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Trump Talks with Intelligence Chief; Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Obamacare; Tillerson Grilled At Confirmation Hearing. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: an extraordinary move after an extraordinary day. The Director of National Intelligence calls the president-elect. What he told Donald Trump on the phone hours after Donald Trump attacked the intelligence community over alleged leaks to the media.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Also overnight, late into the night, Republicans taking the first votes to roll back the Affordable Care Act. Late night votes as Democrats pled for a change of heart, only to see the GOP press ahead.

BERMAN: And the nominee for the secretary of state. It's a rocky day before the Senate. Which Republican senator could hold the key to his confirmation?

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

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning. A lot of news, you guys. I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, January 12th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Nice to see you.

Let's begin here. Breaking overnight: Donald Trump and the Director of National Intelligence have a talk following the major public blowup of Russian hacking intel. The brawl begun with a CNN report that the intelligence community gave Mr. Trump a two-page summary of a dossier that claims Russia has compromising information on him. BuzzFeed followed up with salacious from that intelligence summary -- details CNN chose not to report because they could not be confirmed.

It did not stop Mr. Trump from attacking the network at Wednesday's much anticipated news conference. And he seemed to blur CNN's reporting which skipped the unconfirmed details with BuzzFeed's story which included this information that is not confirmed. And then, Mr. Trump slammed the entire intelligence community.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it's a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: This seemed to prompt an extraordinary phone call from the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who released this statement overnight describing the conversation. He says he told the president-elect that, quote, "the leaks appearing in the press are extremely corrosive and damaging."

But he also said, quote, "I emphasize this document is not an intelligence community product and I do not believe the leaks came within the IC, the intelligence community. The IC has not made any judgment that information in this document is reliable and we did not rely upon it in any for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest picture of any matters that might affect national security."

Make sure you look at last line very careful, but it seems to confirm, but the Trump would not, that the president-elect did, in fact, receive this two-page summary about intelligence about Russia's alleged compromising information, which is exactly what CNN reported all along. This subject is part of the circus of the news conference, the first from Donald Trump in six months.

CNN's Jim Acosta was right in the middle of it, to say the least.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, Donald Trump lashed out at the media, including this news organization, over reports that the Russian government may have compromising information on the president-elect. At a news conference, Trump blasted the reports as fake news.

But the president-elect appeared to accept the intelligence community's finding that Russia unleashed a hacking operation intended to harm Hillary Clinton. Here's what he had to say.

TRUMP: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I can say that when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently. They didn't make a big deal out of that.

ACOSTA: Trump took on other topics, defending his plan to place his vast business holdings in a trust run by his sons. He also told reporters that there will be an Obamacare replacement bill ready as soon as the GOP Congress votes to repeal the health care law. And he vowed once again to build a wall on the border and Mexico pay for it, something Mexico says it will never do -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta, busy day for Jim.

Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper pressed Trump adviser, senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, on the Russian intelligence report.

Now, Cooper, he tried to get Conway to point outer any errors in CNN's reporting. He asked her again and again what specifically was wrong in CNN's reporting, and she kept switching focus to the sources and credibility of the underlying information. Once again, CNN did not report the underlying information.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm trying to figure out from you what you have been saying about what is true and what is not and you cannot -- you cannot take issue with any specific that we have reported.

[04:05:04] I have yet to hear you say specifically that is not true.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: It's not true. And here's the deal --

COOPER: It's not true that those were the briefing documents. It's not true that it was in any of the briefing documents? You are saying that categorically?

CONWAY: It's true that you have no evidence of it other than unnamed sources. You don't have the briefing documents. That's what's true, because they would not have access to the briefing documents and you know it.

COOPER: Well, you don't know who the sources, but we have multiple sources. And again, this is something also "The New York Times."

CONWAY: Tell them to come forward. Tell them they can have this chair anytime. Tell them to come forward. Why are these unnamed and unsourced -- who are they protecting?


COOPER: This is a red herring. It's like you got -- you are trying to distract from question which is you do not have information, whether it's true or not.

CONWAY: Anderson, you can use words like pivot, distract, red herring all you want. The fact is that the media have a 16 percent approval rating for a reason. It's been earned.


BERMAN: This afternoon, top level intelligence officials will hold a closed door briefing with members of the Senate to discuss the latest on the Russian hacking during the 2016 election season. How is this all being received by the Kremlin?

We want to bring in senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live this morning from Moscow.

Clarissa, one of the things we've been struck by is that the language, the official language from the Kremlin on this issue and on the whole issue of Russian hacking in general is often remarkable similar to that we hear from the Trump transition.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and, yes, John, we've also seen President-elect Donald Trump actually directly quoting the Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, who has dismissed this report as a fabrication, as utter nonsense. This very much in line with the sort of consistent denials that we heard from the Kremlin with regards to anything pertaining to hacking for months now.

We also heard from the Russian foreign ministry. They said, quote, "If somebody wants to transfer these normal contacts, referring to contacts between the Trump -- Mr. Trump when he was a businessman and was spending time in Russia back in 2013 and Russians, it's up to them. It seems that the Obama administration is trying to destroy everything within the U.S. and within the American society."

And they went on to call it Obama administration's revenge against Donald Trump.

So, very firmly, the Russia Kremlin, the foreign ministry, the political apparatus here is really keen to present this as a political issue, as an attempt to poison the well if you will between President- elect Donald Trump and Russia ahead of sort of anticipated rapprochement or warming of relationship. It's also being cast as a war between what they call the liberal media and President-elect Donald Trump, John.

BERMAN: President-elect Trump who said if Vladimir Putin likes me, that's a good thing.

Clarissa Ward in Moscow, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. A moment ago, you heard our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta talked about that moment yesterday when Donald Trump lashed out at CNN during the press conference. Here is that heated exchange between Acosta and Trump over the Russian intel report.


ACOSTA: Since you are attacking our news organization. Can you give us a chance to ask a question?

TRUMP: Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible.

ACOSTA: You are attacking our news organization. Can you give us a chance to ask a question?


TRUMP: Go ahead. Quiet. Quiet.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, can you say categorically --

TRUMP: Go ahead. She's asking a question. Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, can you give us a question? You are attacking us! Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: No, I'm not going to give you a question.

ACOSTA: Can you say categorically --

TRUMP: You are fake news.

ACOSTA: Sir, can you say categorically that nobody -- now, Mr. President-elect, that's not appropriate.

TRUMP: Go ahead.


ROMANS: Jim tells us the president-elect's spokesman, Sean Spicer, threatened to -- threatened to expel him from Trump Tower if he attempted to ask another question.

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, the Senate approved what could be the first step at repealing Obamacare. It was a sort of a budget blue print that passed mostly along party lines, 51-48, but not before turning away amendments from Democrats.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Tanks to Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, two programs made stronger by the Affordable Care Act. Ninety-five percent -- think about it -- 95 percent of children in America now have affordable comprehensive health insurance that covers annual physicals and dental care in hospital states. Why would we want -- why would we want to move backwards instead of building on that 95 percent?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Imagine becoming pregnant and having your insurer drop your coverage because you no longer are economic or you cost too much money? Imagine being a cancer survivor and then having your coverage dropped because you've survived cancer? If you love women and you love your mothers and daughters and wives. Please, do not unwind the Affordable Care Act.


BERMAN: All right. This measure heads to the House which could consider the bill as early as Friday.

ROMANS: All right. A packed calendar of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill again this morning. At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, senators will begin taking up the nominations of Dr. Ben Carson for HUD secretary and Mike Pompeo for CIA director.

[04:10:09] Also this morning, a confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee, General James Mattis. House Democrats are furious with Mattis. The general needs a special waiver to be confirmed. He just informed lawmakers he won't be available to answer questions at a waiver hearing scheduled for this afternoon.

All this in the wake of the fiery hearing for Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state. The former ExxonMobil CEO tried to win over critics, including Republicans who are skeptical of his ties to Vladimir Putin.

So, how did it go? Let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN national security reporter Ryan Browne.

Good morning.

Certainly, hours and hours of questioning there on Capitol Hill for Mr. Tillerson.


Yes, it was about nine hours of questioning. And it kind of get off to a rocky start. You know, Tillerson faced some questions that he probably expected about Exxon's record lobbying against sanctions from the Democratic side of the aisle.

And he actually also broke away from his would-be boss Donald Trump on a few key issues. One being the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, something Trump railed against in the campaign trail. Tillerson said he wasn't opposed to that. He seemed a little bit more willing to embrace the idea that climate change, there was a manmade element to that.

And he came out, for a man who received an Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin, he came out with a tougher line on Russia at the start.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I think the important conversation we have to have with them is, does Russia want to now and forever be an adversary of the United States? Do you want this to get worse or does Russia desire a different relationship? We're not likely to ever to be friends, I think as others have noted, our value systems are starkly different.


BROWNE: Now, you know, Tillerson also received tough questions from the Republican side of the aisle, particularly Senator Marco Rubio, who came after Tillerson on the issue of whether or not Vladimir Putin had been responsible for war crimes during the Russian military campaign in Syrian, as well as other humans rights issues involving Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Are you prepared to be the one Republican vote no?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R) FLORIDA: Well, I'm prepared to do what's right. I'm not analyzing it from a partisan standpoint. The president deserves wide latitude in their nominations. But the more important the position is, the less latitude they have. It's like a cone. It's really wide and some positions, as it gets higher and higher, the discretion becomes more limited and our scrutiny should become higher.


BROWNE: Given the narrow majority that the Republicans hold in the Senate, a defection by Rubio this would be a big blow to the chances of Tillerson actually becoming secretary of state. So, it's a real critical vote to watch.

Also, today, we will see as you mentioned Dr. Ben Carson appearing on the HUD nomination. We'll also be see Mike Pompeo, congressman from Kansas, member of the House Intelligence Committee, looking to be director of the CIA. He is well-respected amongst his fellow congressmen in the intelligence group.

But given all the controversy regarding the intelligence community and the Russian hacking campaign and leaks, we are bound to hear a lot of him being put on the spot to defend the comments Donald Trump has made in recent days. For the defense secretary post, we'll be hearing from General James Mattis who will be appearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee to answer questions.

ROMANS: All right. Another very busy day for all of us. Thank you so much for that, Ryan Browne in Washington. Thanks.

BERMAN: And New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker is now the first sitting senator ever to testify against another sitting senator during a cabinet confirmation. Senator Booker delivered an emotional plea to senators to block the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. His argument, he said the Alabama senator's record on civil rights should disqualify him.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job, to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens. In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated the hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals.


BERMAN: Senator Booker was joined by civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, and also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond. Congressman Richmond later complained about having to wait until the end of the hearing to speak. He says, "To have a senator, a House member and living civil rights legend testify at the end of all this is the equivalent of being made to go to the back of the bus."

ROMANS: All right. Fourteen minutes past the hour. This morning, Donald Trump laying out a conflict series of moves

aiming to avoid conflict of interests. What does the head of the government ethics office think of that plan? We've got that next.


[04:17:55] ROMANS: Welcome back.

The president-elect laying out a plan to turn over control of his businesses. I want to give you a simplified breakdown of what he promises here.

First, his sons will take over the Trump Organization. It's an umbrella company for his hundreds of business organizations, business holdings.

Second, he will put his investments and business assets into some kind of a trust also managed by his sons. He will not create a blind trust. He will not sell his assets.

Third, the company will not make any foreign deals while Trump is president. U.S. projects must be approved by in-house ethics advisor, who will also review decisions that could pose a conflict of interest.

Finally, he will only receive reports on the overall financial performance of the Trump Organization. Not individual holdings or businesses.

But Trump will profit if the company does well. So, is this enough? The government ethics chief says no way.


WALTER M. SHAUB, DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: The plan the president has announced doesn't meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met. He is going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don't think divesture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.


ROMANS: So, ethics folks, on one side saying simply not good enough. On the other side, you have Trump supporters and businesspeople saying there has not been a president with a scope and size of Trump's assets. So, this plan works.

Another point they made in this divestiture discussion yesterday or non-divestiture discussion, is that what about foreign governments who may, you know, try to curry favor with the president and the administration by staying at his hotels? Donald Trump says the profits for that will be paid back to the U.S. Treasury. Not sure how --

BERMAN: Profits, by the way, profits, not revenue. ROMANS: Right. Another thing here is that Donald Trump said he make

-- there would be no new deals while he was president. Now it is amended. No new deals overseas, but he will still make deals in the U.S. And as for this ethics advisor, just know that it's a Trump employee. Trump will be hiring this advisor with the right to fire, presumably, the ethics advisor should that person disagree.

All right. Some other news now, Volkswagen is paying a heavy price for cheating on emissions test.

[04:20:04] Federal prosecutors have announced criminal charges against six company executives for their roles in the emission cheating scandal involving some 600,000 cars in the United States. The German automaker will also have to pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties.

ROMANS: Before Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was formally sentenced to death, family members of the nine black parishioners he killed addressed him directly in court. Afterwards, one victim's family talked to reporters about the need to confront him.


DANIEL SIMMONS, JR., FATHER KILLED IN CHARLESTON CHURCH MASSACRE: It was important that I address not just Dylann Roof, but address the spirit that dwelled within him. So, I wanted to speak to the inner person. Not the outer shell. And so, I did achieve getting him to look up and to pay attention to what I was saying.


ROMANS: He still faces a second state trial where he also faces the death penalty. And no trial date has been set for that.

BERMAN: All right. We have crazy footage to show of the Space Needle in Seattle from New Year's Eve. This is a drone taking beauty shots when suddenly, it crashes into the roof near where the crews preparing for the annual fireworks display. It must have been given people up there pretty scared. The video was retrieved from the memory card by Space Needle staff, and just released. Seattle police are said to be investigating.

ROMANS: You have to register those with the FAA, you know? I hope they are registered.


ROMANS: Well, that's pretty until the last moment.

All right. The San Diego Chargers plan to announce today they are moving to L.A. for the 2017 season. That's according to multiple publications, including ESPN, and "The Los Angeles Times." The Chargers will be the second NFL team in less than a year to relocate to Los Angeles, following the Rams from San Louis. The franchise actually started as the Los Angeles Chargers, playing the inaugural season in old AFL in 1960 before moving to San Diego a year later. What have you said, we young lad.

BERMAN: Thank you. You little girl Christine Romans.

Listen, Los Angeles did not have any football team a couple years ago. Now, it has two. So, the NFL clearly trying to figure things out about where teams should be playing right now.

All right. Twenty-two minutes after the hour.

Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearings, it was contentious to be sure. Have a lot of things to say about Russia, but also some harsh words for China. So, how is it being received over there?


[04:25:50] BERMAN: Tillerson's critics claim he was fuzzy on the issues of Vladimir Putin and Russia during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state. The same cannot be said for his tough talk on China. A lot of people think he will take a hard line against Beijing for trade issues, also, for what China has been doing in the South China Sea.

Listen to what Rex Tillerson said about that.


TILLERSON: The island-building in the South China Sea itself in many respects, in my view, building islands and putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia taking of Crimea. It's taking of territory that others lay claim to.


BERMAN: I want to go live to Beijing and bring in CNN's Matt Rivers.

Matt, what's the reaction to the comments from Tillerson?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing from Chinese officials. They're not really taking the bait on this. They're kind of sticking to their usual line, which is on issues regarding the South China Sea, that they should be resolved in bilateral negotiations, according to daily press briefing today with the spokesperson at the ministry of foreign affairs.

And that's really a not so thinly veiled job at the United States, which is again, something we hear often from Beijing, saying, look, China views this as a regional issue. We don't think the United States should play a part in this stuff and we shouldn't -- we don't think that they should get involved.

But a pretty standard response from Beijing, but what's interesting about all this is there is a big open question here because of what Mr. Tillerson said. He actually went a step farther than what we heard the president-elect say. The president-elect has talked about the South China Sea saying the island-building isn't good. But what he heard from Mr. Tillerson is that he thinks the United

States should not allow China to access those artificial islands that it has built over the last several years in the South China Sea. And that raises the big question, well, how exactly would the United States prevent China from accessing islands it's already built and has already started to militarize? And that's left that kind of question, are we setting the stage here for a very early crisis perhaps in the U.S./China relationship under the incoming administration. Big question today here in Beijing, John.

BERMAN: And the posturing clearly has already begun from this side at least.

Matt Rivers, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

A very unusual moment. The Director of National Intelligence reaching out to calm the president-elect's concerns about leaks to the media to explain. More on James Clapper's talk with Donald Trump, next.