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Mueller Team Questions Kushner About Flynn; Trump Calls Kim Jong-un "A Sick Puppy" ; Lauer Fired: When Will He Speak?; Trump Tweets Draw Outrage. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Russia special counsel taking no chances of Michael Flynn. And to make sure there's nothing they've missed, investigators turned to another key figure, Jared Kushner.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Outrage and condemnation as the commander- in-chief tweets out violent videos, Islamophobic, fascist, hateful British group. Now, even the most staunch American ally voicing anger.

ROMANS: And still no sign of Matt Lauer since his abrupt firing from NBC over accusations of sexual misconduct. New accusers coming forward in the hours after he was taken off "Today".

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

BRIGGS: It was a stunner. I'm Dave Briggs.

When I sat there and heard that news, I think all of this in this business and America were just shocked by it. We'll talk more about Matt Lauer in a bit.

It's Thursday, November 30th. Four a.m. in the East, it is 9:00 a.m. in London, 6:00 p.m. in Seoul.

This morning, new signs though the special counsel's Russia investigation is zeroing in on former national security adviser Michael Flynn. As first reported by CNN, senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law met earlier this month with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. A source familiar with the meeting tells us Flynn was the main topic of conversation.

ROMANS: The source says investigators wanted to make sure Kushner does not have information that would clear Flynn of wrongdoing. This after Flynn's lawyer told president Trump's legal team last week he would no longer share information about the investigation with them. That's just one of the indications possible. Plea deal for Flynn is in the works.

Justice correspondent Pamela Brown has more from Washington.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine and Dave.

CNN has learned that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor has met with Robert Mueller's team. Earlier this month Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn worked together closely. Foreign policy was in Kushner's portfolio, Flynn was the former national security adviser. So, they're scheduled to intersect. Their paths crossed.

So, it would make sense that the special counsel team would interview Kushner about Flynn specifically. The lawyer for Kushner, Abbe Lowell, told us Mr. Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.

And it's important to note that all appearances here is that she was interviewed as a witness. Most defense attorneys would not let someone be interviewed in this capacity if the belief was that a client was a target. So, he was interviewed as a witness here.

But that doesn't mean that he won't be called back to special counsel interview about other topics beyond Michael Flynn. He was really at the nexus of many parts of this investigation. So, it would take sense that he might be called back down the road, at the very least as a witness to discuss these other aspects of the investigation with Robert Mueller's team.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: Pamela Brown in D.C.

Donald Trump Jr. agreeing to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee as soon as next week. It will be the first opportunity for lawmakers to question the president's oldest son about his contacts with Russia during the campaign. His appearance scheduled for December 6th. Don Jr. facing questions about his 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton and recent revelations of his correspondents with WikiLeaks.

ROMANS: There's condemnation around the world of President Trump for retweeting a violent anti-Muslim videos from a far right U.K. political group, but not a hint of criticism coming from inside his administration. The president often warns about Europe and the U.S. being threatened by immigration from Muslim majority nations, but he has seldom sharing anything as offensive, distasteful or explosive as this.

BRIGGS: One video purports to show a young Muslim migrant attacking a boy on crutches. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defending the re-tweets, insisting the president is only starting to conversation about border security. She also downplayed questions about the authenticity of the videos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking act. That's what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it.


ROMANS: A White House tells us CNN administration staff has resigned itself to the idea the president will never stop tweeting. There have been some head-scratching moments lately like Mr. Trump's assault on the free press, his Pocahontas slur, the potential fallout from this latest tweets, his wide-ranging and could affect foreign policy.

Later this morning, the president meets with the crown prince of Bahrain in the Oval Office.


President Trump's anti-Muslim re-tweets drawing outrage in the United Kingdom, and a rare reprimand from the British government itself.

[04:05:05] A spokesperson for the Prime Minister Theresa May saying, quote, British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance, and respect.

ROMANS: So, President Trump responding to Great Britain's polite phrasing, a brash tweet after first tweeting the wrong Theresa May, he told the prime minister: Don't focus on me. Focus on the radical Islamic terrorism taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine.

For the very latest, let's go to number 10 Downing Street and bring in CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, just an extraordinary, extraordinary exchange between two very long-time allies.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: President Trump has made this personal, not just his apparent backing of right wing fascist organization here in Britain, but making it personal with a British prime minister, essentially saying: stay out of my business. You've got enough trouble of your own.

This is a prime minister who believes that Britain has a special relationship with the United States, who was the first world leader to go and congratulate President Trump in the White House after his inauguration, early January. She took political heat for that at the time. She invited him for a state visit here to Britain.

People were outraged at his apparent travel ban right after that, 1.8 million people signed a petition saying that President Trump shouldn't come to Britain and meet the queen on the state visit. Since then, he's gotten into Twitter spats with the London mayor over what he wrote about the London Bridge terror attack in June. He got a rebuke from the British prime minister in September for what

he wrote what president Trump wrote about another terror attack in London in September. She said his comments weren't helpful. He tried to use British security crimes statistics to say radical Islamist terrorism is in the rise and the threat is on the rise in the U.K. There's been pushback from politicians.

This is just another step, but this is now personal. And Britain will feel very vindictive against the prime minister. We can expect politicians to further rally around her. This really in Britain now it leaves the members of the government here, we're told thinking they're just going to have to batten down the hatches until another American president comes along. The special relationship will endure, but it's going to be an endurance test in the meantime.

ROMANS: Endure, but endurance test -- Nic, thank you so much for that, at 10 Downing Street. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Not much pushback from Republican congressman or senators but then came this tweet from Orrin Hatch. He tweeted, Theresa May is one of the great world leaders. I have incredible love and respect for her and for the way she leads the United Kingdom, especially in the face of turbulence.

That's interesting because Orrin Hatch in the same day said: I don't pay much attention to his tweets. So, it's hard to know what to make of Republican reaction or lack thereof to these despicable re-tweets.

ROMANS: When it affects America's diplomatic relationships around the world, it isn't just someone tweeting before breakfast or, you know, while he's watching "Fox and Friends". It becomes something that is a legitimate concern for people.

BRIGGS: Promoting hate. It's nothing short of that.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans opening up formal debate on their tax reform plan. All 52 GOP senators casting yes votes and that means the clock is now ticking. The amendment process expected to heat up this afternoon. Anybody's guess when a final vote might take place. Senators and aides telling CNN tomorrow is likely.

ROMANS: The biggest roadblock right now, the so-called trigger favored by deficit hawks would hike taxes later if tax cuts do not generate enough economic growth. There's disagreement whether it should target the individual or the corporate rates.

BRIGGS: Also, how this trigger would work, what constitutes economic growth and how big the hikes would have to be, all still unclear. Republicans are grappling with keeping their bill under this $1.5 trillion limit so they can pass it with no Democratic votes.

ROMANS: The other thing with this trigger that's so interesting is if you have to go ahead and raise taxes because there's not enough growth, you could be doing that exactly the wrong time. Sometimes there's not enough growth because you have a little bit of a recession, right? And if you raise taxes, it could make it worse. So, that's one of the problems there overall.

President Trump once again incorrectly claimed he will not benefit from the GOP tax plan. Promoting that bill in Missouri yesterday, Trump said it would hurt wealthy Americans like him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're also going to eliminate tax breaks and complex loopholes taken advantage of by the healthy. Who are they? I don't know.

I think my accountants are going crazy right now. It's all right. Hey, look, I'm president. I don't care. I don't care anymore. I don't care.


ROMANS: President Trump still has not released his tax returns, so it is impossible to know exactly how the tax plan would affect him.

[04:10:05] But both versions of the bill contain provisions that would help him and his family like eliminating the estate tax. Currently, that taxes the inheritance on estates of $5 million or more.

Repealing the alternative minimum tax, according to Trump's leaked 2005 tax returns, that was the bulk of the taxes he paid that year, or tax cuts for pass-through businesses. Pass-throughs pay taxes through the owner's tax rate, not the corporate rate and make up the majority of the Trump family business. Both the House and the Senate bill give significant tax cuts.

He said so many times yesterday in that appearance that rich people are mad at him. I don't think so. All the scoring show the benefits of this tax plan go to the wealthy and big corporations.

BRIGGS: It looks likely this thing gets passage.

Ahead, the shock has not worn off from the sudden firing of Matt Lauer from the "Today Show", after several accusations of sexual misconduct. The latest reporting from our Brian Stelter, next.


[04:15:08] ROMANS: Still no word this morning from now former "Today Show" host Matt Lauer after the stunning news. NBC fired him over an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. NBC earned credit in some quarters for taking swift action, but later in the day, reports emerged that the network had protected Lauer.

BRIGGS: The entertainment trade paper "Variety "citing several women who say their complaints to NBC executives fell on deaf ears. And now, NBC says it's received new accusations against Lauer since his firing.

Senior media correspondent Brian Stelter with the latest.



New allegations against Matt Lauer in the wake of his firing on Wednesday, and now, as we start at new day, there are questions about who knew what when. And whether Lauer is going to speak out, whether he's going to apologize, confirm some allegations, deny them. You know, so far, there's been silence from Lauer's team.

Meantime, NBC has confirmed two women came forward and contacted the network with their own allegations of improper sexual behavior by Lauer. That was in the wake of his firing announced on Wednesday morning.

The timeline here is a little bit unusual. We've seen versions of this in the past two months ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, where there's a bombshell story, improper -- allegations of improper behavior and then disciplinary action. We saw that last week with Charlie Rose at CBS.

But it happened a little bit differently with Lauer. Executives at NBC knew that "The New York Times" and "Variety" were working on stories about Lauer's past, possible allegations of misconduct.

But it wasn't until Monday night that anyone contacted the HR department to issue a formal complaint. When that happened, an investigation ensued on Tuesday. And by Tuesday night, NBC decided to fire Lauer.

That's what led to the chain of events on Wednesday, the shocking announcement on Wednesday's "Today Show" that Lauer's contract had been terminated.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: As I'm sure you can imagine, we are devastated and we are still processing all of this. We are heartbroken. I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and partner and he is beloved by many, many people here.

And I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell. And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.

STELTER: And shocking turn of events for the morning TV world, which now is in this unprecedented situation. Think about it -- one of the anchor chairs at CBS is empty because Rose is fired. Now, one of anchor chairs at NBC is empty because Lauer has been fired.

In so many cases up until now, people have felt shamed in silence. But we can see how that's changing now as companies feel pressure to take these allegations seriously, investigate them and take action -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Brian. Brian will join us live later in the program to talk about the latest in all of this.

Meanwhile, a Christmas crisis facing American Airlines. A scheduling glitch has left the largest U.S. airline without enough pilots and staff during the busy holiday travel period. The pilots union said it was notified last week a computer system inadvertently gave too many American's pilots time off during the holidays.

ROMANS: The airline says it is working to address the issue and expects to avoid cancellations. American says it plans to pay those who picked up open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate. The pilots union though is advising crews not to take those assignments because they might violate the union contract. American has about 200,000 pilots scheduled for December. Uh-oh.

BRIGGS: What a mess coming for Christmas.

All right. So much for that tempered response from the president after the North Korean missile launch.


TRUMP: Little rocket man. He is a sick puppy.


BRIGGS: Our first look at that missile. It shows just how much progress Pyongyang is making with their nuclear program. We're live in Seoul, next on EARLY START.



[04:23:41] TRUMP: These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel -- little rocket man -- rocket fuel for the American economy.


He is a sick puppy.


BRIGGS: So much for president's measured tone on North Korea. President Trump mocking Kim Jong-un during a speech in Missouri Wednesday night. Early at an emergency meeting, the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the North Korea's missile launch.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley giving a warning to the rogue regime.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The dictator of North Korea made a choice yesterday that brings the world closer to war. Not farther from it. We have never sought war with North Korea and still, today, we do not seek it. If war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.


BRIGGS: Let's bring in CNN's Paula Newton. She a live in Seoul, South Korea, for us tonight.

Good morning, good evening there, Paula. I can't imagine any of this lowering tension in the region.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. And now that we have new information about exactly what this new ICBM is.

[04:25:01] I want you to take a look at the split screen, Dave. We've got the Hwasong-14, which is clearly much smaller than the Hwasong-15.

This is a major advancement in technology, experts are saying. And the reason is that not only is it much larger but that means it can go a much longer distance. They're actually looking at what they call the two-stage technology and the fact that that means two engines, two propellants. We do all the transition there, it means it will indeed hit the United States, anywhere in the United States if it wants to.

And that video that you're looking at, we just got a few hours ago when experts are now poring over that, and looking at the shot of that missile. What's so interesting here, Dave, is that, you know, they were using very technical language and, all of a sudden, all we heard was clearly that is a big bleeping missile.

You know, the expletive doesn't mean anything scientific, but it underscores the challenge here. And we had people like the French ambassador to the U.N. saying that the threat now has changed dramatically, and really alarmed many people in the international community. The question is, what is the Trump administration going to do about it?

You know that President Trump is looking for more and tougher sanctions. Those could come as early as today. Sanctions have not worked so far. What they're really looking for is for China to put the heavy weight of their own sanctions, perhaps fuel sanctions on North Korea, in the hopes that they'll come to the negotiating table -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, nothing appearing to slow Kim Jong-un. Paula Newton live for us, 6:26 there in Seoul. Thank you.

All right. Ahead: does Jared Kushner know anything that could jeopardize the special counsel's investigation into Michael Flynn? Investigators spoke to Kushner. Find out, more next.