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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; Tax Impacts On The Rich; South Korea Police Investigating baby Deaths; Wall Street Hits High On Tax Reform; GOP Poised To Pass Tax Bill; Trump To Unveil National Security Strategy; Amy Wright Named 2017 Hero Of The Year. Aired 04:30-05a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:58] 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: The power's back at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson international airport, but thousands of holiday travelers want to know why no one had answers when the outage crippled the world's busiest airport.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTINE ROMANS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: The President with no

plans to fire the Russia special counsel, but the President's allies are ramping up their efforts to discredit Robert Mueller. The latest issue, transition team e-mails.

BRIGGS: And Senator John McCain will miss this week's final vote on tax reform. He is back in Arizona recovering from side effects of chemotherapy. Welcome back to "Early start," everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

The power is back on, at least, now and limited operations are expected to resume this morning at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. This follows Sunday's total blackout that left thousands of holiday travelers stranded. A nightmarish experience for many people. Look at that, dark terminals, evacuation with temperatures 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 all day.

BRIGGS: The outage started with a huge fire in Georgia power's underground facility. Officials said the fire's intensity damaged two substations serving the 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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BRIGGS: Turmoil at the world's busiest airport leading to flight delays and cancellations, rippling across the country. And according to flight aware, nearly 1,200 Atlanta flights were canceled Sunday with more diverted. Already today more than 350 flights have been cut.

ROMANS: Overnight, the FAA says it kept the control tower fully staffed, able to ramp up flights as soon as they're ready to go. For more, we bring in CNN's George Howell at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: The good news this hour here at Hartsfield-Jackson international airport, the world's busiest, the good news is that the lights are back on, power has been restored, but the bad news, the uncertainty, that people sleeping on the floor by the thousands here, people who don't know when they will be able to head on to their next destinations. We went inside earlier to get a sense of how people are coping with so much uncertainty.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm, like, it's like I had enough of this. I just need to go home. So, all the flights are delayed and I cannot find a flight to Phoenix. I went to every option through every other airport, but I cannot find a flight. All flights are booked. Otherwise, it's like unaffordable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is not a flight for me until Tuesday, but I'm going to try to get on one tomorrow. So, hopefully, it works out. I mean, I'll miss meetings and there's a lot of things, but life is life, so you've got to make it work.

HOWELL: Now a look inside the airport. You see those wheelchairs there. Well, that is where some people chose to sleep through the night, waiting to be close enough to the ticket counter so they could get some information. But again, as people get to the ticket counter, they don't really get concrete answers at this point. Again, we know that this will be a multiday event. We know that it will take some time for people to get back on those flights to move on to their destinations, but again, a lot of very unhappy travelers here at Hartsfield-Jackson international airport. BRIGGS: All right, George Howell there in Atlanta, thank you.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have been bolstering their efforts to discredit the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling. What the President himself says that Robert Mueller is not going anywhere. Listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).

[04:35:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm not.

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BRIGGS: Mueller's office facing increased scrutiny in recent weeks over reports of possible political bias within the special counsel's team. Now the latest controversy's over Trump transition e-mails obtained by the special counsel. CNN's Boris Sanchez has the latest from the White House.

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?

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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 for that. 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" first reporting that the Trump administration told the CDC last week not to use certain words in 2018 budget documents. Here they are -- diversity, transgender, fetus, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based, and evidence-based.

BRIGGS: One longtime policy analyst told the "Post" reaction at the briefing was "incredulous. Are you serious? Are you kidding?" the CDC itself pushing back on 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 for the benefit of all people and we will continue to do so," he added on twitter "there are no banned words at the CDC."

ROMANS: 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."

BRIGGS: 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.

ROMANS: 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.

BRIGGS: I was in "CNN heroes" last night, which is a wonderful, wonderful program, but John McCain is really a hero, no matter what side of the political spectrum you come from. We all wish the best from Senator McCain.

Ahead, the treasury secretary says the Republican tax bill will increase taxes for the rich, but there are plenty of benefits in there for the rich as well. Now one billionaire's sounding off against the plan, a very high-profile billionaire. We'll tell you who.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:49:34] ROMANS: All right, it is Monday. We're moving quickly

toward tax reform. That is going to happen this week, if the GOP gets its way, and the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, pushing back hard the criticism the tax bill favors the wealthy. Even though the top tax rate is falling to 37 percent, he says rich Americans in high-tax states will pay more when they lose most of their state and local income tax and property tax deductions.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Even lowering the top rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent in the high-tax states, actually, rich people's taxes will be going up, and the reason why we lowered the top rate is because we are sensitive to that is a very large part of the economy, but the President was right, there are people who are rich people that are having their taxes going up.

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[04:45:18] ROMANS: So far, every score shows the biggest benefits of the tax plan do go to the wealthy. And the final bill includes many advantages to the top 1 percent, like cutting that top rate to 37 percent, lowering the tax burden on pass-through businesses, and doubling the exemption for the estate tax to $10 million. Not to mention big corporate tax cuts.

But one high earner in a high-tax state, a guy named Michael Bloomberg, says companies don't need big tax savings. He calls the tax bill a trillion-dollar blunder in an op-ed. He writes that CEOs aren't waiting on a tax cut to jump-start the economy and that it's "pure fantasy" to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth. He says he is a friend of Gary Cohn, who is one of the chief architects of the tax reform effort, and he says his friend, Gary Cohn, is wrong.

BRIGGS: What Steve Mnuchin doesn't say about high-tax states is those are also blue states, so that is an easy political move for the administration when they're not jeopardized at all.

ROMANS: This is true. This is true. And look, when you look at this tax bill, it really benefits real estate developers and investors like the Trumps and Kushner's, and that is part of the controversy as well. We don't have the President's tax return, so we don't know how the President would stand to benefit, but many tax scorers say this is very good for the Trump family.

BRIGGS: It is going to get through, one way or the other. Meanwhile in California, intense winds whipped the huge Thomas wildfire along the Santa Barbara coastline into an even larger inferno Sunday. As of last night, the fire is burning over 270,000 acres, more than a third the size of Rhode Island, and it's only 27 percent contained. It remains the third largest wildfire in modern state history. 8,500 firefighters facing gusts topping 70 miles per hour in some spots. The winds now are expected to ease today, but still no rain in the forecast. ROMANS: 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. Now, he stopped short of mentioning the allegations in the letter he posted on the team website.

BRIGGS: The moves follow a "Sports Illustrated" report detailing the Panthers settling lawsuits with at least four former employees over alleged inappropriate behavior by Richardson. 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, but this franchise is worth north of $2 billion, so good luck to anyone who wants in.

An age-old debate reigniting in the NFL after officials overturn one of the one of the biggest plays in one of the biggest games of the year. Patriots/Steelers, highly anticipated matchup in Pittsburgh. Pats up three, 34 seconds left. Roethlisberger throws over the middle to Jesse James, who scores what looks like the game-winning touchdown, reaching over the goal line, except officials say James lost control of the ball as he went to the ground. We've heard that time and time again, even though it looks like he had possession as he crossed the goal line.

A few plays later, Steelers go over the middle, much like the Seattle Seahawks' drive in the super bowl against this same franchise, and you know how this one ends as well, intercepted. Pats hold on, 27-24. Both teams now 11-3 on the season, could meet again in the playoffs, and that could be significant, because that game could control who has home field advantage. Steeler's nation is probably the biggest fan base in all of sports today and they are outraged this morning.

ROMANS: They hate that call.

BRIGGS: Yes, they do.

ROMANS: All right, there is a wintery mix moving across parts of the northeast this morning, and that may affect your Monday commute. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us with the forecast.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine. The final Monday of autumn here. It's really going to be a cold one for parts of the northeast here, at least in the early-morning hours. We will get a mixture of rain and snow, but make it up to around 43 degrees for New York City, so not much in the way of anything that will stick around. So, anything you see this morning as far as wintry weather will be just for that early-morning hours. In fact, winter weather advisories across this region are expiring around 7:00 a.m. You notice a disturbance comes in, the southern periphery, some rainfall, northern periphery, some snowfall, getting up into the northern portion of New England there. Could certainly see additional accumulations in higher elevations, but just a quick-moving system that will exit the picture by this evening and then we'll call for drier weather over the next couple of days.

Really not dry across the south, at least, from San Antonio out towards Atlanta. Dense fog advisories, upwards of almost 30 million people dealing with this. When you think about it, Atlanta, of course, we have travel disruptions in place at the airport. Factor in the dense fog that is going to be in place, that could really cause some issues if flights were to resume later this morning, so we'll see how that plays out. But thunderstorms also along the immediate gulf coast area there is what we're watching for the afternoon. Notice the seven-day forecast out of New York, a see-saw battle, up to 50 by Tuesday, drops to 36, goes back to almost 60 come Saturday afternoon.

[04:50:17] ROMANS: Pedram, thank you for that.

Espionage, packing, bribery. These are not accusations against a foreign adversary, but some of the latest allegations against Uber. Details on "CNN Moneystream," next.

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BRIGGS: Welcome back. 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. But he is also expected to lash out at China. CNN's Matt Rivers live in Beijing with us this morning. Good morning to you, Matt. Why might the President lash out at China?

[04:55:20] MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could very well be because that is what he did quite often on the campaign trail, fulfilling campaign promises, if you will, Dave. This is a document, a national security strategy document that every U.S. President has produced going back to Ronald Reagan, and what the President will likely do when it's revealed later on today is talk specifically about China in a negative way. The President has certainly said over the years that he believes China engages in unfair trade practices, steals intellectual property, and restricts market access for U.S. companies here.

And so, it's no surprise, then, that perhaps he would want to move forward with harder-line policies against the Chinese when it comes to trade. That said, since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has really shied away from taking really punitive measures against the Chinese because of North Korea. The Trump administration has sought Chinese cooperation with the ongoing situation in the Korean peninsula, has sought cooperation with the Chinese trying to figure out a lasting solution to that, and as a result has backed away from a lot of these really tough policy measures when it comes to trade. That could be changing.

We've seen some signs of that recently, a couple of investigations opened up by the Trump administration looking at things like steal dumping by the Chinese, looking at intellectual property theft that could result in tariffs as soon as next year. And so, perhaps what we're seeing is the formalization of Trump's campaign rhetoric, that we got so used to throughout the campaign, this could be kind of formalizing that in a government document. Dave?

BRIGGS: Have to be careful there. All right. Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing, thank you Sir.

Police in South Korea investigating the deaths of four newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit in Seoul. The babies died within 81 minutes of each other. The hospital says staff performed CPR but efforts to revive the babies were unsuccessful. Korea's CDC says blood tests taken before they died show three of them may have had a bacterial infection. Autopsies are being performed but final results may not be available for another month. Eight other infants were transferred to another hospital and four others were discharged following the deaths.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Moneystream" this morning. Global stock markets are higher today. U.S. stocks closed Friday at an all-time high as tax reform is within reach. GOP leaders secured votes for its passage Friday. Look, it won't be the simplification once promised. You won't be able to file taxes on a postcard. It doesn't get rid of all of those loopholes, but it cuts corporate taxes, and that is what Wall Street wants. The Dow jumped 140 points, now just 300 points shy of 25,000 are nine trading days left this year.

Espionage, hacking, bribery, obstructing federal investigations, those are just some allegations against Uber. In a bombshell letter from a former employee. The 37-page letter was made public at a court filing Friday, part of an ongoing lawsuit by WAMO against Uber. Alphabet's self-driving car unit, for stealing trade secrets. Uber told CNN it's aware of the letter's allegations but that they are unsubstantiated and that going forward it will compete honestly and fairly on the strength of our ideas and technology.

"Star wars, the last Jedi" was a box office force this weekend. The movie had the second biggest opening weekend ever in North America, bringing in an estimated $220 million. "The last Jedi" also had the second biggest Thursday night opening and the second biggest opening day. Why second best? Well, beat out by the previous "Star wars" film, "The force awakens."

BRIGGS: Are you going to see it?

ROMANS: Of course. Not yet.

BRIGGS: Just not on opening weekend.

A special night for us here at CNN as we honored our CNN heroes, people making a difference around the world. And Amy Wright was named the 2017 hero of the year. The mother of two Down syndrome kids runs the non-profit able to work USA. It employs 40 people with intellectual and disabilities at a coffee shop in North Carolina named for her two kids.

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AMY WRIGHT, PRESIDENT, ABLE TO WORK USA: My two youngest children, who are my inspiration, I want you to know, because I know you're watching at home tonight, Biddie and Bo, that I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: She is an incredible woman. Each of the top ten CNN heroes will receive $10,000 in recognition of their work. Wright will receive an additional $100,000 grant to further aid enable to work USA. Every story last night was a tear-jerker, but they were also inspirational and just reminded you that there is so much good going on in this world, even when it feels like there's not, when it feels like such a negative year. I think we all needed this. It's going to re-air on CNN, so please, show it to your children. It's good for the soul.

ROMANS: There are heroes everywhere, we promise you.

BRIGGS: Early Start continues right now with the latest, the busiest airport in the country...