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EARLY START

Furious Over Trump's "Shithole" Comment; Global Criticism of Trump Remark; Trump Won't Confirm Talks With Kim Jong-un; Trump Cancels London Trip Over Obama Embassy Move; Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:31:43] 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: Those friends are amazing but they come from a shithole. The president's own words during immigration negotiations, capping a crazy day that included tweets put 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 thinks an FBI agent committed treason by texting about him during the campaign.

ROMANS: And in this late night tweet amid all other drama the president claims he canceled a London trip because President Obama moved the old embassy. President Obama didn't move it. Just one of the problems there. We have reports this morning from the White House, Nairobi, Seoul and London.

Welcome back to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Eight years ago a devastating earthquake struck Haiti.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: More than 100,000 people were killed. Take that into context considering the story we're covering.

Today President Trump 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, 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, of course, from Indiana. Don't let these or any other examples normalize these latest comments from the president of the United States. Quotes that were censored by late night comedians, mind you, who are on at midnight, "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 the Oval Office there with the president. 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 the news about the president's remarks broke just as he was recording a video message for 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 hasn'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 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.

[05:35:04] 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: There's been a global outcry over this remark. 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 the reaction from Africa, let's go to CNN's Farai Sevenzo live in Nairobi, Kenya.

And the president has actually a pattern, Farai, of making statements like this. He once told "The New York Times" of Nigerians that if they came to the United States they would never go back to their mud huts again. So he has made derisive comments about the continent before.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Christine. And yes, of course, it's not surprising to many observers here, and analysts and indeed citizens. To Africans this is a continent on the march. It is a continent that has been quoted by many, many economists and indeed greatest, one of the biggest economic forces in the world, China, is busy courting Africa, building infrastructure, and for this to come from the leader of the free world when just as September, remember, he gave a luncheon to African presidents on the edge of the U.N. General Assembly is a massive shock.

We are getting reactions coming in slowly. South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia, the only three countries there on that temporary protective status. And of course the people of Sudan are saying they're a very young country. And that if the current president say this, then he must be concerned about it, but it's nothing to do with them. It's not their concern and of course they are worried being such a young country, still in need of aid and revival.

And of course, Christine, you must remember, even in places like Haiti, I mean, I'm a filmmaker, I meet Haitian filmmakers from Paris, from all over the world, in all these African film festivals, these are astounding remarks in an age where things are moved so far forward with five Nobel Literature Laureates coming from this continent. Africans will find it very surprising for the rest of the day how this man could have said this and he is the leader of the free world.

ROMANS: All right. Farai, thank you so much for that, from Nairobi for us live this morning. Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's discuss all this with CNN political reporter Gregory Krieg, joining us on the set for the first time today. And what a day it is.

The president is successful on I guess moving the conversation away from his mental stability to something far else -- something else serious. I'm reminded of a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece earlier this week that actually was entitled "Trump Proves He's Sane." That was actually the title of an opinion piece in the "Wall Street Journal," the conservative journal.

Now when you consider the context of the president's racially charged remarks which we can put up on the screen for the viewers, should the title today read, Trump proves he's racist? Or are we blowing this out of proportion? GREGORY KRIEG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I'll put it this way. Nothing

that happened over the last 24 hours, as outrageous as it is, is new. I mean, this is someone who announced his candidacy by calling some Mexicans rapists. So, I mean, the idea that this is kind of news that he thinks this way, that he speaks this way, I mean, it's not news in and of itself.

ROMANS: Right.

KRIEG: The fact -- to see that he's sitting and makes it news, the conversation obviously, the particulars of it certainly news. But as far as like insight into the way he thinks and what type of person he is, I don't think we necessarily gained all that much.

ROMANS: But it is in the middle of a negotiation about immigration reform, an important -- you know, hundreds of thousands of people their, you know, livelihoods here depend on what happens and he's making comments like this.

I want to talk about some of the reaction from Capitol Hill. Tim Scott, Senator Tim Scott, Republican from South Carolina, said this, "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."

And Mia Love, congresswoman from Utah, also Republican, "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."

You know, I don't think you're going to get an apology on this. The president is not really a big apologizer-in-chief.

KRIEG: I'm -- yes, I'm not going to set my clock.

ROMANS: Clock to that.

KRIEG: Not going to hold my breath. Yes. That's not who he is. I mean, again, I think a lot of the things that have transpired over the last 24 hours are more of a confirmation really of the type --

ROMANS: It just shows he doesn't understand immigration in this country, too. And we've seen other examples of that. But, you know, the idea that there is this line of people from Norway who we should be trying to court to come here, I mean, somebody from Norway today who came here would have to lower their standard of living to live in this country. They have 46 weeks paid parental leave, 56 weeks if you want, right? It's just so -- it's so -- I don't think he just really understands.

[05:40:11] KRIEG: I mean, no. I mean, obviously kind of the history of this country, you know, built on the backs of immigrants, you know, some who didn't want to be immigrants in the first place. ROMANS: Right.

KRIEG: Well, I wouldn't call immigrants. Yes, obviously he doesn't view things that way. He has a very strict idea of what an American looks like, what an American sounds like.

ROMANS: Yes.

KRIEG: And quite frankly at his age he's probably not going to be knocked off that idea.

ROMANS: A country built by people who were hungry. I mean, the best part of this country is it was built by people who were -- came here hungry.

BRIGGS: Well, you asked if the president understands immigration, the question also, does the president understands surveillance legislation as well this morning because the House of Representatives reauthorized what's called 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 this tweet from the president.

ROMANS: He had backed the FISA extension, but chaos broke out on Capitol Hill after this. "This is the act that may have been used with help of the discredited and phony dossier," capital D, "to so badly surveil and abused the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others." Question mark. 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: So I think it's fair to say heads are popping off on Capitol Hill.

KRIEG: Yes.

ROMANS: John Kelly running --

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BRIGGS: Go to the capital.

KRIEG: I think, you know -- BRIGGS: Paul Ryan calling, the president, explaining to him, FISA.

KRIEG: And then Nancy Pelosi calling Paul Ryan, telling him to pull the bill because they're worried they might lose the votes right then and there. Yes, I mean, just another chaotic morning on Capitol Hill.

BRIGGS: What is the takeaway, though, from that bizarre head spinning sequence?

KRIEG: It just goes to show you can never really kind of settle in and relax or kind of like do the normal analysis you would do about a piece of legislation like this.

BRIGGS: Yes. Yes. But we knew the president listened to "FOX and Friends." Can we now say definitively he does not listen to his own briefings, to his own intel community, to his own chief of staff who clearly briefed him on this very important piece of legislation?

KRIEG: I would say by all accounts he's getting both -- essentially he's getting kind of conflicting briefings. He gets, you know, what John Kelly -- one of the big things with John Kelly is that he's kind of restricted the flow of information that comes in.

ROMANS: Right.

KRIEG: Obviously during Trump's executive time, he doesn't sit in his bedroom with him presumably and kind of maybe turn down the volume on the TV. It might be an idea. But so essentially he's receiving conflicting information and which way he decides to go with it is anybody's guess.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Gregory Krieg, nice to see you. Thanks for coming by this morning. Happy Friday.

KRIEG: Thank you.

ROMANS: The president has touted relationships with authoritarians in the past. So why should Kim Jong-un be any different? Could these two have spoken? The president's answer next.

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[05:47:57] BRIGGS: 5:47 Eastern Time, 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, quote, "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 "very good relationship with the dictator."

ROMANS: The president has recently expressed an openness to negotiating with North Korea. He has also promised to destroy the Kim regime with fire and fury if Kim's missile tests continue.

When we asked a senior administration if President Trump had 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.

BRIGGS: 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 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.

[05:50:04] BRIGGS: Will Ripley for us there in Seoul. Thanks.

President Trump also tells "The Wall Street journal" he believes an FBI agent pulled off the Russia probe committed 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 that accusation beyond reckless.

Now to be clear, no one here has or should ever defend what Peter Strzok texted. A fireable offense. Treason is defined in the Constitution as aiding enemies of the U.S. or levying war against the nation. Just to be clear. Not defending Peter Strzok's text. Just defining treason.

ROMANS: All right. Facebook making your newsfeed more personal, it comes after criticism of the spread of fake news. More on the overhaul next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:55:25] ROMANS: All right. Last night President Trump posted tweets on a series of topics late into the night. Among them, that he dropped a working visit to Britain next month. "The reason I cancelled my trip to London is that I'm 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."

BRIGGS: Fact is that's 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 some rather large protests.

Let's go live to the new U.S. embassy in London and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, good morning to you.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. A number of factual issues with that tweet. First, actually, you pointed out about that being a decade old decision of the Bush administration, but also there's been no date really announced for that visit. So he sort of preemptively canceling something that had never really been firmed up.

Also to the question as to exactly how financially poor -- in poor health was that real estate sale. The State Department had always said that the property that the old U.S. embassy in Mayfair, thinking at this point now that it's being turned into a billion pound hotel by the Qatar Sovereign Fund that bought it. But that deal would in fact pay for the new facility behind me. We don't have the precise numbers, but this is not really an off-location.

It's Battersea, south of the Thames River in London. Some of the flats around, the apartments around the area, are going for nearly about a million pounds, $1.3 billion. But really, let's triple this real estate nonsense away. It's all about the protest. That even the mayor of London Sadiq Khan today suggested would accompany any such visit. Mass protests, he called. Mass peaceful protest. And in fact he's gone on to say that maybe this cancellation of the visit is Donald Trump finally getting the message, referring to his divisive behavior.

So really I think sort of strange overnight thoughts from the commander-in-chief there translating into a bizarre focus on this property behind me here. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Could be an interesting day on the president's Twitter feed.

Nick Paton Walsh live for us in London. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Mark Zuckerberg pledged to fix Facebook in 2018. And now Facebook overhauling its newsfeed to focus on posts from your friends and family instead of publishers and brands. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Laurie Segall, the VP Adam Mosseri says Facebook will change how it ranks posts.

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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.

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ROMANS: Facebook will elevate posts you interact with or demote posts that you use passively like news stories and business posts. Facebook has two billion users so any change is a seismic event. But this update comes after a year of criticism, big criticism, about the content on Facebook including fake news and posts used to meddle in the election. A lot of criticism that they've done this too late, you know, that they worked for too long allowing their platform to be used.

BRIGGS: Probably a safe criticism. Yes.

ROMANS: For misinformation. All right. Thanks for joining us this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Get the ear muffs out. An unfiltered "NEW DAY" starts right now with John Berman and Alisyn Camerota.

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ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We cannot normalize that Donald Trump has turned the Oval Office into a shithole.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: He's trying to talk about meritorious immigration.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's not just a racist sentiment. This is a dangerous place for the Republican Party to be.

JOHN FREDERICKS, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: They do nothing to increase the prosperity of the American worker.

BAKARI SELLERS, ATTORNEY: I am sick and tired of the good people who support Donald Trump who will not stand up and call this for what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inconceivable that the president is publicly saying he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are his own words unprovoked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not know whether he has spoken with Kim Jong- un. I'd be very surprised if, in fact, he has.

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