Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Talks with Intelligence Chief; Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Obamacare; Tillerson Grilled At Confirmation Hearing; Cowboys Release Bandwagon Fan Application. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It will pay $4.3 billion in fines and take the very unusual step of pleading guilty to criminal charges, commensurate with the acquisitions against this company.


ROMANS: Just the extent of the fraud.

BERMAN: That is what happens when you cheat and there's conspiracy to do so.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight: an extraordinary move from the director of national intelligence. What he told President-elect Trump over the phone hours after Trump lambasted the intelligence community again over leaks to the media.

BERMAN: Also breaking overnight, the first votes to roll back Obamacare. It happened overnight, a thin majority in the Senate with Democrats fighting back to no avail.

ROMANS: And Trump's nominee for secretary of state with a tough day before the Foreign Affairs Committee. Which Republican senator could hold the key to his confirmation and what he's saying about it this morning?

Five o'clock on the nose. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, January 12th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And breaking overnight, this must have been one heck of a phone call with President-elect Donald Trump and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper says he placed this call after the round of insults and accusations hurled at the intelligence community by the president-elect.

Now, CNN reported that officials gave Mr. Trump a two-page summary of an unverified dossier that claims Russia had compromising information about him, about Donald Trump. BuzzFeed released a 35-page dossier, something CNN did not do because the allegations could not be confirmed.

Without the central fact of the reporter, Donald Trump lashed out.

Now, the president-elect without denying the central fact to the reporting, the fact that he received the two-page report, he lashed out.


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. I say that and say that. And that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it's a disgrace.


ROMANS: Late last night, National Intelligence Director James Clapper released a statement describing his phone conversation with Donald Trump. He says he conceded that, quote, "the leaks that had been appearing in the press are extremely corrosive and damaging," but he says he took issue with Trump's accusation that the intelligence community leaked the details that appeared on BuzzFeed. Those details again, CNN did not report those details.

Quote, "I emphasize this document is not a U.S. intelligence community product and I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC, intelligence community, shorthand. 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 possible picture of any matters that might affect national security."

The last line certainly implies that CNN's reporting was accurate, that Trump did receive a two-page summary of intel about Russia's alleged compromising information, and all this barely scratches the surface of the news volcano that erupted at Trump's press conference.

We begin with CNN's Jim Volcano -- Jim Acosta.

BERMAN: Really? That's actually not inappropriate.

ROMANS: Jim magma, who has the latest from New York.


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. Thanks, Jim.

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

Let's bring in again, our senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live this morning in Moscow.

Good morning, Clarissa.


Well, there's been a lot of tweeting and talking and, actually, quite a lot of giggling here in Russia. A lot of Russian people enjoyed watching President-elect Donald Trump's press conference as it played out yesterday with him castigating certain members of the media.

[05:05:07] The whole episode is really being framed in Russia as a case of A, the so-called liberal media trying to debunk Donald Trump's presidency, but also as an attempt to really thwart any warming of relations between Russia and the U.S. That, of course, is expected to take place under the presidency of Donald Trump.

We heard from the Russian foreign ministry which referring to yesterday's report said, they essentially blamed it on the Obama administration and said it was deeply politicized. "It seems the Obama administration is trying to destroy everything within the U.S. and within American society." And then they went on to say, "All this story is the Obama administration's revenge against Trump."

So, there you have it. The Kremlin view very much that this is deeply politicized. This is a last-ditch attempt to poison the well between Russians and the U.S. to make Russia look bad and this essentially is the song that the Russians had been singing now for several months since hacking allegations firs emerged back in October -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: Indeed. Clarissa Ward for us in Moscow this morning -- thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight: the Senate move could be the first step at repealing Obamacare. This was the sort of budget blueprint that passed mostly along party lines, 51-48. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, actually voted against it. They voted -- they approved it, though, after turning away a bunch of Democratic amendments.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Thanks 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: This measure now heads to the House, which could consider the bill as early as Friday.

All right. A packed calendar of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill today. At 10:00 a.m., senators will begin taking up the nominations of Dr. Ben Carson for HUD secretary. And Mike Pompeo for CIA director. That will be fascinating, given everything going on.

Also this morning, a confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee, General James Mattis. The retired general needs a special waiver to be confirmed. He told lawmakers he will not be available to answer questions at a hearing for them this afternoon.

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

I want to go live to Washington and bring in national security reporter Ryan Browne.

And, Ryan, the Marco Rubio/Rex Tillerson relationship, this could be one of the most fascinating, tumultuous and important ones in Washington over the next week.


You know, Rex Tillerson came in expecting tough questions from Democrats. He got a lot about his time at ExxonMobil and whether the company had lobbied against sanctions in Iran to boost profits. He even actually went away from Donald Trump on a few key issues. One, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade deal that Trump attacked on the campaign trail. Tillerson said he wasn't opposed to it.

He was a little bit more open to the idea of climate change than Trump has traditionally been. But, you know, Tillerson actually really came out strong on Russia in his opening statement and really tried to divide a line from the Tillerson that was out there with close ties with Vladimir Putin.

Let's take a listen.


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: But Tillerson ran into a bit of trouble with Senator Rubio talking about Vladimir Putin, whether or not was responsible for war crimes given Russia's military campaign in Syria. They also clashed on human rights issues and human rights abuse within countries like China, the Philippines and others.

So let's listen to what Rubio had to say about the hearing.


[05:10:00] 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: Rubio is critical due to how close the Senate is, very closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, were he to defect, the chances of Tillerson becoming the next secretary of state would dim considerably. Also today will be Dr. Ben Carson appearing for his HUD nomination, as well as Mike Pompeo for CIA, and General James Mattis as mentioned fro the defense secretary post.

BERMAN: Very interesting hearings this week on Capitol Hill. All right. Ryan, thanks so much. BROWNE: You got it.

ROMANS: All right. So, that press conference yesterday, you know, it was scheduled to talk about the control of the conflict of interest of businesses. He did lay out yesterday how he is going to -- how he is going to turnover his businesses to his sons.

First, his sons take over the Trump Organization, the umbrella company for the holdings. Second, he'll 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 an in-house ethics advisor which could pose a conflict of interest.

Finally, he's going to receive reports on the overall financial performance of the Trump organization. Not individual holdings or businesses. Trump will profit, though, if the company does well.

The reaction? We have ethics people on one side saying it is not good enough. On the other side, Trump supporters saying there has never been a president with the scope and size of Trump's assets so this plan works.

One of the questions is, Trump's business empire is his name, it is his brand. So, everything he does sort of burnishes the attraction of that brand. It's just impossible to separate.

BERMAN: And again, remember, this ethics advisor will be a Trump employee, will be hired by the Trump Corporation and presumably could be fired by the Trump corporation.

ROMANS: He said if foreign governments choose to stay at the hotels, he will give profits to the U.S. treasury.

BERMAN: The profits. Not the revenue. Who knows if he gets a tax deduction on that, too?

All right. There is a lot to discusses about all this. We have one of the world's primary political experts, CNN's Eugene Scott, joining us today.


[05:15:33] ROMANS: That's what you call a news conference. A very noisy conference of the president-elect. Obamacare repeal now officially under way in the House. That vote happening just about four hours ago.

This is why we need CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott this early morning because, you know, news doesn't sleep.

BERMAN: If we don't sleep, why should news?

ROMANS: I know. Good morning. Look, yesterday, what a remarkable -- you know, on December 15th, we thought we would have a conference about Donald Trump's conflicts of interests in his business, you know, his road map going forward. That was sort of the footnote to yesterday.

Unpack for me your headline from the Donald Trump's news conference yesterday.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Never could we have expected what would have happened yesterday. My main headline yesterday, especially from the business perspective, is the answers we were thinking we would get about conflicts of interest, we really didn't get. Donald Trump is not moving in the direction that many were hoping he would and separating himself from businesses in a way that we would have more confidence in as the American people that would not create more conflicts.

ROMANS: I'll be honest with you, I never thought he would be able to. He would be able to satisfy the ethics experts because the nature of his business is so you unique, right?

I mean, and the way the rest of the world, especially a lot of foreign leaders, the way their businesses work, families, you know, powerful people run the economy. So, you are always trying to buy favor and spread business out among people.

So, just by that very nature, Donald Trump as the head of the free world, it's going to be difficult to separate business from foreign policy as the business of the United States.

SCOTT: If not impossible, and I think an important point that needs to be made that Donald Trump brought up is people are not interested or concerned about his conflicts of interest. That's not really true. We even had GOP senators and other Republicans saying we want to see him do more to give the American confidence that he will be looking out for them ahead of the Trump Organization.

BERMAN: Again, but not divesting, moving into a thrust and ethics advisor who will be a Trump corporation employee who will oversee it and he will continue to make deals within the United States, where he previously said no new deals, while he was president.

I want to talk about this Russian intelligence issue right now. The two-page summary that CNN reported that was given to Donald Trump last week, when he was briefed by intelligence officials. You know, Donald Trump would not address the central issue of the reporting which was, did he receive that report and what he makes of the fact he was given such a report.

And neither would Kellyanne Conway when pressed by Anderson overnight. Listen to this.


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. 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: All right. Let me read again part of the letter, part of the release from DNI, head of national intelligence, James Clapper, who said he called Donald Trump last night. The last night of it said, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

That is implicit confirmation essentially that the intelligence community did give Donald Trump the two-page summary of what went on there -- something that the Trump team seems unwilling to confirm.

SCOTT: Very much so. I mean, we have asked the Trump team repeatedly on air and on to specify what they are saying is inaccurate. We have yet to see that. They continue to make claims that our reporting was not factual. They have not given the American people the details on what they are pushing back on.

Speaking of things not being factual, I strongly encourage readers to go to and go through our reality check of Donald Trump's speech yesterday, what you may find will be alarming.

[05:20:05] ROMANS: Let's take a look at what Senator Rubio there mano-a-mano with Rex Tillerson yesterday on Russia and Vladimir Putin and war crimes and human rights violations. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?

TILLERSON: I would not use that term.

RUBIO: Based on all this information, and what is publicly in the record about what happened in Aleppo and the Russian military, you are still not prepared to say that Vladimir Putin and his military have violated the rules of war and have conducted war crimes in Aleppo?

TILLERSON: Those are very, very serious charges to make. I would want to have more information before reaching a conclusion.


ROMANS: How did he do? Rex Tillerson?

SCOTT: Are you asking me or Rubio, right?

ROMANS: Right.

SCOTT: Well, I think Rubio was very concerned. We saw Tillerson say he wants more information issues about Russia and their concerns with human rights violations have been reported on for years. So, what more he needs is not clear at this point.

I think what was very interesting though that may help him is he very clearly said that Russia is not America's friend and that we have different values from them. I thought was significantly different from President-elect Trump.

ROMANS: I agree.

SCOTT: Who say he wants a good relationship.

ROMANS: I thought he was more hawkish about Russia in that moment of the hearing than you heard Trump be ever.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Eugene, thanks so much. Don't go far. We'll be meeting you again very soon.

SCOTT: See you.

BERMAN: All right. America's team -- so-called America's team -- is looking for a few good fans. The Dallas Cowboys want you to hop on their bandwagon. Coy Wire has details in the "Bleacher Report". That's next.


[05:25:10] BERMAN: According to multiple publications, ESPN and "The Los Angeles Times", the one-time San Diego Chargers planned to announce today that they are moving to Los Angeles for the 2017 season.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Good morning, John.

This would mean, if it happens at Los Angeles, after not having an NFL team for over 20 years, it would add two in less than one year in the Chargers do ended join the Rams. San Diego has not willing to pay for a new stadium. So, yesterday, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos informed the NFL of the team's decision. The team started in the AFL in 1960 before moving to San Diego a year later.

Now, not everyone in San Diego was staying classy. Within hours of the initial report last night, someone threw eggs at the front door of the team's headquarters and rightfully so. Fans in San Diego are mad that their team is taken from them.

All right. Severe weather in Wisconsin causing a scary moment for the Miami Heat. Charter plane slid on an icy runway as the plane was taxiing. The aircraft was towed back to safety after the incident. The team tweeted the plane never left the pavement and everyone okay. The Heat will play the Bucks tomorrow night.

The Dallas Cowboys have a playoff match up with the Green Bay Packers in just three days. A lot of NFL fans teams are done for the season. So, the Cowboys are making it easy for those fans to jump on the bandwagon. They posted an official bandwagon fan application on Twitter.

There are funny questions in there too. Have you ever talked trash about the Dallas Cowboys? Do you mind working on Thanksgiving? The divisional round for the playoffs are Saturday with the Cowboys and Packers playing on Sunday.

All right. So, to all the Clemson fans who may have been praying in the last-second drive on Monday. A local church in piedmont, South Carolina, issued a reminder. If you made promises on Clemson's last drive, service starts at 10:00 a.m.

And, guys, I can tell you, I was on the sideline when they scored the final touchdown. I do remembering seeing players and coaches and mascots down on one knee. They may have a packed house. They might have a packed house.

BERMAN: I love that. All right. Good for them. All right. Coy, thanks.

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

A highly unusual moment as the director of national intelligence reaches out to address concerns about leaks to the media. More on James Clapper's talk with Donald Trump, next.