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EARLY START

Power Restored At Atlanta Airport After Total Outage; Trump: I Won't Fire Mueller; Trump To Unveil National Security Strategy. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:32:14) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knows anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to make a connection to Chicago but it looks like that might not happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the power's back on, at least, at Atlanta's Hartfield-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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump with no plans to fire the Russia special counsel but the president's allies are ramping up efforts to discredit Bob Mueller. The latest issue, transition team e-mails.

ROMANS: And, Sen. John McCain will miss this week's final vote on tax reform. He's back in Arizona recovering from side effects of chemotherapy.

Welcome back to EARLY START this Monday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And, I'm Dave Briggs.

Hats off to all the CNN heroes honored last night.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: What a terrific program it was and congratulations to all of them for the good they are doing.

ROMANS: All right. The power is 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, evacuation with temperatures in the mid-forties, a ground stop that trapped people on planes for hours, and no guidance from authorities as passenger frustration felt all day.

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

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MAYOR KASIM REED, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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, about 400 flights have been cut.

ROMANS: And counting.

Overnight, the FAA says it kept the control tower fully-staffed, able to ramp up flights as soon as they are ready to go.

For the very latest let's bring in CNN's Martin Savidge now. He is up there bright and early for us. He is at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

And, you know, it's such -- the volume of flights going through there, to have it literally dark yesterday, there must be ramifications this morning as well.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Huge ramifications, Christine, I mean, on top of the fact of just passenger inconvenience, and we're talking tens of thousands of people.

[05:35:00] Over a quarter of a million passengers go through this airport every single day. Now, you've got 500,000-plus that are inconvenienced because they're trying to catch up with yesterday. So you've got that problem.

Then on top of that, the cost to the airlines which has to be in the millions of dollars. And then, what's the impact on the prestige of a city that boasts it's

got the world's busiest airport but apparently can't handle things when the power goes out? And any expert would say if you've got a backup system that's taken out when the primary system goes, that's no backup system.

Take a look at the terminal here today. It doesn't look that bad but that's actually kind of fooling you because most people here have already heard the bad news that a lot of flights are, at least this morning, in trouble so they have stayed away.

Many of these people are the people who braved it through the night. A lot of people either slept here in the main terminal or they were out on the various concourses. There were no stores open so food and water had to be distributed by the airlines and by the city of Atlanta. Some people were evacuated to a convention center.

Can they get back on schedule? Four hundred flights already canceled today but many of the airlines think their schedules will be normal by the end of the day. That doesn't mean that all those passengers that were stranded will be anywhere near their normal destinations because it's the busiest time of the year and trying to squeeze them onto flights that were already very full is going to be a huge task.

And don't even get me started on the mountain of baggage and when, ever, people will be reunited with that.

ROMANS: I hadn't even thought --

SAVIDGE: Christine and David, it's a nightmare they're still facing in day two.

ROMANS: I hadn't even thought of that. You've got a ticket with yesterday's date and you don't know where your bag is -- oh my goodness -- and still trying to get to Chicago.

All right, thanks so much. Nice to see you. We'll talk to you soon.

BRIGGS: What a disaster.

Meanwhile, conservatives have been trying to discredit the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling but the president, himself, says Bob Mueller isn't going anywhere -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Now, a spokesman for Mueller denies the e-mails were obtained unlawfully and says transition documents -- transition e-mails are part of --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: -- the public record.

Joining us live this morning from Atlanta, Chris Deaton, deputy online editor of "The Weekly Standard." Nice to see you again.

So you have the president on his way back from Camp David to the White House with that very brief remark, saying that he has no plans today to fire Robert Mueller.

But you have Trump allies who have really been ramping up their criticism of what they see as wide-ranging Russia investigation, unfocused. And they're really zeroing on what they say are, you know, the political motivations of people inside the agency.

We're still at that moment here where the president said he's not going to fire him, but there really is a lot of work behind the scenes.

CHRIS DEATON, DEPUTY ONLINE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. I think wide-ranging and also never-ending, Christine --

ROMANS: Yes, yes.

2DEATON: -- if you come at it from that Republican perspective as well. But that definitely is kind of the political angle to all of this right now.

I mean, how much have we heard this year, that term deep state, which I don't think went mainstream up until about 11 or 12 months ago? Now, it's ubiquitous. We hear this kind of talk all the time about career agents in the FBI and various intelligence agencies having it out with the President of the United States.

I mean, you have --

ROMANS: But, Chris, you know what's interesting about that? What's so interesting to me about that is that that is, I would say -- and people who work -- have worked inside the FBI, right -- to say that it tends to lean conservative.

BRIGGS: Historically, it has leaned --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- very conservative. That number, according to former FBI people, have told me it's leaned now still, 60-40 on the Republican side of things.

DEATON: Yes, that's thoroughly fascinating.

But, I mean, you're going to -- your people are going to find ways to justify behavior no matter what. This is Washington, D.C. We are constantly going to be searching for ways to try to justify whatever it is that we want to get to. The ends do justify the means.

So I think when we see sometimes this kind of rhetoric come out -- I mean, you have Strzok and Page, these two investigators who were part of the probe in these text messages -- these anti-Trump text messages --

ROMANS: Right.

DEATON: -- that came to light in recent reporting.

When you see that you're going to only add more fuel --

ROMANS: True.

DEATON: -- to conservatives --

BRIGGS: Yes.

DEATON: -- saying they have it out for the president.

ROMANS: True.

DEATON: And that doesn't help politically at all.

BRIGGS: Look, those text messages were a major black eye for the department -- bone-headed mistakes. But, Rod Rosenstein said, himself, he'd seen no reason to fire Bob Mueller.

But here's what Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida -- a Republican, needless to say -- said to Chris Cuomo on Friday about that.

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REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: The Congress have an obligation to expose this bias, to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation. And I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in calling for the firing of Bob Mueller.

[05:40:00] And look, it's time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there is evidence of collusion with Russia, let's see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: So he's calling on his Republican colleagues, and here's what his Republican colleague John Cornyn, the senator from Texas, said. "I think that's a mistake, myself."

Is Gaetz on an island here?

DEATON: Yes, it's a little much. I think it's probably safe to say that he's quite out on cloud nine.

I think if you look at even some of the conservative editorializing on this -- I think of a "National Review" editorial recently that was talking about the idea of investigating some of the investigators, a classic problem of who polices the police. And a lot of it is based on the fact that look, you know, these people have -- the public has a right to have these people held accountable in some fashion, too.

But there's a delineation there and it's a very, very clear line between these people who have political opinions and the integrity of Bob Mueller, himself. There is no reason to doubt the integrity of Bob Mueller.

You can talk about the probe and the way that it's being conducted and some of the actors that were involved, but when it comes to Bob Mueller, you still hear these words like "unimpeachable" and "irreproachable" --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Yes.

DEATON: -- to describe him, even from the right. So I do think that's a little far talking about firing the guy.

ROMANS: Let's talk about tax reform because the president is on the verge of his biggest legislative achievement yet, and the first tax reform since the Reagan administration.

Now, it's still seven tax brackets. It still is reform that is mostly focused on companies, but they're likely to get this through this week.

And, Michael Bloomberg, in an op-ed, says this. He said these CEOs don't need a tax cut.

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 executive or economists who study these issues carefully, it might have realized that."

But the politics -- the politics, Chris Deaton, are pretty clear here. The Republicans want to win and this sort of Frankenstein approach of tax reform is what they're going to pass.

DEATON: Yes, yes, and that's the best that they could possibly do, I think, given the time that was involved, the haste with which this was assembled.

You know, to put a kind of a 30,000-foot view on this, Republicans, of course, have talked about comprehensive tax reform for a very long time.

And, I mean, we can go back years and years ago of this century to something like the Judd Gregg-Ron Wyden bill. Judd Gregg, a former senator from New Hampshire. I mean, they had their own bipartisan --

ROMANS: Yes.

DEATON: -- idea. You had Bowles-Simpson.

ROMANS: Yes.

DEATON: So tax reform has been at the forefront for a very long time.

But given all of the competing interest involved, look, this is a corporate tax bill and when you're cutting the rate from, you know, down to 21 percent overall and you have these massive repatriation types of things you're not going to be able to fiddle with the individual side too much if all you can do is add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, as this bill does -- or is projected to do.

ROMANS: In the "Journal" this morning -- "The Wall Street Journal" -- you know, the pro-business "Wall Street Journal" saying this tax code -- the changes in the tax code set up years of challenge because some things expire, some things don't.

DEATON: Yes.

ROMANS: There's going to be these shifting loopholes. That it --

DEATON: Right.

ROMANS: -- could be a bit of a mess.

BRIGGS: And the Republicans will pay for it if it doesn't get the growth numbers that they are projecting on the 2018 midterms. If it doesn't boost the growth they will pay at the ballot box.

Chris Deaton, deputy online editor of "The Weekly Standard." I want to ask you what a catch is in the NFL but, sadly, we are out of time.

DEATON: "STAR WARS" is good. I made up my mind.

ROMANS: OK, good.

BRIGGS: "STAR WARS" is good. He's improving that review as we go --

ROMANS: He --

DEATON: Three out of four.

ROMANS: It's a franchise that has a future, is what you're saying.

DEATON: Yes, yes. I think the merchandizing --

BRIGGS: All right, guys.

DEATON: -- is going to go well.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Chris.

ROMANS: All right.

DEATON: Thank you.

ROMANS: The president set to roll out a new national security strategy today. Why is he going to target China as part of it? We're live in Beijing.

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[05:48:20] BRIGGS: All right. The vote on the Republican tax bill set for this week but Sen. John McCain will miss it, according to two sources close to the senator. 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 quote, "exhausted but OK." And, that his ability to just 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.

And the senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, offered gratitude to well- wishers and urged people to celebrate the holiday by giving to cancer research.

BRIGGS: All right, time for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota joins us.

Alisyn has tired eyes, like myself. That's, in part, from no sleep and, in part, from crying at all the CNN hero --

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: -- stories. Good morning.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh my gosh, it was such an inspiring --

BRIGGS: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- life-affirming night. Christine, we missed you. I mean, you know how these CNN heroes nights are.

ROMANS: Beautiful, yes.

CAMEROTA: They just give you a new lease on life.

BRIGGS: Yes, no question.

CAMEROTA: I think you will all see a difference in my performance today when you tune into "NEW DAY," so look forward to that, number one.

BRIGGS: We do. CAMEROTA: OK, number two, of course, we all remember the ambush in Niger. We needed an update on that and we have one for you this morning.

So we have Sgt. La David Johnson's mom here with us. Of course, you'll remember there were four U.S. soldiers who lost their lives and Sgt. La David Johnson was missing for 48 hours.

So, what is the Pentagon now telling his mom and his family about what happened to him, and where he was, and why he was missing? We have them here with that story.

And then, we also have exclusive reporting on a new Russia thread in terms of how the president is feeling about Robert Mueller's probe and what might happen next.

So we have both of those exclusive things for you when Chris and I see you at the top of the hour.

[05:50:03] ROMANS: All right, can't wait.

BRIGGS: Very good.

ROMANS: Thanks, Alisyn.

BRIGGS: See you in a bit.

CAMEROTA: Sure.

ROMANS: All right. About 49-50 minutes past the hour.

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

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BRIGGS: 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's also expected to lash out at China and we have some new details on how.

[05:55:05] CNN's Matt Rivers is joining us live in Beijing with those details. Good morning, Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Yes, this is something that every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has rolled out in a formula -- formal document -- this national security strategy. And in this document, senior administration officials tell CNN that the president will hit China pretty hard, calling China a strategic competitor. And specifically, they're really going to focus a lot on trade and

that's not surprising given what we've heard from Donald Trump, mainly as a candidate for president. You heard him really rip into China on a regular basis, talking about intellectual property theft, talking about market-restricted access here to the Chinese market for American companies -- the billowing, ballooning trade deficit between both countries.

And so what the president is likely to lay out is why that is harming the U.S. from a national security standpoint.

Also, that really isn't a huge -- it's a bit of a surprise given that's a change from what we've seen from the Trump administration so far. They've really been using China and Chinese cooperation to try and deal with this North Korea issue. How this potential about-face will affect that -- their ability to work together -- we're not sure.

Also expected to be mentioned, the military expansion in the South China Sea. And also, Russia, briefly, and their involvement in the Ukraine and Georgia.

BRIGGS: That's quite a confrontation. We will hear from the president at 2:00 eastern time.

Matt Rivers live in Beijing. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

In California, intense winds whipped the huge Thomas wildfire along the Santa Barbara coastline into an even larger inferno yesterday. As of last night, that fire is now burning more than 270,000 acres. It is only 27 percent contained. The third-largest wildfire in modern state history.

Eighty-five hundred firefighters facing gusts that are topping 70 miles per hour in some spots. The winds are expected to ease today but there is still no rain in the forecast.

BRIGGS: Oh.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson plans to put the NFL team he founded up for sale amid allegations of workplace misconduct. Richardson is 81. He stopped short of mentioning the allegations in the letter he posted on the team Website.

The move follows a "Sports Illustrated" report detailing settlements with at least four former employees over alleged inappropriate behavior by Richardson.

ROMANS: All right, it is that time, Monday morning. Let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

Global stock markets higher today. U.S. stocks closed Friday at all- time highs as tax reform is now within reach. GOP leaders secured votes for a passage Friday. It won't be the simplification once promised. You won't be able to

file your taxes on a postcard. It doesn't get rid of all of those loopholes. Personal tax cuts are temporary, but it cuts corporate taxes and that's what Wall Street really wants here.

The Dow jumped 140 points, now just 300 points shy of 25,000 with just 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 in a court filing Friday and is part of an ongoing lawsuit against Uber by Waymo, this Alphabet self- driving car unit, for stealing trade secrets.

Uber told CNN it's aware of the letter's allegations but that they aren't -- 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.

The only movie to beat it -- well, the previous "STAR WARS" film, "THE FORCE AWAKENS.

BRIGGS: Always good to see Leia, though. Carrie Fisher --

ROMANS: And so many of the reviews are that this was a powerful film centered around two very powerful female actresses and characters, and I'm excited to do that.

BRIGGS: Nice to see that.

All right, that's going to do it for us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And, I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your new day. It is Monday, December 18th, 6:00 here in New York, and here's our "Starting Line."

There's some good travel news. Power is back on at the world's busiest airport. Flights at Atlanta's Hartsfield International are expected to resume at this hour, but you are urged to check with your airline. That's the bad news. More than 400 flights are already canceled today.

It was an 11-hour outage and it stranded tens of thousands of travelers Sunday inside the airport and on the tarmac.

Now, Atlanta's mayor says a fire at an underground electrical facility was the cause, but what sparked that fire is not known.

And in Washington, President Trump says he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, which is a good thing because he can't fire Mueller directly.

Now, as for Mueller's team taking a --