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EARLY START

Trump Won't Commit to Meeting Special Counsel Mueller; Standoff Over Dreamer Issue; Trump Opens to Talks With North Korea; Death Toll Rises in California Mudslides; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:12] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens. Nobody's found any collusion at any level. It seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump suddenly non-committal on meeting with the Russia special counsel. But he is more than willing to remind us there was no collusion with Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the president says it is time to revisit libel laws, make them tougher, make people pay for writing things and saying things that are not true. That, despite his own rocky relationship with the truth.

BRIGGS: The president says he's open to talks with North Korea under the right circumstances. We have a report this morning from the White House, Capitol Hill, Seoul, South Korea, and Montecito, California, where unfortunately those mudslides have left 17 people dead.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, January 11th. It is exactly 4:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: It's almost Friday.

ROMANS: Almost Friday but we got a whole lot to get through before then.

The president suddenly refusing to say whether he would meet with the Russia special counsel. A potential meeting with Robert Mueller, hanging over the presidency. But also in a White House news conference if he would sit with Mueller, Mr. Trump was non-committal. What he is committed to repeating this claim about collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, or Trump and Russians. No collusion. Bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion. I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion, but it has been determined that there is no collusion. When they have no collusion, and nobody's found any collusion, at any level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: In case you missed it, that was seven times the president said there was no collusion, eight if you count nobody has found any collusion. That came after he tweeted another one of his greatest hits on the subject, calling it a witch hunt, and adding that Russia and the world is laughing at the stupidity. He called for Republicans to finally take control.

ROMANS: It is worth noting that Republicans run all the investigating committees in Congress and Trump appointees are in charge of the Justice Department and the FBI. But yesterday Trump would not repeat his earlier statement that he is willing to testify under oath about his decision to fire James Comey, his FBI director.

With the very latest, it's time to bring in CNN's Jim Acosta. He's at the White House.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump dodged a big question as to whether he would sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. The president was asked whether he would speak with Mueller to answer his team's questions but instead of answering that question directly, the president repeated his claim that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

Here's what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: So we'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you be open to --

TRUMP: We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly I'll see what happens. But when they have no collusion, and nobody's found any collusion, at any level, it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: But that's not what the president said last year when he told reporters that he's 100 percent willing to testify in the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of these events?

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Christine and Dave? BRIGGS: Jim Acosta there at the White House.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat at the Senate Judiciary Committee, says she wants to apologize to Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley. Feinstein insisting she feels badly about not informing Grassley ahead of time about her release of the Fusion GPS transcript.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The one regret I have is that I should have spoken with Senator Grassley before. And I don't make an excuse, but I've had a bad cold and maybe that slowed down my mental facilities a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Senator Feinstein claims she meant to tell Grassley before releasing the testimony but didn't have a chance. She still stands by the fact that the transcript should be public.

ROMANS: President Trump calling the senator sneaky on Twitter, giving her, her own sort of mocking nickname. Republicans fearing her decision could undercut their investigation by discouraging future witnesses from cooperating. Chairman Grassley said his committee will keep pursuing high profile subjects.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When you're getting people to voluntarily come to you, it may make a lot of people a little more reserved about whether or not they want to cooperate, and I think particularly in regard to Jared Kushner, that it could maybe affect our moving forward with that very high profile person, as an example. But it will continue to move forward.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So is Jared Kushner off the hook then?

GRASSLEY: No. No, not at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Grassley says two unnamed witnesses Democrats asked to interview have agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee.

[04:05:03] BRIGGS: Lawmakers meet behind closed doors today, struggling to work out a deal on immigration. They have their work cut out for them indeed. Sources tell us Republicans face an absolute mess.

The current outline of an immigration deal drawing only about half the GOP members in the House, even fewer in the Senate.

ROMANS: Now after two years of President Trump demanding a big, beautiful wall along the border, Kellyanne Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo last night his requirements are now evolving. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: After conferring with the experts who are involved in this process, Christopher, the president has discovered that part of it will be -- he knows part of it will be the physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing.

You know, there's -- there are rivers involved, I'm told. There are mountains involved. That there are -- there's terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Right now sources say there is enormous pressure on Democratic leaders to deliver for Dreamers, those undocumented immigrants who were brought here, brought to the United States when they were children. So even though a Tuesday court ruling keeps the DACA program, as it's known, in place for now, don't expect Democratic lawmakers to back down anytime soon.

BRIGGS: And now eight days left before the government runs out of money. Fewer if you look at it in terms of the legislative calendar.

Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, members of Congress as of today have five days left where they're expected to be in session to deal with a raft of major issues. And based on what's happened so far this week, what happened on Wednesday, they are not just not closer to finalizing some agreement on that, they're actually further away.

On the DACA issue, related to immigration, instead of one group, working group, working towards a final solution, it's now splintered into multiple with very divergent ideas on the policy issues.

Without some agreement or resolution on the DACA issue, Democrats say they're not willing to move forward on the spending bill. There's concern about whether or not the authorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program will go through.

If these issues aren't all wrapped up by January 19th, that deadline, there's a possibility, and right now, according to people in both parties, a very real possibility, of a government shutdown.

The real question right now is, if there is no resolution on the DACA issue and right now everybody involved says it's very unlikely that they can get to that point in the next five, six, seven days, will they actually not vote to keep the government open? Something Democrats at least in the Senate haven't been willing to do up to this point. Right now, though, the big question is, are they bluffing or is it for real -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks for that. Big business is pressuring Congress to protect those Dreamers,

America's Dreamers. The leaders of 100 companies want lawmakers to pass a permanent bipartisan fix for DACA. We're talking big names here. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Coke. These CEOs say businesses will lose valuable talent, disrupting the workforce to the tune of $215 billion in lost revenue.

Their deadline, January 19th, 45 days before DACA officially ends. That's the amount of time experts say is needed to implement a new program. These companies are household names. They are worth billions. They employ hundreds of thousands of people, so pressure from these top CEOs could sway negotiations.

You know, corporate America has been increasingly vocal about social issues. Remember speaking out in recent years in favor of gay marriage, the Paris climate accord and immigration.

And now a few of these companies, Dave, are starting to talk about employee support, actual financial support for their employees to help them pay their legal bills as they fight the government.

BRIGGS: Which is counter what Iowa's Steve King is saying, that we will actually save money by deporting the Dreamers and building a border wall.

ROMANS: That's no surprise.

BRIGGS: Two very different economic views on immigration.

ROMANS: Hard line -- he takes a very, very hard line.

BRIGGS: Yes, clearly.

All right. Immigration Enforcement officers conducting raids on 98 7- Eleven stores in 17 states and Washington, D.C. 21 people arrested for allegedly being in the U.S. illegally. ICE calls it the largest work site enforcement operation against an employer under President Trump. 7-Eleven releasing a statement seeking to distance itself from the hiring practices of its store owners. Now the company says franchisees are independent and solely responsible for verifying the legality of their employees.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump striking a welcoming tone Wednesday, at first as he praised his own televised 55-minute meeting from the day before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Welcome back to the studio. Nice to have you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That was the president at his Cabinet meeting. It was open to the press, the very early moments there. He gave a statement, commanded the room. He called the Cabinet room his studio. He called Tuesday's meeting a performance. This must be season two of the Donald Trump presidency we are watching unfold live on television.

BRIGGS: Indeed it is. A highly rated season two. The president claims the media initially covered the meeting favorably before realizing what it was doing and reverting back to negative coverage. He also renewed his call for a review of this nation's libel laws after enduring a week of embarrassing stories about his presidencies in this book "Fire and Fury."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:10:12] TRUMP: Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness. So we're going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness. You can't say things that are false, knowingly false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: "You can't say things that are false," says the man who began his political career by claiming the president was born in another country. OK, so let's go through this. This is President Trump who has said Ted Cruz's father was behind the JFK assassination and that he knew, he had information that that birth certificate from the president was not really from Hawaii. Remember those days?

BRIGGS: I do. I also remember Republican Senator Jeff Flake saying he has a flagrant disregard for truth.

ROMANS: That libel law assault that he started yesterday came I think just 12 or 18 hours after "The Washington Post" recorded the 2,000th lie of the Trump administration.

BRIGGS: Less than a year.

To California where the death toll from flooding and mudslides keeps growing. At least 17 people have been killed in Santa Barbara County alone. More than a dozen others still unaccounted for. The 101 Freeway, California's main north-south coastal route, was buried under mud and debris and will remain closed until Monday.

ROMANS: More than 500 emergency responders have been destroyed, 500 in search and rescue operations.

A CNN affiliate spoke to Hayden Gouer (ph), who was desperately searching for his mother after her home was wiped out by the mud flow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was in the voluntary evacuation, calling out her name all night long. Didn't get any response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There were hundreds of rescues from the mud yesterday. There are 1500 homes still being threatened. Hundreds others have suffered damage. About 100 of these homes destroyed.

CNN's Paul Vercammen has more from Montecito, California.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Christine, when you talk about 100 homes destroyed in this flood, here's one of them. That is actually the remnants of a house mixed in with boulders, mixed in with trees and other debris.

And as we come over here, you can see where this flood that came cascading down from the Thomas Fire burn range basically rocket- blasted this house right off its foundation. And this is widespread.

They went through houses like this one way in the distance. You see it? You can see where the mud level rose up on the white wall and then a pink-orange marking, that spray paint, that's where the search and rescue crews mark it so everyone knows they've been through there.

Same thing with that car that is up -- facing just slightly up. They marked that one, too. Looking in there, hoping that perhaps they would find somebody alive. We know there are people missing and that this death toll will rise.

A devastating flood. How it roared through Montecito and basically took with it everything in its path, including trees, boulders, and houses.

Back to you know, Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: Paul Vercammen, thanks for that great work there. When the sun comes up in a few hours, several hours, they'll start those rescues again.

BRIGGS: The search continues.

All right, after months of throwing rocket fuel on the fire, President Trump shifting tone, signaling he's ready to talk with Kim Jong-un, but when would the time be right?

We're live in Seoul.

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[04:17:44] TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That was then, this is now. The White House says President Trump is open to talks between the U.S. and North Korea under the right circumstances. It is a decidedly different tone than we've heard from this president the last few months. And it comes as North Korea prepares to take part in the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea.

CNN's Will Ripley is live for us in Seoul with the latest. So fortunate to have your expertise this morning. You've been to

North Korea many times. Bring us up to speed on the state of play here.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really remarkable. I mean, also for the first time, we heard an assurance from President Trump, when he spoke with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, that the U.S. will not engage in any military strikes against North Korea as long as the inter-Korean talks, like the ones that happened this week, are ongoing.

Remember, President Trump said he was never going to tell his enemies if or when he would strike. Now he's saying he's not going to do it. He's saying he's open to speaking with Kim Jong-un. It makes you wonder if Kim Jong-un's strategy, is it starting to pay off? Nuclear tests and missile, is it causing the U.S. and South Korea to want to come to the table?

Well, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, and South Korea's president, they say actually quite the opposite. They believe that North Korea will denuclearize. But they say it might not happen right away. They say that the talks between the two Koreas need to continue. President Trump saying that he is open to speaking with Kim Jong-un at some point while still insisting that North Korea be willing to give up its rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.

But I have to tell you for a bit a reality check, just look at today's article in the "Rodong Sinmun," North Korea's leading newspaper, I'll read you a portion of it, it says, quote, "The nuclear deterrent of the DPRK is the life and soul of the nation. It cannot be bartered for anything and the eternal foundation for a rosy future of the country."

That's the North Korean government's mindset about nuclear weapons, that somehow they will guarantee peace, even though that goes against the views of pretty much everywhere else in the world and it makes you wonder just how much progress could actually be made in these upcoming talks about easing military tensions when North Korea has basically stated consistently they are absolutely not going to give up their nuclear weapons -- Christine.

ROMANS: And the United States absolutely wants them to be a non- nuclear state. So you have a clash of two very different world views here.

[04:20:07] All right. Thanks so much for that, Will Ripley in Seoul.

BRIGGS: President Trump walking back comments by an American general overseas during a joint news conference with Norway's prime minister. Trump was asked about remarks U.S. General Robert Neller made to 300 Marines in Norway last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He said there's a war coming. A big ass fight. When will that war come? TRUMP: Well, maybe he knows something that I don't know, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Trump went on to say he hopes and expects the U.S. will have peace through strength.

ROMANS: Those Marines, by the way, are in Norway as a counter to Russian aggression in the region.

A bipartisan uproar over the Trump administration's decision to exempt the state of Florida from off-shore drilling. Other coastal state governments -- governors, rather, from both parties now demanding they want the same treatment. No surprise, the White House proposing an increase in drilling sites off the coast of Alaska, in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House wants to reinstate leasing sites in the Pacific and Atlantic states.

BRIGGS: But after Florida was removed from the list, Republican-run states like New Hampshire, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and South Carolina are all either objecting outright or voicing major concerns. The only coastal governor, Democrat or Republican, vocally supporting the plan is Republican Paul LePage of Maine.

The decision to grant Florida an exception could be viewed as a political favor with Governor Rick Scott eyeing a possible White House-backed Senate run.

This reminds you of that initial rollout of the travel ban. Really poorly vetted, in particular by their own Republican governors, who don't want this off their coast.

ROMANS: There's also the optics of the president who has the support of the governor and also the president who has property -- beach side property.

BRIGGS: Mar-a-Lago.

ROMANS: Beach side property.

BRIGGS: No one wants to see a rig off the coast of Mar-a-Lago, do they?

ROMANS: All right, 21 minutes past the hour.

BRIGGS: A teacher handcuffed after asking simple questions at a school board meeting in Louisiana. Hear what this teacher is saying now.

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[04:26:33] BRIGGS: A Louisiana teacher speaking out after being handcuffed at a school board meeting after asking some simple questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you explain --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop resisting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am not resisting. You just pushed me to the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The incident unfolding after Deyshia Hargrave, a recent Teacher of the Year, asked why the school district superintendent was slated to get a $30,000 raise while teachers like herself struggled. As she continued sharing her concerns video shows a city marshal escorted Hargrave out and handcuffed her.

ROMANS: In video posted last year Hargrave defends her action saying she hopes she has inspired other people to speak out for what they believe in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEYSHIA HARGRAVE, JAILED AFTER CRITICIZING SUPERINTENDENT'S RAISE: I'm hoping that you choose to speak out after seeing what happened to me, and you don't let it become an intimidation to you. You let it be your strength because it's slowly becoming mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It's not clear if this marshal, who was hired by the school board, acted on his own or under the direction of a board member. CNN has reached out to the city marshal's office for comment, but clearly this community is very concerned. One of the board members there was very concerned with how she was treated.

This woman is a teacher who was just speaking up for cafeteria workers, she says, and for teachers who saw a $30,000 raise for, you know, the superintendent as something that was really unfair, given the work they're doing in that school.

BRIGGS: That's the annual salary of a lot of teachers, that raise alone.

All right. President Trump's latest comments on the Russia probe, notable for what he'll say and what he won't. More from the White House next on EARLY START.

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