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Gutting Ethics Reform; Team Trump Lowering Expectations; Trump Taunts North Korea. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:15] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New overnight, the office that oversees ethics in Congress could now answer to Congress. Drastic measures approved by House Republicans will leave the watchdog group with little to any real authorities during a Trump administration. We have the details.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump's team backtracking on what he will make public about what he says he knows about Russian hacking. This as there is new information linking Russia to this hack. We are live in Moscow.

ROMANS: And the president-elect once again takes to Twitter to address nuclear weapons. He's got a terse message for North Korea. We'll tell you what he says.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: Nice to see you today. I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, January 3rd, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

What a day, what a message. A brand new Congress gavels in at noon today set to effectively neuter the independent ethics office that watches over it. You heard that right. As Republicans usher in a new era of power, with control of both Congress and the White House, and after President-elect Trump promised to drain the swamp, last night, behind closed doors, Republicans voted to end the independence of the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

Some specifics here. They would bar the Ethics Office from reviewing the alleged criminal violations by House member. They'd require the office to refer complaints to either law enforcement or to the House Ethics Committee, which is controlled by the House leadership. The measure would allow the House committee to stop Ethics Office investigation and it would bar the committee from making any public statements.

In English, the important things are is that it would give Congress effectively the right to stop investigating itself. They would not investigate anonymous tips which they do now and they're not going to have a press secretary. Effectively, they're not going to have any relationship with the public, period.


All right. Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte said in a statement that this -- his proposal strengthens the mission of the Ethics Office and improves due process rights for House members under investigation.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, she blasted the change, saying it would destroy the Ethics Office. She tweeted, "So much for draining the swamp." The full House votes on this measure today. Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders oppose the change.

BERMAN: They oppose the change, but because the rule that was ordered on last night, it is all but certain that it will pass today when the full House votes. Interesting.

All right. This morning, key advisors to President-elect Donald Trump say he might not really make public the secret information he claimed to have that he says casts doubts on the intelligence community's allegation that Russia and Russia alone hacked into the U.S. political computers. Trump has said he was meeting with intelligence leaders this week. Now, we learn that will not happen today.

This was senior advisor Kellyanne Conway on "AC360".


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to be clear about the information about the hacks that Trump says he knows. He says, quote, "You'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday." Will he actually announce what the information is Tuesday or Wednesday as he said he would after being briefed?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, he didn't say he -- didn't necessarily say he'd announce it. What he is saying is that he'll -- we'll find out -- he'll find out. I think it's all very contingent on what these intelligence officials reveal in their briefing, Anderson. And everybody should be very happy that the president-elect is open to receiving that briefing.


ROMANS: So, Conway edging back from a big reveal. It comes as the new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggesting Mr. Donald Trump will not be offering new information so much as analysis of existing intel.


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As president- elect, he is privy to information that most people aren't. He is able to understand what the intelligence is and draw conclusions from that. He's going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand. So, he's not going to reveal anything that was privileged or shared with him classified.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: OK. So, that's the view from Team Trump. All of this as U.S. officials tell CNN they have identified what they call digital fingerprints and computer code that add to the evidence Moscow was indeed behind the intrusions. This and other new information prompting one Trump senior advisor to break-away from his team, saying that Russia is likely behind the hack.

Joining us now with the latest from Moscow, senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

Good morning, Fred.

Bring us up to speed on just what we know or what the indications are about the evidence that there are Russian fingerprints on this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it's interesting. There is so much information that's come out over the past 24 hours, Christine. And certainly, the part about the alleged fingerprints, that is one of the most important things that has been coming out over the past couple of weeks.

Essentially, a source telling CNN that they have been able to track back some of these hacks to a keyboard using the Cyrillic alphabet, which is, of course, the alphabet that is used in the Russian language.

[04:05:06] And therefore, they believe that they're able to link this to Russian government activities.

A second source also telling CNN that the quality intelligence far surpasses, for instance, the intelligence they get on China and North Korea and that's one of the reasons why they are also so certain that they believe that Russia and specifically the Russian government are behind the hacks that took place. Now, at the same time, what you have is you seem to have some sort of discontent within the Trump camp and you mentioned it.

Our Jim Sciutto doing an interview with James Woolsey where he says yes, he that believes Russia is behind it at least in some way, shape or form. Let's listen in to what he had to say.


JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It looks from all the indications that we read about from NSA and CIA and so forth as if the Russians were there and perhaps even principally there. It doesn't mean that there isn't somebody else in there. Donald Trump is an expert of this kind of weaving around and attracting everybody's attention. It's exactly what he did during the campaign.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you saying he is playing us?

WOOLSEY: There is a possibility that he is --

SCIUTTO: But is that something the president-elect should be doing on the serious issue of national security? WOOLSEY: Why not? He is not interfering with anything. He's talking

about anything classified.


PLEITGEN: Former CIA Director James Woolsey there who is, of course, Trump's national security expert on the transition team.

Now, we have been speaking to Russian experts about all of this and they say that while the information about the digital fingerprints may be true, they say it's still very difficult to actually link all this to the Russian government. They believe that there could be private hackers, as they call them, behind all of this. The Russian government, of course, Christine, for its part, continues to say that the allegations are politically motivated and they say absurd as well.

ROMANS: You know, when you look at cyber hacking, when you look at cyber espionage, especially when you're talking about the Russian influence, there are international Russian-based, Russian speaking international gangs. Do they operate -- hacking gangs -- do they operate with the approval of the Kremlin? No one knows for sure. But that's why it gets so murky. And it will be interesting to see if there's more evidence that the U.S. intelligence officials release on the record about where they are getting their information.

All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much, Fred.

BERMAN: All right. This morning, how do you respond to nuclear threats in 140 characters or less? North Korea leader Kim Jong-un just claimed his country is on the verge of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted this, he said, "North Korea just stated that it's on the final stage of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S., it won't happen." Trump then talked about China. He wrote, "China has been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with the North Korea. Nice."

ROMANS: All right. New questions this morning about Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest. In a speech on New Year's Eve at his Mar-a-Lago, Trump thanked one family in particular for attending.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Hussain and the whole family from -- are the most beautiful people from Dubai are here tonight. And they're seeing it and they're loving it.


ROMANS: That's an apparent reference to his business partner in Dubai, Hussain Sajwani. Sajwani's company is called DAMAC Properties. It built the Trump international golf course in Dubai. The two are currently working on a second one. This golf course is designed by Tiger Woods. It is set to open in 2018. Trump and Sajwani's relationship begun back in 2005 with plans to build a tower in Dubai. Now, that idea was scrapped during the global financial crisis.

The Trump team says the two did not talk business. Trump himself said over the week, the conflict is not a big deal. We could get more details on how Trump will separate himself from the business holdings on January 11th. That is the new date for his rescheduled news conference, according to adviser Kellyanne Conway.

But just the raising all kinds of questions about having business partners there at this rather intimate event of 800 people or something, and how he will mix business and the presidency.

BERMAN: This was a for-profit event. People bought tickets to be at Mar-a-Lago to celebrate the New Year with Donald Trump. It wasn't a campaign fund-raiser. It was a for-profit event, New Year's Day.

Members of President-elect Trump's transition team are meeting this week to work on executive actions and orders that could be signed just hours after inauguration. According to Trump's incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, we can expect a lot of regulations enacted by the Obama administration to be repealed for hampering job and economic growth, those were his words. The Trump team is not specifying exactly which executive actions top the president-elect's list.

ROMANS: All right. Efforts to get the transition off to a quick start could be stalled by Senate Democrats. They're vowing to delay action on eight of Trump's cabinet nominees, including his picks for secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of health and human services. Democrats say that if they don't get required background and financial records in time to review them, they will use procedural maneuvers to drag out the confirmation process potentially for months.

[04:10:09] Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer writing in a statement, "Any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before Inauguration Day is something Democrats will vehemently resist. If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they are sorely mistaken."

BERMAN: Thousands of international travelers were delayed for hours at airports across the country on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The problem was a computer outage tht lasted from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Now, it created a long line of inbound international travelers. Customs and Border Control officers, they were forced to bring passengers through so-called alternate procedures, as the agency scrambled to get systems back online. A U.S. official told CNN that at this time, there is no indication that the service disruption was malicious in nature.

ROMANS: But it was a pain. It was a big pain. We can confirm it was a pain.

All right. A terrorist still at large in Turkey. The latest on the manhunt for the gunman who opened fire in that nightclub on New Year's Eve.


[04:14:13] BERMAN: This morning, in Turkey, the manhunt is intensifying for the Istanbul nightclub attacker. Thirty-nine people were killed in New Year's massacre. Most of them were foreigners. ISIS claimed responsibility.

Police have detained eight people in connection with the attacks. And fingerprints found at the scene could help identify the shooter.

CNN's Ian Lee following the latest for us live in Istanbul.

Ian, what are you learning this morning?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We are hearing from authorities they have hundreds of security forces around the country, scouring it, looking for this man. They really haven't released too many details of who he is.

We do have this picture of him. But police say they also have his fingerprints. And they're hoping not only to identify him by those, but also learn if he had any help. Now, security experts say it's likely that he did have help because he fled the scene and he's still on the run.

[04:15:05] They haven't been able to capture him. But because ISIS has claimed responsibility and if he is in fact an ISIS operative, there is a chance that he is going to try to escape to neighboring Syria. As we saw in the Berlin attack, the man behind it was 800 miles away from Berlin when police were finally able to stop him.

So, it really is a ticking clock to tap ca capture the gunman from that New Year's Eve attack.

BERMAN: Ian Lee for us in Istanbul -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing a police interrogation overnight in a corruption probe authorized by his own attorney general. Netanyahu is suspected of receiving illegal benefits from businessmen. He faced three hours of questioning. Now, authorities are not releasing details. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing. He calls accusation politically motivated.

BERMAN: Republican House leaders are planning to vote on Thursday on a measure that would condemn last week's U.N. resolution against Israel. The U.N. resolution labeled Israeli settlements in the West Bank a flagrant violation of international law. The Obama administration abstained when it came time to vote. Republican leaders say the Obama White House has lost credibility on Israel and that their bipartisan measure reaffirms the U.S.'s longstanding commitment to Israel.

ROMANS: All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Chicago dealing with the highest murder rate in decades. Now, the president-elect weighing in. And city officials in Chicago, they're firing back. More on that, next.


[04:20:00] ROMANS: So, Donald Trump, president-elect, is now diving into the debate over how to slow Chicago's soaring homicide rate. The president-elect calling out Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a 57 percent spike in murders in his city in 2016. Trump tweeting, "Chicago murder rate is record setting, 4,331 shooting victims, with 762 murders in 2016. Mayor can't do it. He must ask for federal help."

Now, it didn't take long for Mayor Emanuel to respond.

More now from CNN's Rosa Flores.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Christine, the city mayor's office responding to the president-elect's tweet by saying in part, quote, "We are heartened he is taking this issue seriously and look forward to working with the new administration on these important efforts."

Now, let's dive into the details a bit here because in 2016, the city of Chicago saw 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims. Now most of these killings happened in five districts on the west and south sides of the city. This is according to police, in an area, they say, where 59 gangs are fighting for territory.

Now, if you ask the former police superintendent, he'll say that the Chicago Police Department is in crisis. Here is what he told "60 Minutes."

GARRY MCCARTHY, FORMER CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Offices are under attack. That's how they feel, right? That's how they feel in this environment. And they're not going to put themselves and their families in jeopardy.

FLORES: The Chicago Police Department responding to the former Chicago police superintendent by saying in part the police across the country are more cautious in this climate. They arrested more bad guys, they called them, in 2016 than they did in 2015. But if there were one thing that could change, that could help them do their job better and keep Chicago safer, they say, is tougher laws for repeat gun offenders. That's what they are hoping for in 2017 to make Chicago a little safer -- John and Christine.


BERMAN: All right. A violent storm system sweeping across the southern U.S. is blamed for at least five deaths. Emergency officials say four people were killed in southern Alabama when a tree fell and collapsed on a mobile home. That happened during a tornado. A fifth weather-related death is reported in Florida.

In Mississippi, trees ripped from the ground and homes were damaged in more than a dozen counties. They may have been hit by tornadoes. No injuries have been reported, which is wonderful. Some 20,000 people are without power.

Let's get the latest from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


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

What a wild Monday evening across portions of the southeast. And you know, the number there is four fatalities out of these tornadoes. Rather remarkable considering in 2016, we had 17 fatalities as a total. That was the sheer lowest number of fatalities in an entire year. And, of course, we start rapidly across the southeast and across the country with a number of tornadoes in the past 24 hours.

But the line of active weather is falling apart as it migrates off to the east. And I want to show you what we are dealing with the number of tornadoes that we saw on Monday afternoon and Monday evening because about 130 severe storm reports we're seeing across the country, 12 of which related to tornadoes. This accounts for about 1/4 of all tornadoes. You would see the entire month of January, we saw them all, of course, in the first couple of days in 2017.

And the perspective is the storm system pushing to the north and east. The severe element all tapers. A lot of rainfall in store for the Northeast this afternoon and this evening, particularly for the major metro cities toward sunset, just as the storm pushing east. We notice the cold air behind it, it begins to mark its way off to the south as well. Bismarck, minus 1. Temperatures in New York City, as much as 45. Cooling in store for the next couple days -- guys.


ROMANS: Yes, very dangerous situation especially in Florida.

All right. A South Carolina judge clearing the way for a convicted church shooter Dylann Roof to represent himself when the sentencing phase begins tomorrow. After a day-long hearing Monday, the judge ruled Roof is mentally competent to act as his own lawyer. The judge also issuing an order that prevents Roof from approaching the jury or any witnesses during the proceeding, with plans to make an opening statement and is refusing to present any kind of psychological defense at his sentencing. Roof was convicted last month of killing nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015 and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

BERMAN: The daughter of Carrie Fisher and granddaughter of Debbie Reynolds is speaking publicly for the first time since losing both last week. Actress Billie Lourd posted a picture on Instagram with herself and Fisher and Reynolds who died just one day apart. Lourd also posted a message that said in part, "Receiving all of your prayers is giving me strength during a time I thought strength could not exist. Your love and support means the world to me."

ROMANS: All right. President-elect Donald Trump already facing drawing ethics questions. Now, the House members who will control Washington with him are taking steps to curb their own ethics oversight.

[04:25:03] What all this means with the new Congress gets ready to gavel in, next.


BERMAN: A new era in Washington, but a new era of what exactly? Overnight, Republican House members vote to emasculate an independence ethics office that watches it. So, what does this mean for draining the swamp?

ROMANS: Donald Trump's team managing expectations for what he will reveal about the election hack as he gets ready to meet with intelligence officials this week. New details this morning linking Russia to the hack. We are live in Moscow.

BERMAN: Donald Trump's nuclear diplomacy on Twitter. His message to the erratic North Korean leader in 140 characters or less.

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

ROMANS: Good morning, John. I'm Christine Romans. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

Happening today, the newly elected Congress gavels to order at noon. Among the first orders of business, a big change to House ethics rules. Republicans are taking steps to loosen their own ethics reins. Even as questions mount over president-elect Trump's potential conflicts of interest in the White House.

Now, the move all but ends the independence of the independent House Ethics Office. Last night, House Republicans approved the measure that would bar the ethics office from reviewing alleged criminal allegations by House members, require the office to refer complaints either to law enforcement or the House Ethics Committee which is controlled by the House leadership. The measure would allow the House committee to stop ethics office investigation and it would bar the committee from making any public statements.

BERMAN: You know, to be clear, this just ends what was supposed to be an independent body separate from Congress from investigating Congress. They won't have a press secretary anymore. So, they'll have no communication directly with the public. This just takes away that independent board's power.

But Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, he's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he made this proposal. He said he actually strengthens the mission of the Ethics Office and improves due process rights for House members under investigation.