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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 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:31:44] 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.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: They're amazing but come from a shithole. The president's own words during immigration negotiations capping off a head-spinning day that included tweets putting a national security program potentially at risk.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president also with some bizarre claims in a new interview, apparently he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un. He thinks an FBI agent committed treason by texting about him during the campaign.

BRIGGS: And a late-night tweet amid all this 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 that. We'll check in there.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: All right. I'm Christine Romans. A lot to get through this morning. 32 minutes past the hour.

Today the president signs a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Day. Neither that proclamation nor any amount of spin is likely to quiet accusations of racism stemming from the president's latest comments.

This is a man who of course has defended white supremacists, he has mocked a disabled reporter, he has called Mexicans rapists, he said a judge could not be fair because of his Mexican ancestry, the judge, by the way from Indiana. Don't let these or any other examples normalize these latest comments from the president of the United States. 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."

BRIGGS: The remarks came during a Oval Office meeting Thursday 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 lawmakers who were there. Late last night the Haitian government summoned the top U.S. diplomat there to discuss the president's remarks.

ROMANS: 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 the news about the president's remarks broke just as he was recording a video message for Martin Luther King Day.

BRIGGS: 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 hasn't been racist."

ROMANS: 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.

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.

[04:35:06] "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.

BRIGGS: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

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."

ROMANS: And this from Republican Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah whose parents are Haitian immigrants. "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."

BRIGGS: The outcry over the president's vulgar remarks 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 turn to CNN's Farai Sevenzo in Nairobi, Kenya.

Good morning to you, Farai.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Dave. Well, yes, the reaction is petering through, but already on social media, many African commentators are saying things that are quite unpalatable usually at this time of the morning, Dave. We have one man who says sadly we have shithole leaders like that man doing this to everybody every single day.

We heard as well from the Somali Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman who said to me on the phone from Mogadishu that he has suspected that these comments were fake news, that if they were not fake news then they didn't deserve any reaction whatsoever.

The South Sudanese have also been saying that they are a new country, only born in 2011, that it would leave it to other African countries to comment.

Now remember, Dave, there's only three countries on that list of temporary protected status. That is Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, which has been ridden by war for so long. And the disconnect that happens between the statement of the president and the work of his diplomats can be illustrated when in October a massive bomb window in Mogadishu and the charged affairs, American charged affairs led his entire staff to a Mogadishu hospital where they donated blood for the survivors of that blast.

So Africans are reacting that they think that the diplomats who have always been there through the State Department are still doing their work but they are getting very conflicting messages from the leader of the free world at the moment.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Farai Sevenzo, live for us in Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you.

ROMANS: Another story developing at the White House, the president refusing to confirm whether he has talked directly to Kim Jong-un. Talked directly. Instead, teasing the possibility he did in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal." He says this, "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."

BRIGGS: 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 insists 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."

ROMANS: 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 is the view from Pyongyang regarding relationship with the United States? CNN's Will Ripley with more on that from Seoul, South Korea.

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.

[04:40:07] 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, Will. Thank you for that.

BRIGGS: 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 even on this staggering day will still have you shaking your head.


ROMANS: All right. Trying to distract from coverage of the shithole remarks, President Trump posted tweets on a series of topics late last night. 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."

[04:45:14] BRIGGS: Fact check, that is a lie. The decision to move the embassy was made in 2008 under President George W. Bush. Also the Trump visit was expected to draw huge protests.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more from London.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of factual problems with that late early hours tweet. I mean obviously you have to first of all ask yourself what exactly was on the commander-in-chief's mind so late in the day that this particular issue came to mind, but factually it was not the Obama administration that arranged this deal to move the U.S. embassy from a very nice part of Central London in Mayfair to Battersea, also a very nice part of south London on the River Thames.

It was the Bush administration nearly 10 years ago now on security grounds. Also to the deal may not have been that bad frankly. We're told by local officials that actually the hotel deal which the embassy is being turned into by the Qatari Sovereign Well Fund who purchased the embassy building, that's worth about a billion pounds, $1.3 billion or so, and the State Department was clear that the whole move would be funded by the sale of this initial building and so that to some degree is confusing.

It is perhaps suggested that the Central London property was worth less because it has certain restrictions on what can or can't be done to it on the local legislation, but put all that aside, nobody in London really thinks Donald Trump was angry about a property deal. The real estate magnate himself. And that's the reason he shut down this sort of as yet to be properly fixed date for a working or state visit.

It was well known that there would be substantial protests potentially accompanying any such visit as soon as the British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the original idea earlier on this year. And in fact, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan has stepped forward in the last few minutes and said, "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." But still I think many here will simply be puzzled at the state of

mind of the U.S. president that in the very early hours of the morning property prices in London and his visit here was the forefront of his mind. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

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, though, 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.


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.


ROMANS: So nearly two hours after the president's FOX-inspired comment put everything influx then he was tweeting again. So a two- hour gap where he apparently changes tune here. "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 have learned House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke to Trump between those two tweets perhaps clarifying the matter for him. White House chief of staff John Kelly even went to Capitol Hill to ensure the FISA extension passed.

BRIGGS: White House made the puzzling claim there was no contradiction in the president's tweets. None. An entire episode leaving lawmakers frustrated by the president's impulses.


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.


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

ROMANS: All right. One week until the U.S. government runs out of money. With that shutdown looming a deal on immigration remains in limbo this morning. Even more so after those comments about Haiti and African nations from the president.

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. Now the proposal also includes a $1.6 billion request for border security and limits to chain or family based migration.

BRIGGS: 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.

[04:50:09] Pelosi's number two, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, one of the guys involved in the talks, one of the white guys, called her remark offensive.

ROMANS: All right. No work, no Medicaid. For the first time ever, the Trump administration will let states make Medicaid recipients work for benefits. The administration released new guidance yesterday. It allows states to cut off benefits from adults unless they meet work requirements, meaning they have a job, they're in school, they're a caregiver or a volunteer.

Now this mandate fulfills a longtime Republican goal but critics argue it can be used to thin the rolls. Medicaid currently covers 75 million low-income children, adults, elderly and disabled Americans. 60 percent of adults on Medicaid already work. Six out of 10. Most who don't work cite disability or illness. But the administration says disabled Americans are exempt from the mandate along with pregnant women, children and the elderly.

The guidance also says states should give some Americans extra consideration due to factors like high unemployment. If you live in an area with a lot of unemployment, you can't just say go get a job. Also opioid addiction. In fact, the administration recommends that drug treatment should count as a work activity. A really important detail in that Medicaid change.

BRIGGS: All right. Officials in southern California expanding the size of mandatory evacuations zones as the frantic search goes on for 43 people still missing in those deadly mudslides. The death toll remains at 17. The victims range in age from 3 to 89. We've told emergency crews have completed a primary search of 75 percent of the debris field. No rain in the forecast for the region over the next week thankfully. ROMANS: That's remarkable.


ROMANS: All right. 51 minutes past the hour. Facebook is making your newsfeed more personal, this after criticism for the spread of fake news. An overhaul here on how you'll use and see Facebook, next.


[04:56:21] BRIGGS: It's no laughing matter. Still comedians taking on the president's vulgar comment about African nations and Haiti.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": I'm sure the fact the countries he described as (EXPLETIVE DELETED) holes are mostly populated by people of color and the immigrants he wants from Norway are not is a coincidence because --


KIMMEL: If it was it would mean we voted for a racist, like a real one, then we'd have to get pitch forks and chase him out of the White House. But I also assume the White House would deny he said that. They did not. They just tried to spin it. It really is unfathomable. It's -- you just can't believe that this is the guy running our country.

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": At what point -- to just have some common decency, some human emotion? I mean --


BRIGGS: Now consider these shows are at 11:30, 12:00, 12:30 and they had to edit, censor the president of the United States. That in itself is rather fascinating.

ROMANS: It was fascinating to follow the Internet reaction, too. The people on social media, a lot of people are pointing out that if someone were to move here from Norway, they would really take that -- they'd have to take a cut in their standard of living big time. You know, you won't have paid maternity leave.

BRIGGS: Well, free health care.

ROMANS: You won't have health care. It's not as if people from Norway are beating down the door trying to get in.

BRIGGS: But you have to include Norway because it's -- that's what really completes the story. Just the edited remarks there in and of itself are not racist, I don't think. You need Norway for context and this won't really change the debate. Trump supporters are OK with this. I spoke to many of them throughout the night, none of them had a problem.

ROMANS: He's a bomb thrower and that's what he did and that's what they like about it.

All right. 57 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stocks higher today. Wall Street rebounded to a fresh round of record highs. The Dow jumped 205 points. Tax cuts have been the rocket fuel for the bulls but the head of the New York Federal Reserve now worries those tax cuts may overheat the U.S. economy calling tax cuts unnecessary when the economy is so strong.

Earning season kicks off today with some big banks. JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and PNC, so watch for that. That will likely direct the direction of trade today.

Mark Zuckerberg plans to fix Facebook. His goal for 2018 now Facebook is overhauling its newsfeed to focus on posts from friends and family at the expense of publishers and brands. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Laurie Segall, VP Adam Mosseri says Facebook will change how it ranks posts.


ADAM MOSSERI, VP PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, FACEBOOK: The idea is to try and focus more on bringing people together by trying to put more emphasis on facilitating more meaningful social interactions between people. And the way we do that in ranking is to value things like commenting or writing a long comment more and valuing things like how long we might think you -- how long we think you might watch a video for less.


ROMANS: Facebook will elevate posts you interact with and demote those you use passively like news stories and business posts. Facebook has two billion users so any change -- any change is a seismic event.

This update comes after a year of criticism about the content on its platform including fake news and posts used to meddle in the election, things that look like real conversations is really just garbage.

BRIGGS: All eyes on how they handle 2018 and 2020 and beyond.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: EARLY START continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To all of our friends in Haiti, and to all of our friends in little Haiti you are so amazing.


BRIGGS: They're amazing but they come from a 'shithole.'