Return to Transcripts main page


A.G. Nominee's Confirmation Hearing to Begin; Nepotism Controversy over Kushner Appointment; Clemson Wins National Championship; Boris Johnson Meets Trump Advisers. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2017 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: this is something we have not seen before by a sitting U.S. senator. Cory Booker says he will testify against his Senate colleague during confirmation hearings. Jeff Sessions up for attorney general. Cory Booker will testify against him. He's not the only one.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Jared Kushner's new role in his father- in-law's White House. Not up for confirmation, but that's not stopping Democrats from challenging this move from the president- elect.

[05:00:04] We'll tell you how.

BERMAN: And, an epic rematch leads to an epic finish. Clemson going down to the wire in a battle to unseat Alabama. Did they succeed? We'll tell you.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, January 10th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with this. Breaking overnight: word that New Jersey senator Cory Booker will take the unprecedented step of testifying against the confirmation of another sitting senator. Booker added to the witness list for Senator Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing on Wednesday, the second say of Sessions hearing, which begins today.

Booker says he is concerned about Trump's pick for attorney general, especially what he calls Sessions' failure to defend the civil rights, women and minorities and LGBT Americans.

In a statement, Senator Booker said, "I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague. But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience. The attorney general is responsible for ensuring the fair administration of justice. And based on his record, I lack confidence that Senator Sessions can honor this duty."

Also set to testify against Sessions confirmation, civil rights icon, Representative John Lewis. But Sessions is winning new support from Republicans like former

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice, like Sessions, is from Alabama. She wrote a letter praising him as a friend and man, quote, "committed to justice as well as law and order."

BERMAN: All right. New questions surrounding the appointment of Donald Trump's son-in-law to the White House post. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are asking the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics to review Kushner's appointment as a senior adviser to the president. They say it may violate conflict of interest and anti-nepotism laws.

Now, Kushner is resigning from all his other jobs. He is transferring some, most, but not all of his assets, including the "New York Observer", to a family trust. And Kushner will work in the White House with no pay.

Now, as for the nepotism question, Kushner's lawyer Jaime Gorelick who worked in Democratic administration, argues that the president-elect has sweeping authority to pick the advisors he chooses. The law says, you know, you can't have your son or son-in-law, relative work in agencies. Gorelick says the White House is not an agency.

Donald Trump still has yet to explain how or if he will separate his own business interests from the presidency. He might give us an explanation tomorrow in a scheduled news conference. He spoke briefly with reporters yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: All I can say is it is simple. Very easy. Sure I'm ready. It would be very, very easy to do.

REPORTER: Have you already started that process?

TRUMP: Yes, very much so. A lot, but it's really a very simple process.


BERMAN: CNN will have full coverage of the president-elect's news conference, his first news conference in nearly six months. That's tomorrow beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

ROMANS: So, we will hear from the president tonight. We will hear tomorrow from the president-elect.

BERMAN: I don't think that's an accident, by the way.

ROMANS: I don't either, I don't either.

All right. Starting today, confirmation hearings for the president- elect's secretary of homeland security nominee, General John Kelly. This as the confirmation hearings for secretary of education nominee, Betsy DeVos, that has been pushed to next week. The hearing had been set for tomorrow. The official reason for this delay is to, quote, "accommodate the

Senate schedule". Now, Senate Democrats have been pushing for postponement so a federal ethics watchdog can finish its review of the Michigan billionaire's background and her investments. Democrats say they are concerned about conflicts of interest DeVos may have.

BERMAN: New questions are being raised this morning about Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson whose confirmation hearings begin tomorrow.

Federal filings show that during Rex Tillerson's time as CEO of ExxonMobil, the oil giant did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan, through a foreign subsidiary. At the time, those countries were under U.S. sanctions, as states sponsor of terrorism. The SEC documents were unearthed by the liberal American Bridge Super PAC and shared first with "USA Today."

ExxonMobil says the deals were legal because a subsidiary was based in Europe. The transactions did not involve U.S. employees.

At tomorrow's hearing, Tillerson will definitely face questions about his business ties to Russia and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker says he doesn't think that Tillerson's views on Russia will be a problem.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I don't get the sense his views on Russia are out of the mainstream at all. So, look, obviously on both sides of the aisle, people will ask that question when he's here.


ROMANS: All right. Today will be very busy on Capitol Hill. Two big Senate hearings on top of the confirmations getting under way here. Senior intelligence officials, including the heads of the CIA, the FBI and the NSA, they will testify in open session about Russian hacking activities and the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a full hearing focusing on civilian control of the U.S. Armed Forces.

That's a, you know, it's a heavy issue since two of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees are recently retired generals. And there are rules -- there are rules for how long you must be out of the military before you take one of those jobs.

[05:05:06] For the latest, let's bring in national security reporter, Ryan Browne.

Good morning, sir. He is live in Washington at 5:05 a.m. Eastern Time.

Bring us to speed, Ryan.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine. Yes, you are right, Christine. This will be the first appearance the leaders of the Intelligence Committee will be making on Capitol Hill since they released Friday's report on Russia's involvement in the U.S. election. That report said that Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian intelligence services to hack U.S. electoral organization as part in a bid to undermine the American electoral system, damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the report said that Russia had expressed a preference for now President-elect Donald Trump.

Now, this is the first time the intelligence leadership will have the chance to receive questions from the Senate. We can expect a lot of questions from both sides of the aisle on Russia's involvement and what it means moving forward in elections in Europe and elsewhere. A bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill planned to announce an effort to ratchet up sanctions against Russia for their role in the U.S. election system.

And also on Capitol Hill today, there will be a hearing from the Senate Armed Services Committee on the role of civilian control of the military. An issue that's come up because General Mattis hasn't been out of uniform long enough, technically, to serve as secretary of defense. So, a waiver will have to be pursued. So, some who are opposing his nomination, but there are few that are talking about the need to maintain civilian control of the military.

ROMANS: All right. Ryan Browne, thank you. That's why he hangs so early, so he is going to have a long day. Pound the coffee now, my friend. Nice to see you. Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. We have such a mountain of activity happening in Washington today.

ROMANS: A mountain?

BERMAN: I couldn't think of another word. A wave? A huge amount. A lot of stuff going on in Washington.

Here to discuss, political analyst, best selling author, Ellis Henican.

Ellis, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: A bunch is another way to look at it right here.

Let's start with what we led with, Jeff Sessions. His confirmation hearing begins today. Tomorrow, we understand that Cory Booker, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, is going to testify against his colleague.

Now, I don't think this is going to keep Sessions from getting confirmed. I don't think anyone thinks any of Trump's nominees will go down. But still, the sight of one senator testifying against another, it's a big moment. HENICAN: Right, it's tonally unprecedented, right? I mean, you know

all that. The great gentleman from the state of Alabama, right? I mean, it goes against that.

But don't forget. I think that Cory Booker is more likely to do that with the judgment as you just suggested that these nominees will likely get through. You know, what he doesn't want is to fight that guy and then to be facing him in the Senate again if he's going anyway to be the attorney general.

ROMANS: So, why Booker? Why Booker? And what does he get out of it? Like what is the positioning for him?

HENICAN: I think some of it is personal. Some of it is probably racial, if you must know. Cory Booker, like several other people we may talk about today, is really trying to rise above the kind of massive Democratic politicians and say, you know what? As we look for next generation leaders, maybe you should look at me.

ROMANS: I think a lot of Democrats and people who are watching Democrats are wondering where is the next generation is going to come from.

HENICAN: His name gets on the list by doing things like that.

ROMANS: Watching Andrew Cuomo in New York and others who are more vocal on progressive issues and maybe positioning themselves for 2020.

BERMAN: You know, Andrew Cuomo -- you mentioned Andrew Cuomo, appearing with Bernie Sanders talking about free in-state tuition. It turns out our Chris Cuomo sat down in a town meeting last night with Bernie Sanders and was asking him about how he thinks the Democrats should face Donald Trump going forward.

Listen to what Bernie says on the challenges of dealing with Donald Trump.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Media always likes to jump two months in advance. Let's play it one day at a time. I don't want to repeat the point, but I do think that the Republicans treated President Obama shamefully and outrageously. And then to expect, suddenly, that oh, we're going to do the right thing. Now, maybe, may be not. We'll see.

What the GOP did the day literally on the day that President Obama was inaugurated, they sit down and they said, OK, our strategy is going to be that we will be obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. We will do everything that we can to make sure that he accomplishes as little as possible and then we'll go to the American people and say, see, this guy didn't accomplish anything. Vote for us.

No, I don't think that's what we do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: I'm not sure I understand what Bernie Sanders is saying to Democrats --

HENICAN: Democrats don't understand, right? There is no lack of passion in the Democratic Party to oppose Donald Trump. What they lack right now is a strategy. You oppose him every turn? Should you find ways to make coalitions on the stuff you care about? Should you say, we'll give a little of this but we won't give you a little bit of that?

I don't think the Dems know the answer of that yet.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Jared Kushner, quickly. Senior advisor to his father-in-law, Donald Trump. He won't take any pay. He's going to divest himself of "The Observer" and some other things. There will be some minimal, he says, minimal assets that he will have minimal control over.

Is that enough? Is that to be all right?

HENICAN: Well, it's more than Donald Trump is doing, you know? In this year, it's probably going to politically be enough.

[05:10:03] But my goodness, as we cast our eyes across all of these appointees, so many of them need some kind of special dispensation. The business ties alone are just way, way bigger than anything we've dealt with.

BERMAN: There will be people who say, though, that it's worth it, because business people should be allowed to enter, you know, the political --

HENICAN: I understand that.

ROMANS: And others say it's an oligarchy. It looks like an oligarchy. All of these rich people.

HENICAN: And voters know that Donald Trump was a business guy, you know?

BERMAN: Can I ask you about tonight? President Obama delivering his farewell address. President Washington, he did it. He did it to a newspaper.

You know, it is interesting to see, in a way you get the sense that President Obama doesn't want to wait for historians. He's sort of trying to write his own first draft.

HENICAN: Yes, and I get the sense that he is shifting his views on this a little bit.

Temperamentally, Barack Obama would be more like a George W. Bush, someone who let the new guy do his job. But as the Trump administration takes power, I think a lot of feelings inside the current president that, you know what, I'm not going to be able to sit quietly very long. We may see the first shot of that tonight. ROMANS: It's going to be fast and furious this week. I just got to

say. You call it a mountain of news. It's just unbelievable.

BERMAN: You mocked me for that.

ROMANS: I did mock you, because I think mountain understates.

HENICAN: How about torrent?

ROMANS: Torrent is good. Deluge.

BERMAN: He is a best selling author, you can tell.


BERMAN: Ellis Henican, thanks so much for being with us.

HENICAN: Good seeing you, guys. Yes.

BERMAN: An epic comeback, an epic finish in last night's college football championship. Clemson Tigers outscored Alabama 21-7 in the fourth quarter to win the Title. They beat the Tide, 35-31.

ROMANS: It's a very big deal.

BERMAN: It is a big deal.

Alabama took the lead with over two minutes to go. Watch this run from freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. This is two minutes left in the game. You figure Alabama has done it again. They found a way to win.

But no! The Tigers' Hunter Renfrow caught his second touchdown of the game right there. How much time left on the clock? One second, one second left. So, Clemson wins its first national title since 1981.

Alabama, it would have been their fifth title in the last eight years under coach Nick Saban. He's good at football.

This touched off a wild celebration on the campus of Clemson. I can only assume it is still going on.

ROMANS: I'm sure it's still going on.

BERMAN: How much is college now?

ROMANS: Well, college is expensive. But they don't need sleep like we do. They can stay up later.

BERMAN: The future right there.

ROMANS: Congratulations. Congratulations to everybody.

All right. Twelve minutes past the hour.

Growing manhunt overnight for the man police say gunned down a Florida police officer. We have those details, next.


BERMAN: Hundreds of law enforcement officers are blanketing Orlando, searching for the gunman who shot and killed an officer outside a Walmart. The suspect fled in a vehicle, fired shots in a pursuing officer, carjacked a different vehicle and eventually sprinted into an apartment complex. The same day, as a result of this manhunt, a deputy sheriff was also killed when he crashed his motorcycle on the search of the gunman. An awful day in Orlando.

Let's get the very latest from CNN's Ryan Young.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Orlando, there's an all-out manhunt for Markeith Lloyd. $60,000 is being offered by the police departments in this area to catch the man.

Now, if you look behind me, there is a mobile command center that officers have been using throughout the day. They believe they have been pinned in to a certain neighborhood. But so far, they have not been able to find this man.

The officer who was shot and killed, Master Sergeant Debra Clayton. She was told by someone at Walmart that they believe they saw Markeith Lloyd. And when she approached less than two minutes later, she was shot in the chest. She was able to return fire, but police believe he was not able to hit Markeith Lloyd before he was able to get away.

Others officers responded to the area. He took shoots at them as well.

Now, Markeith Lloyd has been on the run for more than 30 days. Police believe he shot his ex-girlfriend who was pregnant at the time. She died. But for 30 days, they have not been able to find him.

JOHN MINA, ORLANDO POLICE CHIEF: Markeith Lloyd needs to turn himself in, not tonight. Not tomorrow. He needs to call and turn himself in now so we can bring this to a peaceful resolution.

JERRY DEMINGS, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF: We're not going anywhere. If we don't have this individual by nightfall, we're not going anywhere. We're going to stay at it until we find him.

YOUNG: And Master Sergeant Debra Clayton is a woman that so many people in this community apparently love. In fact, she had a child in college. She was recently married. And so many people talk about her good works throughout the community. She even helped get 200 kids their first job this summer.

Officers here tell us they will work hard to find the man who they believe killed her in cold blood.

Reporting in Orlando, Ryan Young, CNN.


BERMAN: Fifteen Jewish community centers in several states had to be evacuated Monday after receiving bomb threats. The centers were located in New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. No explosives were found with any of the facilities. The ATF says it is aware of the threats and is prepared to assist local police if asked.

ROMANS: All right. Fresh off Fiat Chrysler's decision to invest a billion dollars in two U.S. plants, the company says it needs more clarity from the incoming Trump administration. Speaking at the Detroit Auto Show yesterday, CEO Sergio Marchionne said long term planning for the company's Mexico operations are on hold mainly because of Trump's threat of 35 percent tariffs. If the president- elect follows through with that move, Fiat Chrysler may have to withdraw all production from Mexico. He didn't say where production would shift, but that it would hurt business. It's also bigger than the entire U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, right?

And a new CNN Money analysis shows how big the auto industry is with Mexico. It is the number one category of products shipped north of the border, cars and car parts. That's bigger than the other five products combined. It's also bigger than the entire U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, something Trump ripped on the campaign trail as bad for American workers.

BERMAN: All right. Questions and concerns this morning, frankly, surrounding New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose. He never showed up for last night's home game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek would not elaborate, saying only after the game that he does expect Rose back with the team at some point and that everything will become clear later on.

The teammate of rose, Joakim Noah, says he spoke with Rose and that he's okay. There are reports that he is back in Chicago, his home town, dealing with a family issue. The Knicks dropped the game last night. Although, you know, Rose may be of greater concern. They lost 110-96.

All right. They agreed on Britain's departure from the European Union, but not much else. Now, the U.K.'s top diplomat Boris Johnson is meeting with Donald Trump's team. We will tell you how he is trying to smooth things over.


[05:23:07] ROMANS: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has just wrapped up meetings with top Republican officials and members of President-elect Trump's inner circle during a trip to the U.S. A populist who backed Brexit, that's Britain's leaving the E.U.

Johnson is no ordinary British politician. And with Donald Trump about to take office, the U.S. and U.K. relationship will be closely watched for stability in a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment.

Joining us now with more, CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. It is so interesting whenever you talk about, you know, Boris Johnson.

Boy, they really got their Brexit, but since then, so much uncertainty still, you know? They voted for it, but now what, you know?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: But now what? That is the big question here in Britain and, of course, what Boris Johnson is trying to do here is to make sure that the United States that Donald Trump, that all the Republicans are in play. Lined up to know that when Britain gets out of the European Union. That's the political play here.

But, of course, Boris Johnson, coming to New York to meet with Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, a big political deal, but he carries, Boris Johnson carries so much political baggage on this as well. You know, during the election campaign, when Donald Trump talked about the streets of London aren't safe or no-go areas for the police, Boris Johnson was mayor of New York then. He said I would not go to New York for fearing into bumping into Donald Trump.

And then, there was the issue that Boris Johnson picked up on where Donald Trump in the campaign talked about slowing down and stopping potentially Muslims coming into the United States. Boris Johnson said this guy is not fit to lead the United States of America.

Yet, here he is on the trip to New York and Washington to do precisely that.

[05:25:04] Now, what is important here, the trade. He also wants to make sure that British Prime Minister Theresa May is one of the first international leaders to come to Washington to meet Donald Trump. That's important domestically at home. It sends the message that, yes, the United States is a strong political ally of Britain.

Right here in Britain, they are hoping that Theresa May will make that journey in February. Donald Trump is tweeting and saying, well, it will happen in spring.

ROMANS: All right. You know, you will be reading the diplomatic tea leaves for us all along the way. Thanks. Nic Robertson, nice to see you.

BERMAN: Reading and editing it.

Nine hours of drama on the high seas Sunday with tense relations between the U.S. and Iran nearing a boiling point. U.S. defense officials confirmed that the Navy fired warning shots at Iranian boats on Sunday. Five Iranian vessels buzzed within 900 yards of the USS Mahan and to other U.S. ships near the Straits of Hormuz. Pentagon officials say there were a total of 35 such encounters in 2016.

All right. Could there be trouble brewing for two of Donald Trump's high profile hires? What has one senator ready to testify against one of his colleagues and what has Democrats in Congress pushing back against Donald Trump's son-in-law?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: Breaking overnight: a sitting U.S. senator ready to stand in the way of the colleague's cabinet nomination. Cory Booker says he will testify against Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. We'll tell you why.

BERMAN: Jared Kushner not facing confirmation hearings, but he is facing pushback after getting a top job in his father-in-law's White House. Now, House Democrats ready to take action.

ROMANS: And an instant classic in college football title game. Alabama and Clemson coming down to the final seconds. Could Clemson finished the job and takes down the undefeated Crimson Tide?

BERMAN: Not the final seconds. The final second.

ROMANS: Second.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Berman tells you that was a really great game.