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Tillerson: Trump "Makes The Decisions"; Tillerson: Trump Backs North Korea Diplomacy; Tillerson On Iran, North Korea; Trump Trying To Repair Ties To Senate; Lawmakers Slam Trump On Health Care Moves; British Actress Accuses Weinstein Of Rape; Firefighters Gaining On California Wildfires; Dire Scene Unfolding In Puerto Rico. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- an independent Russian tv station -- it was -- by an independent Russian tv station. It was first reported by Yahoo! News. Binging "House of Cards" was one of the part of the group's strategy to understand the American political system. That interview also revealed the exact goals of the troll farm specifically to fuel discontent with the U.S. government.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Come on. Our government is far more messed up than "House of Cards." I mean, don't use that. All right. Interesting stuff.

EARLY START continues right now.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says his relationship with President Trump is frank, direct and just fine. Speaking out about diplomatic efforts with Iran and North Korea, and responding to some surprising comments from Senator Bob Corker.

ROMANS: President Trump's important lunch. The president is meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today. On the menu, big bills like tax reform.

BRIGGS: At least 40 dead in brutal Northern California wildfires. Hundreds still missing. Residents starting to return home to see if their homes are still standing.

Good Monday morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Happy to start a new week.

BRIGGS: Happy Monday.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, October 16th. It's 5 a.m. in the east, 6 p.m. in South Korea. Let's start here, shall we? With the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, speaking out about his relationship with President Trump saying it is not tense, and that he and his unconventional boss are working together to, quote, "force action on important global issues." On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Tillerson told Jake Tapper that his conversations with the president are frank and candid, refuting rumors that the two are at odds. The secretary also firmly refused, yet again, to address those reports that he called the president a moron over the summer.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo and they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way. I don't work that way. I don't deal that way. I'm just not going to dignify the question. At the end of the day, he makes decisions, I go out and do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully.


BRIGGS: Secretary Tillerson also laughed off a comment by Republican Senator Bob Corker that the president is trying to, quote," publicly castrate him on foreign policy."


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't want to say anything about the senator calling -- suggesting you've been gelded before the world? It's not anything that bothers you.

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.


BRIGGS: Tillerson also suggested the president's unusual approach to foreign policy with his combative tweets and demands to renegotiate treaties and agreements is all part of a deliberate strategy.


TILLERSON: He himself is an unconventional president. He does not accept the status quo with the many threats that they were confronting in the world today. He is going to take forcing action and often times the tweets are decisions he takes are intended to cause this forcing action to get off of the status quo to force people to take action and move to a different place.


ROMANS: Two areas where the president is taking an unconventional approach, Iran and North Korea, they are also among the most-tense spots in the world right now.

With more on what the secretary said about diplomacy there, CNN's Ryan Brown in Washington.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed a series of topics most specifically the Iran nuclear deal and President Trump's recent decision to not withdraw from it but to decertify it handing it over to Congress in an effort to see if it can be strengthened and addressed what the administration calls serious flaws in the arrangement.

President Trump and Secretary Tillerson both said they want to work with European allies to find ways to strengthen it and to address what they see as Iran's other provocative behavior, particularly its missile development and in support of militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

Now, Secretary Tillerson also touched on North Korea saying that President Trump still supports a diplomatically led effort there despite recent tweets saying direct negotiations with Pyongyang were a waste of time. Tillerson saying the diplomatic effort will continue until the first bombs are dropped.


TILLERSON: I think he does want to be clear with Kim Jong-un, that regime in North Korea, that he has military preparations ready to go, and he has those military options on the table. We have spent substantial time actually perfecting those.

But be clear the president has made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He's not seeking to go to war. He has made it clear to me to continue the diplomatic efforts which we are, and as I told others, those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.


[05:05:00] BROWNE: Now it remains to see what actions the administration can take with its European allies and Congress to bring about a new arrangement on Iran and to see how they can curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Back to you guys.

ROMANS: Thanks, Ryan.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us here this morning, Eugene Scott, political reporter for "The Washington Post." Good to see you. The good news is Rex is intact. Everyone can relax. Is the relationship with the president intact and can this good cop, bad cop dynamic, succeed with Iran and North Korea?

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think we certainly hope so. I mean, listen to him say that the president has made it clear to him that he does not want to go to war. Should in theory be reassuring unless we get a tweet that says differently, right? And that's been the challenge, to get them on the same page.

Sometimes I wonder if as part of the confusion is that they're trying to appeal to different parts of the American population, right. This tough talk, this aggression that we continue to see coming from the president himself seems to be consistent with how he campaigned. And it keeps people on board the Trump train, but I think now he realizes that we need to something a little more mild mannered and that's where Tillerson steps in.

ROMANS: I certainly never thought that my upbringing on my grandparent's farm would come in so handy covering international politics.

Let's talk a little bit about Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, this weekend, Lindsay Graham. The president wants to get tax reform done. He's going to have to start moving quickly. They're having lunch today, Mitch McConnell and the president. What are you expecting?

SCOTT: Well, I'm expecting them to figure out how to communicate how this tax reform will benefit the middle class and low-income Americans because there's been so much going forward. These studies and reports saying that the overwhelming majority, nearly 80 percent, according to one Brooklyn study said they can benefit the top 1 percent of Americans.

And so, this is something that the president not only campaigned on but cannot afford to be the narrative especially coming out of health care repeal efforts. The idea that this could benefit only certain people or should we say harm the majority of people.

ROMANS: And the White House is going to try to -- and they have been over the past few days trying to show how corporate tax cuts will mean a raise for regular workers so trying to say corporate tax reform is good for the regular joe. That's what I think they are going to try to sell today too.

SCOTT: Yes. And I mean, there's no track record in our economy really proving how benefiting big business really helps the little man. So, if Trump can communicate that, he'll probably get some approval ratings that he really needs.

BRIGGS: But the stakes are huge for the Republicans and Steve Bannon has made clear he's going to war with the GOP establishment. That's what he called at the value voters somewhat over the weekend. Lindsey Graham, part of that establishment reacted to how do they handle this war with Steve Bannon. He talked about that on CBS on Sunday.


SENATOR LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a symptom of greater problem. If we don't cut taxes and we don't eventually repeal and replace Obamacare then we're going to lose across the board in the House in 2018 and all of my colleagues running in primaries in 2018 will probably get beat.

It will be the end of Mitch McConnell as we know it. So, this is a symptom of greater problem. If we do cut taxes and we do repeal and replace Obamacare, it doesn't matter what Bannon because we'll win.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Lindsay expanded to say if they lose their majority, he doesn't think Trump will get re-elected. So, with all that being said, why then continue to fight health care instead of fixing the exchanges and put all of the president's energy and focus into tax reform?

SCOTT: I think that would force the president to acknowledge a level of failure that he doesn't yet want to acknowledge, considering how he campaigned. If we're honest, I mean, his campaigning against the Affordable Care Act started before he even entered the presidential race.

You would think in theory that if you have an idea that you think is more exceptional than Obamacare, you'd embrace calling it Trumpcare. But I don't think there's that confidence there yet.

ROMANS: Senator Susan Collin basically said, you know, they are tearing down health care without offering anything in return. Let's listen to what was she said this weekend on "STATE OF THE UNION."


SENATOR SUSAN COLLIN (R), MAINE: What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive health care right now. This is not a bailout of the insurers. What this money is used for is to help low income people afford their deductibles and their copays so that their health care is available to them.


ROMANS: More evidence of that civil war in the Republican Party about how to repeal and replace and how to handle health care.

SCOTT: Yes, and that's a real concern. There was a report that said nearly 70 percent of the people who benefit from the subsidies for low-income people live in states that Trump won and so how do you keep those people on board.

We saw other reports earlier this year that one of the reasons the president probably had a hard time repealing is because most Americans support it before the exchanges remain.

[05:10:08] Most Americans support Obamacare and so I think what's going to have to happen to Graham's point is that they're going to have to figure out a way to communicate to Americans that what they have opposed to what Steve Bannon has is the best vision for the Republican Party.

BRIGGS: All right. Stakes are huge. We'll see you in about 30 minutes. Eugene Scott, "Washington Post."

ROMANS: New allegations surfacing this weekend against disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. British actress, Lysette (ph) Anthony, claiming Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the 1980s on multiple occasions. One of the attacks allegedly taking place in her own home. London's Metropolitan Police confirming a sexual assault investigation has been launched with Weinstein believed to be the target. Three women making accusations. A representative for Weinstein has released this statement on behalf of her client, "Any allegations of nonconsensual sex is vigorously denied by Mr. Weinstein."

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Weinstein's legacy as a top-shelf Indy producer is gradually being dismantled. French President Emmanuel Macron starting the process of stripping of stripping him of the country's highest order of merit, the Legion of Honor.

And over the weekend, Weinstein has expelled from the organization behind the Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences. The Producers Guild will reportedly meet later today to consider similar action.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump blasting health insurance companies, he says, for profiting from Obamacare. Trump holds funding last week from some key Obamacare subsidies calling them insurance company payouts.

Tweeting this, "Health insurance stocks which have gone through the roof during the Obamacare years plunged yesterday after I ended their Dem's windfall." The president is correct, health insurance stocks have been on a tear since Obamacare became law in 2010.

The sector is up 20 percent this year alone. That's despite Obamacare not because of it. Companies have lost millions of dollars under Obamacare mainly due to high claims and low premiums. So, why are the stocks surging?

Well, because health insurers have raked in huge profits elsewhere. Think your employer provided health care, they are making a lot of money there especially in the past few years. Big growth in other areas also like Medicare and less exposure to Obamacare.

They've actually been making these great profits by getting out of the Obamacare business. More companies pull out of the exchanges each year boosting the industry's net income 46 percent in 2016 alone.

Finally, are those cost sharing subsidies payouts? Not exactly. They reimburse insurers for lowering deductibles for 6 million low-income Americans. I mean, it's hard to look at those profit numbers from the insurance industry and feel bad for the insurance industry.

BRIGGS: It's impossible.

ROMANS: But then you look at where they are getting out of the Obamacare markets because they just aren't making any money. They are a for-profit company.

BRIGGS: So, if they're not making obscene profits they're pulling out. That does strengthen --

ROMANS: They're not making any profits. They are losing millions of dollars. If you're a businessman are you going to stay in a business where you're losing?

BRIGGS: No. But that number is something the president will certainly latch on to understandably.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: All right. At least 40 dead in Northern California wildfires. Counties letting residents return to their homes if in fact they're still standing. The latest next.



BRIGGS: Firefighters slowly gaining the upper hand on several deadly wildfires in California. The death toll stands at 40 this morning with hundreds of people unaccounted for and thousands of structures destroyed.

With weather conditions slightly improving, some counties are preparing to allow evacuees to return to their homes if those homes are still standing.

CNN's Dan Simon has more.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, for the first time in a week, firefighters are now striking an optimistic tone about these fires. That's because the winds have died down. That said, there are still trouble spots.

I want to show you where we are. This is the Oakmont fire. You can see a number of spot fires burning in the canyon. For now, firefighters are leaving those blazes alone because they're not threatening any populated areas, but they are watching things very carefully.

There are a number of firefighters in the area just to make sure things don't get out of control and we don't see any more structures going up in flames. It was a tough Saturday night for the community of Sonoma. That's when the winds kicked up and we saw a number of structures burn.

There are also some evacuations, but Sunday a different story with the winds dying down, no longer under a red flag warning and once against firefighters like what they're seeing. They are beginning to make progress.

The Tubbs fire, which was the most destructive fire in Santa Rosa, the containment numbers are way up, 60 percent or more. So, hopefully, firefighters are now turning a corner. Christine and Dave, back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Dan Simon, thank you for that this morning.

A dire situation unraveling in Puerto Rico, nearly a month after Hurricane Maria hit, the death toll now rising to 48. Puerto Ricans face a daily struggle for food, water, and other necessities.

It is so bad in one particular area, residents are tapping into well water designated by the federal government as a toxic superfund site. Those sites have the country's very worst ground pollution.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, nearly a month after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, there's still a great deal of concern about where some Puerto Ricans are getting their drinking water.

Government officials here say about 70 percent of the island has had its drinking water restored, but in one particular area, in the town of Dorado, west of the capital here in San Juan, there is a site called the superfund site.

For those of you not familiar with that means, it's a designation from the Environmental Protection Agency that says that the ground there is contaminated with highly toxic materials.

[05:20:02] And because of that, there are also some water wells on that site, and there are reports that some people have been tapping into those water wells to use as drinking water and the water around their home since just after the storm.

We've witnessed this ourselves. EPA teams have been at a number of those wells throughout the weekend carrying out water sampling, but it will take the better part of this week to determine exactly what is in that water.

We caught up with one of those EPA officials at that site. This is what he said to say.


GARY LIPSON, EPA INCIDENT COMMANDER, PUERTO RICO OPERATIONS: There's urgency. It's a concern and it's a concern both for public health and perception, both, we understand that people are hurting right now. We understand there's a lot of thirsty people out there and they're accessing whatever water they can. And we're trying to ascertain if it does pose any hazards or not.


LAVANDERA: EPA officials say if the testing does come back to show that there are high levels of toxins in this water, they do say that they believe it would take long-term exposure of drinking this water for a very long period of time to suffer any real serious health consequences.

But despite that we've also talked to independent water experts who are also very disturbed by the fact that this was even going on at all. So, some serious questions and really kind of points to the sign of just how desperate the situation has been here on this island for many Puerto Ricans as they've desperately been searching for water to live on here for the better part of the last month -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: What a terrible choice.


ROMANS: Go without, thirsty or drinking potentially contaminated water.

BRIGGS: Devastating. All right. The biggest story in sports, Green Bay Packers fans in shock this morning. Their star quarterback there, Aaron Rodgers could be lost for the season. Coy Wire with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report" next.



BRIGGS: All right. Colin Kaepernick claiming all 32 owners in the NFL are colluding to keep him unemployed.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. Hi, Dave. Grievance has been filed against the NFL on behalf of Colin Kaepernick under the (inaudible) collective bargaining agreement. His attorney, Mark Geragos (ph), said this was done only after pursuing every possible avenue with all NFL teams.

And essentially that his client shouldn't be denied employment for his peaceful political protest. Remember Kaepernick was the first started these protests of racial and social injustice during the national anthem last season and hasn't been picked up by any NFL team since he opted out of his contract with the 49ers following last season.

The NFL Players Association said they will support him, but they released a statement saying in part, quote, "We first learned through media reports today," meaning yesterday, "that Mr. Kaepernick filed a grievance claiming collusion through our arbitration system and is represented by his own counsel," unquote.

Now the NFL has not yet commented on this situation. Let's keep an eye on that for you this morning. Adding to the growing list of high profile players that will miss significant time due to injury, Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, suffered a broken collarbone.

And the Packers lost to the Vikings yesterday. It was linebacker, Anthony Parr, driving Rodgers, throwing shoulder into the turf and some reports say it's doubtful that Rodgers will return all season.

We've seen Texas JJ Watt, Giant's Odell Beckham Jr., Patriots Julian Edelman among others missing significant time. That's Brett Hangley (ph) there who will be Rodgers back up for Green Bay.

Now, looking like he just stepped off the set of "Game of Thrones," Dodgers' third baseman, Justin Turner played hero for the Dodgers when they were playing the Cubs. Driving in all four runs. Dodgers win 4- 1 in Los Angeles and lead the series 2-0. Now the scene will shift back to Wrigley Field in Chicago for game three tomorrow.

Game three of the ALCS is tonight at Yankee Stadium as the Astros hold a 2-0 lead in that series. There's a huge Houston Astros fan by the name of Andy Scholes, who is in New York City for that game. He may be on the set tomorrow morning if the Astros win trying to claim the whole "Bleacher Report" for himself.


BRIGGS: It's all on CC. Justin Turner is awesome, right?

ROMANS: Oh, my gosh. Looks like a Viking warrior.

BRIGGS: He is clutch.

WIRE: That guy has more beard hair than I ever had on my entire body.

ROMANS: All right. Coy, thanks.

All right. Secretary of the State Rex Tillerson speaking out.


TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.


ROMANS: Jake Tapper's giggle. I wanted to put it on a loop.

BRIGGS: Loop it.

ROMANS: Tillerson talking policy, his relationship with the president, comments from Senator Bob Corker suggesting the secretary's manhood may be in peril. Yes, we are talking manhood on Monday morning. That's next.