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Intel Chiefs Presented Trump With Claims; Obama's Nostalgic Goodbye; FBI Director Refuses To Disclose Information; Trump News Conference Today. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:44] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Developing overnight, classified documents presented to President-elect Donald Trump include allegations that operatives from Russia claim to have compromising information about Donald Trump, both personal and financial. How are the Russians responding? We have a new response just minutes ago. Stay with us on that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Today may be the most significant day for Trump since he won that election. He's going to face reporters for the first time since this summer and his nominees for state and justice are getting ready to hear from Congress.

BERMAN: And President Obama's farewell address, a call to action in support of democracy. His emotional words for supporters, for all citizens, and his wife.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you all this morning. It is 31 minutes past the hour. A very busy day and new developments this morning on explosive claims you heard first here on CNN. We have learned that the nation's top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump and President Obama last week on claims of Russian efforts to compromise President-elect Trump.

CNN's Evan Perez is on the CNN team that first reported this story. He joins us now from Washington with the very latest. Good morning, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well, these classified documents on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, presented last week to President Obama and President- elect Donald Trump, included allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.

Now, the allegations were part of a two-page synopsis based on memos that were compiled by a former British intelligence operative whose past work U.S. intelligence officials, at least, consider credible. Now, the U.S. is -- the FBI is still investigating the credibility and accuracy of the allegations which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but the Bureau has not confirmed many of the essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

Now, the two-page summary also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government. According to two national security officials -- we get some of this information from a couple of national security officials. Now, these intelligence officials included the summary, in part, because -- to make the president-elect aware that such allegations involving him were circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress, and other officials here in Washington.

Now, several officials with knowledge of the briefings tell CNN that the information was also included, in part, to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released damaging information on Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. The synopsis was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community on the Russian hacks, but some officials said it augmented evidence that Moscow had intended to harm Clinton's candidacy and to help Donald Trump.

Now, Donald Trump, last night, responded on Twitter calling it "fake news" and a spokesman for Vladimir Putin has now responded. He's the -- for the Russian president -- says that this is all fake. "The Kremlin does not have compromising information on Trump," he said. He called it an obvious attempt to harm our bilateral relations.

BERMAN: Well, what's not fake is your reporting, which is rock solid, that the president-elect was given this two-page synopsis. That is what CNN is reporting. He was given this two-page synopsis --

PEREZ: Right.

BERMAN: -- with these allegations that were based on this 35-page memo which CNN is not publishing. This memo by this British intelligence operative. What was he doing? Why did he write this memo?

PEREZ: Well, he was hired, it appears, by enemies of Donald Trump. First, Republican enemies of Donald Trump -- people who opposed his candidacy -- and then later on by Democrats -- people who were supporting Hillary Clinton. So that's how this all began. It's opposition research, so to speak. So even though he's a former intelligence operative, he works. He runs a private intelligence firm overseas and he was using people that -- contacts of his that he had used previously when he was in the intelligence business. When he was working for British intelligence.

[05:35:06] So, again, the providence of this begins with opposition research, the type that you have here in Washington a lot on every candidate, and so that's one reason -- one reason why we spend a lot of time trying to verifying some of this stuff. We haven't been able to verify it --

ROMANS: Right.

PEREZ: -- but the fact that this was included in the briefings last Thursday and Friday for the president and president-elect, I think is very significant.

ROMANS: Let's talk again about that Russian response. You mentioned it, Evan, just a moment ago, but the Russians responding this morning with a statement. "Clearly there are those who are creating hysteria, who are trying to support this witch hunt, and President-elect Trump himself described it like this." This is from the spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov. Interesting I think, one here, that he is quoting the president-elect's --

PEREZ: Right.

ROMANS: -- own words, witch hunt. And I'll be honest. That tweet from the president -- I don't know if he's responding to another news organization that dumped the whole 35 unsubstantiated pages out there or to CNN's reporting or to the whole story, but witch hunt is the very word that the Kremlin is using here. The Kremlin going on to say that they don't have any compromising information about Hillary Clinton, either. They say they don't engage in kompromat with their allies and with world leaders. Interesting there's an actual word for this sort of -- this sort of practice.

BERMAN: Well, a kompromat -- and a lot of the salacious details are getting attention overnight is one thing. A potentially more serious allegation -- in the last hour Greg Valliere was talking about this -- is the idea that the Trump campaign was in communication, exchanging information with --

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: -- Russian operatives during the campaign itself, Evan. And, James Comey, the FBI director, was asked about whether or not he's investigating -- the FBI is investigating this -- and he wouldn't answer that question directly. Explain that situation to us.

PEREZ: Well, that's right and that's, I think, what drew a lot of attention yesterday at this intelligence hearing -- a Senate intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill. Comey was testifying alongside the senior officials -- the officials who actually briefed Donald Trump and President Obama last week -- and he was asked by Ron Wyden, the senator, whether he was indeed looking into these contacts.

And, you know, one of the things that happens with Ron Wyden, he often asks questions based on information he already knows. He already knows what the answer is. Comey refused, as you mentioned, and then Angus King, the senator from Maine, followed up and tried to get Comey to answer. Again, Comey said it's not something I can answer in an open setting. It's something that I can perhaps provide more information to you on a classified briefing.

We know from talking to sources that the FBI has been taking a look at exactly that. They, again, haven't proved -- haven't proven anything, they haven't brought any charges, and we don't know how far it goes. But we do know that the FBI has been interested and has been looking at contacts between surrogates associated with the Trump campaign and intermediaries for the Russian government. Again, hasn't been proved, has not been -- no charges have been brought, but it is something that is still ongoing with the FBI.

ROMANS: All right. Let's listen to what Kellyanne Conway said last night. She has -- we don't have an official transition statement on any of this -- we have the tweet from Donald Trump. But Kellyanne Conway was on with Seth Meyers last night and let's listen, Evan, to how she addressed, you know -- addressed this CNN reporting.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": CNN had a report that the intelligence community briefed both the president and the president-elect with allegations that the Russian government has compromising information on President-elect Trump, both business information and personal information. I know this just happened. Can you confirm or comment on the fact that the intelligencecommunity has presented this analysis?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Well, guess what hasn't happened, Seth? Nobody has sourced it. They're all unnamed, unspoken sources in the story and it says it was based on a Russian investigator to begin with, so where are we? Do we --

MEYERS: It was based on a MI6 British investigator.

CONWAY: Right, well one of those. And then it said that it also may have -- may have originated with a Russian investigator. It also says that Hillary Clinton and groups that wanted Hillary Clinton to win may have been behind the investigations themselves. And most importantly, it says that the FBI is trying to confirm it, so nothing's been confirmed.

And I have to say as an American citizen, regardless of your party or if you don't like politics at all, which are many Americans, we should be concerned that intelligence officials leak to the press and won't go and tell the president-elect or the President of the United States himself now, Mr. Obama, what the information is. They would rather go tell the press.

MEYERS: But the report was -- the press report was about them --

CONWAY: It's an allegation.

MEYERS: -- going to the president.

CONWAY: And it says that they never briefed him on it. That they appended two pages to the bottom of his intelligence report.

MEYERS: I believe it said they did brief him on.

CONWAY: Oh, he has said that he is not aware of that.

MEYERS: OK, that concerns me.

CONWAY: No, no.

MEYERS: I'm concerned. But, in general, I just want to -- CONWAY: That's not fair.

MEYERS: I understand.

CONWAY: It's not fair --

[05:40:00] MEYERS: No, I understand that --

CONWAY: -- and it's not true.

MEYERS: What is not true, that I'm concerned?

CONWAY: No, that I -- that I see.

MEYERS: OK, I assure you I am.


ROMANS: So, Evan, does this matter? I mean, is a distinction without a difference if, for example, he received the material but was not briefed on the material?

PEREZ: It's amazing how illuminating late night talk shows can be. I mean, it's amazing. Well look, I mean, there's a lot of things that you can unpack from Kellyanne Conway's response on that show last night and part of it is that -- at least the initial response from -- that she may have gotten from the president-elect is that he didn't -- he doesn't remember getting briefed on it. He doesn't remember reading this, so that's part of it.

But we also know, though, that this was included in the briefing and that it was because the intelligence agencies think it's explosive enough, it's important enough for them to present to the president- elect. And the other part of this is that it is without a doubt something that the FBI and others are trying to verify. And she's right, you know. It is something that was paid for by opposition research -- as opposition research. And so that's where we're at, at this point. We're going to see what the president-elect says when he has his press conference. I'm sure he's going to be asked.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, thank you for your reporting, along with Jim Scuitto, Jake Tapper, and Carl Bernstein. And I recommended everyone go read it, look at it very carefully. It's very careful and meticulous how this is all laid out and exactly what it says and doesn't say. It is worth looking at for yourself. Thanks so much, Evan.

ROMANS: A blockbuster story and there is more. For the first time since the election, Donald Trump will hold that news conference today. You can watch it right here on CNN at 11:00. This was the press conference originally scheduled for December that was postponed. And the question, at least at that time, is how will Trump separate himself from his businesses?

He has said he will not sell his assets. He will transfer them to his sons. That will be difficult. He owns some or all of 564 companies. One hundred forty-four of those do business in 25 foreign countries. Trump also has full or partial ownership of 52 pieces of real estate. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, says the president-elect will give a statement and then take questions.

He'll also discuss his plans for the economy and job creation, and we'll likely hear his thoughts about repealing and replacing Obamacare. He told "The New York Times" yesterday he wants it done quickly. There's tension though among GOP lawmakers who -- on what a replacement would look like.

Meantime, an update here. More people are signing up for Obamacare. Eleven and one-half million Americans have enrolled on federal and state exchanges, up nearly 300,000 from last year. And fewer people are paying the penalty for not having coverage. Six and one-half million Americans were whacked with fees -- a fine on their 2015 tax return. The average fine was $330, down from eight million people the year before who paid about $95 each. You know, the fine is jumping to $695 for those who don't have coverage last year. That's how the law was designed to get people off the sidelines and into Obamacare coverage.

BERMAN: And he will be asked about all of this day.

ROMANS: He will.

BERMAN: The most important day of his transition so far.

With all of this going on, President Obama, who still is president for a few more days, delivered his farewell address last night. This was an emotional farewell with the president tearing up when he thanked the first lady for taking the journey with him. The president made a push to avoid fake news and other divisive topics in the spirit of progress.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we should reject the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties that make up one. America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter into public service. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others. When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt.


ROMANS: So much to discuss. So much happening today. We bring in our political panel next.


[05:47:40] ROMANS: Welcome back -- a busy day. Perhaps the most important day so far of Donald Trump's political career. CNN's new reporting on Russian operatives possibly holding compromising information on the president-elect dominating the headlines today, and there are a whole lot of headlines.

Let's break them all down. From Washington, "CNN POLITICS" digital managing editor, Zach Wolf. And political economist Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investments. And Greg, last time we were talking to you just a few minutes ago, you were talking about what you think is the biggest storyline today -- these questions about whether there was any contact between representatives of Donald Trump's and Russian officials, and that was something that came up yesterday on the Hill. I want to you listen to --


ROMANS: -- Angus King, the senator, and Jim Comey from the FBI.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Mr. Comey, did you answer Sen. Wyden's question that there is an investigation underway as to connections between either the political campaigns and the Russians?

JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I didn't say one way or another.

KING: You didn't say that there was --

COMEY: That was my intention, at least.

KING: You didn't say one way or another whether, even, there's an investigation underway?

COMEY: Correct. I don't -- especially in a public forum. We never confirm or deny a pending investigation.

KING: The irony --

COMEY: I'm not saying --

KING: The irony of your making that statement here I cannot avoid, but I'll move on.

COMEY: But we sometimes think differently about closed investigations.


ROMANS: Greg, your thoughts?

VALLIERE: Well, for the sake of the country I hope that this doesn't persist for the next four years. I think it's really damaging. I think it's very unnerving if there was contact before the election. Nothing is proved. All this stuff overnight -- nothing is really truly proved. And again, I think for the country, not just the financial markets which I cover, but for the country as a whole, I hope we don't have four more years of this.

BERMAN: I think there are three big things that will come up today, Zach Wolf. This Russian thing, number one, and number two, you know, Donald Trump's business empire. How he will disentangle it, if he will disentangle it from the White House. What do you expect to see here?

ZACH WOLF, MANGING EDITOR, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL: Well, you know, that was the original reason to have this press conference back, I think, in December. It's been six months since he had a press conference from him.

He was going to have this one to tell us how he was going to essential divest himself of his business empire. That is such a key question and we've almost forgotten about it. So much other stuff has gone on between now and then but it really is so important. His many interests across the country and across the globe. How is he going to divorce those from himself so he can lead the country, I guess, as an honest broker?

[05:50:07] ROMANS: You know, Greg -- I mean, a month ago that was the biggest story. How to --


ROMANS: -- resolve these conflicts of interest. Now there are other big stories, including Obamacare. How do you resolve his promises about repealing Obamacare? He wants to repeal and replace right away. What do you think is the headline from Mr. Trump's press conference today?

VALLIERE: Well, that's going to be a big one, Christine. I mean, everyone talks about differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. On Obamacare, the differences are between Republicans and Republicans. They don't have their act together. They don't know what they want to replace it with. And a lot of people I'm talking with in the financial markets are saying if they can't get their act together on this, what does it mean for other issues?

ROMANS: Greg, I think this is why the Dow hasn't hit 20,000. I think there's a lot of issues.


ROMANS: There was the Trump rally and now markets -- around the world, people want to see what happens next.

VALLIERE: At the same time, my New Year's resolution is to not underestimate Donald Trump. We all made that mistake in 2016. I'm not going to do it again. The main thing we can't overlook is that on issue after issue he has the votes.

BERMAN: You know -- and, Zach Wolf, we've got about 45 seconds left right now. It will also just be interesting to see the level of specificity with which he discusses anything. What has he done in these last six months since his last news conference? What has he done during the transition to study up or bone up on a lot of the issues he will be dealing with at great length in 10 days -- nine days? WOLF: Yes, absolutely, but I'm not holding my breath to see a new Donald Trump. We did that throughout the campaign.


WOLF: This is the same guy. He's not going to change.

ROMANS: All right. Zach Wolf, Greg Valliere, nice to see you both. There's so much to talk about. I think we all agree this is a really, really big day.

BERMAN: It's a big day. It's the biggest day of the transition so far.

ROMANS: It is the biggest day of the transition. Thanks, guys. Nice to see you.

VALLIERE: You bet.

ROMANS: All right. One of Donald Trump's money men -- top money men -- facing harsh criticism on Capitol Hill from his own employees who say he's not fit to look after American labor laws. Details next.


[05:55:05] BERMAN: This morning, the man who gunned down nine people inside a historically black church will be sentenced to the death penalty. Dylann Roof murdered nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. Roof defended himself during the sentencing phase of the trial. He said he had no choice but to kill and that he feels no remorse. A brother of one of the victims says he feels conflicted about Roof's punishment. Roof is the first person convicted of a federal hate crime who will be sentenced to the death penalty.

A $100,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to this man suspected of killing a police officer, Markeith Loyd. He's wanted for the shooting death of Orlando -- an Orlando sergeant on Monday, as well as the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend. That happened last month. There was a candlelight vigil for Master Sgt. Debra Clayton in the parking lot where she was shot and killed. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a quick check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Investors focusing on that big news conference in New York today from Donald Trump. Stock futures ticking higher. Nasdaq is riding a four-day streak of record highs. Stock markets in Europe and Asia are rising as well.

Current and former employees of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., the fast-food chains, taking to Capitol Hill. They're blasting their former boss. He is the Labor secretary nominee, Anthony Puzder.


VOICE OF LAURA MCDONALD, FORMER CKE EMPLOYEE: I gave more than 20 years of my life to CKE and Mr. Puzder took a company that I loved and turned it into a business that makes money by stealing from its workers. I honestly can't think of anyone less qualified to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect employees.


ROMANS: Other former employees testified. They said the company has taken their wages, their overtime pay, and their vacation days. CKE is the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. He has been the CEO since 2000. He's credited with turning around the Hardee's brand although, you know, those employees say it's because he was doing it to the detriment of workers. He opposes a $15 minimum wage. He's a critic of Obamacare. The company he runs also has been accused of labor violations and faced complaints about sexist commercials.

A Trump aide says Puzder "has firsthand experience saving and creating thousands of jobs and he has an extensive record of fighting for workers." His Senate confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.

All right. We're watching shares of GM today -- General Motors. The stock popped almost four percent yesterday. It issued a surprisingly upbeat outlook for next year. It caps a 26 percent gain over the past year.


ROMANS: GM is a widely-held stock, folks. It's probably in your mutual funds or your 401(k). Overall, auto sales are expected to level off after two straight years of record highs. But, GM says it is still growing in China and other emerging markets. That's a note about the globalization of the auto industry.

Meantime, rival Volkswagen is negotiating a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over its emissions scandal. It would require the carmaker to pay $4.3 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal wrongdoing. Now, that's rare in these kinds of settlements. It would also require Volkswagen to appoint an independent monitor to oversee its operations for the next three years. A Volkswagen executive was recently arrested by the FBI for his alleged role in emissions cheating and attempts to cover it up.

BERMAN: They rigged the computers to cheat the emissions.

ROMANS: Yes. That's why the guilty plea, I think, was a very important part of that deal.

BERMAN: That's a big, big deal.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for joining us this morning on EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: We have so much going on today in what is the most important day in the transition of President-elect Donald Trump. I'm John Berman. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WSHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The nation's top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump and to President Barack Obama about claims of Russian efforts to compromise President-elect Trump.

CONWAY: We should be concerned that intelligence officials leak to the press and won't got and tell the president-elect or the President of the United States himself.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is one of the more consequential appointments.

BERMAN: Concerns about Rex Tillerson's ties to Russia in the spotlight on Capitol Hill.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I have a very close relationship with him.

OBAMA: And I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 11th, 6:00 here in New York. It is a very big news day.

We begin with Donald Trump facing a day of major tests that could shape the course of his presidency. This morning, the president-elect will hold his first news conference in nearly six months, where he is expected to answer questions about CNN's report that Russia could have compromising information about him.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And will he address what we know for sure, that the president-elect has some serious conflicts of interest posed by his businesses? He had promised a solution. Is there one? All this, as the confirmation hearing begins today for his Secretary of State pick. Lawmakers are going to grill him over his ties to Vladimir Putin.

We're now just nine days away from the inauguration.