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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 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:31:30] 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)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump now non-committal on meeting with the Russia special counsel. He is willing repeatedly to remind us there was no collusion with Russia.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says it's time to revisit libel laws in this country. That despite his own rocky relationship with the truth.

ROMANS: And President Trump says he is open to talks with North Korea under the right circumstances.

We have reports this morning from the White House, Capitol Hill, Seoul, and from Montecito, California, where in just a few hours when the daylights breaks, there will be more search and rescues there in those mudslides.

Welcome back to EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Devastating out there, our west. We'll check in there shortly. I'm Dave Briggs. It is 32 minutes after the hour. We start with the president suddenly refusing to say whether he'd meet with the Russia special counsel.

A potential meeting with Robert Mueller is hanging over this president but asked at the White House news conference if he would sit with Mueller, the president was non-committal. What he is committed to is repeating his 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)

ROMANS: All right. So that was seven times the president said there was no collusion, eight if you count nobody has found any collusion. This after the president tweeted another 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.

BRIGGS: Is laughing, right? It is worth noting that Republicans run all the investigating committees in Congress and Trump appointees are in charge of the Justice Department and FBI, and Bob Mueller is a registered Republican.

But yesterday Trump would not repeat his earlier statement that he is willing to testify under oath about his decision to fire James Comey as the FBI director.

For the latest let's bring in Jim Acosta 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.

ROMANS: All right, Jim, thank you for that.

Lawmakers meet behind closed doors today, struggling to work out an immigration deal. And they have their work cut out for them. 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, and even fewer in the Senate.

BRIGGS: Now after two years of President Trump demanding a big, beautiful wall along the border, Kellyanne Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo last night in "PRIMETIME" 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.

[04:35:11] 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)

BRIGGS: Christopher. Right now sources say there is enormous pressure on Democratic leaders to deliver for Dreamers.

ROMANS: Those are the undocumented immigrants brought here as children so even though a Tuesday court ruling keeps the DACA program in place for now, don't expect Democratic lawmakers to back down anytime soon.

There are now eight days left before the government runs out of money. Eight days if you're counting. Fewer if you look at the legislative calendar.

Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is -- he knows it like the back of his hand. He 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.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Phil.

President Trump striking a welcoming tone Wednesday at his first -- at first, that is, as he praised his own televised 55-minute DACA meeting from the day before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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BRIGGS: That was the president at a Cabinet meeting. He called the Cabinet room his studio. He called Tuesday's meeting a performance.

ROMANS: He claims the media initially covered the meeting favorably and they started to realize what he was doing and reverted back to negative coverage. He said a couple of -- some anchors from two news organization sent some nice letters.

BRIGGS: Letters of congratulations.

ROMANS: I don't know who that was. He also renewed his call for a review of the nation's -- libel laws, rather, after enduring a week's worth of embarrassing stories about his presidency in the book "Fire and Fury."

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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.

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BRIGGS: Speaking of saying things that are knowingly false, President Trump has said Ted Cruz's father was behind the JFK assassination and his political career was really launched on the fact that he said that President Obama was not born in the United States. ROMANS: He really unloaded on America, what he says are America's

unfair libel laws, and that was just about a day after "The Washington Post" officially reached 2,000 lies it has chronicled from this president.

BRIGGS: False or misleading statements.

ROMANS: All right. False or misleading statement, I'll give you that.

All right. In California, the death toll rising to at least 17 from flooding and mudslides there. More than a dozen other people are still accounted for. The 101 Freeway, that's of course California's main south coastal route, buried, simply buried under mud and debris. It will remain closed until Monday.

BRIGGS: More than 500 emergency responders have been deployed in search and rescue operations. A CNN affiliate spoke to Hayden Gower, who was desperately searching for his mother after her home was wiped out by the mud flow.

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HAYDEN GOWER, SEARCHING FOR HIS MOTHER: I thought she'd be all right. She was in the voluntary evacuation. Calling out her name all night long. Didn't get any response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: 1500 homes are still being threatened. Hundreds have suffered damage. About 100 of them completely 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.

[04:40:04] 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 now, Dave, Christine.

BRIGGS: Tragic, in particular, that only 200 people vacated. There were 1200 under mandatory evacuations. You have to listen to your government officials.

ROMANS: Some of those evacuations have been unbelievable.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: A 14-year-old girl in mud in her home for hours, but she did get out. There will be more rescues, I'm sure, this morning.

BRIGGS: Got to heed those warnings.

After months of throwing rocket fuel on the fire, President Trump shifting his tone, signaling he's ready to talk with Kim Jong-un. When would be the right time? We're live in Seoul.

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[04:46:30] TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

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BRIGGS: 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 in the last few months.

CNN's Will Ripley live for us in Seoul.

Will, good morning. What are the right circumstances? Do we have any sense of that?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave. Well, it seems if you listen to what President Trump and South Korea's president Moon Jae-in discussed that they feel that if they have a conversation with North Korea that organically over time they could try to convince North Korea that it's in the country's best interest to get rid of their nuclear weapons.

In a 30-minute phone call between the two presidents, that's exactly what they discussed. They talked about strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and South Korea after it appeared that North Korea was trying to drive a wedge, saying that their nuclear weapons were pointed only at the United States and not here in South Korea or other countries like China and Russia.

And then they also, President Trump said, that as long as these inter- Korean talks, like the ones that we saw earlier this week are ongoing, he said that the U.S. will not be conducting any sort of preemptive military strike on the North, which by the way is a reversal from Trump's previous statements that he would never let the enemy know if or when he was going to do something.

Now apparently a 180 saying that he would be willing to sit down and talk with Kim Jong-un if North Korea is willing to eventually give up their weapons. But it's time for a reality check, I would say. If you listen to North Korean state media, this is an excerpt from one of the articles published in their leading newspaper, saying, 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."

Now that is the North Korean mindset about nuclear weapons, that somehow they will bring about peace, even though many critics of Kim Jong-un's regime say actually he only keeps these nukes to keep himself in power -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, it just seems like no concessions on behalf of the North.

Will Ripley live for us in Seoul, thank you.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan uproar this morning over the Trump administration's decision to exempt the state of Florida from offshore drilling. Other coastal state governors from both parties now demanding the exact same treatment.

The White House proposing an increase in drilling sites off the coast of Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and it wants to reinstate leasing sites in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

ROMANS: But after Florida was removed from the list, Republican-run states like New Hampshire, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, well, they've all raised their voices, either outright objecting or voicing big concerns. The only coastal governor, Democrat or Republican, 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.

All right. President Trump scheduled to host a listening session on prison reform today. The mission to equip non-violent prisoners with skills and opportunities for an honest second chance. Republican lawmakers discussed the idea last week at Camp David. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will attend today's meeting.

The White House sees prison reform as a bipartisan issue in a midterm election year. They plan to sell the measure as a conservative solution to reduce crime and save money.

BRIGGS: Budget Director Mick Mulvaney can temporarily serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That ruling from a federal judge is a win for the president and the White House which now controls the nation's financial watchdog agency. [04:50:09] U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Kelly denying a request

for a preliminary injunction filed by the CFPB's deputy director, Leandra English. English was appointed by Richard Cordray last night when he resigned from the position to run for governor of Ohio. Mulvaney, a longtime critic of the CFPB, will hold down both jobs for the time being.

ROMANS: And a proud Irish American as you can see from that video.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Yes.

ROMANS: That was from just before St. Patrick's Day. Remember when he took to the podium wearing all his Irish pride.

All right. The fate of NAFTA sent Wall Street tumbling yesterday but the Ford CEO says the trade deal needs an update and that the U.S. is taking the right approach.

"CNN Money Stream" next.

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[04:55:14] BRIGGS: Officials at Florida Gulf Coast University forced to put police outside a sociology class where students are studying white racism. The course description says it examines racist ideologies and practices that have operated for hundreds of years to maintain white racial domination. The school decided to add security after Professor Ted Thornhill was flooded with harassing e-mails and messages.

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TED THORNHILL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, FLORIDA GULF COAST UNIVERSITY: People are going to get critical of the material in the course and the title and description and the individual teaching it, the institution that would offer it, students who would take it. And I can't concern myself with that. Those people are going to continue to do and say the things that they say. And I need to continue to move forward and teach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The first white racism class was held Tuesday without incident.

ROMANS: A Louisiana teacher speaking out after being handcuffed at a school board meeting.

(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)

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

BRIGGS: In video posted last night Hargrave defends her action saying she hopes she was inspired or 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)

BRIGGS: It's not clear if the marshal acted on its own or under the discretion of a board member. CNN has reached out to the city's marshal's office for comment.

ROMANS: YouTube cracking down on one of its most popular creators -- that guy -- Logan Paul. Last week he posted footage onto his channel of a person who appeared to have committed suicide in Japan. Paul's channels were pulled from Google Preferred. That limits his earning power and his presence on YouTube where he's incredibly popular. He took the video down himself. He apologized after he was just widely criticized online. Last week, YouTube issued a community guidelines strike against Paul. But critics slam the company for not taking stronger action sooner.

And it was one thing to post the video of someone who had recently died. I mean, horrible. But his behavior and antics around his hyper -- hyped-up reporting of it.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It was just gross.

BRIGGS: We have crossed the line. You may not know who Logan Paul is.

ROMANS: Your kids do.

BRIGGS: But trust us, your kids definitely do. They watch him.

Something important was missing Wednesday from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The electricity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 299, 399 prices that our company was built on.

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BRIGGS: Cool. CNN's Samuel Burke in the middle of an interview with a power outage threw the world's largest Consumer Electronics showcase into darkness for about two hours. Attendees had to use flashlights to navigate the floor and check out the latest in tech. How ironic.

ROMANS: Oh, my gosh. Officials say it appears condensation from heavy rainfall caused a problem with one of the facility's transformers. While it was fun for some, a lot of vendors paid a lot of money to showcase their technology. The lights are expected to stay on for today's sessions.

All right. Let's go check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stock markets mostly lower today. The new year's rally stalled here. Wall Street closed down for the first time in 2018 on concerns over China and NAFTA. U.S. stocks first fell after Bloomberg reported that China, the biggest U.S. debt holder, could stop buying bonds. The market dropped further when Reuters reported that Canada is increasingly convinced Trump will pull out of NAFTA.

Speaking of NAFTA, the Ford CEO Jim Hackett says he is in favor of an update.

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JIM HACKETT, FORD CEO: I mean, the early premise of NAFTA was really special and the right thing. But now as we can see how trade has evolved, it needs a modernization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And Hackett added that renegotiating is the right move. The thorniest issue of the NAFTA talks has been over car manufacturing. The Trump administration wants more parts sourced in North America, with half produced in the U.S., not Mexico or Canada.

Diet Coke is getting a makeover and Coca-Cola is hoping millennials will want to taste new flavors like ginger lime and zesty blood orange.

Dave would like that.

BRIGGS: Yes, I would.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: In a slim can reminiscent of a Red Bull, say? Coke needs to lure younger customers. As appetite for soda shrinks Diet Coke sells fell 4 percent in the last three months of 2017.

BRIGGS: Not sure about the mango but sign me up for that black cherry. You are right. You do know my taste.

All right.