Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Speaks Out On Mueller, Sessions & 2018; 12 Killed in NYC Fire. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:15] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Extensive new insight to President Trump on key topics for next year. What he says about the special counsel, his own attorney general and North Korea that might stun you. We have live coverage and reaction to the president's comments.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And a holiday season tragedy in the Bronx, at least a dozen people killed in the deadliest apartment fire in New York City in a quarter century.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik, sitting in for Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs. It's finally Friday, December 29th, 4:00 a.m. in the East, noon in Moscow, 5:00 p.m. in Beijing. We'll get to both live shortly.

We'll start with this, wow, eyebrow raising interview in the "New York Times" with the president. After weeks of watching his allies try to discredit the special counsel's investigation, President Trump is actually giving Robert Mueller the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Trump is sitting down with the "New York Times" for an impromptu interview at his golf club in Palm Beach. Their wide-ranging conversation, including stunning comments about the Justice Department, the attorney general and North Korea. More on that in a moment.

KOSIK: But on Russia, the president took a different tone than many in the Republican Party have been taking in the last several weeks. Here's "New York Times" reporter Michael Shear on CNN last night.



MICHAEL SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He thought Bob Mueller was going to be fair to him, which really undercuts and undermines an argument that many in his party have been making in the last several weeks, that they've been attempting to discredit and undermine Mueller's investigation, calling it partisan. So, this kind of goes against that, but at the same time, the president repeated a lot of the complaints and criticisms that he's had about the investigation.


KOSIK: Among those complaints, the investigation is bad for the country. President Trump told "The Times" it makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country.

BRIGGS: President Trump also told the newspaper 16 times, in 30 minutes, there was no collusion with Russia. He also says some congressman have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole investigation is and that his base is stronger than ever.

KOSIK: The president's comments coming amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the tone growing more confrontational over the last few days because of a series of issues.

CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live for us in Moscow.

So, I'd love to hear the Kremlin's take on this wide-ranging interview.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kremlin so far hasn't commented on the interview itself, but, Alison, you're absolutely right. The tone has certainly grown a lot more confrontational. We feel like it's been a lot more confrontational throughout this entire past week. One of the reasons was, of course, that op-ed by Rex Tillerson only a day ago. But it feeds into a general feeling.

And the Russians for their part called that op-ed, for instance, confrontational, even called an op-ed fake news, if you can believe that. And the Russians were saying they believe the U.S. is trying to drive a wedge between Russia and China because the U.S. believes that Russia and China are becoming too popular. The Russians are saying that isn't going to happen and they're also warning against the U.S. using what they call language of strength and power against Russia.

So, you can feel how it's become more confrontational but especially also as far as the investigation into possible collusion is concerned. We've also seen the Russians really sour over the past couple of weeks. For a long time, the Russians were thinking that relations between the Trump administration, the Putin administration would get better, at least in the first year that President Trump was in office. And it seems to be dawning on them that that is not going to be the case.

One of the most recent thing is actually the decision by the U.S. to put missile interceptors into Japan, obviously, to defend against North Korea. The Russians are calling that a provocation and they themselves say they are conducting missile tests, and a missile they say can beat the missile defense system. So, it really seems as though the confrontation is getting or is heating up a lot, Alison.

KOSIK: Well, I'll tell you what, if the Kremlin hasn't -- if Vladimir Putin hasn't read over this interview yet in "The New York Times", I'm sure he will grab a newspaper soon.

Frederik Pleitgen, live from Moscow, thanks.

BRIGGS: President Trump also taking a not so subtle shot at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now, you'll remember Sessions recused himself from the special counsel's Russia investigation months ago after it came to light he met with Russia's ambassador during the campaign.

Now, when asked whether President Obama thinks former President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder was more loyal than his own A.G., Mr. Trump had this to say: I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will say this: Holder protected President Obama.

[04:05:05] Totally protected him. When you look at the things that they did and Holder protected the president and I have great respect for that. I'll be honest.

KOSIK: President Trump also spoke about Hillary Clinton, and the e- mail investigation. Asked if he would order the Justice Department to reopen the probe into Mrs. Clinton's e-mails, Mr. Trump told "The Times" this, I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

Now, in the past, Mr. Trump has expressed frustration the Department of Justice led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn't gone after Clinton.

BRIGGS: President Trump going on to defend his decision to keep trade active with China, pointing to the North Korea threat and telling "The Times", quote, China is hurting us bad on trade because I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war.

KOSIK: It's the first time Mr. Trump directly admitted being easier on China in hopes they pressure Pyongyang to stop its advancement of nuclear weapons. The president calling North Korea, quote, a nuclear menace, which is no good for China.

BRIGGS: The president's comments came hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea. President tweeted: caught red-handed. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen.

Trump was asked by "The Times" how recently the possible transfer happened. He said, quote, it was very recently. In fact, I hate to say, it was reported Thursday morning on Fox.

CNN's Alexandra Field live in Beijing for us.

Alex, good to see you.

Presumably, the president not getting his intelligence from Fox but from the intelligence community. What do we know about these oil shipments from China to North Korea?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do know that the president gets a hold lot of his information from cable news, but we also know that various government agencies had been talking about the possibility of these illegal shipping networks sprouting up as a result of the sanctions that are intended to cut off the resources and the revenue that flows into North Korea, fuelling this rogue regime and its elicit programs.

You know, it was back in November, Dave, frankly, that the Department of Treasury had warned about the possibility of these illegal ship to ship transfers. Now, a State Department official is saying that, in fact, illegal ship to ship transfers are being made. They say that these transfers have involved ships from a few different countries but that those ships do include vessels coming from China.

This is something that made news this week as a result of South Korean media reports. It was South Korean media that said that there were satellite images that showed Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korea. Of course, that is prohibited under the waves of U.N. Security Council sanctions that we have seen passed repeatedly throughout the course of the year as a result of the provocations from Pyongyang.

More evidence that this could be happening, well, South Korean authorities came out today saying that back in November, they actually seized a Hong Kong-based ship that was being leased by a Taiwanese company that they say left the port in South Korea and was carrying oil to North Korean vessels. Again, illegal under the sanctions, so perhaps that's exactly what President Trump has referring to, but that was a bold tweet issued overnight, saying that China had been caught red-handed. Major allegations suggesting that China was breaking these sanctions.

The ministry of foreign affairs here has maintained a position that it has taken all week, that China is upholding fully the U.N. Security Council sanctions and if it finds evidence of any companies or ships Chinese ships that are violating the sanctions, those companies would be dealt with. That's what we're waiting (ph) for now -- Dave.

BRIGGS: This all at a time we thought things were cooling in the region. Alex, thanks.

KOSIK: Days after suggesting more bipartisanship in 2018, President Trump didn't make that prospect any easier. Mr. Trump said he would have worked out or hammered out a bipartisan tax bill if Democrats asked but he also attacked a key Democratic senator he'll need in 2018 to get anything done, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

BRIGGS: Trump says this: We started taxes. And we don't hear from the Democrats. You know, we hear B.S. from the Democrats, like Joe Manchin. Joe's a nice guy but he talks, he doesn't do anything.

Hey, let's get together. Let's do bipartisan. Oh, good, let's go. Then you don't hear from him again.

The president said Democrats should come to him for deals on infrastructure, health care and a way to help DREAMers but made it clear he won't do a deal on the DREAM Act without building that wall.

BRIGGS: President Trump doesn't shy away from giving himself some credit in "The New York Times" interview. He predicts the tax cut will be far bigger than anyone imagined. The president says not so humbly: I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA.

[04:10:01] I know the details of health care better than most.

BRIGGS: Mr. President Trump predicts he'll be re-elected in 2020 for a, quote, lot of reasons, saying the country is starting to do well again and the media will come to love him.

The president tells "The Times", another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, "The New York Times" will indeed be not the failing "New York Times" but the failed "New York Times."

The president added that the media basically will let him win. We will let him win reelection in 2020.


BRIGGS: Yes, that happened.

KOSIK: I don't know what to say. Speechless.

BRIGGS: No. You shouldn't.

KOSIK: You know what? Interestingly enough, I mean, maybe the ratings would be impacted but to put an end to certain media outlets --

BRIGGS: Bit of a stretch.

KOSIK: A quick end, blunt end to Roy Moore's Senate hopes. An Alabama circuit judge denying Moore's attempt to delay the certification of the results after claiming voter fraud. The state made Democrats Doug Jones' victory shortly after the judge's ruling. Moore refuses to concede though Jones won by more than 21,000 votes. Moore issued a statement calling the election fraudulent and slamming the Washington establishment. Jones will be sworn in early next year.

BRIGGS: All right. From politics to some truly horrific news here in New York City.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century.


BRIGGS: Devastating. Twelve dead including a 1-year-old, as a fire rages through a Bronx apartment building. Hear from the fire commissioner next.


[04:15:01] BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news overnight.

Fire officials in New York are trying to determine what sparked the deadliest fire in the city in at least the last 25 years, at least 12 people were killed, including a one-year-old. Officials say the fire started on the first floor of an apartment building just before 7:00 last night near the Bronx Zoo. Firefighters arrived within three minutes battling flames in frigid temperatures but the fire quickly spread to the top floors.


BLASIO: We're here at the scene of an unspeakable tragedy in the middle of the holiday season, a time when families are together. Tonight here in the Bronx, there are families that have been torn apart.

DANIEL A. NIGRO, NYFD COMMISSIONER: This tragedy is without question historic in its magnitude here, and our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one here and everyone that's fighting for their lives.


BRIGGS: Officials say that victims rage from 1 to 50 years old.

KOSIK: Apple apologizing to customers for how it rolled out and update that could slow down older iPhones. To make up for it, the company will offer cheaper battery replacement. On their Website Apple posting a long explanation saying: We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. First and foremost, we have never -- and would never -- do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product.

To make amends, Apple will temporarily drop the price of replacement batteries to $29 beginning in late January. The price will go back up to the usual $79 in 2019.

Customers were upset, very upset with the company about the software update that deliberately slowed down older phones in some situations to extend battery life. Some thought it was a ploy to get you to upgrade to new devices. A number of people around the world have filed lawsuits over the feature and are seeking class action status.

Interestingly enough, if you read that apology, Apple's not really apologizing for slowing, they're apologizing for having communicated it.

BRIGGS: Right. It makes you feel like they're not going to stop that process.

KOSIK: Right.

BRIGGS: You're speaking to someone who's had no iPhone all morning because --

KOSIK: You're shut off today.

BRIGGS: -- it won't reset. I'm a little better but thank you for the reporting.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, final preparations under way for New Year's Eve. Authorities in New York have a close eye on two big factors, security and weather.

Athena Jones braving the bitter cold for us in Times Square with more.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and Dave.

The New Year's Eve celebration here in Times Square is an iconic event. It's also a massive security challenge, and it's one the NYPD working with state and local and federal officials is used to undertaking. The police commissioner said that preparations for this year's event began as the last of the confetti was being swept up after last year's celebration.

We're told there will be an increased police presence this year and that's due in part to the two recent terror attacks right here in New York. This entire area will be sealed off to traffic starting early in the day and the 12 access points that spectators will use to access this year will be manned by teams of police. There will be police with heavy weapons, there will be dogs that are capable of detecting radiological material. There will also be sanitation trucks and cement blocks to help seal off the area.

Now, authorities, the mayor, the police commissioner on down all say that there is no direct credible threat to Times Square or New York City, but that everyone should remain vigilant. Now, based on last year's numbers, we could be up to 2 million people out here celebrating on Sunday night, ringing in 2018. Although that number might be diminished slightly by the fact this is set to be the coldest New Year's Eve in 55 years.

The mayor warned folks to pay attention to the weather, bundle up, take precautions if they're planning to come out and celebrate -- Alison, Dave.


KOSIK: OK. Athena Jones, thanks very much. It looks cold.

The entertainment world mourning the loss of legendary actress Rose Marie.


KOSIK: The 94-year-old best known for her role as Sally Rogers on the "Dick Van Dyke Show". She also had a run on the game show "Hollywood Squares". Maries' career spanning nine decades beginning as a child star. She earned three Emmy nominations. She was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001.

BRIGGS: In case you missed it, it's frigid outside. The obvious answer: more global warming. We end 2017 the way we spent so much of it, reading bizarre tweets from the president of the United States, in this case, confusing weather with climate.

[04:20:00] We'll explain, next.


BRIGGS: Four-twenty-three Eastern Time. In a tweet as bizarre as it is or lacking for scientific knowledge, President Trump sarcastically suggested climate change could be a good thing, apparently not realizing climate change and weather are not exactly the same thing.

While on vacation in sunny Florida, the president fired off this tweet. In the east, it could be the coldest New Year's Eve on record, perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country but not other countries was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up.

The president's tweets further distancing his climate policy from the vast majority of scientists.

KOSIK: Mr. Trump has a history of linking the temperature in any one place to the existence of global warming, something climate scientists have long said is inaccurate. A White House official did not respond when asked whether the tweet indicates anything about the administration's policy. It's worth pointing out, though, the president's golf course in Ireland recently receive permission to build sea walls to prevent erosion. So, may be he does acknowledge it exists. Go figure.

BRIGGS: Interesting.

So, just how much colder will it get in this final weekend of 2017?

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has our New Year's forecast.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good Friday morning, Dave and Alison.

If you are headed out to watch the ball drop in Times Square this weekend, bundle up, bring every piece of winter gear that you own. Eleven degrees, that's the official midnight forecast. When you factor in the wind, it will feel like a mere 3 below zero.

And this puts it at the coldest New Year's Eve forecast in New York City since 1962. It could top out in the top three ever. The coldest ever, by the way, was set in 1917 where it was only one lonely degree in Times Square.

This is the set up, frigid arctic air, settling in across eastern half of the country. We do have a chance of snow today from Chicago, into Grand Rapids, Michigan. National Weather Service has once again issued wind chill warnings and advisories from upstate New York, right through Maine. That will likely be re-issued through the weekend.

Check out these wind chill temperatures right now, well below freezing from Boston, into New York, Portland, only 11, in Pittsburgh, six right now, near Cleveland. Actual temperatures, not much more promising for New Year's Eve, 14 degrees for Chicago, 26 in D.C., Atlanta, running at least 20 degrees below where you should be this time of year. And, by the way, chances of more lake effect snow this weekend.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: All I know is better you than me that you will be in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

KOSIK: Yes, I think at least for eight hours. Fun.

BRIGGS: Wicked. Enjoy that.

Not nearly enough time in this two hour program to discuss everything eyebrow raising in the president's surprise interview with the "New York Times." Why he's going easy on China, what he thinks about the special counsel and some harsh words for his own attorney general.