Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Fuming Over Price's Travel; Help for Puerto Rico. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Growing scandal around Health Secretary Tom Price. We learned he used government planes for two foreign trips, in addition to chartering private planes. Now he says he'll reimburse the government but not entirely.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And in Puerto Rico, a change in leadership from military recovery effort. Homeland security chief heads there today, as a flash flood warning could make a bad situation worse for millions of Americans.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: It's still tough to see those shots.

I'm Dave Briggs, Friday, September 29th. It is 4:00 in the East.

Up first, Tom Price facing even more scrutiny. New details emerge about his high costs travel habits on the taxpayers' dime. In addition to chartering private jets for official business, the secretary of health and human services also traveled on government aircraft for two multi-stop international trips. "Politico" reporting they cost more than a half a million dollars.

ROMANS: Price already under scrutiny for chartering dozens of private planes, insists all the flights were approved in advance.


TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: All of these trips were official business. All of them were within budget. All of them were approved by the normal processes that every other administration has gone through, prior to the trip. Not after.


ROMANS: President Trump has said to be fuming over the new revelations and all the negative press surrounding them.

For his part, Secretary Price is vowing to reimburse taxpayers for the private charter, short of.

Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price even in hotter water than he was just earlier this week. A new revelation of more travel, this time foreign travel, spending some half a million dollars or so, traveling to points across the world.

Now, this is something he was already on thin ice with the president. He agreed late Thursday to reimburse the government for portions of his travel on private jets. He said he would send a check for some $52,000 for the price of his seat on some of these planes, but not the full cost of the aircraft.

We caught up with Tom Price last night in Washington to ask him about his job security. This is what he said.

REPORTER: The check that you're writing, will that satisfy your bosses and the taxpayers' questions?

PRICE: I think that we've done right now is to demonstrate good faith effort and we've heard the concern and the criticism, and we look forward to the inspector general's report.

REPORTER: Do you plan to stay on the job?

PRICE: Absolutely.

ZELENY: Now, again, he said absolutely he would hold on to his job, but that is not a decision for him to make. President Trump will decide whether Tom Price will remain in the cabinet, whether he will stay on board as one of his more senior advisers.

We do know by talking to people close to the White House the president is increasingly losing patience with this ongoing story, this drip, drip, drip, of new flights, new destinations here. So, the president will have a decision to make whether he decides to keep Tom Price on board.

Tom Price not on good footing with the president. These stories certainly do not give the White House confidence as they're trying to deal with so many other things in Puerto Rico, tax reform and they're dealing with this -- even more controversy from Tom Price -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Not what they needed indeed. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Now, to clear a few things up, the use of military jets by cabinet officials needs a sign-off from the White House. And that procedure began under President Obama, usually requests come from officials who need to maintain secured communications though during flights. Since, the inauguration, the White House authorized 77 government flights for cabinet officials. Compare to the same period in 2009 when the Obama administration approved 94 flights.

ROMANS: So, 77 for this administration, 94 for the Obama administration.

Meantime, we're learning tensions are running high at the Department of Health and Human Services. A source tells CNN there's a witch hunt for leakers and people are hiring lawyers at their own expense.

Of course, this morning, also Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides have taken several flights on Friday or military aircraft, including flights to home state of Montana, and private flights between two Caribbean islands.

Four cabinet members have now been found to be using non-commercial planes at taxpayers' expense.

BRIGGS: CNN also learning exclusively that Jared Kushner did not disclose the use of his personal e-mail account during a private interview with the Senate intelligence committee staff. It is now being revealed that the president's son-in-law and senior adviser used the account for official government business.

ROMANS: The heads of the Intel Committee said to be so mad at Kushner's omission, they sent a letter telling him to double-check that he's turned over every relevant document to the committee.

[04:05:01] Meantime, "Politico" reports the White House has launched an internal investigation of private email use, pulling batches of emails on the White House server to and from the private accounts of senior aides.

CNN has not confirmed that "Politico" reporting.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, a flash flood warning in effect for Puerto Rico, threatening to compound the misery on this hurricane-battered island. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke travels to Puerto Rico today where she'll meet with the governor and FEMA official the to discuss the response effort. Right now, though, widespread confusion surrounding the delivery of life-saving supplies.

ROMANS: According to the governor of Puerto Rico, there are 3,000 containers stuck in port, 3,000 of them. Some of them may not be related to hurricane relief. Earlier, CNN had been told by shipping officials as many as 10,000 containers were stuck. Either way, as you can see, distribution remains a critical issue.

BRIGGS: The Pentagon has just appointed Lieutenant Jeffrey Buchanan to lead all military efforts in Puerto Rico, trying to improve distribution networks of these relief supplies. Listen to the president's homeland security adviser Tom Bossert when he was asked why it took so long to appoint Buchanan.


ZELENY: Do you acknowledge it was a mistake looking back to not have this on the ground earlier?

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: No, not at all. In fact that doesn't affect the way we stage equipment and the way we handle area command and field operational commands. This is textbook and it's been done well.


ROMANS: About 7,500 U.S. troops and 10,000 federal relief workers are on the ground in Puerto Rico. Right now, there are more than 10,000 people in 160 shelters in Puerto Rico. The island's power grid is not expected to come back fully for months. Ninety percent of the cell sites on the island are out of service.

BRIGGS: And according to Puerto Rico's governor, an airplane with cash will be arriving soon to ease pressure on banks running low on money. The U.S. Department of Transportation sending $40 million to help restore essential service on roads and bridges. Buses in San Juan resume limited service this morning with more routes expected to reopen next week.

ROMANS: Right, there are still pockets of Puerto Rico which have yet to see FEMA or anyone else from the outside world, and that's forcing residents to take extreme measures for basic supplies.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson has more from hard- hit San Lorenzo.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, more than a week since the hurricane ripped through this island, we're still seeing communities that have not gotten assistance from the outside world. And I traveled about 45 minutes by car to where the road ends in a dead-end because the bridge to a small town called San Lorenzo was wiped out by flashfloods after the hurricane. And there we saw a stricken community that has no electricity, no running water, no telecommunications at all, and access from that town to the outside world, people are basically forced to ford river with knee-high water and then since they can't take their vehicles across, they basically walk to reach, for example, the nearest super market where they can try to buy food, to then walk and bring back and carry across the river.

So, a very difficult situation for that community, which says it has gotten one visit from some FEMA representative. It has gotten several visits from the municipal mayor, but it has not gotten any assistance whatsoever, the community says, from the outside world. No food, no fuel. Though we, during our visit, we did see several military helicopters flying overhead. They never stopped to help the people in that community. Some of whom have seen their houses completely destroyed, roofs blown in, walls blown down by the storm -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Ivan Watson, thanks.

The U.S. Virgin Islands still facing trouble as well. Two thirds of the cell service on the island still knocked down. St. John, no cell service at all. This weekend, Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas cruise ship will evacuate 1,000 residents from the three islands with medical need. Priority to high risk pregnant women, the elderly, and those with illnesses or injuries requiring urgent care.

ROMANS: I can't imagine what it would be like to have diabetes or be seven months pregnant or have any kind of -- have a child with special needs or have little children. I mean, it would be really, really frightening.

BRIGGS: And kudos to Royal Caribbean, but certainly an odd dynamic when the private, you know, cruise shipping industry is doing the job of the government.

ROMANS: I know American Airlines yesterday had its first flight into and out of St. Thomas. So that airport -- presumably, that went well. I mean, that airport is now open. And it has opened for sometime. So, that's part of the process as we've seen in Puerto Rico is getting the airport up and running.

In Florida, the first FEMA trailers are arriving in Key West from Monroe County residents who lost their homes to Hurricane Irma. So far, FEMA officials have already approved 84 trailers for storm survivors.

[04:10:03] Irma pounded the religion nearly three weeks ago, leaving the Middle and Lower Keys badly damaged. The next goal for FEMA is install the trailers on pads so they can become inhabitable as soon as they're hooked up to utilities.

BRIGGS: The EPA confirms the flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused a leak in one of Houston's most vulnerable superfund sites.

ROMANS: Oh, no.

BRIGGS: The San Jacinto waste pits, a protective cap on the site has been damaged, and sample show underlying waste materials was exposed. The pit from a paper mill that's been deposited for decades. Test results from one of the 14 areas tests uncovered dioxins at more than 2,300 times the acceptable level.

ROMANS: All right. The White House already defending its tax plan. The president calls it a middle class miracle. Critics say the plan favors business and the rich. And some, some middle class Americans may even pay a little more.

Economic adviser Gary Cohn insists no tax package guarantees zero tax increases.


GARY COHN, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: Our tax plan is aimed at making sure we give middle class Americans a tax cut. Remember, we have 50 states, we have counties, we have cities, we have long-term capital gains, we have short term capital gains. We have all different types of structures. I'll guarantee you, I'll guarantee you, you could find someone in this country -- maybe one person -- who their taxes may not go down. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Taxes, of course, are complicated. The plan lacks details. The tax writers on the committee will be able to fill them in those details. So, no telling yet how it benefits the middle class.

Two thing the will benefit the middle class. Gary Cohn made this point, a higher child tax credit and doubling the standard deduction. But all of the tax breaks gone, including for state and local taxes. Who uses that? Mainly middle class Americans in high tax states like California, New York, New Jersey. So, House Republicans for those states are already pushing back on this worried that their constituents will pay more.

And yesterday in that briefing at the podium, Gary Cohn, he did say, look, there could be a family of four who make $100,000, two incomes. They could see their taxes overall go down, because of child tax credit, doubling of the standard deduction and the like.


ROMANS: You know, most people don't file for all those deductions anyway. But there are others who looked at this analysis and say, if you have more than two kids, you live in a high tax state, you could see the taxes go just a little bit.

I think they're really trying to sell middle class tax reform here. But what Wall Street likes --

BRIGGS: But we don't have it yet.

ROMANS: Right, tax cuts for businesses, that's what they really care about. That's what this vehicle is for.

BRIGGS: Gary Cohn had a tough time pushing back of the notion that the president's own personal tax bill won't go down dramatically, insisting that Americans don't care about that.

ROMANS: We have a great story on CNNMoney about the four ways Donald Trump and his family will benefit from this tax plan.

BRIGGS: And the three letters, AMT.

All right. Players and fans making a statement at last night's Packers-Bears game at Lambeau. Did anyone take a knee to protest the president?


[04:17:08] ROMANS: CNN has learned exclusively that a Russian-linked social media campaign called blacktivist used Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt to stoke racial tensions in the U.S. during the 2016 election. According to two sources with knowledge of the matter, both accounts regularly shared content intended to deepen the racial divide and stir up outrage. BRIGGS: The Facebook account had 360,000 likes. That's more than the verified Black Lives Matter account on Facebook which has just over 301,000 likes. The Blackivist Twitter account has been handed over to Congress. The Facebook account expected to be turned over in the coming days.

ROMANS: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman confirmed by the Senate as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. He previously served at the U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama, before running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Huntsman has taken a much harder stance against Russia than the president has. During his confirmation hearing, Huntsman said there is, quote, no question Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

BRIGGS: Lawyers for the Trump administration demanding the private account information of thousands of Facebook users. CNN has learned search warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users described as anti-administration activists. One of those users created a page where inauguration day protests were organized and discussed.

ROMANS: That page was visited by an estimated 6,000 users. Information on all these users could be accessed by the government if they get access to the three accounts they seek. The ACLU filed a motion to dismiss the warrants. So far, no comment from Facebook.

BRIGGS: Ahead, a congressman shot on a baseball field this spring returns to the people's house.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: When I was laying out on that ball field, the first thing I did once I was down and couldn't move anymore, is I just started to pray. Pretty much every one of those prayers was answered.


BRIGGS: All of that --

ROMANS: Great to see him back.

BRIGGS: More of what Steve Scalise told his emotional colleagues, next.


[04:23:37] ROMANS: A triumphant return to Capitol Hill for Congressman Steve Scalise.

The House Republican whip was shot in June at a congressional baseball practice. On Thursday, he returned to the Hill for the first time since he was wounded.

BRIGGS: Scalise calls himself a living example that miracles really do happen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCALISE: That's why I'm so excited to be back because as we're fighting through the issues of the day, let's just keep in mind that we rise above the challenges of the day and understand it's not just us and our constituents and the country, the United States that's counting on us being successful. People all around the world that believe in freedom are counting on as well.


BRIGGS: Scalise is planning to resume his job while continuing outpatient rehabilitation.

ROMANS: Really wish him the best, he looked strong.

BRIGGS: Nice to see some unity on Capitol Hill.

Another game, another statement by NFL players, not to mention the fans. No kneeling during the national anthem Thursday. Instead, players and coaches for the Bears and Packers stood and locked arms during the playing of the national anthem. And some fans at Lambeau Field locked their arms in unison. Some, not many, following through on a request by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

All of this, of course, in the wake of protests by players responding to President Trump's comments calling players who kneeled during the anthem SOBs and saying they should be fired.

[04:25:05] As for the game that kicked off week four of the NFL, no contest, the injury-riddled Packers beat up on the Bears 35-14. There were chants of "USA, USA" from the fans there at Lambeau Field, trying to make their voices heard.

ROMANS: All right. Actress Julia Louis Dreyfus revealing she has breast cancer. The star of "Veep" and "Seinfeld" posting this message on Twitter: One in eight women get breast cancer today. I'm the one.

Dreyfus also saying she has a supportive family and friends and fantastic insurance through her union. She made a plea for universal health care to help others facing a similar fight who don't have the protection that she does. The 56-year-old Emmy winner getting plenty of support from Hollywood, her "Veep" co-stars, and real life veep, Joe Biden, who tweeted: We Veeps stick together, Jill and I and all the Bidens are with you, Julia.

Wish her the best.

BRIGGS: I don't know there's a funnier woman of our generation. I guess in my particularly -- I mean, she's outstanding.

ROMANS: She's talented. Yes, she really is.

BRIGGS: Everything she's done.

All right. Health Secretary Tom Price facing growing scrutiny over his air travel, not only private jets, military flights overseas, and we're told the president is not pleased.