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EARLY START

Trump Lobbied Sessions Not To Recuse Himself; Trump White House Tell-All Comes Out Today; Bomb Cyclone Leaves, But Brutal Cold Is Next; North Korea Accepts Peace Talks Offer From South Korea. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:43] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: A new report says the president tried to keep his allies in charge of the Russia investigation. He considered possible new proof of obstruction by President Trump.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: New questions from critics about the president's fitness for office. New details from a book about the Trump White House set to release today.

BRIGGS: And if you 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. It is nasty all along the East Coast, even down in Florida and the Carolinas.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

This morning, "The New York Times" reports President Trump lobbied Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russia probe. That move might be considered new evidence of obstruction by the president.

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

BRIGGS: The incident another possible example that Trump sought to influence the Justice Department.

Ty Cobb, a lawyer for the president, told CNN he respectfully declines to respond.

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 reporting that four days before then-FBI Director James Comey was fired last May, an aide to Attorney General Sessions asked a congressional staffer whether he had any damaging information about Comey. A person with knowledge of that meeting tells the "Times" Sessions,

quote "wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey." A Justice Department spokeswoman tells CNN this did not happen.

BRIGGS: A highly anticipated book about President Trump's first months in the White House goes on sale today. Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" comes out days ahead of schedule defying legal threats from Mr. Trump's lawyer.

CNN has obtained a copy. Wolff was given extraordinary access to the West Wing early in the administration. More than 200 interviews, many of them on tape.

ROMANS: We should note while some of Michael Wolff's reporting has been corroborated, some errors have been identified. Some of the details, though, stunning and incriminating, portray the president as erratic, easily distracted, and uninterested.

Overnight, Trump, 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 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, former chief strategist who the book quotes saying some very harsh things about Trump's family and inner circle.

ROMANS: On Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the book a complete fantasy, sad, pathetic. She was also forced to respond for a second day in a row to critic's questions about the president's mental fitness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Earlier, Sarah Sanders introduced a special guest at the White House briefing. President Trump appeared on video to tout the economy -- no mention of the book -- and that was from steps away from the press room. Odd? You decide.

As for the book's direct quotes from Bannon, so far, he has disputed none of them.

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

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 -- 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 new the Times had the e-mail chain, the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton."

[05:35:05] 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, quote "weighed in as any father would."

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

This explosive new book has a startling assessment of the Ku Klux Klan for President Trump. This came in the wake of his initial response to Charlottesville.

"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 the KKK probably does not believe what it used to believe. And anyway, who really knows what the KKK believes now."

ROMANS: It, of course, represents white supremacy.

Trump, of course, blamed both sides for the deadly Charlottesville violence, only to walk that back before saying it again days later.

Bannon was fired from his chief strategist post by the end of that week.

BRIGGS: A few cautions to offer about the book.

Michael Wolff has a history of writing what really makes a splash. 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 this book crosschecks with early reports from credible media outlets.

ROMANS: And reporters have seen him on campus. They know he was there. They know he was talking to people and he was --

BRIGGS: Yes, a fixture in the White House. ROMANS: -- a fly on the wall.

Here's how Wolff explains the credibility issues in the book's process. "These challenges have included dealing with off-the-record or deep background material that was later casually put on the record. Sources who provided accounts in confidence and then 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 in writing this book.

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

It's really remarkable how the president has not been directing the news cycle over the past few days, as he likes to. But he has been sort of consumed by it in a different way. This book has really overtaken things.

You have Sarah Huckabee Sanders, two days in a row, forced to answer questions about the mental fitness of her boss.

And, "The Hollywood Reporter," yesterday -- Michael Wolff writes this about his impression from 200-some interviews and his time at the White House.

"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."

He's talking about the people around the president. He's talking about White House aides. That is really a remarkable position to be operating from.

What do you make of that?

BECKET ADAMS, COMMENTARY WRITER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, a couple of things jump at me initially about this book.

First, it seems extremely entertaining. I can't stop reading it and I can't -- I would be a liar if I said otherwise.

But my concerns aren't so much with the credibility of Wolff. He has been criticized in the past, harshly, by places like "The New Republic" which claimed he's not so much good at recreating scenes as he is at creating scenes.

But my biggest problem isn't with his credibility. I can be asked to believe him.

The issue I have is that this book relies primarily on White House sources and, unfortunately, President Trump is not just himself a liar, but he has surrounded himself by known and proven liars. So, we're being asked to believe people like Sam Nunberg or Corey

Lewandowski or the people who brought us alternative facts. We're being asked to believe them and the inside sort of scoops that they have on their own administration.

But putting that aside, let's say that the inside sources are accurate. What's so fascinating about this book is that it's not giving us so much a new look as it's mostly confirming stuff that we could see for ourselves with our own eyes during the election.

So, he's angry, he likes to do things his way, he's impatient. This was all stuff that he put out for the world to see during the election. Reading this book --

ROMANS: Well, he's a disrupter. He's a disrupter --

ADAMS: Right.

ROMANS: -- and this is how it looks -- what it looks like in the White House.

ADAMS: Exactly, and that's part of the reason people voted for him.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: Yes.

ADAMS: They wanted him to break stuff and you're reading the book and going oh, he's breaking stuff.

ROMANS: Right.

ADAMS: Well, that's what he said he would --

BRIGGS: Sure.

ADAMS: -- literally do.

BRIGGS: You know what else he said he would do? He said he would sue people and he said it throughout the campaign, he said it throughout his career.

Heck, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight operation has an article that 20 times, Trump threated to sue someone just during his campaign.

Will he follow through with this lawsuit to the publisher, to Michael Wolff? And if he doesn't, what does that tell us?

ADAMS: No, he's not going to follow through with it. In fact, I think the funniest thing about the cease and desist letter that he sent to Wolff and Wolff's publisher is probably the dumbest thing Trump could have done.

[05:40:01] The smartest thing the White House could have done in response to this was keep their mouth shut. Don't give this fire any oxygen, just let it go. Maybe even send out a distracting tweet about North Korea or whatever.

Instead, they came out with angry denunciations which peaks everyone's interest. And now -- and now, with this letter, the cease and desist -- I mean, he is guaranteed this will probably be the best-selling book of 2018.

I mean --

ROMANS: Yes.

ADAMS: -- who doesn't want to read the juicy tell-all that the president, himself, just tried to bury?

BRIGGS: He, himself, may have led to the early release --

ROMANS: Right, right.

BRIGGS: -- which is this morning instead of Tuesday.

ROMANS: And there's a lot in there about -- a lot of good, juicy stories in there.

Ivanka Trump -- maybe she would be the first woman President of the United States. She and her husband with some sort of a deal -- a pact that if the opportunity arises it would be Ivanka who would run for president.

A lot of stuff in there that's awful buzzy and headline worthy.

Ivanka, by the way, what is she saying? Well, she tweeted yesterday about what I'm sure she would rather we all be talking about. "Dow above 25,000 points for the first time in history, 250,000 new jobs added in December, beating estimates. Layoffs lowest since 1990!"

Although that is true, but it just reminds me -- it reminds me that the president has not been able to really hold on to his successes, right -- or even what he thinks are his successes -- and drive the storyline with that. He keeps getting consumed by the personality issues.

ADAMS: Right. The biggest problem he had -- and again, we saw this during the election and during the campaign -- is he has self-control issues. That's the most polite way I can put it. And he surrounds himself with people who can't shut up.

The fact that -- it's more than likely that Steve Bannon is the source for most everything in this book. It's fairly embarrassing for the White House considering the position that Steve Bannon was given in the White House, which I might add was against the advice of just about everybody else around Trump.

So he, again -- he has some successes. He has actually a good deal of successes but he undercuts himself with either his own mouth or the inexperienced and unprofessional people that he surrounds himself with. He's his own worst enemy. BRIGGS: And that's a problem for Republicans as they approach 2018. They want people walking in that booth and saying wow, Republican policies are leading this economy to altogether new heights -- to a 25,000 Dow, and to the Nasdaq, a record high. But that's not what they're thinking about right now.

Also, a new read in "The Washington" -- in "The New York Times" about the president urging his legal counsel, Don McGahn, to get Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself from the Russia investigation. That's really how he characterizes the role of the attorney general that's interesting.

And this from "The New York Times." "Mr. Trump said he expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for this brother John F. Kennedy and Eric Holder had done for Barack Obama. Mr. Trump then asked, where's my Roy Cohn?"

So, this article may be further proof of obstruction of justice.

But what about that characterization of the role of the attorney general? What does that tell you?

ADAMS: Well, it tells me one thing that I think I already knew about Trump. I think a lot of voters knew about Trump coming to the sear, which is either he doesn't understand how the United States government works or he doesn't care.

The attorney general isn't the bodyguard for the president. The attorney general doesn't exist to protect the president.

And stuff like -- reading stuff like this, it always reminds me of that scene in "CASINO" where Robert De Niro is dealing with a broken slots machine that one of the floor managers hasn't fixed and people have been playing it. And he is firing the floor manager and his argument is I knew you were too stupid to be in on it or you were in on it. Either way, you can't be trusted.

And I'm reminded of that scene a lot reading reports like this. Either the president doesn't understand what the attorney general does, or he does and doesn't care. Either way, he's not a person to be trusted, and that's my takeaway from it.

ROMANS: What do you think -- I mean, Trump supporters -- diehard Trump supporters -- people who may not have been politically active before -- the people who voted him into office -- do you think that they look at this and they say, yes, he's blowing up the place -- awesome?

ADAMS: I think, yes, there isn't going to be a health contingent. A significant number of his supporters are going to be supportive of this. They're going to say well, you know what, it was broken from the inside. It needs to be shaken up.

He was voted -- he was voted as a destructor. People voted him in because he said I'll be a bull in a china shop. And it -- we shouldn't be surprised that, you know, people are happy that he's not just wrecking the kitchen, but he's also wrecking the living room.

BRIGGS: All right. Well, if it weren't a snow day I'd be going straight home and watching "CASINO," but the kids are home. It's a little inappropriate for them.

ROMANS: A lot inappropriate.

ADAMS: Get the edited version from Hulu.

BRIGGS: It sounds good.

Becket Adams from "The Washington Examiner."

ROMANS: Nice to have you.

BRIGGS: Have a good weekend.

ADAMS: Thanks for having me.

BRIGGS: All right.

Steve Bannon's influence moving forward looking murky. A source family with the matter tells CNN there is a hard push to convince executives at "Breitbart" to fire him. Bannon is executive chairman of the alt-right Web site.

Here's the White House take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:45:00] BRIGGS: Rebekah 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 but those dollars could dry up now.

Now, Steve Bannon has said on the radio there is no daylight between the president and "Breitbart." We will continue to support his policies. We'll see.

Does he stay? Time will tell.

ROMANS: All right, 47 minutes past the hour.

Time will also tell about how the jobs were at the end of 2017. The December jobs report comes out in just a few hours. What to expect, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: All right, 2017 was a pretty good year to get a job in America. But wage growth, well, that's another story.

In less than three hours the Labor Department will release the final jobs report for 2017. The prediction, 190,000 net new jobs added in December for a total 2.1 million jobs in the year.

Now, that's a solid showing but to put that in perspective here it will be the slowest jobs growth in the past four years. Still robust, but that puts it in perspective.

Now, the unemployment rate should hold at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low. America's red-hot job market missing one ingredient, strong wage growth. Wages likely grew about 2.5 percent on an annual rate last month.

Wage growth has been a weak spot for years. Before the recession, annual growth hit three percent of more. But the U.S. has barely moved since 2.5 since then, and there's one reason why -- no one reason why.

[05:50:07] Economists equally blame globalization, more automation, and an increased number of people work part-time.

Overall, wage growth is weak but there are few corners of America that are seeing a boost. Eighteen states hiked their minimum wages at the beginning of the year. And the cities with low unemployment, like Minneapolis and Denver, wages are growing four percent or more.

I'm hopeful, actually, this is going to be year of your pay raise -- a better pay raise.

BRIGGS: Well, you know what part of the roaring economy in Denver is -- marijuana, of course.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Well --

BRIGGS: So we'll follow up on that in a moment.

But first, the so-called bomb cyclone causing widespread damage in New England. Frigid water pouring into the streets of some coastal cities prompting record high tides.

The gauge at Boston Harbor matching its record at 15.1 feet. More than a foot of snow fell in Boston.

ROMANS: New York City hit with nine inches of snow -- just look at this. Airports are starting to get back up and running. Eleven- hundred flights are already canceled today, folks, so you've got to check, still.

At least 17 people died this week due to this severe weather.

And now, record-breaking low temperatures are on the way -- even colder than the surface of Mars. How's that for some context?

Let's get to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam, live in the Weather Center. You are a very busy man this week, Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it has been a long week, to say the least, but even worse for people along the New England coast. I know how brutal it's been. It is take you breath away cold outside.

Some interesting statistics here for you. We're talking about 75 percent of the U.S. population dipping below freezing this weekend. Thirty percent of the population actually dropping below zero degrees. Wow, incredible.

Right now, we have 130 million Americans right now under a windchill warning or advisory, stretching from the Great Lakes all the way to the mid-Atlantic states.

Be prepared, these are not typos. This is what it feels like, as you step outside, on your exposed skin. Negative 19 in Detroit, negative eight in Big Apple. Pittsburgh, you're at negative 18. That is your windchill, feels like factor as we speak.

Now, there's two ways to look at this storm. It's on its way out. That's the good news. We can say goodbye and good riddance.

But we're still going to feel the effects of this Nor'easter for several days to come and that will be in the effect of more cold weather and, unfortunately, below freezing windchill factors.

This is how much snow fell across Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut. Upwards of a foot to a foot and a half in many locations, grounding several flights -- we know that. And a lot of those flight cancellations lasting right into Friday. That's going to have a snowball effect right through the course of the weekend.

Talking about the Deep South, though, this is impressive. We have hard freeze warnings from Mississippi right through the Florida Panhandle.

Temperatures this morning well below freezing from Atlanta to Charleston and Jacksonville. Look at Mobile, 27 degrees. You should be about 40 right now.

This cold weather lasts right through the weekend but it warms up just in time for mid-week next week -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: OK, that's good. That's good. I like the very end of that. I feel so bad for those Midwestern snowbirds who are down in the Panhandle or down in Florida. They thought they were going to escape Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas, and they didn't.

BRIGGS: My parents included.

ROMANS: Yes, mine, too. All right. Thanks, Derek.

VAN DAM: In pair of an Anchorage.

BRIGGS: Yes, right. ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Now to weed killer, as "The New York Times" -- "New York Daily News" calls it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversing federal policy on marijuana. He's ending the Obama administration's hands-off policy there. The plan could pit federal prosecutors against local law enforcement since weed remains illegal under federal law.

The shift coming just days after California became the eighth state, along with Washington, D.C, to allow recreational pot.

As a reminder, here's what then-candidate Trump said about legalizing marijuana, in 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't do that, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. So, you think Colorado should be able to do what it's doing?

TRUMP: No, I think it's up to the states, yes. I'm a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The attorney general has a history of railing against the use of recreational marijuana. Corey Gardner, a senator in Colorado, said he'll hold up any DOJ nominations as a result of this.

ROMANS: Interesting -- all right.

Talks are now set between North and South Korea. We go live to Seoul, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:57:26] BRIGGS: All right.

North Korea officially accepting a proposal from South Korea to begin peace talks. The first eye-level contact between the two countries in over two years.

Will Ripley monitoring all this for us live from Seoul. When will they talk, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're going to be talking on Tuesday, Dave.

The first item on the agenda, getting a North Korean delegation here to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang which kick off in just over a month. The hope here in South Korea, though, is that these initial discussions will lead to more discussions, perhaps bigger discussions. Maybe even a meeting between Kim Jong Un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in.

But there's a lot of skepticism here in the region. Japan pointing out that over the years North Korea has often engaged in talks while also simultaneously and perhaps under the radar aggressively continuing their weapons development.

And so, countries around the regions staying on guard while also cautiously optimistic that these talks could lead to some progress and a path towards diplomacy in the near year, as opposed to a path towards a military escalation that so many have been very concern about given the fiery rhetoric exchanged between the U.S. and President Trump, specifically, and Kim Jong Un -- Dave.

BRIGGS: President Trump taking credit for those talks between the North and South, on Twitter yesterday.

Will Ripley live for us, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, let's talk about money. A quick check on "Money Stream" this morning.

The Dow flying past 25,000 for the first time ever, the fastest 1,000- point gain in history crossing five milestones last year alone, thanks to a strong economy, big corporate profits, and of course, tax cuts.

Today, the Labor Department releases the last jobs report of 2017.

Right now, global markets and U.S. futures are higher.

Wow, it's quite a -- quite a set of records.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: It is, indeed.

I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

Have a wonderful weekend. We'll see you Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: "The New York Times" published a blockbuster story about President Trump's effort to keep control of the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have the White House counsel going to tell the attorney general not to recuse himself on the order of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It speaks to the very depths of the gravity from this White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sending someone from the Justice Department to find dirt on Comey, I've never heard of anything like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's absolutely his prerogative if he wanted to fire the FBI director.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Wolff book suggests that the president is putting out a false story.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This author is, quite frankly, a crackpot, fake news, fantasy fiction writer.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: We've got serious to deal with and instead, we're caught up debating the mental health of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your new day. It's Friday, January fifth, 6:00 here in New York, and here's our "Starting Line."