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GOP Divide: Pres. Trump Endorses Roy Moore; Can Trump Obstruct Justice?; Billy Bush Speaks Out. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:15] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president and the RNC on board with Roy Moore. But his would-be Senate colleagues -- not so much. The split over the controversial Senate candidate one week to election day.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Frankly, the idea that our president is above the law is Nixonian.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president's legal strategy causing widespread confusion. Even his own lawyers aren't on the same page. We have the very latest on the Russia investigation.


BILLY BUSH, FORMER "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" HOST: You're reopening wounds on them too. Enough in enough. Stop playing around with people's lives.


BRIGGS: Billy Bush venting in his first public interview since the "Access Hollywood" tape went public. What he says about the president and this wave of sexual misconduct claims now surfacing.

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

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

BRIGGS: And you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, December 5th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Get up, everyone.

One week before Alabama voters go to the polls, a new fracture in the Republican Party over Senate candidate Roy Moore. On Monday, President Trump for the first time through his full support behind more first in this tweet: Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive tax cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama.

BRIGGS: Then in a phone call to the candidate, the campaign says the president called Moore a fighter and finished up by saying, go get 'em, Roy.

Last night, the Republican National Committee joined the president in backing Moore after walking away from him last month over allegations of improper sexual conduct. An official saying the RNC will transfer money to the Alabama Republican Party.

ROMANS: But Moore's potentials Senate colleagues are refusing to budge the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Colorado's Cory Gardner, sticking to the position he laid out last month. He says -- he said then he believes Moore's accusers and added if he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate. Many other Republican senators not thrilled with the idea of working side by side with Moore.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I still think it's unfortunate we're going to have a tough enough time in the coming years and being the party of Roy Moore is not going to help.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I've learned long ago that voters don't want to be told from Washington who to vote for. I've made my position clear on Mr. Moore. But again, it's not up to me or the president. It's up to the people of Alabama.


BRIGGS: Also digging in as a committed Moore opponent, former Republican nominee Mitt Romney. He tweeted: Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a stain in the GOP and on the nation. Lee Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.

ROMANS: Not shying from a fight, Moore responded: Either Mitt Romney has lost his courage or he doesn't care about truth anymore. Sad day. America's reawakening was led by Donald Trump, not you, Mitt.

Polls showing a dead heat race. "The Washington Post" has Moore's Democratic opponent Doug Jones, up by three points. But that's within the poll's margin of error.

The president set to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on Saturday, after holding a rally in Florida on Friday, at just miles from the border, which means he'll be in two states that border Alabama without ever actually being in the state before the election.

ROMANS: A series of new twists and President Trump's constantly shifting legal strategy for the Russia investigation the president opened the can of worms Saturday with a tweet saying he knew Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his Russian contacts before Trump fired him an assertion that raises questions about obstruction of justice. Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd claimed he drafted that tweet, then offered another defense that the president cannot obstruct justice because as chief law enforcement officer, he has every right to express his view of any case.

BRIGGS: That claim drew howls of protest from critics and by late Monday, a White House lawyer Ty Cobb was downplaying it, telling "The Washington Post" the theory is not the president's official legal strategy. Cobb said, quote: It's interesting as a technical legal issue, but the president's lawyers intend to present a fact-based defense, not a mere legal defense.

As for whether the president can in fact obstruct justice, it is worth noting that articles of impeachment against both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did include obstruction charges.

ROMANS: And we've now also learned another White House lawyer told President Trump in January, he believed Flynn had misled the FBI, as well as Vice President Pence. That raises new questions about what the president knew when he urged then FBI Director Jim Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, saying, by the way, the president says never -- something that the president's has never happened.

[04:05:12] BRIGGS: FBI Director Chris Wray responded the president's claim that the bureau's reputation is in tatters. Wray sending an agency-wide email that reads: Because of the importance of our mission, we are also entrusted with great power and we should expect and welcome people asking tough questions about how we use that power. We find ourselves under the microscope each and every day, and rightfully so.

ROMANS: Wray finished off with one of his favorite work ethic slogans: keep calm and tackle hard. Wray did not mention President Trump by name.

The president's criticism of the FBI intensified after it was revealed one of the bureau's top experts had been removed from the special counsels investigation over a potential anti-Trump bias.

BRIGGS: CNN has learned that expert, Peter Strzok, is the person who changed a key phrase when James Comey described how Hillary Clinton handled classified information. He changed it from grossly negligent to extremely careless.

ROMANS: All right. Billy Bush speaking out for the first time since NBC fired him last year. Overnight, he told Stephen Colbert he felt like he got hit in the gut when he first himself with Donald Trump on that now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape days before it leaked, and that the president delivered a second gut punch by recently questioning that tape's authenticity.


BUSH: He, last week, for some reason came out with "that's not my voice on the tape". Like I said, you can't say that. That is your voice. I was there. You were there. That's your voice on the tape.

And what that does, though, is multiple -- I told you about my own personal problem with it. But then you've got 20 women at the time -- I don't know what the exact number is because there's more, but 20 women who used their names. We've got powerful people being held accountable now, and sometimes there's anonymous sources.

All of these women came out with their names and told their detailed accounts. Twenty women don't get together and say, hey, you know, let's take down a powerful guy together, ha, ha. No, they don't.

And their names -- and I said, OK, you're reopening wounds on them too. Enough's enough. Stop playing around with people's lives. That upset me.


BRIGGS: One interesting note from the Billy Bush interview. The former "Access Hollywood" correspondent says if he knew someone was describing a strategy for sexual assault, he would have called the FBI and not just reported to his executive producer. Bush suggesting he did tell at least one higher up at NBC about the president's comments.

ROMANS: All right. Michigan Congressman John Conyers will make an announcement on the radio this morning. No official word on the content. But "The New York Times" reports Conyers plans to announce he will not seek reelection amid allegations he successfully harassed former members of his staff. "The Times" cites Ian Conyers, the grandson of the congressman's brother who tells "The Times" he plans to run for that seat.

BRIGGS: The 88-year-old Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, he already gave up his position as ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi have both said Conyers should resign but the younger Conyers says he expects the congressman to finish his term.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, a fast-moving fire in California charring 10,000 acres, hundreds of thousands without power right now. One person is dead. We'll tell you all about it, next.


[04:12:40] BRIGGS: In southern California, this morning, a huge deadly wildfire rages out of control. This is the scene just north of Santa Paula. Fire officials say the flames have now burned about ten thousand acres. Mandatory evacuations are in place for homes in Santa Paula, and will soon likely stretch into Ventura.

Officials say one person has been killed in a car accident related to the fire. Complicating evacuations are power outages. In all, more than 260,000 people are without electricity.

ROMANS: Gosh, California just can't get a break this year in a wildfire.

BRIGGS: No, brutal.

ROMANS: So, how are weather conditions affecting firefighting efforts overnight for that and the rest of the forecast for you?

Let's bring in meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, David and Christine.

The National Weather Service in Los Angeles calling this potential set up here for a Santa Ana event to be the most impressive of the season here and we know the winds will be howling across this region an offshore component in place as well. So, the extreme and critical risk for fire weather here is going to be in place at least the next couple of days and the temperature trend certainly doesn't help when he should be in the upper 60s, climbing all the way up close to 80 degrees.

So, all of this with powerful winds, the firefighting efforts going to be on full alert across that region of southern California.

Now, speaking of warmth, look at what's happened across portions of the Midwest and East Coast in the past hours, some 15 record high temps either tied or broken, much of them right around portions of the central region of the country. But this front means business with it arctic air filtering right in across the Great Lakes. Temps from the 60s yesterday to only the 30s in Chicago, Minneapolis down to the middle 20s, New York City, enjoy the degree afternoon.

My goodness, I don't think we'll be anywhere near that for the remainder of the 2017. The trend brings back down into the upper 30s for much of the beginning of next week -- guys.


ROMANS: Good day for a run in New York City. All right, thanks, Pedram.

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake striking near the town of Perry, Oklahoma, last night. CNN affiliate KOTV reporting the epicenter located 60 miles or so from Oklahoma City. There have been no reports of damage or injuries so far. We will bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.

"House of Cards" lives for one final season. Netflix announcing the political drama will return for an episode season six with Robin Wright as the lead actor, as she should have been for the last two seasons, I would argue, and former star Kevin Spacey cut out of the show completely.

[04:15:04] The fate of "House of Cards" has been unclear since Netflix cut ties with Spacey last month following accusations of sexual assault and harassment by multiple men. Production on the final season expected to resume early next year.

And I'm telling if she can carry it. You watch that show?

BRIGGS: She's fantastic.

ROMANS: She can carry it. I mean, the -- she can do it. BRIGGS: I haven't watched in a couple years, maybe I'll get back in.

All right. LiAngelo Ball, one of three UCLA basketball players arrested on a trip to China, leaving the school. The team's coach releasing a statement, saying they respect the decision LiAngelo and his family have made, and wishing him the best in the future. Ball, a freshman, and two teammates were arrested on suspicion of stealing sunglasses from a store near the team hotel.

President Trump made a personal appeal to the Chinese president on their behalf. LaVar Ball, Chris Cuomo's good friend, says the family exploring other options for LiAngelo.

They are Houston Strong. "Sports Illustrated" naming Texan star, JJ Watt, and Jose Altuve of the world champion Astros, sports persons of the year for 2017. The two being honored for a combination of on the field performance and civic contributions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey which devastated Houston and its surrounding area this past summer. Watt has raised more than $37 million in relief aid. Both Watt and Altuve will be honored at an awards ceremony today in New York.

ROMANS: Good choice. You agree?

BRIGGS: Outstanding choice. Hard to find better role models from those two.

ROMANS: All right. A dressing down from the chief of ABC News ripping his own division after a mistake during the Michael Flynn coverage. Why James Goldston says it will hurt ABC for a very long time.


[04:21:08] ROMANS: President Trump facing two lawsuits for dramatically shrinking two Utah national monuments. Both federal lawsuits claim the president did not have the authority to reduce the parks' size. The president cut them by some two million acres the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation's history.

BRIGGS: One lawsuit filed Monday by environmental and conservation groups over the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument. The other by a group of Native American tribes over the Bears Ears national monument. No comments on either suit yet from the White House.

ROMANS: President Trump's decision to shrink the monuments reverses protections placed by Presidents Clinton and Obama. Conservative lawmakers say the Trump administration's push for more mining and drilling on public lands is the response to years of federal overreach. Environmentalists say the president's decision will destroy the national heritage.

The Republican tax bill is headed for conference committee to iron out differences between the House and the Senate version. But even that step was briefly in jeopardy. Some key Republicans threatened to vote against this routine measure over differences on keeping the federal government funded some voiced displeasure with a current plan to implement a two-week continuing resolution to fund the government beyond Friday's deadline.

BRIGGS: Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus wanted to keep funding going until the end of December so it's not to vote right before the holiday. Lawmakers hope to send the reconciled tax bill to President Trump's desk before Christmas. The Senate expected to go vote conference later this week.

ROMANS: Both the House and Senate bill promised big corporate tax cuts but companies are pushing to repeal one corporate tax left in the Senate bill. The Senate decided to keep the corporate alternative minimum tax or AMT -- a move that saved them $40 billion. But that move shocked CEOs and business groups, fierce lobbying over the weekend.

The corporate AMT is an alternative 20 percent tax that kicks in if a company's tax bill is too low. It's rarely used because there are all these other loopholes in the life, but with a lower corporate rate, more companies could end up paying it and lose tax breaks in the process.

The biggest concern here, a tax credit for research and development really popular with Silicon Valley. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries are companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Intel. Apple alone saved $678 billion last year.

So, tech, along with other industries want lawmakers to kill the corporate AMT. They claim it stifles investment, but including it keeps this cost of the Senate bill below $1.5 trillion. Without it, Congress needs to make up the lost revenue possibly by scaling back the size of the corporate tax cut, a suggestion President Trump may not be against. He recently said the corporate rate could end up at 22 percent instead of 20 percent.

BRIGGS: President of ABC News lashing out at his staff over a serious error by reporter Brian Ross and a report about Michael Flynn. On Friday, Ross reported Flynn was prepared to testify then candidate Donald Trump instructed him to reach out to the Russians. Seven hours later on "World News Tonight", Ross changed his reporting, saying Flynn was prepared to testify. Trump made that request when he was president-elect.

ROMANS: ABC News president James Goldston ordering a full review of the error, ripping into his staff during the Monday morning editorial call which was obtained by CNN.

He told them: I don't think ever in my career have I felt more rage and disappointment and frustration that I felt through this weekend and through the last half of Friday. I don't even know how many times we've talked about this, how many times we've talked about the need to get it right, that how we have to be right and not first.

BRIGGS: Goldston also announced Ross, the network's chief investigative reporter, will no longer cover stories related to the president. The expressed frustration it took more than seven hours for ABC News to clarify the story before later issuing a full-blown correction.

[04:25:04] He says ABC will pay a price for that for a long, long time.

ROMANS: All right. The president is now on board, completely on board with Roy Moore, but Republican senators aren't warming to the idea. The GOP is split one week before a crucial vote in Alabama.

BRIGGS: And, competing theories from President Trump's own lawyers on the Russia probe. Are they relying on facts or legal strategy to clear his name?


ROMANS: The president and the RNC are on board with Roy Moore, but his would-be Senate colleagues are not. A new split over the controversial Senate candidate one week to election day.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Frankly, the idea that our president is above the law is Nixonian.