor Department secretary, talked about his thoughts about how Donald Trump is handling all the criticism coming this way. Here we go.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Let me just say because Donald Trump is probably watching right now. Let me say with all due respect, Mr. Trump, you are president-elect of the United States. You are looking and acting as if you are mean and petty, thin skinned and vindictive.

Stop this. This is not a fireside chat. This is not what FDR did. This isn't lifting people up. This is actually penalizing people for speaking their minds.


KOSIK: All right. So, he is saying stop this. Will Trump heed these words?

SCOTT: Well, we don't have track records to suggest he will. But I think this is displaying another example of how much of a neophyte Trump is to politics. He will be attacked and challenged every day, and often for very valid reasons such as putting out ideas about what you have been able to accomplish and they are not actually accurate.

KOSIK: Look, supporters say why back down? You know, he won the election. This is what got him this far. Why would he change? We will see. Being president is different than being a presidential candidate.

I want to talk about what is a controversial nomination from the president-elect, Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, to be head of the EPA. This attorney general sued the EPA many times. In some ways, he would like to live without the EPA.

Scott Pruitt has questioned some of the science behind climate change. Let me read you something of an op-ed that he wrote earlier this year. He said, "Global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continued to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."

Now, this is something that climate change skeptics often say. They say science isn't settled and there's a debate. And yes, they do have scientists who agree with them. But the overwhelming number of scientists, the overwhelming research and science says that humans do contribute significantly to climate change.

This is a clear sign to environmentalists that they are not going to get what they want out of the EPA.

SCOTT: No, and this is something the environmentalists have been concerned throughout the campaign when Donald Trump put out ideas that seemed to be rejecting climate change. But I mean, I think it is a bit odd because just in the last week or two, we have seemed to see Trump open to it.

He met with Al Gore. Ivanka Trump is interested. Even Trump said he is entertaining it could be possibly some human activity involved in it. This seems to be going in the other direction.

BERMAN: I mean, his record, Scott Pruitt's record shows this going in the other direction. And he is now in a position to do something about it. You know, it is different than meeting with Leo DiCaprio and Al Gore. You could take these meetings, but when you put a guy in charge of the EPA, that's a track record.

KOSIK: But what is interesting also, is that as much there is a lot of criticism over that nomination, Donald Trump yesterday said that he is talking to or talked to President Obama and actually got some and is listening to the advice that the president is giving him about his picks.

SCOTT: Yes, I thought that was interesting. One, he also in that interview, he said I really like Obama. I love his ideas. I think he said that he put forward one name, one appointment that the president spoke very highly of.

And so, we got an idea shortly after the election that the two would be talking more and Trump said he would look to the president for counsel. I have no idea where this relationship will go. It will be interesting to cover.

KOSIK: Considering it was so hostile and now, they're friendly.

SCOTT: Considering that.

BERMAN: Our Dana Bash did terrific reporting on this. The president side, President Obama, who apparently believes he can influence Trump or trying to influence where he can. It is not about affection. It is about trying to make a difference.

Eugene, great to have you here.

SCOTT: Thanks.

KOSIK: Thanks. All right. Two arrests in Tennessee after the aftermath of those

deadly wildfires. Two teenagers charged with arson. New details when EARLY START continues.


[05:14:14] BERMAN: Two teenagers are facing aggressive arson charges in connection with the deadly Tennessee wildfires. Now, because they are minors, police are not releasing their names. Right now, they are being held in a detention center. But this case could still be moved to adult court and more charges could be filed.

Let's get the very latest 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.

[05:15:04] 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.


KOSIK: OK, Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

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

Prosecutors described him as cold and calculating, 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.


KOSIK: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you.

Joe Biden appears to be throwing some cold water on the very hot water he created over 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. But yesterday, he seemed to walk those comments back telling reporters this, "I have no intention of running." And John is kind of reading between the lines there saying --

BERMAN: Look, in the language of politics, no intention is not no. It is maybe some time I'll change my mind. I don't think Joe Biden thinks he's considering it. But Joe Biden has learned in a very long, you know, up and down career, why rule anything out. You don't have to rule anything out. So, he's saying, "I have no intention of doing it", which is honest, but he's leaving the door a little bit open.

KOSIK: No intention doesn't mean a closed door.

BERMAN: All right. From presidents to kings. LeBron James usually does his talking on the court. Now, he is doing it in a new arena, the political arena. Andy Scholes with this morning's "Bleacher Report", that's coming up next.


[05:23:15] BERMAN: LeBron James says he was not trying to make a statement by not staying at the President-elect Donald Trump's Soho Hotel.

KOSIK: Yes, but, Andy, statement or no statement, this was the first time ever LeBron didn't stay with his team on a road trip, right?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Good morning, guys.

Yes, a lot of -- there's been a lot of talk over the last few days where LeBron was staying while in New York. Despite not staying at Trump's hotel in New York City, LeBron said he wants to see the president-elect succeed.


LEBRON JAMES, CHOSE NOT TO STAY AT NYC TRUMP HOTEL: Just my personal preference. At the end of the day, I hope he's one of the best presidents ever for all our sake, for my family, for all of us. But just my personal preference. It would be the same when I went to a restaurant and decide to eat chicken and not steak.


SCHOLES: LeBron looked hungry last night, feasting on the Knicks. He was throwing down dunks left and right on his way to 25 points. The Cavs beaten the Knicks easily 126-94. They were having some fun at the end of the game on the bench, trying to do the water bucket challenge.

Check out LeBron. His throw going wide. He has to dive on the court to get it off. There was still a game going on.

Aroldis Chapman is on his way back to the Yankees. The closer reportedly agreeing to a five-year $85 million deal to return to New York. That's the richest deal ever for a relieve pitcher. The Yankees, they traded Chapman to the Cubs during last season for prospects.

All right. Finally, "Rogue One" hits theaters next week. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith clearly already in the "Star Wars" mode. He was rocking a full on Yoda onesie while buying Christmas for underprivileged kids earlier this week. And while Smith decided it was a good idea to wear that onesie to meet the media yesterday.


STEVE SMITH SR., BALTIMORE RAVENS: There's been a few decades since I wore the onesie. [05:25:01] So, I tried it on. So, I bought it. I thought, I got to

use it. It was raining yesterday. Kind of doom and gloom. Try not to waste money.


SCHOLES: We'll see if the force is with Steve Smith. Ravens play Patriots on Monday Night Football.

John, a week from tonight, "Rogue One", are you going to go to the midnight showing and then straight to EARLY START?

BERMAN: I have plans to see it the day after Christmas. This is something my boys have looked forward to for a year and because I'm not nice, I withhold it from them as long as possible.

KOSIK: Meantime, I just want to wear that Yoda costume maybe tomorrow while sitting here.

SCHOLES: We can get you one. We can make it happen.

KOSIK: I'll put it on.

BERMAN: The force is strong with that one.

Andy Scholes, great to see you.

SCHOLES: All right. Have a good one.

BERMAN: All right. Team Trump is growing. The president-elect taps someone who has questioned science behind climate change to head up the EPA. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has a long history of actually suing the EPA. A closer look at Donald Trump's coming up on EARLY START.