Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump: "I Am Not A Racist"; Trump Says He Didn't Use Expletive; Did Trump Say "I Have" Or "I'd Have?"; Hawaii Missile False Alarm: What Happened?; Two Sides Discuss North Korea's Olympic Participation; Queen Elizabeth Unscripted. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- can't remember what was said at that meeting. Suddenly it's become a partisan issue.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president blaming Democrats for bringing the country to the verge of a shutdown. Talks on an immigration deal be salvaged before Friday's deadline.

ROMANS: Changes in Hawaii after a false alarm about an inbound missile. The warning sent the island's entire population running for cover fearing the worst. Can you imagine if you got that on your phone or on the tv or on the radio?

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

BRIGGS: Some of the video of people just in utter panic. I can't imagine. I'm Dave Briggs. It is Monday, January 15th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east, midnight in Honolulu, 7:00 p.m. in Seoul. We'll go there live shortly.

We start, though, with the president defending himself after days of controversy over these remarks denigrating Haiti and African nations. He said to have used an expletive to describe African nations while talking immigration with lawmakers on Thursday.

But last night, the president pushed back (inaudible) the accusations his words reflect racist beliefs. Now lawmakers even within the GOP disagree on whether the president use the explosive term.

ROMANS: The president also talks about the possibility of a government shutdown with the clock ticking to Friday's deadline. The sides remain far apart on a deal for DREAMers.

White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is traveling with the president. He has more for us this morning from West Palm Beach.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the president taking a few moments before dinner with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday night to answer reporters' questions and he made news on a variety of fronts.

For one having to answer that uncomfortable question that came up this week after the president reportedly made some disparaging remarks about African nations and Haitians during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House.

Here's the president answering the reporter's question, are you a racist? Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No. No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.


SANCHEZ: Getting back to the question of whether the president said those controversial remarks at a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, Sunday night the president asked reporters, did you see what senators said about that meeting? The interesting thing about that is that there are very many different answers even just from Republicans about what the president said -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you, my friend.

The partisan wrangling over exactly what the president said in the immigration meeting becoming increasingly bitter. Listen to two Republican senators and the Homeland Security secretary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying the president did not use the word that has been so widely reported?

SENATOR DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: I'm telling you he did not use that word, George, and I'm telling you it's a gross misrepresentation. How many times you want me to say that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't hear that word either. I certainly didn't hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you're saying in that room you didn't hear any of this sort of lumping everybody together is that what you're saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not hear derogatory comments --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the sentiment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- about individuals or persons, no.

KIRSTJEN NEILSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't recall him saying that exact phrase. I think he has been clear and I would certainly say undoubtedly the president will use, continue to use strong language when it comes to this issue.

GEORGE WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS: To say I don't recall seems implausible. If the president of the United States used the word, blank hole talking about countries in the oval office or didn't say it, I would know.

NEILSEN: I understand the question. It was an impassioned conversation. I don't recall that specific phrase being used.


BRIGGS: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appears tomorrow at a Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight hearing, which sets up an interesting possible face-off with committee member, Dick Durbin, a Democrat, who says the president definitely used that vulgarity.

ROMANS: Senator Lindsey Graham, the only Republican in the meeting with a different answer. He did not directly confirm or deny Trump's comments in a statement Friday, but "The New York Times" reports Graham told the president, quote, "America is an idea, not a race." Adding that he himself is a descendant of immigrants who came to the U.S. from s-hole countries with no skills.

BRIGGS: That's Lindsey Graham, the president's golfing buddy, Lindsey Graham, who compliments the president whenever he gets the opportunity just for context. Initially statement from the White House did not deny the president made the reported comments although the president later said he did not use that specific expletive.

Joining us this morning from Washington, CNN politics reporter, Saba Hamedy. She's the co-author of CNN's "The Point." Good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to the program.


BRIGGS: Great to have you. Another astounding day in the city in which you sit this morning. Is too much attention being focused on the expletive whether or not the president used it and not enough on the sentiment of what he said, that we need more people from Norway, 86 percent white, and less here from African nations? Is there too much attention to the expletive?

HAMEDY: I mean, I think there's certain a lot of tension around the word itself because it was, you know, allegedly used, it is a strong word, though, you know, as we all know President Trump has not shied away from saying such comments before even as a candidate.

[05:05:14] So, it's true. It does seem like the conversation has not shifted the way it should around the word, but I do think that there is a reason it's being talked about. It is just such strong language --

ROMANS: The president has a pattern of saying things derogatory about people who are coming to this country and we're in the midst of talking about immigration reform. So, there's practical policy implications here if you've got the Democrats and Republicans at war over what to do on immigration. On DACA in particular of the DREAMers and shutdown deadline that's looming on Friday, let's listen to what the president said in West Palm Beach there at that dinner hour availability. Let's listen to that and talk on the other side.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA, but I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. The folks from DACA should know, the Democrats are the ones that aren't going to make a deal. I don't know if they'll be A shutdown. There shouldn't be because if there is our military gets hurt very badly. We cannot let our military be hurt.


ROMANS: What do you think here -- Democrats don't want a DACA deal? They just want to talk about it. They don't want a DACA deal. We've got -- we've got four days to work this out.

HAMEDY: Well, I think it's interesting that he has now shifted the blame towards the Democrats because, you know, he's changed his mind about DACA so many times and the wall and around this whole conversation around immigration.

We here at CNN have obviously reported, you know, how many times he has, in fact, shifted his view on this and so I think it is, you know, the comment comes at a very interesting time as you said, four days until a potential shutdown and this is the thing that's hanging up in the air.

You know, we're not sure, you know, what's going to be resolved and you're right it does keep going back to whether or not he said the word during the meeting rather than, you know, talking about the implications going forward.

BRIGGS: But moving from these semantic debate, Republicans control the House. They control the Senate. They control the White House. How big a risk are they taking, risking a potential shutdown? They've got to compromise when you're not in control of anything in D.C., don't they have -- how big a risk are they taking here?

HAMEDY: I mean, I agree that they have to compromise in this case because many, you know, have promised their constituents who are, you know, DREAMers that they will fight for them. So, I don't think that this is something that they can, you know, wait on. I think they should have these conversations. It is -- it's -- a lot of people and their status of immigration at stake, so --

ROMANS: Absolutely. Let's talk quickly about this audio -- dueling audio about the interview that the president had with the "The Wall Street Journal." I've listened to this sound a bunch of times and moving forward what I'm curious about is why this is such a big deal to this White House.

Whose feathers were ruffled? What's happening in the international community that it's very important that it's I'd probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong-un, not I probably have a good relationship. Let's listen to the sound folks and listen for yourself and see what you hear and let's talk about it.


PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): And I'd probably have a pretty good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

And I'd probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.


ROMANS: So, the White House said it's fake news. It's I'd have a pretty good relationship. I mean, a lot of people listen to that and hear I have a pretty good relationship. This president sometimes swallows words when he speaks. Why is it such a big deal to this White House? The I or I'd?

HAMEDY: Well, I think there's two things here. I think one as you mentioned it is important the relationship that we have with North Korea. I did a timeline back in December of all the back and forth insults between President Trump and Kim Jong-un and there are many.

And I think it's important for them to try and control that narrative even -- any way they can and second, as we know it is -- we were supposed to have the fake news awards last week and now they're coming up this week instead, and so I think it goes back to the administration fighting the press as much as they can on this, so.

ROMANS: Right. Even though it's the conservative editorial pages of "The Wall Street Journal."

HAMEDY: Yes, yes.

ROMANS: It shows they're taking aim at the mainstream press. It's the press writ large. All right. Saba Hamedy, thank you so much. We'll talk to you in such a few more minutes.

[05:10:12] HAMEDY: Yes. It sounds good, thank you.

ROMANS: In Hawaii, the Emergency Management officer who sent a false alarm about an inbound missile has been reassigned. The mishap that sent Hawaiians scrambling for cover came during a routine drill following a shift change.

Officials say an officer in the Emergency Operations Center mistakenly picked the wrong message template one for sending a warning to the public not just internally. Then the officer clicked OK to confirm that incorrect message.

Here's that message, "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill." That warning sent to TVs, radios and every single cell phone in Hawaii. It took 38 minutes to follow-up for an alert that the first message was a false alarm, 38 minutes.

Meantime emergency officials during that time and the Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard sent tweets saying there was no missile threat, but Gabbard said the alert itself is not the main issue.


REPRESENTATIVE TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: What makes me angry is, yes, that this is false alarm went out and we have to fix that in Hawaii, but really, we've got to get to the underlying issue here of why are the people of Hawaii and this country facing a nuclear threat coming from North Korea today and what is this president doing urgently to eliminate that threat?


ROMANS: Officials say it took so long to cancel the false alarm because they had no template for that, an omission that has been fixed now. They say a manager on duty will also have to confirm any future alerts. President Trump calls it a state issue. The White House says he was briefed although he did not mention this issue for more than a day while tweeting about a host of other topics.

Meantime, CNN's Barbara Starr reports the Pentagon is about to issue its nuclear posture review. A draft leaked to the "Post" shows senior defense officials want to modernize the aging U.S. arsenal, they also want to add new ways of waging nuclear war as Russia, China, and other adversaries bolster their own arsenals.

All right. North Korea and South Korea, they are back at the negotiating table. Their second round of talks in a week about the Olympics and more. We'll go live to Seoul.



ROMANS: Welcome back. It's Monday morning. It's 16 minutes past the hour. North and South Korea returning to the table. They held a second round of talks overnight on the North's participation in next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea. The talks are taking place in the truce village of Panmunjom.

Let's good live to CNN's Paula Hancocks. She is in Seoul, South Korea, for us with the very latest. She's been watching all of these developments. A second round of talks, could it result in something that we'll all be able to see? Some sort of a show of unity between these two countries that are technically at war during these Olympics?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, we're really getting to the nitty-gritty now. We're hearing that these talks are focused on details rather than the wide-ranging agreement that they will come to the Olympics.

Today, for example, they were talking about where to put a stage so that the North Korean entertainers could perform. We're getting that close to being able to iron out all the details.

One leader of an all-female pop group in North Korea, one of the most famous exports, Moranbong Band, which North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un has been entertained by in the past. The fact that she was at this delegation. She was at the talks suggest that maybe that group is going to come and perform at Pyeongchang as well.

So, it seems we're moving forward with all this. We know that South Korea is really pushing for a joint Korean team when it comes to the women's ice hockey. They would like to see North Koreans playing with South Koreans within the same team.

But, of course it all depends on what the IOC, the Olympic committee decides on Saturday. They'll be meeting with North Korean officials in Switzerland really deciding whether they get wild cards. How can they guarantee that some of these athletes are allowed to come to South Korea -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks for us in Seoul where it's 7:17 in the evening. Thank you so much for that.

A rare interview with Queen Elizabeth to mark the 65th anniversary of her coronation. The queen sharing her memories from the 1953 ceremony in a documentary on the Smithsonian channel. She recalls her father, King George VI so determined to prepare her for her coronation that he had her write his complete review of his coronation when she was just 11 years old.

Queen Elizabeth also revealing she has only worn the St. Edwards crown once in her six-decade reign and riding in that gold state coach to the coronation was a horrible experience.


QUEEN ELIZABETH: It's horrible. It's just not (inaudible) -- it's only sprung on leather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it rocks around a lot.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: It's not very comfortable. I can only go to a walking pace. The horses couldn't possibly go any faster.


ROMANS: Sprung on leather. The queen says the coronation was going to be so long, guests snuck food, strong drink and even smelling salts into Westminster Abby. Love the idea of flask in Westminster Abby.

The Minnesota Vikings with a miracle finish for the ages. They're headed to the NFC title game. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." He's got that next.



BRIGGS: Well, the Minnesota Vikings moving on to the conference championship game after what's been called the Minneapolis miracle.

ROMANS: Yes. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. I just wonder how many fans watching that game changed the channel before this one was over. The Vikings were down by one with 10 seconds to go on the clock. No time-outs left and then this happened.


BRIGGS: That's the first NFL playoff game to end on a game winning touchdown as time expires in the fourth quarter. First time ever, here it is again, all the Saints rookie missed the tackle there. Final score in this one, is 29-24. After the game, Stefon Diggs was asked About the magnitude of this moment.


STEFON DIGGS, VIKINGS WIDE RECEIVER: Since I first got here I never stopped working. Today what's all the worked paid off. God put me in a position and I just tried to take advantage of my opportunity.

[05:25:12] That's unbelievable. You can't -- you can't draw that up. You can't wince that. It just happened. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness! Oh, my God!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm at a loss of words. I've never been a part of nothing like that. This is unbelievable.


WIRE: That's Everson Griffin, speechless. The celebrations of fans across the country showing just how much this win means. The Timberwolves beat the Trail Blazers. And this little girl had all the emotions for you and check out the fans of the Minnesota hockey games.

Look at this reaction. The Vikings will play the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday with the winner going to the Super Bowl and if Minnesota wins, they would be the first team to ever play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium as the game is in the Minneapolis.

How about Jacksonville? The Jaguars went to Pittsburgh and shocked the Steelers, 45-42. Thanks in large part to the human bowling ball, 235 bound Leonard Fournette. Three touchdowns over 100 yards in this game. The Jags haven't been to a playoff game in a decade. The champs heading to the NFC championship to take on Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday. NFL playoffs just about as exciting as they get.

BRIGGS: Big underdog there, Coy, but it seems Jacksonville feeds on that, doesn't it?

WIRE: They feel like it's them against the world. Everyone's doubting them. They're to go up there at Pittsburgh and handle them. That game was not as close as the score showed. They have incredible defense. I would be the last person in the world that would want to try to tackle Fournette.

BRIGGS: Bortles played some great football this time around. All right. Coy, thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: All right. It's 27 minutes past the hour. President Trump says he's the least racist person you've ever met, but his remarks to lawmakers last week suggest otherwise. More fallout deeming hopes for an immigration deal before Friday's shutdown deadline.