Return to Transcripts main page


California Wildfire Triggers Evacuations; President Trump Endorses Roy Moore; New Twists In Trump's Legal Strategy; Billy Bush Speaks Out. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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


BRIGGS: And, Billy Bush venting in his first public interview since the "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" tape went public. What he says about the president and a wave of sexual misconduct claims now surfacing.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And, I'm Christine Romans this Tuesday morning. Nice to see you all. Five thirty in the east.

Let's begin -- those stories in a moment but first, breaking right now in Southern California.

A rush to evacuate as a huge, deadly wildfire rages out of control. Now, nearly 8,000 homes under mandatory evacuation. This is the scene right there. This is just north of Santa Paula.

Fire officials say the flames have now burned about 25,000 acres. It's moving quickly.

BRIGGS: More than 260,000 customers are without power.

Thomas Aquinas College and the Santa Paula Unified School Districts have already announced their closures for today.

Officials say one person has been killed in a car accident related to the fire.

We'll have the latest throughout the morning and into "NEW DAY."

ROMANS: All right. 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, threw his full support behind Moore, 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: And then on 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 the allegations of improper sexual conduct. An official saying the RNC will transfer money to the Alabama Republican Party.

ROMANS: But, Moore's potential 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 said that he believes Moore's accusers and he 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), LOUISANA: 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 is a committed Moore opponent, former Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

He tweeted, "Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity."

ROMANS: So, Moore fought back. "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, folks. "The Washington Post" has Moore's Democratic opponent Doug Jones up by three points, but that's within the poll's margin of error.

BRIGGS: The president set to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on Saturday after holding a rally in Florida on Friday, which means he'll be in two states that border Alabama without ever actually being in Alabama before the election. ROMANS: A series of new twists in 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 Russia contacts before Trump fired him, an assertion that raises questions of 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 protests 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, "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 to 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 has misled the FBI, as well as Vice President Pence, in January. That raises new questions about what the president knew when he urged then-FBI Director Jim Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, something by the way the president says never happened.

BRIGGS: All right, let's bring in CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: Can we add legal scholar to your resume this morning? We might need it. The legal scholars do -- they are split on this issue --

[05:35:02] ZELIZER: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- on whether or not the president can obstruct justice.

But is that a wise strategy from the President of the United States?

ZELIZER: Well, it's a very powerful strategy, especially for his supporters, to say that the president simply can't be guilty of what he is being accused of doing, then takes away the argument what happened, what are the facts, and it tries to wipe it away.

I don't think it will be sufficient. I think many legal scholars will say that's not the case. And there's a lot of evidence that a president can come under fire for that. And certainly, when it comes to impeachment, which is a political process --


ZELIZER: -- this has been part of the mix. It's simply not true.

ROMANS: Part of the president's strategy has been to attack the intelligence services, to attack the FBI in particular --


ROMANS: -- very strongly.

And we did hear from Christopher Wray, the FBI director. He sent an agency-wide e-mail, so he was talking to his employees.

But this is what he said. "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."

He didn't -- he didn't name the president directly. But what a remarkable situation to be in when the President of the United States is criticizing the most powerful law enforcement and one of the most respected law enforcement -- and feared law enforcement arms in the world.

ZELIZER: Look, there's a three-pronged strategy at work.

One is the legal defense that the president has to say that the president can't be guilty of what he's being accused of doing.

The second is to discredit all the institutions are investigating, from the FBI and intelligence agencies to the media.

And the third prong is to throw red meat to the base right now because he understands this is political. So the endorsement of Roy Moore and what he did in Utah is all part of one bigger story where I think you see a president aggressively mounting a defense against an investigation that is frightening the White House.

BRIGGS: Yes. Endorsing Roy Moore may have something to do down the line with protecting himself from impeachment. But let's talk about what it means to go ahead and throw yourself, your party into this race.

Ivanka Trump said there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children --


BRIGGS: -- and her father said there's a warm seat in the Senate for the same person.

How do they reconcile these two contrasting worldviews, really? ZELIZER: You can't. This is a case where the party faces a choice about principle. Both voters in Alabama will make this decision and the party, whether it's the president endorsing him, whether it's the RNC getting back into an endorsement and supporting of him.

They will bear the cost of him being part of the Republican Party, both for these allegations that have emerged, as well as his very extremist positions --


ZELIZER: -- on homosexuality, Islam, and much more in religion and state. He will be one of the faces of the Republican Party and that will not go away.

ROMANS: I think that context is really important because, you know, long before there were these allegations here about his behavior and misbehavior and allegations of the behavior with very young women and children, this is someone who said that a sitting member of Congress who was Muslim should not have that job. Someone who said that homosexuality should be illegal.

Someone who said that Sandy Hook happened because people were turning away from God. And has said similar things about 9/11. Just really hurtful, repulsive things.

And he lost his job twice. He was taken off of a bench twice.

And this is "Go get 'em, Roy." What the President of the United States says.

ZELIZER: Yes. This is embracing a candidate who is far off center but will have a very powerful position in the party for all the different positions that you just stated, as well as the allegations.

But the chances they will expel him are minimal once he is in the Senate. That's what history shows.


ZELIZER: That should be taken with a grain of salt.

And you already hear the backtracking. You're seeing it from the president and you're seeing it from the RNC.

So if he is elected, he will be part of this Republican caucus on Capitol Hill and Republicans will have to live with that. And I'm sure Democrats will remind voters of that in the next few election cycles.

ROMANS: Oh, I'm sure.

BRIGGS: Let's be clear, though. Both parties have shed moral high ground with what's going on with John Conyers right now, right? I mean, can either party claim that they're the moral high ground right now? ZELIZER: No one can claim moral high ground but here is someone who's not in office yet. And there is a choice that will be made on Election Day, so that's what the big difference is. And the range of allegations against Moore --


ZELIZER: And the range of allegations against Moore are pretty severe. So we have to also remember that.

ROMANS: Could we talk about Utah real quickly --


ROMANS: -- because I thought that was an amazing photo backdrop for the president.


ROMANS: But shrinking so dramatically the size of these national monuments. He said it was because the grazing and ranching rights of the people had been restricted because they were national monuments, something that all the fact-checkers said is not true.

[05:40:01] ZELIZER: Yes, but it's an argument that really resonates with opponents of conservation, opponents of environmental protection. This has been one area of policy where President Trump has been very consistent throughout his presidency.


ZELIZER: And there are many Republicans in Utah who are happy about this --

ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- including Sen. Hatch --


ZELIZER: -- which is an important part of the story.

And so, I think this is a case where the facts might not be on his side but the politics are on his side within the GOP.

BRIGGS: Right. You're looking at -- well, for conservatives, this is an issue of federal overreach.

ZELIZER: Exactly.

BRIGGS: They're grabbing your land, Utah. This is an -- I think you're right. On the politics of this --


BRIGGS: -- the president is in pretty comfortable territory. ROMANS: Two big lawsuits already, though. So two lawsuits --


ROMANS: -- trying to block to move that.

All right, nice to see you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

ROMANS: Thank you, Julian.

BRIGGS: 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 heard himself with Donald Trump on that infamous "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" tape days before it leaked.

And the president delivered a second gut punch by recently questioning the 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 what would be really fun? Let's take down a powerful guy together, ha, ha. No, they don't.

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


ROMANS: An interesting side note. Billy Bush told Colbert former "TODAY" show host Matt Lauer told him he spoke privately to NBC executives trying to save Bush's job when the tape leaked last year. Interesting wrinkle.

BRIGGS: It is, indeed. All right. New this morning, Congressman John Conyers reportedly ready to call it a career amid claims of sexual harassment, and a family member wants Conyers' job.


[05:46:53] ROMANS: 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 those allegations he sexually 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: Eighty-eight-year-old Conyers is the longest-serving member of the House currently. 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 expects the congressman to finish his term.

ROMANS: Who needs to go to the doctor when you could head to CVS? That's the logic behind CVS's $69 billion purchase of health insurer Aetna.

Health care costs are soaring. Consumers want cheaper, easier access to care to the companies plan to transform CVS's 10,000 locations into community health centers, promising Americans high-quality, low-cost medical care.

CVS and Aetna say that by overseeing both the patient's medical and pharmacy benefits they can improve an inefficient system. Critics are skeptical. Few expect this to lower drug costs and it is unclear just how quickly the savings will pass to consumers. That is, if the deal is even approved.

The Justice Department recently sued to block another so-called vertical merger, AT&T's purchase of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. Both deals concern companies that are not direct competitors but the deal would stave off competition. And the Justice Department has blocked other defensive mergers this year, including Aetna's proposed deal for rival Humana.

BRIGGS: This morning, Travel Ban 3.0 is now in effect as appeals work their way through the court system. Monday's Supreme Court ruling is a significant, though possibly temporary win for the Trump administration. This is the first time justices have allowed any edition of the ban to go forward in its entirety.

The latest version of the travel ban placed varying levels of restriction on citizens of eight countries, most mostly majority- Muslim. Lower courts, in two separate challenges, had partially blocked the ban and those legal battles continue this week. The president of ABC News lashing out at his staff over a serious error by reporter Brian Ross in a report about Michael Flynn and the president.

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 offering a full review -- ordering a full review of the error and 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 during 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 have talked about the need to get it right and 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 President Trump.

[05:50:03] And he expressed frustration it took more than seven hours for ABC News to clarify the story before later issuing a full-blown correction. He says ABC will pay a price for that for a long, long time.

ROMANS: All right, 50 minutes past the hour.

Why aren't more people investing? One senator blames booze, or women, or movies.


ROMANS: A convoluted and now walked-back comment from a noted senator. Details on "CNN Money Stream," next.


BRIGGS: All right. A quick update on breaking news in Southern California. Nearly 8,000 homes under mandatory evacuation as a huge wildfire rages out of control in Ventura County. The governor's office says it has already secured financial help from FEMA to keep resources coming.

[05:55:10] About 25,000 acres have been burned. More than 260,000 customers are without power. One person has been killed in a car accident trying to escape the fire.

More throughout the day on CNN.

ROMANS: In Oklahoma, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake striking near the town of Perry last night. CNN affiliate KOTV reporting the epicenter was 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 it becomes available.

"HOUSE OF CARDS" lives for one final season. Netflix announcing the political drama will return for an eight-episode sixth season with Robin Wright as the lead actor and former star Kevin Spacey cut out of the show completely. 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.

BRIGGS: LiAngelo Ball, one of three UCLA basketball players arrested on a trip to China, is 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 the suspicion of theft. President Trump made a personal appeal to the Chinese president on their behalf.

LaVar Ball says the family's expressing other options for LiAngelo. LaVar will join Chris Cuomo this morning in the 8:00 hour.

They are Houston strong. "Sports Illustrated" naming Texans' star J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve of the World Series champion Astros as their "Sportspersons of the Year" for 2017.

The two are being honored for a combination of on-field performance and civic contributions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Watt has raised more than $37 million in relief aid.

Both Watt and Altuve will be honored at an awards ceremony today.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour.

Wall Street closing mixed yesterday after a huge rally early on. Early on, the Dow was up some 300 points and then it closed just up 58 points. So it shows you that that early enthusiasm about the tax reform passing really faded there quickly. It was enough for a record high, though.

The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also closed lower on a big drop in tech stocks. So watch those stocks today. You'll see exactly what's going to happen. Enough to hit a record high overall but again, a little bit of a tough reaction couldn't hold onto it.

OK. Why should Congress kill the estate tax? To benefit investors, not the people spending everything on booze or women or movies. What?

Senator Chuck Grassley told "The Des Moines Register" people who invest their money benefit from eliminating the estate tax as opposed to those spending every darn penny they have, whether it's booze or women or movies.

A firestorm ensued. His comments were called classist and sexist. Grassley told CNN his comments were taken out of context.

He has long called the estate tax unfair to farmers and ranchers who inherit their estates. In fact, very few people ever pay an estate tax -- 0.2 percent of estate -- it's the richest of the rich who get hit by this.

The Tax Policy Center says just 80 family-owned farms will pay any estate tax this year.

Facebook is rolling out a messenger app for kids as young a six. Called "Messenger Kids," the standalone app can be controlled by a parent's Facebook account. Children can video chat or send messages to friends approved by their parents.

Now, Facebook normally requires users be at least 13 years old, but this allows Facebook to win over the six to 12 crowd. Once they're teens, Facebook faces stiff competition from platforms like Snapchat.

And the parent blogs, by the way, this morning, say no, no, no, no, no. Too much screen time, too young.


ROMANS: There's no reason for a six-year-old to have a messenger account.

BRIGGS: They worked with a lot of parent groups and PTAs in forming this messenger app but they have the Snapchat filters.

Six just feels -- I have a five-year-old. It feels a little young --

ROMANS: Six --

BRIGGS: -- to me for social media.

ROMANS: -- still young to me but yes. So, tune into the mommy and parent blogs today for lots of --

BRIGGS: All right.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: The suggestion that he can't be charged with obstruction of justice is a laughable proposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's decision to fire the director of the FBI cannot, itself, be an act of obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: K.T. McFarland is emerging as a key actor.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel badly for Gen. Flynn. Flynn lied and they've destroyed his life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The RNC is actually going back to financially supporting Roy Moore. This is outrageous.

CASSIDY: Voters don't want to be told from Washington who to vote for.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I do not know any of these women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like this was the first thing that I've seen that I know personally for a fact to be a lie.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your new day.