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EARLY START

Trump Criticizes "Shithole" Countries; Global Criticism of Trump Remark; Trump Touts Good Relationship With Kim Jong-un; Trump Claims He Canceled London Trip Over Obama Embassy Move; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 12, 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: To all of our friends in Haiti and to all of our friends in Little Haiti who are so amazing.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: They're amazing but they come from a shithole. The president's own words during immigration negotiation. Capping off a crazy day that included tweets putting a national security program at risk.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president also with some bizarre claims in a new interview with the "Wall Street Journal." Apparently he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un and said an FBI agent committed treason by texting about him during the campaign.

ROMANS: And a late-night tweet amid all the drama. The president falsely claims he canceled a London trip because the embassy was moved. Massive protests awaiting him may have had something to do with it and he gets plenty of facts wrong and details mixed up.

We have reports this morning from the White House, from Nairobi, from Seoul, and London.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. A remarkable 24 hours. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: That's true. I'm Dave Briggs. It's Friday, January 12th. 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Eight years ago today an earthquake struck Haiti killing more than 100,000 people. Today President Trump signs a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Day. Neither that proclamation or any amount of spin is likely to quiet accusations of racism stemming from the president's latest comments.

This, a man who has defended white supremacists, mocked a disabled reporter, called Mexicans rapists and said a judge could not be fair because of his Mexican ancestry. That judge is from Indiana. Don't let these or any other examples normalize these latest comments from the president of the United States. Direct quote. "Why are we having all these people from shithole

countries come here? We should bring in more people from places like Norway." He later added, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out."

ROMANS: The remarks came during a Thursday Oval Office meeting with lawmakers. Sources tell CNN when the subject turned to immigrants from Haiti the president asked why we want Haitians and more Africans in the U.S.?

The "Washington Post" was first to report the president's comments, which the "Post" says shocked the lawmakers in that room with him. Late last night the Haitian government summoned the top U.S. diplomat there to discuss the president's remarks.

BRIGGS: If you're expecting an on-camera response to the controversy from the White House it may not be today. There is no briefing on the schedule before the president leaves to spend the weekend at Mar-a- Lago. We are told that news about the president's remarks broke just as he was recording a video message from Martin Luther King Day.

ROMANS: King's daughter Bernice has since weighed in with this tweet. "Only in a country still haunted by white supremacy and hounded by racism would a sitting president feel comfortable degrading Africa and Haiti while praising Norway. There's an ugly history that preceded Trump's comments today. Don't pretend as though America haven't been racist."

BRIGGS: Administration sources say the president told aides he thought the media was blowing his comment out of proportion. A White House official tells CNN the view there is that this story may enrage Washington but will likely resonate with Trump's base.

I can tell you that is true, indeed.

For more let's go to CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine. President Trump setting off a firestorm on Thursday when in a private meeting with lawmakers he was discussing immigration and the issue of restoring Temporary Protected Status came up particularly from people from African countries as well as Haiti.

As for the White House, they responded they did not deny that the president made these remarks. Instead a spokesperson Raj Shah said in part, "President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation."

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. The president's comments drawing widespread condemnation from lawmakers. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, calling the remarks disappointing. He says, "Our strength lies in our diversity including those who came here from Africa, the Caribbean and every other corner of the world. To deny these facts would be to ignore the brightest part of our history."

BRIGGS: This from Republican Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah whose parents are Haitian immigrants. Quote, "The president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values. My parents came from one of those countries. They worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."

ROMANS: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida firing off a series of tweets. "We can no longer decide who we allow to immigrate here primarily based on what country they're coming from. The decision on whether to allow someone to immigrate here should be based primarily on who they are, not where they are coming from."

BRIGGS: Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio, weighing in with this, "America was built on the backs of immigrants from around the globe. We must honor that history, not reject it."

[04:05:08] And this from Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "America's president is a racist and this is the proof. His hateful rhetoric has no place in the White House. Every single Republican must denounce these comments now."

The outcry over the president's vulgar remark has been global. Mexico's former president Vicente Fox tweeted at Trump, "Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you proclaim who's welcome in America and who's not? America's greatness is built on diversity or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?"

As for reaction in Africa, let's go to Farai Sevenzo live in Nairobi, Kenya.

Good morning to you.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Well, you know, this -- it's early days here, it just gone up midnight in Nairobi, the capital of this East African country, but just a few minutes ago I spoke to the Somali Information minister, Abdirahman Omar Osman, who told me that he thought that these comments must be fake news and if they were real they do not deserve any response.

We've had reaction, too, from South Sudan, another of the countries with temporary special status, which has always been in war, was only born in 2011, and there they're saying that this is the concern of Mr. Trump, and it should not concern them, and as a new country they feel that older countries have more to say on this incredible, astounding comment about what country Africa comprises of and what this description, this adjective of shithole.

Now I am your correspondent. I was born in Africa and indeed not all of my colleagues will report in Africa are quite astounded, but we're seeing a pattern here. There's very much a disconnect between the work of American diplomats on the African continent. For example, in October the U.S. charged affairs in Mogadishu, when a bomb went off and killed over 350 people, he took himself to the Mogadishu hospitals and gave blood for the survivors of that awful terrorist attack.

We've got U.S. forces fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Here in Kenya, a fairly prosperous country. We've got a U.N. -- U.S. diplomats trying to maintain the peace after a pernicious election year. So these comments are being received in Africa as another example of how far removed from diplomacy and indeed the usual pattern of United States administrations in dealing with this continent -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Farai, thanks so much. We appreciate the context there.

Another story developing at the White House, the president refusing to confirm whether he has talked directly to Kim Jong-un. Instead, teasing the possibility he did in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal." He says, "I don't want to comment on it. I'm not saying I have or haven't. I just don't want to comment." But he did say he probably has a, quote, "very good relationship with the dictator."

ROMANS: The president has recently expressed an openness to negotiating with North Korea. He's also promised to destroy the Kim regime with fire and fury if Kim's missile tests continue. The president now insisting the stop and go strategy with North Korea is intentional. He tells the "Journal," "You'll see that a lot with me and then all of a sudden somebody's my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I'm a very flexible person."

BRIGGS: When we asked a senior administration official if President Trump has actually spoken to or contacted Kim he told CNN, "That's not something we would discuss, but we are not aware this contact has occurred."

So what's the view from Pyongyang regarding this relationship with the United States?

CNN's Will Ripley with more on that from Seoul, South Korea -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, President Trump's remarks to the "Wall Street Journal" that he probably has a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un certainly took a lot of career watchers by surprise. Yes, there are backchannel communications between the U.S. and North Korea, at the United Nations in New York and elsewhere, for example, but every source that I've spoken with in the U.S. and North Korea over the last several years and certainly in recent months has given zero indication of any remote possibility of direct communication between the leaders of the United States and North Korea and there are plenty of reasons for that.

Tensions between the two countries are at some of the highest levels they have been in years. Just last week President Trump was taunting Kim Jong-un about the size and strength of his nuclear button. Three months ago he told his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via Twitter that he was wasting his time trying to engage with the North Koreans, and then of course who can forget "little rocket man" and the other insults President Trump has hurled at Kim Jong-un. Of course the North Korean leader has hurled them right back calling

President Trump everything from a mentally deranged dotard to an old lunatic. Every source I have, every indication I'm getting, it is highly unlikely there's been communication between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. And nobody who follows the Korea situation would describe the relationship between those leaders as good -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Will.

President Trump also telling the "Wall Street Journal" he should be getting credit for firing James Comey.

[04:10:05] The president insists many things have been found out -- many things have been found out about the former FBI director since his departure. He calls Comey a proven leaker and a liar.

The president even accused an FBI agents pulled off the Russia probe of treason. Mr. Trump says a text sent by Peter Strzok to an FBI lawyer he was having an affair with was treasonous because it suggested investigating collusion to get Trump out of office if he won. An attorney for Strzok called the accusation beyond reckless.

BRIGGS: In case you're wondering treason is defined in the Constitution as aiding enemies of the U.S. or levying war against the nation.

Ahead, major protests were set to greet the president during a planned visit to London. Now the visit is off and the president's claim as to why just might have you shaking your head once again this morning.

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BRIGGS: Trying to distract from coverage of, well, shithole gate, President Trump posted tweets on a series of topics late last night.

[04:15:06] Among them that he dropped a working visit to Britain next month. "The reason I cancelled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for peanuts, only to build a new one in an off location for $1.2 billion. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon. No."

ROMANS: Fact check, that's just not true. The decision to move the embassy was made in 2008 under President George W. Bush. Also the Trump's visit was expected to draw huge protests.

Let's go live to London and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh with the very latest. And this is a president clearly tweeting in the very waning hours of the day just before midnight about cancelling this trip. Making news with the cancellation of this trip but it was fraught with difficulty from the beginning, wasn't it?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's strange what appears to be on his minds in the very early hours of morning. You're right, Christine, there. I mean, yes, look, there was never a formal date organized for this visit. There was suggestion perhaps it was going to happen around about February, but that's the first sort of factual problem with this late-night tweet.

The second is that it was not the Obama administration that made this move, taking property from not far where I am sat here in Mayfair, a very nice part of town, out to sort of south of the Thames River here, towards Battersea, also now a very nice part of town.

On the surface and the numbers aren't entirely clear it may well actually have made some money for the State Department because the value deal announced by the council here, the local officials, is about a billion pounds, $1.3 billion or so, for the Qatari Sovereign Well Fund that's supplied for hotel planning permission to turn the embassy into a luxury hotel.

The property on the outskirts of Battersea is expected to in fact be fully paid for by the sale of that property. It was moved on security grounds, but let's put aside the fact that this particular real estate developer doesn't appear to have a particularly good grasp of the London real estate market.

The real reason everyone I think in London thinks he wants to cancel or preemptively strike down the idea of him coming here is yes, there was expected to be substantial protests and we have in fact just heard from Sadiq Khan, who is the mayor of London, known for his pretty stridently anti-Trump views, he said just now, "Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcomed here while he's pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he's finally got that message."

And that has been echoed by many other London politicians here. But it is I have to say above all really bizarre to many Londoners that you would have someone in this position, such a divisive figure choosing a property price issue as the reason for not coming. Everyone in London knows it's expensive to live here, but nobody really thought that would be the reason Donald Trump in the late hours of last night would chose not to come here.

ROMANS: You'll never know what's going to happen next. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you, sir, for the context and the facts around that deal. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Good stuff there. All right. The House of Representatives voting to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over the objections of civil libertarians. U.S. intelligence agencies call the law a critical tool for protecting the country. A measure was expected to pass easily with support from the White House. That is until the president started tweeting.

The president had backed the FISA extension but chaos broke out on Capitol Hill after this tweet. "This is the act that may have been used with help of the discredited and phony dossier who so badly surveiled and abused the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others." Not surprisingly that tweet came moments after this aired on FOX News.

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JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: I don't understand why Donald Trump is in favor of this. His woes began with unlawful foreign surveillance and unconstitutional domestic surveillance of him before he was the president of the United States. And now he wants to institutionalize this. Mr. President, this is not the way to go.

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ROMANS: And then he tweeted. Nearly two hours after the president's FOX inspired comment put everything influx the president was tweeting again. "With that being said," two-hour space. "With that being said I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it. Get smart."

We've learned House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to Trump between those two tweets perhaps clarifying the matter.

BRIGGS: The White House made the puzzling claim there was no contradiction in the two tweets. This entire episode leaving lawmakers frustrated by the president's impulses.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If I could make one national security recommendation to the president it would be stop watching Judge Napolitano on FOX. This may be the only time where the country would benefit from the national security point of view if the president of the United States were watching cartoons in the morning instead of something else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Wow. The FISA reauthorization bill now goes before the Senate.

By the way, Judge Napolitano, a big supporter of the president who spoon-fed him that tweet, said last night these shithole remarks were a, quote, "new low" for the president.

ROMANS: Oh.

[04:20:04] BRIGGS: Did not mince words on that.

ROMANS: All right. One week until the U.S. government runs out of money, folks. With the shutdown looming, a deal on immigration remains in limbo. Even more so after those comments about Haiti and African nations. A bipartisan group of six lawmakers say they are close to a compromise. It involves a path to citizenship for Dreamers, immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children even if they weren't enrolled in DACA when it ended. The proposal also includes a $1.6 billion request for border security and limits to chain or family based migration. BRIGGS: Yes, but the deal is not gaining traction. Several

Republican senators dismissed the agreement as not serious and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained that negotiations were led by white guys, with no involvement from minority members of Congress. Pelosi's number two, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, one of the white guys involved from the top, called her remark offensive but she can of course thank the president for all the cover for those remarks.

ROMANS: Exactly.

All right Switching gears, a mixed bag for Wal-Mart Thursday raises and pink slips the very same day. We sort it out next.

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[04:25:32] ROMANS: So a really good news day for Wal-Mart quickly turned into a PR problem. Giving workers a raise on the same day it closed stores with no notice and laid off thousands of employees. Now Wal-Mart is the country's largest employer and it stands to gain big time from lower taxes. Some of those riches will go to employees.

Next month the starting wage will go up to 11 bucks an hour. There's a one-time bonus of up to a grand for full and part-time workers. To get that grand you have to work there by the way for 20 years so it's a sliding scale. Also expanded family benefits, longer maternity and paternity leave.

Wal-Mart's CEO credits its cheaper tax bill. It is one of the biggest winners of corporate tax cuts. Wal-Mart has already been raising wages and promoting workers to keep turnover down and compete against, you know, places like Amazon. Now Ivanka Trump applauded the new raises in a tweet. At the White House press briefing, the Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin thanked Wal-Mart.

But then this. Wal-Mart closed 63 of its Sam's Club stores with no notice. It only confirmed those closures later via Twitter. Wal-Mart wouldn't say how many jobs would be lost at Sam's Clubs but the effective stores employ about 9500 workers.

So closing 63 stores with no notice, now 10 stores apparently are going to be converted into sort of fulfillment centers, you know, for online, but that's 10 out of 63. Don't know how many jobs are lost. So a very good day for Wal-Mart, then quickly had an asterisk by the end of the day.

BRIGGS: And to your point, though, they employ a million and a half people in this country.

ROMANS: A lot of people.

BRIGGS: Many of whom are getting a significant raise and love this tax break.

ROMANS: And the company -- yes. And the company crediting the tax bill. I mean, you look at the tax rate of Wal-Mart. It was plus 30 percent before tax reform. Now it's 21 percent. It's cutting its tax bill by a third. On a multibillion-dollar company like that, that's a lot of money. And they're going to get some --

BRIGGS: A lot of Americans are awfully happy about that.

All right. Don't be fooled or stunned by our program this morning as most of you. One of the craziest days of the past year in this Trump administration. Capped by remarks being roundly criticized as racist.