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EARLY START

Power Back At Atlanta Airport After Total Outage; Trump: I'm Not Firing Robert Mueller; Trump Allies Push For Mueller's Firing; GOP On Track To Pass Tax Bill; Report: White House Demands CDC Ban Seven Phrases. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: There are heroes everywhere, we promise you.

BRIGGS: Yes. All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest in the busiest airport in the country and their power outage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what we are going to do.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The power is back, but answers are in short supply. Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, thousands of holiday travelers left stranded (inaudible) the world's busiest airport. We are live in Atlanta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No, I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump with no plans to fire the Russia special counsel. The president's allies are ramping up their efforts to discredit Robert Mueller. The latest issue? Transition team e-mails.

BRIGGS: Senator John McCain will miss this week's final vote on tax reform. He is back in Arizona recovering from side effects of chemotherapy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the senator this morning.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, December 18th. Good morning, everyone. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east. You don't have much time to get your shopping done. Get on that.

BRIGGS: Good reminder.

ROMANS: The power is now back on 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, dark terminals, evacuations 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 builds all day.

BRIGGS: The outage started with a huge fire in the Georgia Power underground facility. Officials say the fire's intensity damaged two substations serving the airport including their back-up power system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASIM REED, ATLANTA MAYOR: I certainly understand the frustration throughout the day. It said that the busiest passenger airport in the world should certainly have a redundant system. The straight answer to that question is, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Turmoil at the world's busiest airport leading to flight delays and cancellations rippling across the country. According to FlightAware, nearly 1,200 Atlanta flights were canceled Sunday with even more diverted. Already today more than 350 flights have been cut.

ROMANS: Overnight, the FAA says they kept the control tower fully staffed, able to ramp up flights as soon as they were ready to go. The city of Atlanta opened the convention center for all stranded passengers who just needed a place to sleep.

For the latest, let's bring in CNN's Martin Savidge live at Hartsfield Jackson airport. It's just really nuts to see that video of a darkened airport, that huge sprawling airport dark and then, of course, the ripple effects, Martin, now, of all these people trying to get where they are going.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Christine. You know, this is the city that prides itself on having the world's busiest airport. (Inaudible) yesterday was a terrible day. The city of Atlanta still has a great deal of explaining to do.

But let's talk about what's happening this morning. First and foremost, the lights are back on. However, if you look at the flight schedule boards, there is nothing. This airport is going through a massive reboot. Lots of people are showing up, expecting to go somewhere. Frankly, there are no flights going anywhere at the moment. It is hoped by many of the major carriers today that by later this afternoon, they should have their flight schedules back to normal. That is a long way away from saying that life will be back to normal.

Because remember tens of thousands of people were disrupted yesterday. This is the start of one of the busiest weeks of the year and of course, this is one of the busiest airports, trying to find space on flights that were already packed for all these people but now have been disrupted. It's another nightmare.

One positive note, the line at TSA is not that long this morning. The problem for a lot of passengers stranded overnight was that TSA no longer accepts a ticket with yesterday's date. You have to come off the concourse, back in line, get a new ticket before you can begin to wonder if your flight is going to take off.

So, 400 flights already roughly canceled this morning. We'll see how those numbers go -- Christine and David.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you. Martin Savidge for us this morning in Atlanta.

BRIGGS: What a nightmare. Meanwhile, conservatives have been bolstering their efforts to discredit the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling. But the president, himself, says Robert Mueller isn't going anywhere. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

[05:05:12] ROMANS: Over the weekend, lawyers for the Trump transition 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 were protected by attorney-client privilege. A spokesperson for Mueller denies the e-mails were obtained unlawfully.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us this morning live from Atlanta, Chris Deaton, deputy online editor of "The Weekly Standard." Not flying out anywhere. No plans to fly?

CHRIS DEATON, DEPUTY ONLINE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Absolutely no plans to fly. I'm actually not even in D.C. right now. I'm actually down here in Atlanta on a living basis. The inconveniences are nonexistence for me whatsoever. I feel bad for all of my other colleagues, though. It's terrible. BRIGGS: We are glad you are not at the airport.

DEATON: Yes.

BRIGGS: So, let's talk about this controversy being drummed up over whether or not Republicans will make an attempt at firing Bob Mueller. That is certainly gaining traction in recent weeks. You heard what the president said. Here is what John Cornyn said about the possibility of firing the special counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears that some of the president's allies in the Congress is starting to lay the ground work for him to fire Robert Mueller. What would that mean if the president fires the special counsel?

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), MAJORITY WHIP: I read that the president's own lawyers say that's not going to happen. I think it would be a mistake, myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: I'm not sure we can read too much into what the president says. I don't know there's strategy in a lot of things the president does. But Matt Gaitz, the Congressman, is calling on Congress to fire Mueller and says put up or shut up if there's collusion or not. Do you hear traction gaining in Republican circles that they want to have him fired?

DEATON: I think, Dave, if anything, you hit on the exact quote, the exact idea that is perturbing so many Republicans. It's the idea of time. The fact this is proceeding at a deliberate pace. I mean, this is an investigation that has a pretty expansive scope.

I think we have seen that and you are not necessarily going to have something wrapped up at the snap of a finger. This is going to take time. So, when you come at it from a political perspective of things and all you see is the drip, drip, drip.

Things that are troubling. Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn participating in behavior that is unbecoming perhaps unethical. But when you are trying to push at this idea of collusion, the White House and a lot of Trump allies saying we don't see anything here that could possibly result in that, so we are just going believe that this is a witch hunt.

And when you get into the idea of trying to turn over certain e-mails and are there questions about those things being obtained that went outside of protocol, that's just going to (inaudible) those kinds of arguments. So, that's what I think we are seeing going on here with respect Republicans who were trying to push the messaging in this direction and making their impatience know.

ROMANS: You know, the president was coming back from Camp David to the White House when he made those comments, that very brief comment about not wanting to fire Robert Mueller. He could have said nothing when shouted questions and he has said nothing before.

BRIGGS: Plenty of times.

ROMANS: You take him at his word on that. At least yesterday, that is where we stand on that. Let's talk about tax reform. They are about, Chris, to get their first real big legislative achievement in the books this week. It is not the real tax simplification, the real tax reform many wanted.

It is still full of loopholes. You will not be able to file your personal income taxes on one postcard. People at high tax states are really furious because their taxes will likely go up.

But, Michael Bloomberg says this is all one big facade. This is what he said. He called this -- he says "CEOs aren't waiting on a tax cut to jump start the economy -- a favorite phrase of politicians who have never run a company or to hand out raises. It's pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth as Republicans have promised.

Had Congress actually listened to executives or economists who study these issues carefully, it might have realized that." He says he is a friend of Gary Cohn's, but Gary Cohn is wrong, CEOs are not going to start creating jobs or raising wages because of tax cuts. It's going to add to the deficit and go to company's bottom lines. What do you think?

DEATON: That would be a massive bummer, first of all, since this bill is essentially catered toward corporations. I mean, when we talk about a comprehensive tax reform bill like this one, there is the corporate piece and the individual piece.

And Christine, to your point, the individual side of things retains the progressivity of the tax code. There are still seven tax brackets. We are talking about the Republican Party of old that made simplification such a big idea of what they wanted to do.

Let's maybe push in the direction of a flat tax or at least get it down to three brackets. We still have seven. There are some numbers that are played around with and change the threshold for certain marginal tax rates on incomes.

[05:10:03] But it's the corporate piece that is still the big overhaul here, going down to 21 percent on the corporate side of things, repatriation. So, those businesses have better do some stuff from the administration's perspective because that's where the political stuff is in this.

BRIGGS: Yes. It provides the growth. The president has talked about 4 percent, 5 percent or 6 percent growth in certain quarters. If it gets that, then maybe the politics are good. Here are the politics going in.

The NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" generic ballot shows the largest deficit since 2008, 50 percent want a Democrat controlled Congress, only 39 want Republicans in control of Congress. Is that something Republicans are well-aware of and how important this bill is, not just for the economy, but the future of the party?

DEATON: They are. I think there might be a little bit of a disconnect in their thinking, too, because I just don't really know how important it is to some of those softer Republicans who might be more inclined to vote for a Democrat as a rebuke to the Trump administration and the Republican Party, how tied up they are in the ramifications of a tax bill that isn't cater to them.

I mean, I think that the messaging has been dominated by the corporate side of things here. So, Republicans saying they want to get this tax bill across the finish line is a political initiative for them.

BRIGGS: All right. Before you go, did you see "Star Wars"?

DEATON: I did. I saw it Saturday night in 3D in all its glory.

BRIGGS: And?

DEATON: I have my doubts, man. I don't know. I don't know to throw spoilers out there for people who might not have seen it, but, you know, I want to see it a second time. I'm reserving judgment as I'm one to do. I'm a journalist I should.

BRIGGS: You know, we are going to see you twice. You are going to come back in about 30 minutes. We'll see if you are better the second time as well.

DEATON: Sure.

ROMANS: Thanks, Chris.

DEATON: Thanks, guys.

BRIGGS: Ahead, Senator John McCain will miss the vote on the GOP tax plan this week. According to two sources close to him, McCain returned home to Arizona Sunday to continue recovering from the side effects of chemotherapy for a brain tumor. One source said he left Walter Reed Medical Center, quote, "exhausted but OK." That his ability just to get on a plane was a good sign.

ROMANS: The head of Neuro-Oncology at the National Cancer Institute says in a statement, McCain continues to improve after treatment for a virus. The senator's daughter, Megan McCain, offered gratitude to well-wishers and urged people to celebrate the holiday by giving to cancer research.

BRIGGS: Transgender, diversity, science-based, just some of the word the Trump administration reportedly doesn't want used by the Centers for Disease Control. More next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:16:47]

ROMANS: 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 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, evidence-based and science-based.

BRIGGS: One long-time policy analyst told the "Post" reaction at the briefing was, quote, "incredulous. Are you serious? Are you kidding?" The CDC itself pushing back on the reporting, though.

Director Brenda Fitzgerald sent a note to staff saying, in part, "CDC has a long-standing history 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.

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: In California, intense winds whipped up the huge Thomas wildfire along the Santa Barbara coastline and into an ever-larger inferno Sunday. As of last night, the fire is burning over 270,000 acres, more than a third of the size of Rhode Island and is only 27 percent contained.

It remained the third largest wildfire in modern state history and 8,500 firefighters face gusts topping 70 miles per hour in some spots. The winds are expected to ease some today, but still no rain in the forecast.

BRIGGS: 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 work place misconduct. Richardson is 81. He stopped short of mentioning those allegations in the letter he posted on the team's 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.

He last night tweeted this image of himself in a Panthers jersey. In 2003, of course, they paid over $200 million for the franchise. It is now worth north of $2 billion. Is that much of a punishment to make a ten-fold profit on the team? You decide.

Also, the Dallas Cowboys keep their playoff hopes alive by a razor thin margin and what a debacle of the finish there. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:24:12] BRIGGS: The Dallas Cowboys keep their playoff hopes alive thanks to a piece of paper. Coy Wire will explain in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Dallas beat Oakland by literally, a paper-thin margin. The Cowboys needed just one yard on a crucial fourth down to stay alive. The game was tied at 17 with under 5 minutes to go. Prescott on the sneak. It would be such a close call. Check this out.

The official has to slide an index card to determine if the ball traveled enough. It is ruled a first down. The official says never seen that before. Dallas would kick the field goal to go ahead with 31 seconds to go. The Raiders looks like they are going to win, though. Dramatically, Derek Card, quarterback lunging over, but the ball slips out of his hand and through the end zone. That means it's Cowboy's ball. Dallas wins 20-17 on a thrill.

[05:25:08] Steelers linebacker, Ryan Shazier, pumping up the crowd in Pittsburgh in his first public appearance since a spine injury. The Steelers were up by five with 2 minutes to go. Nobody watching could ignore the fact that Tom Brady with a ball on his hands. A 77-yard scoring drive capped by that 2-point conversion with 56 seconds to go.

Steelers would not give up. Look at this. It appears to be the go- ahead touchdown in the end with seconds to play, but Jesse James does not maintain control of the ball as he falls to the ground. The touchdown is over. The Steelers end up losing in another thriller, 27-24. And, listen to this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am just so happy right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: That is the elation of someone, if you are looking for someone to root for in the 2018 Winter Olympic games. A 17-year-old Maame Biney, Saturday, she became the first African-American woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympics speed skating team. Look at the joy. Look at the cheers from the crowd.

Born in Ghana, she came to the U.S. at 5 years old. A year later, she was skating. Now, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February is on her list of things to conquer. Going to be exciting to follow her.

BRIGGS: Those are the stories that make the Olympics. I have to watch my former NFL star sports guy here, was that a catch Steelers Patriots. We are screaming in the middle. I thought it was a catch and down at the one-yard line. What did you see?

WIRE: Unfortunately, with the receivers for Steelers fans, they have to maintain control even all the way to the ground, ask Dez Bryant from the playoffs. If that were a running back, touchdown, Steelers.

BRIGGS: They have to clean up that rule, Coy. I cannot stand it. Typical NFL fans cannot understand what they are doing out there. It doesn't make sense to people that see a catch, see a knee. It's either a touchdown or down at the one. We have to live with the NFL rule as it is.

WIRE: You know who else has to live with it? Heinz, he came into the office eyes swollen. He was crying all night over that one. Tough loss for the Steelers.

BRIGGS: Steelers fans are a passionate base. Thank you, Coy.

BRIGGS: All right. Airlines are 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's Russia probe, Bob Mueller's team defending the way it got thousands of e- mails related to the Trump transition. We'll discuss.