Return to Transcripts main page


Controversy for HHS Nominee; 14 Cabinet Picks Still Await Hearings; Kerry Speaks Out; FBI Arrests Wife of Orlando Nightclub Shooter; Istanbul Attacker Said to Confess. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New overnight, a potentially devastating blow to the president-elect's nominee to lead the Health Department. A CNN investigation has found he pursued legislation to help a company he just invested in. Now, Tom Price is facing a rough confirmation with the future of health care hanging in the balance.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A number of nominees getting set to face the Senate. But could unfinished ethics reviews get in the way, making for a less than full cabinet when Donald Trump takes office on Friday?

ROMANS: And before he leaves office, Secretary of State John Kerry weighing in on Trump's penchant for making his views heard. Hear how Kerry cautions against being overly involved.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: Nice to see you this morning. I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, January 17th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And new trouble for a Trump cabinet nominee this morning. A CNN report has Democrats calling for an ethics investigation of Congressman Tom Price, the president-elect's pick to be secretary of health and human services. The question: did he use his congressional influence for personal profit?

A review of House records shows that Price bought as much as $15,000 worth of a stock in a hip and knee implant-maker, Zimmer Biomet. And just days later, he introduced legislation that would have directly benefitted the company. The hip act would have delayed the change in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, a change that would have seriously hurt that company Zimmer Biomet and not long after Price fired the bill, the political action committee for the company donated $1,000 to Price's re-election fund. Follow the bouncing ball.

After first keeping silent there, Congressman Price is now responding after CNN aired the story. A Price aide said that the stock was purchased by a broker without the congressman's knowledge. An aide said in a testament, "Any effort to connect the introduction of Dr. Price's legislation co- sponsored with Democrats, to a campaign contribution is demonstrably. Dr. Price is fully complying with the recommendations put forth by the Office of Government Ethics."

Spokesperson for Zimmer Biomet did not respond to our request for comment.

ROMANS: All this has Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer renewing calls for an ethics probe of Price. Schumer statement says, quote, "This new report makes clear that isn't just a couple of questionable trades, but rather a clear and troubling pattern of Congressman Price trading stock and using his office to benefit the companies in which he is investing. This report and his previous trades cast serous doubt on whether Congressman Price is fit to hold the office of Secretary for Health and Human Services."

Price has already promised to divest from 43 companies, including Zimmer Biomet, after he is confirmed. As Health and Human Services secretary, price would be a key player in Trump's effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Mr. Donald Trump has said the he will unveil his replacement for Obamacare after Price is confirmed.

BERMAN: Now, Congressman Price is one of several nominees facing confirmation hearings this week and time is running out to complete the ethics and financial review process. Fourteen cabinet picks must still sit for Senate hearings and only five have finalized the required paperwork.

Our Jeff Zeleny previews who faces the Senate this week and what to expect.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, three days to go before Donald Trump takes office and another round of confirmation hearings here on Capitol Hill. Up today, Interior and Education. Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana is the candidate for Interior. Betsy DeVos, a long time education reformer from Michigan is the candidate for secretary of education. Now, both of these nominees, like others of Donald Trump, are expected to eventually be confirmed. But there are some specific questions about some of their policies.

But one thing that some Republicans are concerned about this week. There simply will not be as many cabinet members who are likely to be confirmed by the time Donald Trump takes office on Friday.

Up also this week, the treasury secretary nominee, perhaps one of the most controversial, as well as Tom Price. So, this week is setting up to be as contentious as last week. And one thing that we are seeing, some of these cabinet nominees simply have different views than Donald Trump on a number of issues. So, look for senators to exploit those differences or simply find out more about those differences here.

But regardless, three days from now, Donald Trump takes office whether or not all his cabinet secretaries are in place -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much for that. And we'll be hearing from both the commerce secretary and treasury secretary will have confirmation hearings this week. It will really paint kind of the picture of what the money is going to look out.

There's also word the labor nominee maybe having second thoughts about that job. A business ally and Republican sources telling CNN, fast food executive Andrew Puzder is unhappy about the barrage, relentless really barrage of criticism unloaded by Democrats, by unions, by other liberal groups, by workers rights groups, by progressives.

One Republican told CNN, quote, "He may be bailing. He is not into the pounding he is taking and paperwork."

[04:05:01] After CNN first reported word of his doubts, he tweeted, "I'm looking forward to my hearing. The hearing was initially scheduled his week, but probably now won't happen until next week.

And again, the pounding he is getting is from folks who say, look, this is somebody's whose company has labor violations. This is someone who doesn't believe in $15 wage. This is someone who has a history of making profits by not paying workers more, and that's where the workers are going to --

BERMAN: There is also maybe a perception issue on the behalf of Mr. Puzder, which is when you are in politics for your whole career, at least for a period time, you are used to the rough and tumble.


BERMAN: When you are a businessman, you know, or woman, you are not necessarily used to this kind of scrutiny. And a lot don't like it.

ROMANS: Well, I'll tell you that a lot of those workers rights groups are saying, they are vowing that they're going to keep up the criticism all the way through the hearing.

BERMAN: But it is an unusual -- I think that, you know, the idea that it is an unusual focus or spotlight on him maybe misguided. I think it's just unusual spotlight of the cabinet nominees face.

ROMANS: All right. Two of Trump's top men are having hearings this week. Donald Trump's secretary of commerce pick, Wilbur Ross. He faces lawmakers Wednesday. Now, we'll see how tough he plans to be on trade with China and Mexico. There are some who think, honestly, it could be market moving this kind of a hearing. This incoming administration is serious about slapping tariffs on imports.

The treasury secretary nominee, Steve Mnuchin, is on the Hill Thursday. Expect him to be hammered on the profits he made after the financial crisis, most notably from failed mortgage lender IndyMac. Mnuchin is also a Goldman Sachs alum, along with three other top picks, including the chief strategist Steve Bannon, the chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Jay Clayton, that's Trump's pick to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. He advised Goldman Sachs on its government bailout. His wife works there.

This list clashes with Trump's campaign rhetoric. He blasted Hillary Clinton's paid speeches at Goldman, even featured the bank's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein in this sort of rooting and dangerous sounding campaign ad where he ripped the financial industry and Goldman Sachs. But then he reached into the bank to tap some of the top talent.

A lot of people on the street are saying, Berman, that, you know, Goldman Sachs is back. Goldman Sachs is back, after being punched for all of the years as the face of the crisis. Goldman is back.

BERMAN: I'm not sure Goldman is back. It's never the underdog, you know? I mean, back from what is the question.

Just three days to go until the inauguration, with the whole world listening very closely to every word that the president-elect speaks. In last few days, he made new comments about NATO, China, the European Union, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policy, calling it catastrophic.

Now, the outgoing secretary of state, John Kerry, is weighing in on the president-elect's statement.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I thought frankly it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics about the countries in a quite direct manner. And he'll have to speak to that as of Friday. You know, he's responsible for that relationship.


BERMAN: As for Merkel, she said she will wait until after the inauguration to engage with Donald Trump.

ROMANS: Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan taking a parting shot at President-elect Trump. Brennan insists he is not responsible for leaking details of an unsubstantiated dossier on Trump, as the president-elect suggested Sunday on Twitter.

And he calls the president-elect's comments comparing the U.S. intelligence community to Nazi Germany, offensive. Brennan tells "The Wall Street Journal" in part, "It's when there are allegations about leaking or about dishonesty, or a lack of integrity, that's where I think the line is crossed. Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis, I found that very repugnant."

BERMAN: In a "Wall Street Journal" report, he got choked up at the end of this interview, where he talked about the last time he will go and look at those stars, that wall of remembrance at the CIA.

All right. These days, the president-elect is talking about building friendlier relations with Russia. But less than three years ago, Donald Trump's message was that Moscow is the United States' greatest adversary.

CNN's KFILE uncovered a series of interviews in which Mr. Trump blasted Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea. In March 2014 interviews with FOX News and NBC, Donald Trump even suggested imposing sanctions against Russia and he agreed with then-candidate Mitt Romney's assessment during the 2012 presidential race that Russia is America's number one geopolitical foe. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Mitt was right. And he was also right when he mentioned in one of the debates about Russia, and he said Russia is our biggest problem. Russia is not strong economically, and we could do a lot of things to do numbers on them if we wanted to.

We should definitely be strong. We should definitely do sanctions. And we have to show some strength. I mean, Putin has eaten Obama's lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time.


ROMANS: New fallout from another KFILE report. Conservative author Monica Crowley is backing off her appointment to a top national security communications post.

[04:10:02] KFILE revealed earlier this month that Crowley plagiarized more than 50 passages in her 2012 book. She also apparently plagiarized thousands of words in her PhD dissertation. She issued a statement saying she appreciates being asked to join the administration. She will continue to support Trump's agenda. She makes no mention of those plagiarism charges.

BERMAN: I'm not sure there is much to say about that (INAUDIBLE) KFILE report.

President-elect Donald Trump and vice president-elect, they head to Washington today ahead of the inauguration on Friday. No details have been released about their schedule today. The Trump transition team is trying to ease after the president-elect feuded with civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis. Adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested the Georgia congressman is to blame for questioning the legitimacy of Donald's Trump victory.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, INCOMING COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Donald Trump calls himself a counter-puncher. He does not draw first blood. That was the case here too. You can respect Congressman Lewis' vaunted place in our history and still defend yourself. I wonder why, in a week that starts -- starting off the week where you end being the president of the United States, he has to say that about your election.


BERMAN: The president-elect met with the son of Martin Luther King Jr. at Trump Tower, and Martin Luther King III offered a message of reconciliation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARTIN LUTHER KING III, SON OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Things get said on both sides in the heat of emotion. And at some point, this nation, we've got to move forward. We can't stay -- I mean, people are literally probably dying. We need to be talking about how do we feed people, how do we clothe people, how do we create the best education system? That's what we need to be focused on.


BERMAN: The list of Democratic representatives not attending the inauguration is now up to 41.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight: the three-year search for missing Malaysia Flight 370 has now been suspended. In a joint statement, Australia, China and Malaysia led the search. Despite the best science, best cutting edge technology. They have been unable to locate that aircraft. MH370 vanished 2014 over the Indian Ocean en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people in board.

In response, the MH370 family support group Voice 370 issued its own statement saying, "In our view, extending the search to the area defined by the experts is an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety. Commercial planes cannot just be allowed to disappear without a trace."

BERMAN: It's got to be so hard for those families. They have nothing. Despite the fact that debris is now washing up on the coast of Africa.

All right. Seven months after the deadly attack at the nightclub in Orlando, the attacker's wife is now facing charges. Why did the authorities finally decide to pursue criminal action?


[04:15:47] ROMANS: It took seven months, but federal prosecutors believe they now have enough evidence to charge the wife of Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Monday, the FBI arrested Noor Salman at her home in northern California in connection with that attack.

The police chief in Orlando telling CNN her arrest was a long time coming.


JOHN MINA, ORLANDO POLICE CHIEF: There's no doubt in my mind based on the information that I knew and I received from the FBI for the past seven months that she knew, that she knew aided and she could have prevented this tragedy.


ROMANS: Noor Salman is expected to make her initial appearance in federal court this morning. We get more from CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John and Christine. We have learned investigators have pressed federal charges after the seven-month investigation. Obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting her husband in part based on what Noor Salman told investigators and her story not standing up to the facts, according to officials we've spoken with.

We learned she allegedly told investigators her husband, Omar Mateen, the man responsible for the deadly rampage at Orlando's Pulse nightclub was violent and abusive to her and at times she feared for her life. But law enforcement officials say she was complicit in other actions by her own free will based on evidence uncovered in this investigation. And officials tell us that she accompanied Mateen to potential targets in the weeks before the attacks. She went with him to buy the guns used in the attack. She initially told investigators, though, that she didn't know of her husband's specific plans and what he wanted to do at Pulse nightclub.

Officials also tell us Mateen put documents, including his life insurance policy in her name before the attack and bought her expensive piece of jewelry just before the shooting. And the night before the shooting, she saw him leave the house upset with guns in his bag, but didn't call authorities.

During the three-hour massacre, officials say the two allegedly exchanged text messages and Salman repeatedly called her husband.

Salman's attorneys released a statement saying, "Noor Salman had no foreknowledge nor could she predict what Omar Mateen intended to do that tragic night. Noor has told her story of abuse at his hands. We believe it is misguided and wrong to prosecute her and that it dishonors the memories of the victims to punish an innocent person" -- John and Christine.

BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

All right. The last man to walk on the moon, a great American pioneer, has died. Astronaut Gene Cernan, one of a dozen astronauts to walk on the moon. He took the final steps as commander of the Apollo 17 mission in December of 1972.


GENE CERNAN, U.S. ASTRONAUT: I would like history to record that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.


BERMAN: Shame to have never gone back all that time ago.

ROMANS: Forty-four years.

BERMAN: Forty-four years. Gene Cernan, also just one of three astronauts who went to the moon twice, not walk on the moon but went to the moon, Apollo 10. He actually piloted the landing aircraft about eight miles off the surface.

His family says he died following ongoing health issues. They say his passion for space exploration never waned. Gene Cernan was 82 years old.

ROMANS: Just think of the amazing period of time in American history --

BERMAN: Crazy, right?

ROMANS: You know, the things that they were accomplishing.

BERMAN: But it was all between 1969 and 1972, all the moon missions took place for that period of time.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

New details overnight after police captured the man they say opened fire in the crowded nightclub in Turkey New Year's Eve. Where he was hunted down and what he is telling investigators.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight: Russia's top diplomat delivered what seemed to deliver a final shot at the Obama administration. Sergei Lavrov suggested that the incoming Trump administration take up more pragmatic approaches to problem-solving.

Let's get more on this. Let's bring in former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, live from Moscow.

Jill, what exactly did Lavrov say?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, what he did say, I think, one of the most interesting things was they're not really counting on exactly what Donald Trump will do. In fact, he said the foreign policy of Donald Trump is very different from Republicans or Democrats previously. It is, as he put it, the world as Donald Trump sees it.

So, that said, what the Russian foreign minister is saying, look, let's forget about values. Values are only kind of the fig leaf for regime change and things that happen in Ukraine and Arab Spring. Let's be pragmatic.

I think this, John, is the approach that they're going to take which is saying Donald Trump, you are a businessman. Let's forget about all this value stuff and let's work together concretely on certain issues. And one of those would be terrorism.

And then, also, specifically, remember we were reporting that Mr. Trump had proposed kind of a deal if the U.S. gave up sanctions and maybe the Russians could have some type of agreement on reducing nuclear arms. And Minister Lavrov said, "I don't see it." But then that said, after kind of dismissing that, he did say, but for both of us, a priority is strategic stability and we should work together on that. And then one final dig at the Obama administration, he said, strategic stability that was destroyed by the Obama administration -- John.

BERMAN: Carefully chosen words to be sure. Jill Dougherty, thanks so much.

ROMANS: The suspected gunman opened fire inside an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Eve is in police custody this morning. He and four others were arrested during a police operation late Monday.

Now, he is speaking to investigators, we've learned some stunning details. I want to go live to Istanbul and get the very latest this morning from CNN's Ian Lee.

And tell us where they found him.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we are finally learning who he is.

[04:25:03] Abdulkadir Masharipov is the name of the man the Turkish authorities say carried out that deadly nightclub shooting. The operation happened late last night in the Esenyurt (ph) neighborhood. That is 20 miles from the Reina nightclub where he carried that attack and killed 39 people. Four other people, as you said, were arrested with him. One Iraqi man, an Egyptian women, and two other women they say are from Africa.

He's already confessed to carrying out this attack according to Turkish authorities. They also say his fingerprints match those that were found on the gun at the scene. This was a massive security operation, thousands of personnel scouring the country looking for him. They had over 7,000 hours of video surveillance they were going through to try to find him.

They arrested 50 people at 150 different raids arresting 50 members of ISIS according to the Turkish authorities.

So, they are glad that not only were they able to stop him, but they were able to capture him alive. And then they will be able to get valuable intelligence after they interrogated him. But Istanbul, Turkey, is breathing a sigh of relief today.

We are hearing from the nightclub owner who said that he feels this rush of relief going through him, that a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders of not just him, but the victims and their families that this man is no longer walking the streets, and really the country is relieved that two weeks after this attack, they finally got the man.

ROMANS: Yes, that added level of terror to commit something like that and slip away into the population. Certainly, certainly a relief what they found, who think is their man. Thank you so much for that, Ian Lee for us in Istanbul this morning.

BERMAN: All right. With the process of repealing Obamacare under way, the man charged with replacing it in danger of a messy confirmation. The CNN investigation that Democrats will certainly be asking about. That's coming up.