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EARLY START

Power Back At Hartsfield-Jackson; Trump; I Won't Fire Mueller; McCain Back In Arizona For Christmas; Traveler Frustrated By Lack Of Information; Trump Transition Explains Email Complaint; House Intel Panel Interviews Witnesses; GOP Poised To Pass Tax Bill; Trump To Unveil National Security Strategy; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[04:00:13] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what we're going to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knows anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got to make a connection in Chicago, but looks like that might not happen.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: All right, the power is back on at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson international airport, but thousands of holiday travelers want to know why no one had any answers when the outage crippled the world's busiest airport.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not.

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DAVE BRIGGS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: President Trump with no plans to fire the Russia special counsel, but the President's allies are ramping up efforts to discredit the special counsel. The latest issue, transition team e-mails.

ROMANS: And Senator John McCain will miss this week's final vote on tax reform. He is back in Arizona. He is recovering from side effects of chemotherapy. All right, good morning, everyone. Good Monday morning. Welcome to "Early start." I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: It's a very early start this Monday. I'm Dave Briggs, Monday, December 18th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east.

We start with Atlanta airport, the power back on. Limited operations are expected to resume this morning at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport his follows Sunday's total blackout that left thousands of holiday travelers stranded. Nightmarish experience for many people. Dark terminals, evacuation with temperature in the mid-40s, a ground stop that trapped people on planes for hours and little to no guidance from authorities as passenger frustration built throughout the day. ROMANS: Now, the outage started with a huge fire in a Georgia power

underground facility. Officials say the fire's intensity damaged two substations serving that airport, including the backup power system.

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KASIM REED, ATLANTA MAYOR: I certainly understand the frustration throughout the day. They said that the busiest passenger airport in the world should certainly have a redundant system. The straight answer to that question is that we absolutely do, but because of the intensity of the fire, the switch which accesses the redundant system was damaged, which caused damage to two systems rather than one.

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ROMANS: So, the ensuing turmoil at the world's busiest airport leading to flight delays, flight cancellations that of course rippled across the country. According to flight aware, nearly 1,200 Atlanta flights were canceled Sunday with more diverted. Already today, right now at this hour, more than 350 flights have been cut.

BRIGGS: Overnight, the DFA says it kept the control tower fully staffed, able to ramp up flights as soon as they're ready to go and Atlanta opened the convention center for all the stranded passengers who just need a place to lay their head. For more, let s bring in CNN Kylee Hartung at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, Georgia power still says they don't know what caused the fire that killed power throughout the Atlanta airport for most of Sunday. This fire caused extensive damage to an underground electrical facility at the airport and brought this place to a standstill. Travelers literally and figuratively in the dark for most of the day as so many people expressed to me their frustration at the situation, of course, but also with the lack of communication that they were receiving from the airport and from the airlines.

Free snacks and a bottle of water can only do so much good when passengers were kept on planes on the tarmac for six or seven hours before they could deplane by means of stairs out the back or a jet way being manually pushed up to the plane. And then many travelers were having to walk as much as a mile, maybe a little bit more, through the darkness with not much more than a flickering light to guide them the length of the large and expansive Atlanta airport. One traveler who says he is an experienced traveler, he told me this was the worst travel experience of his life. Christine, Dave?

ROMANS: All right, wow. We'll keep you posted on any more flight delays and cancellations this morning because of that.

Four minutes after the hour. With conservatives bolstering their efforts to discredit the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling, the President himself says Robert Mueller isn't going anywhere.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not.

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ROMANS: Mueller's office facing increased scrutiny in recent weeks over reports of a possible political bias within the special counsel's team. Democrats, though, say Republicans are trying to taint the investigation to get Mueller fired.

BRIGGS: Over the weekend, lawyers for the Trump transition team accused the special counsel's office of gaining unauthorized access to tens of thousands of transition e-mails. They say some of the e-mails handed over with protected by attorney-client privilege, but a spokesman for Mueller denies the e-mails were obtained unlawfully. CNN's Boris Sanchez has the latest from the White House.

[04:05:06] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: Christine and Dave, this boils down to a dispute about who actually owns these tens of thousands of e-mails that were exchanged between Trump transition officials during the transition last year. On one hand, you have the general services administration providing e-mail services and support to the Trump transition team making the case that these e-mails are part of the public record in part, because they used a .gov domain to service these e-mails. That is what one spokesperson is telling BuzzFeed news. They're making the argument that they had legal standing in handing these documents over to Robert Mueller that they did not do so unethically or unlawfully.

On the other hand, you have the executive Director of the Trump transition team, Ken Nahigian, telling me that is incorrect, that there was an agreement, an understanding between the Trump transition team and the GSA that though the GSA was providing e-mail services, the actual e-mails were the property of the Trump transition team, and therefore, theirs to ultimately decide who to share them or not share them with. That is why they're making the case that Robert Mueller obtained these e-mails unlawfully. The President weighed in on this Sunday evening as he returned to the White House from Camp David, calling the situation sad. Listen to more of what he said.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you believe your transition team e-mails were improperly taken?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not looking good. Not looking good. It's quite sad to see that. My people were very upset about it. I can't imagine there's anything on them, frankly, because as we said, there's no collusion. There's no collusion whatsoever. But a lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad.

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SANCHEZ: When I spoke with the Executive Director of the Trump transition team, Ken Nahigian, he stressed to me the independence that the transition team has from the White House. He is making the case that this is not about politics at all. He told me that part of the reason that the Trump transition team sent this letter alerting different committees in congress that Robert Mueller had obtained these e-mails the way that he did was to preserve the integrity of future transitions, Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right, Boris. Thank you so much for that.

Today the House Intelligence Committee interviews several witnesses kicking off a packed week for the panel's Russia investigation. One interview was with the British music publicist Rob Goldstone, he of course us the man who arranged the meeting at Trump tower between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BRIGGS: The panel will also talk to Congresswoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz. She was the head of the Democratic National Committee at the time. It paid a law firm that hired an opposition research company that came up with a dossier containing allegations reportedly connecting Trump to Russia. Wasserman Schultz denies having any knowledge of it.

ROMANS: Russian President Vladimir Putin calling President Trump to thank him for the CIA's help. Intel from the agency helped foil an ISIS inspired terror plot targeting a cathedral in St. Petersburg. The call confirmed by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is unusual. Countries share intelligence all the time, but Presidents rarely publicly thank one another for it. Russia's federal security service said seven members of a terror cell were detained for their involvement in the plot and that a significant amount of explosives, weapons, and extremist literature were confiscated. It was the second time in three days the two leaders spoke by telephone.

BRIGGS: Some confusion and plenty of outrage this morning after the centers for disease control was ordered to ban a list of words, including vulnerable, fetus, and transgender. The "Washington Post" reporting the Trump administration told the CDC last week not to use certain words on 2018 budget documents, and here they are. You might not believe them. Yes, diversity, transgender, fetus, vulnerable, entitlement, evidence-based, and science-based.

ROMANS: One longtime policy analyst told the "Post" reaction at that briefing at the CDC was "incredulous, are you serious, are you kidding." The CDC itself is pushing back on the "Washington Post" reporting. Director Brenda Fitzgerald sent a note to staff saying in part "CDC has a longstanding history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people, and we will continue to do so." she added on twitter, "there are no banned words at CDC."

BRIGGS: But outside groups are not taking the idea of a word ban lightly. The head of the national center for transgender equality says "the Trump administration is full of dangerous science deniers who have no business near American public health systems like the CDC. They are actually going to kill Americans if they do not stop." ROMANS: Interesting to hear from scientists and science watchers who

are concerned about this, that you've already seen agencies where there have been slow changes as well. HHS, for example, has stopped asking elderly patients about their gender identity and sexual orientation, and that is scientific data that the government has collected for a very, very long time, and that has people concerned that there is a new Trump administration push to care more about what communities want, community wishes and politics, than actual science.

[04:10:28] BRIGGS: Science has been purged from the very beginning, especially when you look at the climate effort of this administration.

ROMANS: Right. 11 minutes after the hour.

The vote on the Republican tax bill is set for this week, but Senator John McCain will miss it. That is according to two sources close to him. McCain returned home to Arizona Sunday to continue recovering from side effects of chemotherapy for a brain tumor. One source said he left Walter Reed medical center "exhausted but ok" and that his ability just to get on a plane was a pretty good sign.

BRIGGS: The head of the neuro oncology at the national cancer institute says in a statement that McCain continues to improve after treatment for a virus, and the Senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, offered gratitude, well wishes, and urged people to celebrate the holiday by giving to cancer research.

ROMANS: Certainly wish him well. 11 minutes past the hour.

All right, as for that tax bill itself, it is poised to pass, but not without some last-minute changes. We'll have those next.

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[04:15:33] ROMANS: All right, huge tax reform, we are on the verge of it here, and GOP leaders are pretty confident they have the votes to pass this $1.5 trillion tax bill this week. Voting is expected to begin in the house Tuesday. Now, the final bill -- look, this is not the tax simplification this started out to be. You're not going to be able to pay your taxes on a postcard, tight? They did not deliver on that, but they did deliver on big corporate tax cuts with no guarantee it will add to jobs or wages, although that is the hope of the planners. It lowers the seven individual tax brackets, including the top rate down to 37 percent, but the bill also restores or expands popular benefits missing from earlier versions, like the state and local tax break that allows filers to deduct local property income and sales tax.

Repealing it meant resistance from lawmakers in high-tax states. It's now back in, but it is capped at $10,000. The bill also doubles the child tax credit and increases how much is refundable, meaning Americans get that money back, even if they don't make enough money to pay income taxes. Senator Marco Rubio only supported the bill after the child care credit was made more generous. All told the final bill will cost $1.5 trillion. The White House says growth will pay for tax cuts. Most economists dispute that. And the costs could go higher if a future congress renews the individual tax cuts, because they expire in 2025.

BRIGGS: In California, intense winds whipped the huge Thomas wildfire along the Santa Barbara coastline into an even larger inferno on Sunday. As of last night, the fire is burning over 270,000 acres, the third the size of Rhode Island, and is only 27 percent contained. It remained the third largest wildfire in modern state history. 8,500 firefighters faced gusts topping 70 miles per hour in some spots. The winds are expected to ease today, but still no rain in the forecast.

ROMANS: Just terrible there.

All right, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson says he plans to put the NFL team he founded up for sale at the conclusion of the season amid allegations of workplace misconduct. Richardson is 81 years old. He stopped short of mentioning the allegations in the letter he posted on the team website. The moves follow a "Sports Illustrated" report detailing the Panthers settling lawsuits with at least four former employees over alleged inappropriate behavior.

BRIGGS: The allegations include sexual harassment of multiple women and the use of a racial slur aimed at a scout who has since left the team. Among those expressing early interest in buying the Panthers, Sean "Diddy" Combs, who last night tweeted this image of himself in a Panthers jersey in 2003.

Age-old debate reignited in the NFL after officials overturn one of the biggest plays in one of the biggest games of the year. Patriots/Steelers in Pittsburgh. Pats up three, 34 seconds left. Ben Roethlisberger throws it to Jesse James, who reaches over the goal line for a touchdown, what would have won the game, except officials say James lost control of the ball as he went to the ground.

ROMANS: What?

BRIGGS: Even though he looks to have possession as the ball crossed the goal line. Oh! A few plays later, Steelers tried a fake spike, but it was intercepted to end the game. Pats hold on, 27-24. Both teams now 11-3 on the season, could very well meet again in the playoffs. That could matter, of course, with home field advantage. And it was just a devastating blow for Steelers fans who are some of the most passionate, Christine, in the country. And it was exactly how the Patriots won the super bowl against the Seahawks.

ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: Don't throw over the middle. The Patriots plan for that. They plan for it again and again and again. But that call not one that is resonating in Steelers --

ROMANS: And Antonio Brown had an injury, right?

BRIGGS: Antonio Brown may be the MVP of the league, went to hospital last night. Still awaiting word on his injury.

Ahead, President Trump will unveil a new national security strategy today. What's in the plan? Why is the President targeting China over it? We're live in Beijing.

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[04:29:22] ROMANS: President Trump expected to unveil a new national security strategy today in Washington. It has four goals -- protect the American people, advance American prosperity, preserve peace through strength, and advance American influence. He is also expected to lash out at China. That is where we go right now. CNN Matt Rivers is live in Beijing to explain why. Good morning. What are we expecting?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are expecting the President to criticize China. Exactly how far he plans to go, we're not exactly sure yet. But in a way, it won't really come as a surprise. I mean, if you remember all the way back to campaign 2016, candidate Trump was extremely critical of China. At one point, he actually accused China of raping the U.S. Economically, but when the President took office back in January, he kind of dialed back from a lot of that criticism of China and didn't really take a lot of the economic punitive measures that we were expecting.

[04:25:19] That has started to change over the last couple months. We've seen two investigations launched by the United States into intellectual property theft and also steel dumping in terms of aluminum foil against the Chinese, so we have started to see signs that the Trump administration is starting to take a harsher approach against China. Why does all that matter? Well, there's this other big issue in Asia, and that, of course, would be North Korea. The United States under the Trump administration has tried to work with China and kind of backed off a lot of those trade measures in order to get China to cooperate and do what it wants them to do to force Kim Jong-un to stop developing his nuclear weapons.

Is the Trump administration getting frustrated by a lack of action on China's parts there, and is that leading to these punitive trade measures that could be put in in the future? That is what we're looking forward to see when President Trump gives that speech later on today.

ROMANS: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that, in Beijing this morning. Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, airlines looking to get back up and running in Atlanta after a power outage brought holiday travel to a standstill for thousands at the world's busiest airport.

And while conservatives try to discredit the special counsel Russia probe, Robert Mueller's team defending the way it got thousands of e- mails related to the Trump transition.

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