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EARLY START

Bombshell Book: Trump White House Tell-All Comes Out Today; New Obstructions Concerns; Weekend Deep Freeze. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:01] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This affects everyone. Apple confirmed all of its devices are affected by two recently discovered computer chip flaws. These flaws allow hackers to access memory storage. This affects nearly all devices, every single thing with a computer chip. So, what can you do to protect your my iPhone, your Android? All your gadgets?

Number one, keep all the software up-to-date. Everybody, you have to do a software update right now. Check with your manufacturer if your device has the latest patch for this flaw or if it's coming. Apple, Microsoft and Google say they've already issued updates.

This is a really big deal. Keep the software up-to-date.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm working --

ROMANS: Do the software update right -- well, not right now. You got to wait until a commercial break.

BRIGGS: Oh.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with "Fire and Fury" fallout, day three. The book on shelves this morning.

(MUSIC)

ROMANS: An aide to the president quit over obstruction concerns, the president's thoughts, interesting thoughts on the KKK, and on the so- called death match battle between the Trump family and Steve Bannon, just some of the revelations in a new book prompting questions from critics about the president's fitness for office.

BRIGGS: A new report says the president trying to keep his allies in charge of the Russia investigation, possible new proof of obstruction of justice by President Trump.

ROMANS: If you want to know what it's like to live on Mars, you're about to get a chance this weekend. Temperatures plunging to levels that will make this past week seem like summer.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's a bit warmer, but you made it to work. I'm impressed about that. I had to stay in the city. It was nasty out there.

It's Friday, January 5, 5:00 a.m. in the East. We will get to the weather shortly, but we start with a highly anticipated book about President Trump's first months in the White House. It goes on sale today.

Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" comes out days ahead of schedule, defying legal threats from Mr. Trump's lawyers. CNN has obtained a copy. Wolff was given extraordinary access to the West Wing early in the administration, more than 200 interviews.

ROMANS: Now, we should note here. While some of Michael Wolff's reporting has been corroborated, there are errors that have been identified. But some of these details stunning and incriminating portray the president as erratic, easily distracted, uninterested.

Overnight, the president himself poked holes in Wolff's credibility.

BRIGGS: He tweeted: I authorized zero access to White House, actually turned him down many times for author of phony book. I never spoke to him for a book. Full of lies, 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, a new Trump nickname for Steve Bannon, who the book quotes saying some harsh things about Trump's family and inner circle. Sloppy Steve trending on Twitter.

ROMANS: Thursday, the Press Secretary Sara Sanders called the book complete fantasy, sad and pathetic. She was also responding, forced to respond for the second in the row to critics questions about the president's mental fitness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Earlier, she introduced a special guest at the White House briefing. President Trump appeared on video to tout the economy. No mention of the book.

BRIGGS: And just steps away from the press room, mind you.

ROMANS: As for the book's direct quotes from Bannon so far, Bannon has disputed none of them. More on that in a moment.

BRIGGS: Among the revelations in "Fire and Fury," President Trump's first hand involvement crafting the misleading response to the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer. Now, the book says, quote: The president insisted that the meeting at

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

ROMANS: "The New York Times" first disclosed the meeting last year, reporting was actually to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was 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, quote, weighed in as any father would.

But in another excerpt, Wolff writes: The president's lawyers believe the Air Force One statement was, quote, an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears, end quote. And Wolff says it led one of Mr. Trump's spokesmen to quit because he believed it was an obstruction of justice.

[05:05:01] BRIGGS: Also this morning, new reporting from "The New York Times" reports President Trump lobbied Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russian probe. That move might be considered new evidence of obstruction of justice by the president.

"The Times" reporting special counsel Robert Mueller is aware that last March, Trump ordered the White House counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from refusing himself from overseeing the investigation.

ROMANS: The incident, another possible example of Trump's sought to influence the Justice Department. Ty Cobb, the lawyer for the president, told CNN he respectfully declined to respond to Congressman Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He calls McGahn's reported conduct completely unacceptable. He says McGahn should make himself available to the committee.

BRIGGS: "The New York Times" also reporting that four days before then FBI Director James Comey was fired last May, an aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked a congressional staffer whether he had damaging information about Comey, a person with knowledge of the meeting tells "The Times" quote, wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey. The Justice Department's spokeswoman tells CNN this did not happen.

ROMANS: This book also includes President Trump's unflattering description of James Comey which apparently came after the president fired him. Comey was a rat, repeated Trump. There were rats everywhere. And you had to get rid of them. John Dean, John Dean, he repeated. Do you know what John Dean did to Nixon? Well, he was a White House counsel who cooperated with the special prosecutors that's fired by Nixon and testified against Nixon to the Senate Watergate Committee. BRIGGS: Now, a few cautions to offer about the book. Michael Wolff

has a history of writing splashy stuff. His journalistic sources and methods have come under some scrutiny. 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 outlets.

ROMANS: Here's these challenges have included dealing with off the record or deep background material casually put on the report. Sources who provided accounts in confidence and subsequently shared them widely. And a frequent inattention to setting any parameters on the use of a conversation among the many balancing acts Wolff lists.

BRIGGS: The interesting description, isn't it?

ROMANS: I know. Sarah Sanders, it just sounds like loose lips in the West Wing, right? It just sounds like a lot of talking in the West Wing.

What Sarah Sanders said is that he'd ask for a request for interview for the president and never was granted that. What he says is that he was there, he was hanging around and he was talking to people.

BRIGGS: A fixture in the White House.

ROMANS: Some 200 interviews and our White House reporters have seen him there, have seen him around the White House with access.

BRIGGS: He has tapes of some of these conversations.

Let's bring in Becket Adams. He's a commentary writer for "The Washington Examiner".

Beckett --

ROMANS: Hi, Becket.

BECKET ADAMS, COMMENTARY WRITER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Good morning.

BRIGGS: -- perhaps you can earn a nickname in the next few minutes. Will we go with brilliant Beckett or something else? We'll see how you do here. But we're all about nicknames.

Again, let's start with this book. And you really got to step back from I think all the little elements of this and look at the, really, the 30,000-foot view. The here is what Michael Wolff writes. In particular in this "Hollywood Reporter" story yesterday, he says: Hoping for the best with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it. My indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency is that they all, 100 percent, came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

That is devastating stuff right there considering he had 200 on-the- record conversations. He has tapes of it. How does this hurt the White House narrative?

ADAMS: I think there are big takeaways, but three for me so far are number one, I'm not sure how much I can believe. Now, you added the caveat which is useful that some of Wolff's reporting in the past has come under fire. But that's for me that's a smaller issue.

The big issue is that most of Wolff's sources are White House sources, and one of the more unfortunate things about the Trump White House is that he has surrounded himself with known and proven liars, so exactly how much am I supposed to believe if your source is someone, Sam Nunberg, Cory Lewandowski, the people who brought us alternative facts?

OK, Wolff can be fine. I can be asked to believe him, but I don't know if I can be asked to believe his sources. On top of that, the other issue with the book that jumped out to me is not so much that it's not unique in telling me anything I don't know. What's unique about it is telling me so much of what I think many of us have long suspected.

And it's almost a reverse emperor's new clothes, where the emperor's new clothes is about person who sees that he's naked. This whole time -- Trump has been Trump. Trump has always presented himself as sort of loud impetuous, as sort of having a temper. He wants it his way.

Reading this book isn't so much I didn't know that about Trump. It's OK, this seems to be basically everything we've seen in public with him.

[05:10:01] So, having Sara Sanders come out, what was interesting about half of her response was that she didn't really dispute that Wolff was there, or that Wolff was interviewing people. She was Wolff was turned down for some things or he didn't talk to the president. OK. Wolff has already told us that. So, that's not really disputing anything here.

ROMANS: Let me -- let's talk about the president did comment about this. He asked about, you know, Steve Bannon any words about Steve Bannon. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President? Any words about Steve Bannon?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. He called me a great man last night. So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.

Thank you all very much. Thank you. I don't talk to him. I don't talk -- I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president clearly wanted to get that out there. He called me a great man last night but I don't talk to him. Why hasn't Steve Bannon disputed any of these comments in this book? Where is Bannon in all this now?

ADAMS: I think Bannon actually said. I think the sourcing to Bannon is accurate and that's why "Breitbart News" itself was touting half of his big juicy quotes about treason on this Website the other day. They -- Bannon said this stuff. Bannon was one of the chief sources.

And that's again goes back to my main point about having difficulty believing. I mean, all this book could be true, some of it could not be true. The problem is I don't know how much I can trust with the sourcing, especially if it's someone like Bannon who apparently fed Wolff a lot of this information.

Bannon is a known political agitator. He's a -- I can't use the term, but it comes from -- someone who -- interferes in politics, knowingly lying. That's what Bannon does.

So, why should I believe half of what he says? I believe he said it, but whether or not the stuff about -- you know, I want to say Javanka, but I'm trying to actually remember, Ivanka and Jared. I got their couple name stuck in my head. Whether any of that is true, how much of it is accurate or how much of this is just a lot of backstabbing that again, we already knew about this. This is just confirmation.

And that's why I want to add sort of the caveat about being careful, is that so much of this book feels like confirmation of priors. You want to be cynical. You want to be skeptical -- not cynical.

And so, a lot of this -- it's almost too good to check.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ADAMS: I can't deny it. It's the most entertaining, fascinating stuff I've read in a long time.

BRIGGS: It's number one on Amazon and why they're releasing it early on sale later today. And again --

ROMANS: It's so unflattering. This is the leader of the free world. I mean, we're all like oh yeah, people have been talking about how it's just unmoored at the White House. I mean, it has real ramifications.

BRIGGS: Not only has Steve Bannon not denied any of this, the White House in their pushback yesterday was -- well, he clearly knows John Boehner and some of the ages of the staff members are wrong. They've got to do better than that if they want to push back against this narrative.

ADAMS: Right.

BRIGGS: But another good read you could find is in the "New York Times." because this points to possible obstruction again by the president that he urged his -- Don McGahn to get Jeff Sessions no the to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. And the view of the attorney general, which is really interesting from this "New York Times" reporting, quote, Mr. Trump said he expected his top law enforcement officials to safeguard him the way he believed Bobby Kennedy as attorney general had done for his brother, JFK, and Eric Holder had done for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, where's my Roy Cohn? What's wrong with that characterization, Becket?

ADAMS: I think this is again something we've known about Trump. At issue is either he doesn't know that the attorney general doesn't exist to protect the president or he doesn't care.

And all this reminds me a great scene in "Casino" where Robert De Niro's character is dealing with a slot machine that's broken and one of his floor managers -- people who've been playing this and winning at ton of cash, and De Niro is firing this character and says, you are either too stupid to see it or you're in on it. Either way, you can't be trusted.

And that's where I'm left with a lot of these Trump stories, is that either you don't know what the A.G. does, or you don't care. Either way, that's not exactly presidential behavior I want to see. I want a Calvin Coolidge. I don't want this. I don't want someone who thinks that the A.G. is a Roy Cohn's sort of bodyguard.

ROMANS: Calvin Coolidge and the casino in the same --

BRIGGS: And for that, here in the nickname, right?

ROMANS: Hashtag winning.

BRIGGS: Bravo, Becket. Well done.

ADAMS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Come back in a half hour, all right?

ADAMS: Yes.

ROMANS: Come back, come back in the half hour.

We're going to talk about a new record high for the Dow. More on the record rise and the snowstorm that couldn't slow it down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:17:31] ROMANS: All right. The so-called "bomb cyclone" causing wide spread damage in New England. Frigid water pouring into the streets of some coastal cities, prompting record high tide. The gauge at 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: Stunning images there out of Boston. New York City hit with nine inches of snow.

Check this out. Airports starting to get back up and running, though 1,100 flights already canceled today. So, call ahead. Check on line. At least 17 people did die this week due to the severe weather. And

now, record-breaking low temps are on the way as well.

Let's get to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam live in the weather center.

When is this over, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You've got to wait until next week. Sorry, Dave. That's just the reality of the situation.

Uncomfortably cold is the best way I can describe it. There's two ways to look at this. The snow is coming to an end, the area of low pressure. The bomb cyclone we keep talking about moving well away from the U.S., in fact, to the Canadian Maritimes.

But on the other side of this, it is drawing in the cold air and also filtering in strong winds. That's also dropping our wind chill temperature.

But let's talk about how much snow actually did fall. Boston, you're the winner, 14 inches for you. Central Park in New York City, 8.6 inches, Philadelphia, just shy of that 4-inch mark. You can see the snow cover really was heaviest across upstate Maine and into New Hampshire, as well as Vermont and New York.

But the snow, again, gradually coming to an end here for New England, but it's the winds and cold temperatures and wind chill factors that would drop well below freezing. We have over 130 million Americans under some sort of wind chill warning and advisory right now from the Great Lakes, all the way to the mid-Atlantic. And believe it or not, 75 percent of the U.S. population will be below freezing this weekend.

Here's the wind chill factors as you step outside this morning. Nineteen below zero in Detroit, eight below zero for New York. It is three below, at least what it feels like in Washington. Now, check this out. Hard freeze warnings in effect this morning from southern Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle. Temperatures well below freezing for that area.

You can imagine what kind of implications this has for cultural communities across this region. Jacksonville, you're right now only at 30 degrees. So, very, very cold temperatures expected, and this is what is looks like through the course of the weekend.

Dave, if you're looking for warmer weather, wait until Wednesday of next week.

[05:20:00] BRIGGS: Oh, great.

ROMANS: All those snowbirds in the Midwest to go down at the panhandle this time of year --

BRIGGS: Ooh, it's a great point.

ROMANS: All those people down there just like -- BRIGGS: We just want our kids to go back to school, though.

ROMANS: Yes, I'm ready for that. I'm ready for that.

BRIGGS: Please?

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGGS: Two days in two weeks.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much.

The Dow flying past 25,000 for the first time ever, and the fastest thousand-point gain in history. The Dow hit 24,000 barely a month ago. Five milestones last year thanks to a strong economy, big corporate profits and, of course, 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 this year.

But Wall Street's tax party could it be short lived? Bank of America predicts strong earnings growth in year in 2018. Of course, earnings the engine of the stock market. But it will slow down afterwards, says B of A.

Two reasons, the tax overhaul will not create the long-term economic boom advertised and New Year's strong growth will boost competition, pressuring companies to cut prices. That will hurt vulnerable industries like retail, both already face thin margins due to disruption from companies like Amazon and Netflix.

And, of course, we get a jobs report in a few hours. I mean, I expect maybe shy of 200,000 net new jobs. That would mean 2.1 million jobs in 2017.

BRIGGS: That's a heck of a year.

All right. Talks set between north and South Korea. We're live in Seoul for the latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: North Korea officially accepting a proposal from South Korea to begin peace talks.

[05:25:01] It will be the first high level contacts between the 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 monitoring developments for us live from Seoul.

You know this region so well. You've been to North Korea many times. It's significant that they are at least answering the hot line, that they will be talking face-to-face. How significant is this development? WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's significant

just as you said, Christine, that there actually are discussions after two years of radio silence, countless missile tests, nuclear tests, the kind of thing that has really been pushing this peninsula closer to war in the eyes of many, than we've really ever seen. Now, perhaps a turn towards diplomacy.

The first step, securing the North Korean Olympic delegation, permission to come here to South Korea to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. It can be a win on both sides really here in South Korea, the president came to power on a platform of engaging with North Korea, a task that has been increasingly difficult, given all of the provocative military activity by the North, and then Kim Jong-un can say that his athletes are marching on an international stage, that he and his policies have forced the United States and South Korea in his view to postpone the joint military exercises that were scheduled to begin during the Olympics. President Trump and President Moon Jae-in agreeing to push those military exercises back to a later date.

But once they get the discussions from the Olympics out of the way, there are obviously other issues about inter-Korean relation that they want to discuss. They want to talk about divided families and of court the big issue the North Korea's nuclear program. So, the hope, these talks that are going to be happening on Thursday will perhaps lead to bigger discussions, perhaps a meeting at some point between North Korea's leader and South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in.

But there's a lot of skepticism as well. In Japan, the defense minute minister saying that in the past, North Korea has engaged in thee discussions, and still aggressively grown their weapons program under the table. The fear here, the world doesn't want to be caught off guard by another nuclear test or missile launch even as they think diplomatic progress is being made -- Christine.

ROMANS: Right. Yes, don't forget the nukes. That is the most important part of this story.

All right. Thank you so much, Will Ripley in Seoul, thanks.

BRIGGS: A new report this morning said 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 with depictions that have critics raising questions about his fitness for office.

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