Return to Transcripts main page


Trump White House Tell-All Comes Out Today; Sessions Rescinds Obama's 'Hands-Off' Marijuana Policy; 2 GOP Lawmakers: It's Time For Sessions To Go; N. Korea Accepts S. Korean Invitation To Talk. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:07] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: An aide to the president quit over obstruction concerns. The president's thoughts on the KKK and the so-called death match battle to Trump's family. And Steve Bannon, some of the revelations in a new book prompting questions about the president's fitness for office.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A new report says the president tried to keep his allies in charge of the Russia investigation is considered possible new proof of obstruction by President Trump.

BRIGGS: And if you literally want to know what it's like to live on Mars, you're going to get your chance this weekend. Temperatures plunging to levels that will make this past week seem like summer. This is wicked out there. Good morning everyone. Thanks for getting in EARLY START with us, I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: It's wicked but it is Friday. And I'm Christine Romans. It has been a busy week. And it's Friday --

BRIGGS: Hi. Good morning sweetheart.

ROMANS: -- the January 5th, it is 4:00 a.m. in the east.

That highly anticipated book about President Trump's first month in the White House it goes on sale today. Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" comes out a days ahead of schedule in defiance of legal threats from Mr. Trump's lawyers. Now, CNN has obtained a copy of this book. Wolff was given extraordinary access to the West Wing early in the Trump administration.

BRIGGS: We should note, while some of Michael Wolff's reporting has been corroborated, some errors have been identified. But some of his details stunning and incriminating per tray the president as erratic, easily distracted and uninterested. Overnight Trump himself poked holes in Wolff's credibility.

ROMANS: That's right. He tweeted "I authorize a zero access to the White House, actually turned him down many times for author of phony book. I've never spoke to him for a book full of lies and misrepresentations and sources that don't exist. Look at this guy's past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve." That of course is a new nickname for Steve Bannon, "Sloppy Steve", the president, a master brand maker. The book "Steve Bannon" saying some harsh things about Trump's family and his inner circle.

BRIGGS: He's Sloppy Steve stuck is trending on Twitter: Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the book "complete fantasy, sad, and pathetic". She was also forced to respond for the second day in a row for question about the president's mental fitness.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen. This is an incredibly strong and good leader.


BRIGGS: As for the book's direct quotes, from "Sloppy Steve" or "Steve Bannon", so far he has disputed none of them. We'll have more on those in a moment.

ROMANS: Among the revelations in his book "Fire and Fury", President Trump's first hand involvement crafting the misleading response to that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

And the book says "The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That's what was discussed, period. Even though it was likely, if not certain that the Times had the incriminating e-mail chain. In fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew what the Times have this e-mail chain. The president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton."

BRIGGS: The "New York Times" first disclosed the meeting last year reporting it was actually to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, not adoption. And "The Washington Post" later reported it was President Trump himself who dictated the initial misleading statement.

At the time, Sarah Sanders said, President Trump had "weighed in as any father would". But on another excerpt, Wolff writes the president's lawyers believe the Air Force statement was "an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears."

And Wolff says it led one of Mr. Trump's spokesman to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.

ROMANS: Also this morning, the "New York Times" reports President Trump's lobby the Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russian probe. That move might be considered new evidence of obstruction by the president.

The "New York Times" reporting Special Council Robert Mueller is aware that last March, Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions recusing himself from overseeing the investigation.

BRIGGS: The incident another possible example Trump sought to influence the Justice Department. Ty Cobb, a lawyer for the president told CNN "He respectfully declines to comment."

Congressman Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee calls McGahn's reported conduct completely unacceptable. He says McGahn should make himself available to the committee.

ROMANS: The "New York Times" also report in the four days before James Comey was fired last May an aide to Attorney General Sessions asked a congressional staffer whether he had damaging information about Comey.

A person with knowledge of that meeting tells the "Times" Sessions "wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey." A Justice Department spokesman tells CNN, this did not happen.

[04:05:08] All right. Michael Wolff's book also includes President Trump's unflattering description of Former FBI Director Comey which apparently came after the president fired him.

"Comey was a rat", repeated Trump. "There were rats everywhere and we had to get rid of them. John Dean, John Dean" he repeated. "Do you know what John Dean did to Nixon?" Dean He was the White House counsel of course who cooperated with special prosecutors was fired by Nixon and intensified against Nixon to the Senate Watergate Committee.

BRIGGS: Turning back to Wolff's reporting on Steve Bannon, the book describes an ugly and contentious relationship between the ex-chief strategist and Jared and Ivanka or "Jivanka as he calls them. The author says Bannon referred to them as "Jarvanka". The couple believe Bannon leave damaging details about Jared Kushner in an effort to take him down.

ROMANS: Wolff writes, "Part of the by now the deep enmity between the first family couple and their allies and Bannon and his team was the Jarvanka conviction that Bannon had played a part in many of the reports of Kushner's interactions with the Russians. This was not, in other words, merely an internal policy war, it was a death match. For Bannon to live, Kushner will have to be holy discredited Hillary investigated possibly even jailed."

BRIGGS: According to the author, Bannon was delighted by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's discomfort with the Russia investigation. Wolff writes "The Kushner position was not helped by the fact that the president had been gleefully telling people that Jared could solve the Middle East problem, because they knew Kushner's and all the crooks in Israel. The kids, Jared and Ivanka exhibited an increasingly panicked sense that the FBI and DOJ were moving beyond Russian election interference into family finances. Ivanka is terrified for the satisfied Bannon."

BRIGGS: Steve Bannon had more to say about Ivanka Trump including his reaction after President Trump pulled that Paris accords a big blow to the first daughter. Wolff writes, "It was likewise the move that Ivanka Trump had campaigned hardest against in the White House. Score", Bannon said, "the bitch is dead."

BRIGGS: And his book, Wolff also offers up first handy counts of Trump allies and associates questioning whether the president even understands his job. Among them, Former "Fox News" boss and confident Roger Ailes, the author writes about a conversation between Bannon and Ailes, "Does he get it?" As Ailes suddenly looking intentionally at Bannon, "Did Trump get where history had put him?" Bannon took a zip of water, "He gets it" he said. After hesitating from perhaps a bit too long or he gets what he gets.

ROMANS: According to the book, Ailes also questioned Trump's understanding of health care. As the debate rage, he quote Ailes is saying, "No one of the country or an earth has given less thought to health insurance and Donald Trump."

BRIGGS: The explosive new book also details an interesting conversation with Steve Bannon and the president about the fall out from Charlottesville. One day after the deadly protest, Wolff says, "Trump called Bannon for guidance asking where does this all end. Are they going to take down the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, Mount Vernon with the president vacationing at his golf club in New Jersey, Bannon urged him to condemn violence and misfits that also defend history."

ROMANS: Wolff goes on to write, "But Jared and Ivanka are backing them urged presidential behavior. Their plan was to have Trump return to the White House and address the issue with a forceful censure of hate groups and racial politics. Exactly the unambiguous sort of position outright leader Richard Spencer strategically bet Trump would not be willing to take. Bannon understanding the same currents in Trump lobbied Kelly and told him that the Jarvanka approach will back fire, it would be clear his heart is not in it," said Bannon.

BRIGGS: Wolff then adds this "Privately Trump kept trying to rationalize why someone would be a member of the KKK. That is they might not actually believe what the KKK believed and that KKK probably does not believe what it used to believe, and anyway, who really knows what the KKK believes now?"

Trump, of course, blamed both sides for the deadly Charlottesville violence only to walk it back before saying it, again, days later. Bannon was fired from his chief strategist post by the end of that week.

ROMANS: And, finally, there is this from Steve Bannon on the Russian investigation. Wolff quotes in a seeming to invite impeachment if President Trump fires special council Robert Mueller. "Bannon's tone veered from desperation to resignation, if he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. Why not, let's do it. Let's get it done and why not. What am I going to go do? Am I going to go in and save him? He's Donald Trump."

BRIGGS: Now, there are a few cautions to offer about the book. Michael Wolff has a history of writing -- that makes a splash. His journalistic sources and methods have already come under some scrutiny. [04:10:08] Wolff paints quite a few scenes without any direct quotes at all and his sourcing at times is vague. But much of what is in the book cross-checks with earlier reports from credible media outlet.

ROMANS: Here's how Wolff explains it in the books process. "These challenges have included dealing with off the record and deep background material that was later casually put on the record. Sources have provided accounts and confidence and then subsequently shared them widely. And a frequent and attention to setting any parameters on the use of a conversation among the many balancing acts," the author, Michael Wolff lists.

BRIGGS: OK. Steve Bannon's influence moving forward looking murky this morning. A source familiar with the matter telling CNN there is a hard push to convince executives at Breitbart to fire him. Bannon, is executive chairman of the Alt-Right website, here's the White House take on this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Breitbart part ways with Steve Bannon after the comments in the book?

SANDERS: I certainly think that it's something they should look and consider.


BRIGGS: Rebecca Mercer, a conservative mega donor who owns a stake in Breitbart ripped Bannon in a rare public statement. The Mercer family has funded Bannon's projects for years with those dollars could dry up now.

The president up late trying hard to change the conversation tweeting, "The fake news media barely mentions the fact that the stock market just hit another new record and that business in the U.S. is booming. But the people know -- can you imagine if, oh, Obama was president and had these numbers, it would be the biggest story on earth. Dow now over 25,000."

ROMANS: To be clear, CNN reports on the stock market every day, the records every day, every time they occur. This weekend, the president will focus -- attempt to focus on policy and escape the buzz over that Michael Wolff book. He's heading to Camp David for meetings with Republican leaders on legislative issues.

BRIGGS: The White House moving to ban staff use of personal cell phones from the West Wing citing security concerns. Sources tell CNN White House aides are not buying the official explanation and believe the ban is intended to stop leaks. Officials say, the order will apply to guests, staffers, even senior aides but not the president. Staff will still be able to conduct business on government issued devices.

The White House says, there are currently no plans to change policy on cell phone use by members of the White House press corps. ROMANS: All right. A new record high for the Dow. Yes, Mr. Trump, a new record high and we report on these things, more on the Dow's rise and a snowstorm that couldn't slow it down.


[04:15:39] ROMANS: All right. So it sounds dramatic, the so called bomb cyclone, and it was causing widespread damage in New England, frigid water flowing in to the streets and some coastal cities prompting record high tides. The gauge of Boston harbor matching its record at 15.1 feet. In other parts of Massachusetts, the streets inundated with rising water more than a foot of snow fell in Boston.

BRIGGS: Boston Harbor just a complete disaster. And New York City hit with nine inches of snow, more than 13,000 customers along the east coast lost power. Airports are starting to get back up and running though 1,100 flights have really been canceled. At least 17 people died this week due to the severe weather.

Now, some record breaking low temperatures are on the way. Let's get to CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam live in the weather center. Derek, good morning.

DEREK VAN DAM, METEOROLOGIST: Dave, good morning to you. I hope you're bundled up. A 75 percent of the United States population will actually be dropping below freezing through the course of the weekend.

This storm is on its way out. But the big story here is that it's pulling in arctic air from the north. And we are going to see very cold temperatures, cold like we haven't seen in a very, very long time. In fact, Chicago will not rise above 20 degrees Fahrenheit before the end of the weekend. And they've been very cold for several days already.

Look at these snowfall totals from the storm, 19 inches in Massachusetts, equally impressive totals across Connecticut and into New York of course grounding flights. That flights aren't going anywhere anytime soon. That's coming out of JFK.

Now, the big story here is the wind that is really cooling down the wind-chill temperatures. That's what it feels like on your exposed skin. As you step outside, wind gusts easily in excess of 30 miles per hour. That is dropping wind-chill values well below freezing from the big apple (ph) right through to Detroit and Chicago.

We have over 130 million Americans under a wind-chill advisory or warning, stretching from the great lakes all the way to the mid- Atlantic and in New England coast line. It is cold and we can't forget about the Deep South as well. Temperatures dropping well blow freezing from the Gulf of Mexico all to the way to central Florida pen handle. Temperatures will be very chilly this morning.

So that's the big weather story here. The snow has come to an end for the most part, but it's really the cold temperatures and a brutal wind that continues to pound the northeast.

BRIGGS: OK. That is nasty. Thanks so much Derek, appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. The Dow blew past 25,000 for the first time ever in the fastest 1,000-point gain for the Dow in history. The Dow hit 24,000 barely one month ago crossing five milestones last year alone. Thanks to the strong economy, big corporate profits and of course corporate tax cuts.

Wall Street hopes the new tax bill will mean even fatter profits and tax cuts will deliver a big earnings boost likely 10 percent for S&P 500 companies. The Wall Street's tax party could be short lived. There's a lot of debate about how long it will last and how deep it will be. Bank of America predicts strong earnings growth in the year 2018. The engine of the stock market, of course earnings growth, but then, Bank of America says it will slow down afterward.

Two reasons, the tax overhaul will not create a long-term economic boom and next year's strong growth will boost competition pressuring companies to cut prices. That will hurt vulnerable industries like retail and telecom. Both already say very thin margin due to disruption from companies like Amazon and Netflix.

BRIGGS: Attorney General Sessions reversing federal policy on marijuana enforcement. He's ending the Obama administrations hands- off policy towards states with marijuana friendly laws. The major shift coming just days after California became the latest state along with Washington D.C. to allow recreational sales of pot. The plan could pit federal prosecutors against local law enforcement. We get more this morning from CNN's Laura Jarrett.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, good morning Dave and Christine.

It's a significant shift that's been closely watched since Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in last year. And on Thursday, Sessions finally made a move to wipe out policies from the last administration that tried to deprioritize prosecutions for pot-related crimes unless they involved distribution to minors or cartels or other important federal priority like that.

And into place, on Thursday, Sessions announced that federal prosecutors will now be given wide discretion to pursue marijuana related prosecutions as they see fit in their districts.

[04:20:07] And in many ways the decision had been forecasted for months as Sessions regularly calls marijuana use dangerous. But in reality, he didn't go as far as some advocates had feared that he might. He stopped short of explicitly directing more marijuana prosecutions or other efforts to take down the industry as a whole.

But still, those in the marijuana industry and on Capitol Hill were alarmed on Thursday, blasting the decision in statements on the left and the right, saying it's backwards thinking and flies in the face of states' rights. But those in law enforcement tell us that what happens next is more uncertain and may actually change nothing on the ground. At least one U.S. Attorney's office told CNN that it plans no change in its approach to marijuana prosecutions. Dave, Christine? BRIGGS: Wow, fascinating story there Laura Jarrett, thanks.

Two Republican Congressman both leading members of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. Mark Mattos and Jim Jordan, and an OpEd for "The Washington Examiner" criticized Session's handling of the Justice Department investigations into Russian election meddling. He also dismissed findings about the House and Senate and Special Council Robert Mueller claiming there's zero evidence of collusion with Russia. Those investigations are still on going.

ROMANS: As for Sessions, they write, "It would be appear, he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement -- no control at all to premier law enforcement agency in the world. If Sessions can't address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer. When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now."

The Justice Department has not responded to a CNN request or comments.

BRIGGS: And getting black to that marijuana story, Cory Gardner and the senator in Colorado said he will hold up any nominations from the DOJ --

ROMANS: Oh really.

BRIGGS: -- until he gets an explanation, Perhaps a reversal on that marijuana enforcement.

Ahead talks are now set between North and South Korea. We're live in Seoul, next.


[04:25:31] ROMANS: Welcome back. North Korea officially accepting a proposal from South Korea to begin peace talks, it will be the first tile of contacts between those two countries in over two years. Face- to-face negotiations scheduled to begin Tuesday, one day after Kim Jong-un's birthday.

CNN's Will Ripley is monitoring developments for us live from Seoul. So glad to have you here with your perspective, you've been to North Korea many times. You understand this situation very well. The fact they are talking for the first time in two years, how significant?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's significant that they are talking. And the number one item on the agenda is to work out the logistics for getting a North Korean delegation here to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Obviously the optics of that, the North Korean athletes marching alongside the South Korean athletes in the south there's a win on both sides.

Kim Jong-un can say, it's a diplomatic win. He can also say that he got the United States and South Korea to postpone their joint military drills until after the Olympics. So he is -- he gained something here that the government, the progressive government here in Seoul that ran and won on a platform of engaging with North Korea, they get a win after really loosing face, if you will, after missile launch, after missile launching, nuclear test kind of forcing the South Koreans to take a more militaristic stance.

But I do have to tell you, that there is a note of skepticism amongst some leaders in the region. Japan's defense minister has said that there have been times and accurately so, he said there have been times over the years where North Korea has engaged in discussions and yet also still continued to develop their nuclear program aggressively.

And even the president here in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in said that he's going to be entering his discussions, not softly but also going in very forcefully in terms of South Korea still bolstering its own defense capabilities against North Korea's nuclear weapons.

But the bottom line, these discussions happening on Tuesday. They're going to start talking about the Olympics and if the discussions are able to continue, they'll obviously try to move on to bigger issues, inter-Korean relations, divided families between the North and the South, and of course the big one, North Korea's nuclear program.

The U.S., South Korea, Japan and much of the world have been calling on North Korea to get rid of the nuclear weapons. That's the main sticking point for negotiations. North Korean officials have told me and have told the world repeatedly, they're not going to do that. They're going to keep their nukes. So we'll see what happens next week. Christine?

ROMANS: Will Ripley in Seoul, thank you sir.

BRIGGS: As we get close to the Olympics there in South Korea.

Meanwhile a new report this morning says the president may have obstructed justice by demanding his political allies lead the Russia probe. It comes as the president tries to change the conversation from this new book. "Fire and Fury" with some damning depictions raised questions about his fitness for office.