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EARLY START

GOP Guts Ethics Panel; Team Trump Lowering Expectations; Trump Takes Aim at North Korea & China; Manhunt for Istanbul Gunman Intensifies. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2017 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, one of the things that that source also told CNN is saying that these digital fingerprints basically mean that the intelligence services were able to follow all of this back, trace all of this back to a keyboard using the Cyrillic language, which is, of course, the language used in the Russian alphabet and/or in the Russian language, and therefore, making the conclusion that the Russian government was involved.

[05:00:23] Now, we put this all to one of Russia's top cyber security and warfare experts and he says, look, it might very well be the case that Russians were involved, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this was the Russian military or Russian government. It could be agencies contracted by government here or could have been people acting on their own.

However, now you have the case that a prominent member of Donald Trump's transition team, former CIA Director James Woolsey has come out and said, yes, he also believes the Russians were behind this. However, unclear to what extent the government was involved and whether or not others may have been involved as well.

Let's listen in to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY 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 not talking about anything classified.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So, James Woolsey there saying it looks as though Russians were there and perhaps even principally there. I think that language shows just how murky the waters are when it comes to cyber hacking, when it comes to cyber security, also, of course, there. And the Russians for their part, continuing their line saying that there is absolutely no evidence linking them to all this, calling the allegations absurd. Of course, as you can imagine, John, all of this also playing very, very big, especially in Russia's state-owned media -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting to hear James Woolsey comes out and says that he thinks that Russians were involved, even add to the list that includes the White House, intelligence services, Republicans on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Interesting to see.

Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks so much.

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 the president-elect's incoming press secretary Sean Spicer, we can expect a lot of regulations enacted by the Obama administration to be repealed for what he called hampering job and economic growth. The Trump team is not specifying exactly which executive actions top the president-elect's list.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Hussain and his family from Dubai, an apparent reference to his billionaire business partner in Dubai, Hussain Sajwani. Sajwani's company is called DAMAC Properties. It built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai. The two are currently working on a second course designed by Tiger Woods. That's set to open in 2018.

Trump and Sajwani's relationship begun in 2005 with plans to build the tower in Dubai. That idea was scrapped during the global financial crisis. The Trump team says the two did not talk business. Trump himself said over the weekend, the potential conflict is not a big deal. We could get more details on how Trump will separate himself from his business holdings on January 11th. That is the new date for his rescheduled news conference according to advisor Kellyanne Conway.

BERMAN: All right. A new Congress is sworn in today. ROMANS: A Republican Congress.

BERMAN: Here to discuss it all with us, Ellis Henican, a political analyst, bestselling author.

Ellis, so nice to see you.

ROMANS: Hi, good morning. Happy New Year.

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning. Nice to see you guys together.

ROAMNS: I know, I know, isn't it?

BERMAN: Our lawyer worked things out. We agreed to be here for two hours every morning.

(CROSSTALK)

HENICAN: They should turn you into a team.

BERMAN: If we don't look each other in the eye, it's all OK.

Ellis, let me ask you this -- we have the Congress gaveling in a session at noon today. What do they do the evening before they come in? They strip the independent ethics panel of all of its power, independent no more.

You can tell this is not the message that Republican leaders wanted because House Speaker Paul Ryan actually argued against it.

HENICAN: You know, I come from Louisiana. So, I know something about swamps. The alligators are dancing right now.

I mean, this is exactly the opposite of what we heard through the campaign would happen in this new Trump era, right? That all is inside dealing, all these cozy relationships were going to end.

And I got to tell you, I think it is a huge step backwards. The system as it stood is not perfect. But let me tell you -- it has brought a lot of sunshine into a situation that desperately needed it.

If you believe the ethics in Congress are too high, you're going to like this.

ROMANS: So, what about the timing of this? I mean, do you think the news flow, by the way, is unbelievable? Do you think that they misjudged the public interests in the fact that they're doing this?

HENICAN: I think they assume that their supporters don't really care that much. I think they think this is insidy stuff. It is people like you guys who are concerned about it and most Americans don't care.

BERMAN: To be clear, you know, we say Trump, you know, Trump did campaign on draining the swamp. This isn't the incoming White House. This isn't his team. This is Congress. Republicans in Congress.

Theoretically, President-elect Trump could come out and say today this is a bad idea. He doesn't think Republicans in the House should do it. It would be interesting to hear this from. You know, he's called for term limits. I mean, he's spoken out against congressional privileges before.

HENICAN: That's right. Although I don't think that the incoming President Trump in his own administration as it arrives has taken an especially hard line either. So, I mean, I kind of have the sense the activities in Congress are not that different from the tone that has been set from the incoming administration. But you know what? Maybe he'll surprise us today. I think it will be very interesting.

ROMANS: Let's talk about this tweet on North Korea. I mean, we are talking about some very serious saber-rattling statements from the North Korean leader. Someone who is know you know -- this is what Trump says, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapons capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen."

And then he goes on to tweet about China. "China has been taking out massive amounts of money and wealth from the U.S. in a totally one sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice."

I just can never -- we've said the word unprecedented so many times. We have a book called "Unprecedented", I have never heard someone, a president-elect, using Twitter, social media, to deal with issues like this.

HENICAN: That's true. And you know, it's interesting, to the phrase, "It won't happen." Remember how much trouble Barack Obama got in over the red line in Syria.

ROMANS: Right.

HENICAN: Very dangerous for president to lay down very specific claims. It won't happen is -- you know, you kind of have to live up to that once you make those claims. And how are you going to do that? I don't know.

ROMANS: But isn't it exactly what, you know, Kim Jong-un wants? You know, the megalomaniac leader of that country. He wants a direct response from the White House.

HENICAN: It elevates him, doesn't it? It puts him, these two leaders on a mano-a-mano, on a personal debate with each other. I don't see how that helps our position.

BERMAN: So, Ellis, congressional Democrats, Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer has a list of eight of Donald Trump's nominees that they're going to try to delay. They want more information and he says he's going to fight them or at least fight to delay or ask as many questions as possible. How much do you think Democrats really can muck up this process? HENICAN: I think it will slow it down. I mean, the Senate is the

place that those require agreement from everybody or stuff slows down. I think it is highly likely the president is going to get most of his nominees through. There may be one or two.

And the ones at risk are truly the ones where there are Republicans who will join the Democratic opposition, especially around the issue of being cozy with Russia. There's clearly an audience in the Republican side.

ROMANS: In terms of Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago event this weekend, where he was calling out a family of billionaire who he works within Dubai, do we have any sense the conflict of interest questions will go away here? Is it making sense to have a paying audience there and have him there for a president-elect?

HENICAN: Again, unprecedented, I would say. In the realm we have gotten used to there, in the new normal, I don't know that one was especially egregious. But no, I think it points up exactly what you say, that these are unsolved issues and they are not easy to solve. It's very difficult to unwind this stuff, unless you take steps that clearly Trump and his family do not want to, which is to completely divest themselves of this business --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Well, Kellyanne Conway said maybe we will get a press conference January 11th now.

HENICAN: Oh, yeah?

BERMAN: It was initially slated for December 15th. Now she says it's possible maybe that President-elect Trump will hold a news conference on January 11th.

ROMANS: You heard Trump the other day say, you know, I know things others don't know. I'll reveal it Tuesday or Wednesday.

He talks like that. Donald Trump talks like that. Remember the birther debate in 2011 and 2012? He said, I know -- I know about the birth certificate more than other people and he didn't.

HENICAN: You know, here is the challenge in all this, for I think us and all Americans, is not to get away from our standards in judging these things. It's easy to say, well, you know, this is just Trump. Well, it's Twitter and it's no big deal. And that somehow we need to fold on our own ability to judge kinds of these things.

I think it is crucially important going forward as we approach the inauguration that we all remember what our values, what we stand for, and one of them in this business that we're in is that, you know, facts matter. If you say something, we're going to hold you to it. Let us know that reality. Is that fair?

BERMAN: We'll report what people say. We will check if it is true or not. HENICAN: Yes.

[05:10:00] BERMAN: Ellis, great to have you with us.

HENICAN: Good to be with you.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Come back in a few minutes.

Thousands of international travelers are delayed for hours at airports across the country on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The problem with a computer outage lasted from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern, creating this super long lines of inbound international travelers. Customs and Border Patrol officers had to process passengers through so-called alternative procedures, aka, the old fashioned way, as the agency scrambled to get these computer systems back online.

U.S. official tells CNN at this time there is no indication the service disruption was malicious in nature.

BERMAN: All right. A terrorist on the run. The latest on the manhunt for the gunman who opened fire at a nightclub on New Year's Eve. We'll have new details. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back.

In Turkey, the manhunt intensifying for the Istanbul nightclub attacker. Officials releasing this selfie video of the suspected gunman wanted for the killing, though, he has yet to be publicly identified.

Thirty-nine people were killed in the New Year's Eve massacre, most of them foreigners. ISIS has claimed responsibility. Police have detained eight people in connection with the attack. And fingerprints found at the scene could help identify the shooter.

I want to bring in CNN's Ian Lee. He's following all of these developments for us. He is live in Istanbul for us.

So, we have the selfie video that's been released to Turkish media by the authorities. They say they have a fingerprint. What do we know?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little except for that right now because Turkey authorities have been fairly tight lipped about this investigation. Really the only thing we heard from the authorities is that they have those fingerprints. They know what he looks like. They say they're going to use that evidence to figure out if he also had any help.

Now, security experts say it is likely he had help in the operation because he was able to flee the scene so easily. Now, ISIS has claimed responsibility. We haven't been able to independently verify that, nor has the terror group released any evidence that confirms they were behind it. But if he was indeed an ISIS operative, there is a chance that he

might try to escape into Syria. So, for Turkish officials, it is a bit of a ticking clock. They say, though, they have hundreds of security personnel scouring the country looking for him.

They have these eight people who have been detained. They're interrogating them, too, trying to figure out who he is and where he went and who was possibly supporting him. But Turkey has been battling ISIS militancy here. There's ISIS cells that have been operating.

So, this is a threat that Turkey is used to, but hasn't been able to deal with effectively.

ROMANS: All right. Ian Lee on the manhunt for us this morning. Thank you so much, Ian, in Istanbul.

BERMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced police interrogation overnight in a corruption probe authorized by his own attorney general. This all stems from allegations that he received illegal benefits from businessmen.

He faced three hours of questioning. Authorities are not releasing any details. The prime minister denies wrongdoing and calls the accusations politically motivated.

ROMANS: 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, and 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 America's longstanding commitment to the Jewish state.

All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Chicago dealing with the highest murder rate in decades. And now, the president-elect weighing in. City officials are responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:20:16] BERMAN: Donald Trump, the president-elect, with new sharp criticism of Chicago's mayor over that city's soaring murder rate. There was a 57 percent spike in 2016.

President-elect tweeted, "Chicago murder rate is record setting, 4,371 shooting victims with 762 murders in 2016. If mayor can't do it, he must ask for federal help."

Now, it did not take long for Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to respond.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Rosa Flores.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Rosa Flores.

It is so hard to talk about policy in tweets, to be honest, you know? I mean, what if under federal control, what would Trump do? You know, is that education system? Is it Law enforcement? I mean, what would he do? That is what I would be interested to know.

All right. Let's talk about weather here. Twenty-two minutes past the hour.

Violent storm system sweeping across the southern U.S. blamed for now five deaths, at least. Emergency officials say four people were killed in southern Alabama when a tree fell and collapsed on a mobile home during a tornado, a fifth weather-related death is reported in Florida.

In Mississippi, trees ripped from the ground and homes damaged in more than a dozen counties. They may have been hit by tornadoes. Remarkably, no injuries have been reported, but look at all that damage. Some 20,000 customers are without power.

Let's get the latest from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. Pedram, thanks so much.

A South Carolina judge cleared the way for a convicted church shooter Dylann Roof to represent himself when the sentencing phase of his trial begins tomorrow. The judge ruled Roof is mentally competent to act as his own lawyer. The judge also issuing an order that prevents Roof from physically approaching the jury or any witnesses during the proceeding.

Roof plans to make an opening statement and is refusing to present any kind of psychological defense at sentencing. He was convicted last month of killing nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

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 of herself and Fisher and Reynolds who died just one day apart.

[05:25:04] 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. SpaceX expected to resume rocket launches just five days from now. The company said it will use revised operational practices to launch its Falcon 9 rocket from California on January 9th. SpaceX suspended flights after the September launch test went up in flames back in September during a pre-launch test. They say, a problem with the helium tank caused the blast.

BERMAN: All right. Overnight, the House Republicans voted to take the independence away from an independent ethics panel. So, where is the watchdog here? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: New overnight: Republican House members ready to do away with their ethics watch dog. Why would they strip away the power of the panel as president-elect Trump gets ready to take office? We have the details.

BERMAN: New, exclusive details linking Russia to the hack of the U.S. election season. As an advisor to Donald Trump says, he sees evidence of Russian involvement, but President-elect Trump still hasn't revealed information he says that gives him pause.

ROMANS: And Trump once again addressing nuclear weapons on Twitter. His direct message for North Korea. We have that in minutes.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

Good morning, John.

BERMAN: Good morning, Christine.

We're just -- where are we? -- 29 minutes after the hour.

What a day. What a message. A 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 Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, last night behind closed doors, Republicans voted to end the impendence of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.