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Major DACA Ruling; Trump Says He'll Sign Whatever Congress Approves; White House Staffing Exodus?; Deadly Mudslides in Southern California; South Korea's Leader Credits Trump's "Huge" Contribution. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: a federal judge says the White House must keep the program to protect Dreamers. How will that affect government funding talks with next Friday's deadline looming?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The national security advisor, the White House counsel just two of the officials who could exit the White House. The president struggling to find staff amid this constant chaos.

ROMANS: And deadly mudslides in California. Areas devastated by wildfires now left to clean up after another, another natural disaster.

We have reports this morning from Capitol Hill, from California, the State Department, Seoul and Jerusalem. A lot going on this Wednesday morning.

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

BRIGGS: Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, January 10th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And, boy, was it an extraordinary 55-minute cameras open discussion negotiation on immigration, something I don't think we've ever seen before. We'll get to that shortly, but we start with breaking news overnight, a major court ruling impacting hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.

A federal judge in California temporarily blocking the Trump administration's effort to end DACA, that, of course, the Obama era program protecting about 700,000 Dreamers, young people brought here illegally as children.

ROMANS: The judge ruled the Department of Homeland Security must resume taking DACA renewal applications while the lawsuit proceeds. The ruling does not require the administration to process papers for first time applicants. This is for renewals.

BRIGGS: The White House planned to wind down the program by early March, but the judge said they are likely to win their claim that the move was, quote, arbitrary and capricious. The Justice Department says the ruling does not change its position. The Obama administration illegally circumvented Congress when it created the DACA program.

ROMANS: The suit was filed by four states and the University of California. UC president Janet Napolitano helped create the DACA program when she was homeland security secretary under President Obama.

BRIGGS: DACA is all but guaranteed to come up when the president holds a joint conference today with the prime minister of Norway.

What's unclear this morning is exactly how the judge's order will affect the talks between the White House and both parties in Congress.

ROMANS: Democrats have been demanding a deal on DACA in order to vote for government funding. So, the question now is whether this temporary reprieve for DACA is enough for Democrats to back off the threat of a government shutdown.

BRIGGS: Before the ruling, President Trump was holding the line on Twitter, saying a border wall must be part of any DACA deal. That does not entirely square with his fascinating remarks in a bipartisan White House meeting earlier in the day.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This should be a bipartisan bill. This would be a bill of love.

If we do this properly, DACA, you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform. If you want to take that further step, I'll take the heat, I don't care. That doesn't mean 2,000 miles of wall, because you just don't need that, because of nature, because of mountains and rivers and lots of other things. But we need a certain portion of that border to have the wall.


BRIGGS: Quote, a certain portion. That is not what the president has said before.

ROMANS: It is not.

In the event that DACA does remain a sticking point, yesterday's extraordinary session at the White House could go down as a turning point. Instead of the usual brief opportunity, the president kept engaging with lawmakers on camera, essentially moderating this discussion about bipartisan immigration reform. The cameras were first allowed in maybe for a few minutes and then for an hour, the president commanded the room. His positions kept evolving also as the cameras rolled.

BRIGGS: This was remarkable stuff, folks. The senior administration official says it was all done intentionally to seize the megaphone on the immigration issue and to put to rest the questions about the president's mental state. CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, Republicans, Democrats, the White House, they have nine days, just six legislative days to figure out some path forward on a host of issues all of which are complicated.

There was a wildly entertaining was the words of one Republican aide how he described the meeting at the White House between Republicans and Democrats and the president. It was about immigration, a very divisive issue when it comes to congress, an area where it's not just Democrats and Republicans. It's intraparty at a number of levels.

Republicans say, look, they have until March to actually deal with that issue, but you want to put a calendar on it, Democrats have made clear they want that addressed in the same time line as the budget deal which has that January 19th deadline. The president is a huge player in this.

Now, President Trump in that meeting at the White House said that he was willing to sign anything that Congress came up with.

[04:05:05] He was willing to leave it to Congress to figure out the direction forward. That is not what Republican leaders want to hear. That's actually not the discussion Republican leaders have had with the White House. They know because this issue is so complicated within their conference, it's so difficult that they need the president not just to sign whatever they agree to, but to endorse it and to help them push forward on it.

There are still Senate bipartisan negotiations that are kind of considered the core of everything that's happening right now. President Trump has laid out four principles that he wants addressed. Democrats acknowledge those four principles in some way, shape or form will have to be addressed.

Policy here matters and the devil is in the details, particularly on some of the most complicated of those policy issues. Whether they figure out that path forward right now, it's still up in question, guys -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much for that. There are signs the White House may be facing departure of some key staffers in the coming months. Aides have been told they should decide by the end of January whether they will leave or stay for the midterms. Among the top officials on this possible departure, White House counsel Don McGahn and national security advisor H.R. McMaster.

BRIGGS: Evolving doors are common in any administration, in particular at the one-year mark. But several sources tell CNN President Trump is finding it tough to fill vacancies, potential hire see a chaotic White House. That's on top of the ongoing Russia investigation, which one source called a potential ticket to the grand jury. As one senior official put it, it's been a year, but doesn't it feel like a decade?

ROMANS: Steve Bannon stepping down as executive chairman of "Breitbart". He just returned to the far-right Website last summer after he was fired as the president's chief strategist. Bannon says he is proud of what the "Breitbart" team has accomplished. His departure accelerated by the explosive new book "Fire and Fury". According to the author of that book, Michael Wolff, Bannon called a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer treasonous.

BRIGGS: Over the weekend, Bannon gave us somewhat misleading apology if you will. Sources tell CNN a mea culpa was to stop the bleeding after his biggest backer, Republican heiress Rebekah Mercer pulled his funding.

It's not clear where Bannon goes from here. It won't be Fox though. The network says it will not be hiring.

ROMANS: Widespread devastation this morning from flooding and mudslides in parts of southern California already ravaged by recent wildfires. At least 13 people are dead, more than 100 others taken to hospitals.

The pictures you're seeing there, Montecito, California, and Santa Barbara County, just remarkable. Emergency crews remain in search and rescue mode with these walls of mud coming down on to homes.

BRIGGS: A flow of mud forcing heavily traveled roads to close. The 101 freeway, one of the main arteries connecting southern and northern California submerged between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

More of the devastation from Paul Vercammen.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Christine, I'm in Montecito, hard hit by this flood that came down from the burn area left by the Thomas Fire. It is fiery wake.

If you look right here, the remnants of a car, now just half a car mangled up with trees and more.

Behind me, the historic Montecito Inn, the front of it now devastated, the sign broken apart. What happened here with this high velocity flood, it goes from about 3,000 feet to sea level in no time here in Montecito and Carpinteria. They just worried about that.

And once that rain hit those denuded hillsides, it just came roaring down, brought rocks with it, trees, debris of all manner. If you look over on this direction, you will see that there's a car in the garage at the Montecito Inn, completely submerged. And the roads turned into rivers here in Montecito just torrents.

It came all the way toward the ocean with nothing to stop it and it came right down here. This is the 101 Freeway, the main artery, one of the main arteries between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It knocked out a guardrail here and then you can see another boulder precariously perched right over the edge of the freeway. It is completely impassable. Off in the distance, work crews trying their best to start clearing.

You can see that there's a submerged car in the distance, an absolute mess as some called it, a disaster of huge proportions. This was the first bit of rain to hit after the Thomas Fire and you can see what it's done.

Back to you now -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much for that. Those pictures really tell that story.

Nine minutes past the hour.

North Carolina will have to quickly redraw its 13 congressional districts after a federal court ruled the map is partisan and unconstitutional. The three judge panel rejecting the map drawn by the Republican-controlled general assembly. The state has about three weeks to file a new plan with the court so it will be in place before the midterm elections.

[04:10:04] BRIGGS: This is hugely impactful.

The first federal court ruling to strike down a congressional map as partisan gerrymandering. Ten of the 13 North Carolina districts are currently in Republican hands. The head of the North Carolina GOP attacked the judge who wrote the opinion as an activist, calling the ruling a hostile takeover.

ROMANS: In a swift reversal, the Trump administration says there will be no new oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a proposal last week rolling back offshore drilling restrictions. But Governor Scott immediately voiced opinions saying it's heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.

After talking with Governor Scott, Secretary Zinke decided to change his decision for Florida. It is not clear what the future holds for other offshore areas.

BRIGGS: And is this like a lot of other things a war on blue states. You talk about the tax bill, where New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, those states got hit hard. Immigration, California has been hard.

And you wonder, is it separating the blue from the red?

ROMANS: That's interesting.

BRIGGS: And who will have an appeal moving forward.

Turmoil in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The release of testimony by the top Democrat could effectively end that committee's Russia investigation.


[04:15:23] ROMANS: Welcome back.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Russia investigation could be in jeopardy after Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein released 312 pages of testimony from Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson. Now, his company hired former British spy Christopher Steele to compile the now infamous dossier on Donald Trump.

BRIGGS: According to the transcript, Simpson told the Senate committee Steele was concerned Mr. Trump was being blackmailed. The release of Simpson's testimony undermines Republican attempts to discredit Steele's motives.

ROMANS: Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa blasting Feinstein for releasing Simpson's testimony. He says it undercuts that committee's ability to bring in new witnesses.

We get more this morning from CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, stunning development on Capitol Hill when Diane Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided to release this transcript, 312 pages of this private interview that Glenn Simpson who's the head of that opposition research firm Fusion GPS, his interview that he had with the Senate Judiciary Committee back in August.

Now, Republicans on the committee, particularly the Republican chairman of the committee, did not want her to do this and she did this over his own objections. Now, what we've learned from this transcript is an effort by Christopher Steele to inform the FBI about what he learned when he went to Russia dispatched by Fusion GPS to investigate candidate Trump's business past with his dealings with Russia.

According to Glenn Simpson's testimony that Steele was so alarmed about what he found that he felt obligated to brief the FBI in the summer of 2016 about exactly what happened.

Now, a lot of questions, too, about whether or not Christopher Steele was doing this on behest of the Democrats given that the Clinton campaign and the DNC had been paying Fusion GPS at the time that Christopher Steele had been investigating all of these allegations in Russia. But Fusion GPS said it had nothing to do with it, that they were -- that they did not edit and they were not involved in the dossier's production release of this transcript.

Really caught everybody by surprise yesterday, Christine and Dave, and is bound to spawn even more debate in the days ahead -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRIGGS: All right. Manu, thanks.

A senior member of President Trump's National Security Council staff purportedly proposed withdrawing some of the troops from Eastern Europe. That's to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two former administration officials telling "The Daily Beast" the ideas were floated in the earl le days of the President Trump presidency. Now, while it ultimately was not adopted, it is the first reported case of senior Trump aides seeking to reposition U.S. military forces to please Russia. The White House has not responded to "The Daily Beast's" request for comment.

ROMANS: But the man who promised to drain the swamp is heading to the ultimate establishment event. President Trump will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month. Typically, U.S. presidents do not go to this, a networking event for the rich and powerful. Many view the Swiss Alps conference as a symbol of wealth and elitism, seemingly at odds with the president's promise of economic populism.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the trip will promote his America first agenda.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is still 100 percent focused and committed to promoting policies that promote strength for American businesses and the American worker, and that's going to be the same whether he's in the U.S. or any other place.


ROMANS: Davos will be Trump's fifth foreign trip as president.

BRIGGS: Actor James Franco denying sexual harassment allegations in the wake of his Golden Globe's win. Franco wore a time's up pin at the award show in support of sexual harassment and assault awareness. His win for his role in the "Disaster Artist" sparking a series of online allegations from actresses who have worked with him. Franco rejecting their accusations on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert".


JAMES FRANCO, ACTOR: The things that I heard on twitter are not accurate. But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn't have a voice for so long. So, I don't want to -- I don't want to, you know, shut them down in any way.


BRIGGS: Franco tells Colbert, if he's doing something wrong, he intends to fix it.

ROMANS: All right. A summit between North and South Korea could be on the agenda and South Korea's president says President Trump deserves some of the credit. We're live in Seoul.


[04:24:15] BRIGGS: All right, 4:24 Eastern Time.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in crediting President Trump with making a huge contribution to setting up talks with North Korea. Moon saying he welcomes the restored dialogue but does not want immediate unification.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul with the latest.

Good morning to you, Paula.

How much credit does the president deserve for these talks?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, I mean, the U.S. president has already given himself credit for these talks even happening, saying it's his hard-line policy that brought us to this, and then this morning, the president of South Korea, Moon Jae- in, agreed, saying that he does deserve some credit. But this can be taken in the context of showing the world and of showing Pyongyang that there isn't a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.

[04:25:00] The alliance is still strong.

There's been speculation that North Korea is looking towards the South and almost sidelining the United States when it comes to negotiations to try and drive that wedge. But it was a clear message really from the South Korean president that that was not the case.

He also said that President Trump loved the idea of North and South coming together saying he supported the talks.

Now, President Moon also said he would be willing to have a summit with the North Korean leader but he also said that he wouldn't have a meeting for a meeting's sake. And even though it was important to come closer to the North and to try and nurture that friendship and that relationship, it was very important that they also dealt with the nuclear issue. Those two were not able to be separated -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Paula, is there any whispers of Kim Jong-un wanting to attend the Olympics in Pyeongchang?

HANCOCKS: At this point there are whispers of his sister potentially coming. But, of course, it is speculation at this point. We don't know. The governor of the province that is actually holding the Olympics said that he would love to get Ivanka Trump and Kim Jong-un's sister in the same room, thinking that could start something between the U.S. and North Korea. I don't know the chances of that. Pretty slim I should imagine.

BRIGGS: What a dynamic that would be.

It's 6:26 p.m. there in Seoul, Paula Hancocks, live for us -- thank you. ROMANS: All right. A big court ruling overnight. A judge says the

White House cannot end the Dreamer program just yet. So, what will Democrats do? Back off their shutdown threat or demand a permanent fix to keep the government open next Friday?