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President Trump Won't Commit to Meeting Mueller; Trump: Revisit Libel Laws; Trump Open to Talks with North Korea. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- reminiscent of a Red Bull, say.

[05:00:02] Coke needs to lure younger customers as appetite for soda shrinks. Diet Coke sales fell 4 percent in the last three months of 2017.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Not sure about the mango, but sign me for black cherry. You were right. You do know my taste.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.



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


ROMANS: President Trump now noncommittal on meeting with the Russia special counsel. He's more than willing to remind us there was no collusion with Moscow.

BRIGGS: President Trump says it's time to revisit libel laws, that despite his own rocky relationship with the truth.

ROMANS: President Trump says he's open to talks -- talks with North Korea under the right circumstances. What would those circumstances be?

We have reports this morning from the White House, from Capitol Hill, from Seoul, and Montecito, California, where it is pre-dawn and search and rescues will be beginning again very soon because of those mudslides.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's almost Friday. It's January 11. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start with the president suddenly refusing to say whether he'd meet with the Russia special counsel. A potential meeting with Robert Mueller hanging over the president. But asked at a White House news conference if he would sit with Bob Mueller, the president was noncommittal. What he is committed to is repeating this claim about collusion.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians -- or Trump and Russians -- no collusion. The 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.


ROMANS: The president's eighth denials of collusion came after he 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: 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 state that he is willing to testify under oath about that decision to fire James Comey as FBI director.

For the latest, let's turn to 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.

TRUMP: So, we'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, again, would you be open to it?

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.

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

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

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

ACOSTA: Christine and Dave?


ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you, Jim.

Joining us live from Washington now, CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan.

Good morning. I want to zero in here on DACA and the wall and the big immigration mess that is confronting this bipartisan group in Washington. You've written so much about this. Last night, Kellyanne talking to Christopher Cuomo about the president's evolving position about that big beautiful wall that would be paid for by Mexico.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: 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 a physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing. You know, there are rivers involved, I'm told. There are mountains involved, and there's terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places.


ROMANS: So, there's real politic when you get into office and you realize, you know, the true magnitude of the things you have to manage, and then there's just up is up and down is down and day is day and night is night.

Everyone knows the border is like that. The president was being confronted with this information -- he knows this, if he didn't know it, he should know it. Is he backtracking on that build a wall promise? And is this a potential opening for Democrats to get DACA and maybe more if they can agree to some, you know, some increased border security that isn't an actual wall?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, to your latter point, Christine, you know, I think that everyone on Capitol Hill expects the border security piece to be some sort of compromise that's not going to be, you know, a 2,000-mile wall. No one is really talking about a 2,000-mile wall at this point, not even the White House. DHS was sort of never talking about it.

[05:05:02] The wall is sort of a game of semantics to be perfectly honest. It was always symbolic during the campaign. And I think the reason the president continues to return to it over and over it was so symbolic to his base. But it was always at least a bit metaphorical because in his mind, the wall also includes other things like just more intense immigration enforcement.

And you already hear lawmakers on Capitol Hill now saying that they want to include some of those provisions in as border security which traditionally doesn't deal with the interior and the way you enforce the laws there.

So, what we're seeing in Washington is a weird sort of parlor game saying I'm channeling the wall, no, I'm channeling the wall. No, the president never said that the wall meant that.

Really, it's not even about a wall. It's about how you get into the nitty-gritty of how people define border security and what's actually effective.

ROMANS: He was voted in by people who wanted a wall, a wall. They don't want some drones. They don't want a fence or cameras --

BRIGGS: He knew he would have to get elected. But with that in mind, "The Washington Post" editorial board writes, take a deal from the Dreamers, build the wall. They say Democrats who choke on the wall loathe to hand Mr. Trump a political triumph might ask themselves, what other deals they might strike that could do some tangible good for so many people so immediately, and it's such a relatively moderate price. The likely answer is very few.

With the caveat that "The New York Times" has a front page history about a hard line plan emerging out of the House Freedom Caucus, is there a word for Democrats imposing just this symbolic word, the wall, and denying these DREAMers exactly what they want when it's being offered by the White House?

KOPAN: Well, Dave, that's sort of exactly what I mean by this game of semantics. I mean, Democrats want to say they oppose the wall, but they're defining it as you guys did, which is sort of a 2,000-mile massive barrier and yet they're willing to support things that include money for physical barriers and things like improving existing fencing and border crossings and that kind of thing.

So, they're playing things just as much as they continue to try to portray the wall one way and are definitely going to be willing to come to the table on some border security measures.

Now, what you described, this bill, which I also wrote about from some of the conservative chairmen of the judiciary committee and homeland security committee came out yesterday, that is what I was saying when people are trying to include interior enforcement and border security, there are some very controversial provisions in that bill. It is incredibly expensive even though they presented it as narrow.


KOPAN: That is the type of stuff Democrats will never agree to in exchange for DACA because they don't see it as a fair trade.

BRIGGS: Sure. ROMANS: All right. I want to talk about this remarkable meeting with the president held yesterday and he brought the pool cameras in at the very beginning, and it was almost like season two of the Donald Trump presidency. And he even basically said that.

Listen to what he said about welcome to the --


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


ROMANS: And he had poked some fun at the press and is really kind of still at war with the press, quite frankly. And I want you to listen to a little bit of sound from him talking about how unfairly he's been treated and how American libel laws need to be strengthened.


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.


ROMANS: Can't say things that are false, knowingly false, from a president that says things that are false, knowingly false.

Look, the media in the United States, the press, the free press in this country has very high standards and high bar, and we should say we're sorry when we make a mistake, but libel law almost sounds autocratic.

KOPAN: Yes. I mean, look, the courts have been balancing the First Amendment for about 200 years. So, you know, I think they sort of thought through these things about what you can't say and what you can. And, look, the right to freedom of speech, not to be defamed and the right of the free press to call power into question and to challenge authority and to really on behalf of the American people be skeptical and make sure that the people in office are doing what they say they are doing. Those are fundamental values of the United States.

And, you know, this is not new from Donald Trump. We heard it during the campaign. He loves to claim he's going to sue people for defamation and never does because actually proving it in court, you would find in fact a lot of things he says are untrue are true.

And so, you know, it's not surprising bluster, but certainly the First Amendment has been litigated for a long time in this country and balanced by jurists.

[05:10:05] ROMANS: It's also not the purview by the White House. The administrative branch doesn't make decisions about libel laws. BRIGGS: Leave that to the Supreme Court.

ROMANS: Right. Congress writes the laws and the judicial system upholds them and challenges them.

BRIGGS: All right. Tal Kopan, we'll see you in about 30 minutes. Thank you.

KOPAN: Thanks.

BRIGGS: The death toll, meanwhile, rising to at least 17, from flooding and mudslides in California, 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 deployed and search and rescue operations. CNN affiliate spoke to Hayden Gower desperately search for his mother after her home was wiped out.


HAYDEN GOWER, SEARCHING FOR HIS MOTHER: I thought she'd be all right. She was in the -- in the voluntary evacuation. I've been calling out her name all night long and didn't get a response.



Fifteen hundred homes are still being threatened. Hundreds were destroyed.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is there. He has more for us from Montecito.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN REPORTER: 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.


BRIGGS: Fifteen of the 17 deaths were in mandatory evacuation notices. All right, tragic there.

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

We'll discuss live in Seoul, next.



[05:16:45] TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.


BRIGGS: That was then. This is now. The White House says President Trump is open to talks through the U.S. and North Korea under the right circumstances. A decidedly different tone than the one we've heard from the president over the last few months.

CNN's Will Ripley live for us in Seoul, South Korea, with the latest.

Will, good morning to you.

Has the North made any concessions?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have not. They get an all expense paid trip to the Olympics. They continue to keep their nuclear weapons at this point. They agreed to have further talks about easing military tensions with North Korea. There might be some reunions in divided families from the North and South. They reopened diplomatic and military hot line.

But really, tangibly, nothing has changed from the North Korean perspective. They're still developing their nuclear program as Kim Jong-un said he was going to do in their New Year's address. And now, instead of threats of fire and fury from the U.S. president, it's back to the return of the Donald Trump from the campaign trail when he said he might be willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un and have a burger perhaps.

The talk that happened between South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and President Trump was about 30 minutes long. President Moon praised President Trump for being a strong leader and bringing about the influence that allowed these talks to happen. President Moon obviously being diplomatic here and telling the president that he played in these inter-Korean talks, the first in more than two years, and the president said that they believe that a stronger U.S.-South Korea alliance could naturally lead to through these inter-Korean talks to a conversation between the United States and North Korea. That would eventually lead to denuclearization. President Moon thinks it will happen within his term.

But there is a bit of a reality check here. North Korea has said repeatedly, including in a state media article just today, that they are not giving up their nuclear weapons, period -- Dave.

BRIGGS: So, no concessions. They get to be glorified on a global stage in 28 days.

Will Ripley, live for us in Seoul, thank you.

ROMANS: OK, 18 minutes past the hour. Playing with heavy hearts, the Texas Longhorns earn their biggest win of the college basketball season. Andy Scholes has details.


[05:23:21] BRIGGS: The University of Texas basketball team coming through with an emotional win after their star player diagnosed with leukemia.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


Sophomore guard Andrew Jones is one of the leaders of Longhorns' team. And he fractured his wrist in December and when he returned from that injury, he barely played because he complained of being tired. After undergoing many tests, Jones' family announcing yesterday that he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Now, Texas draping Jones' jersey across one of their chair s on the bench as they took on TCU last night. Now, Longhorns ended up getting their biggest win of the season, winning in double overtime. After the game, players on the team -- well, they held up Jones' jersey as they sang "The Eyes of Texas".

And head coach Shaka Smart with tears in his eyes said they loved Jones and won the game for him.


SHAKA SMART, TEXAS HEAD COACH: Andrew's the best fighter on our team, and, you know, he's got a fight ahead of him, but I know he's really going to fight. And our guys really fed off his spirit tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier who injured his spine in a game in early December making an appearance at practice yesterday. Shazier sharing this pic on Instagram saying: it's great to be back for practices and meetings. Just to be able to feel a part of it means the world. So, I'm worker harder than ever. I have to get back.

Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery on December 7. According to reports, he regained feelings in his legs just last week.


LE'VEON BELL, STEELERS RUNNING BACK: It's everything in the world, you know, just seeing him around, it feels good. He's a good spirit, he's smiling.

[05:25:01] He's still coming in and checking on us.

DAVID DECASTRO, STEELERS GUARD: It's very impressive and it's always just great to have him around. It really lifts you up when he's around.

JOE HADEN, STEELERS CORNERBACK: We can't wait. We're so excited when he comes in here. It's an amazing feeling.


SCHOLES: All right. Finally, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife will be leading the U.S. delegation in next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The vice president will attend the opening ceremony and then he'll make stops in Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo where he will meet with leaders concerning the stability of the Korean peninsula.

The first lady will not be attending the opening ceremony according to her spokesperson.

And, guys, before you know it, less than a month away the opening ceremony taking place February 9th.

BRIGGS: Won't it be interesting that North Korean delegation, we don't even know how they'll get there, where they'll stay and all eyes oddly will be on them in the midst of this nuclear showdown.


BRIGGS: Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: Have a good one.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump's latest comments on a Russia probe, notable for what he says and what he won't. More from the White House, next.