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EARLY START

The President's "America First" Message in Davos; President Trump Again Claims Fake News Stories are Shared by News Media Regarding the Mueller Investigation; The White House Outlines Immigration Proposal; The XFL is Slated to Return in 2020 With New Rules; Lebron James and Steph Curry Select the Rosters for This Year's All-Star Game. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House immigration plan is on the table. It includes a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million but it toughens up any other parts of America's immigration system. One Democrat calls the deal ransom for Dreamers.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

PIERS MORGAN, BRITISH JOURNALIST: Can I get an apology out of you for the retweets? It would go a long way.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what's fair.

(END VIDEO)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Wait until you hear how the President answered that question. Set to take his "America First" message to a global audience at the World Economic Forum this morning. It is a very busy news Friday. Good morning everyone. Welcome to "Early Start." I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: It is busy. I'm Christine Romans, and it is Friday, January 26. 5:00 a.m. in the East. It is 11:00 a.m. right now in Davos, Switzerland and three hours until the President makes his keynote remarks this morning there in Switzerland. We will bring that to you live. If and when President Trump does speak with Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller, expect at least one provocative question. Did you attempt to have me fired? We've now learned President Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller last June. One person familiar with the matter tells CNN the President backed off when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign; he threatened to resign rather than to carry out the order.

BRIGGS: The story first reported by "The New York Times" threatening to overshadow the President's speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The President already responding to the Mueller news in typical Trump fashion. Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny traveling with the President. He joins us live from Davos. He has that reaction. Good morning to you, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Dave and Christine. On a sunny and still snowy day here in Davos, the President there as you just saw a few moments ago, continuing his meetings here. He will give a speech here in about three hours time about his American First business agenda. But I can tell you the White House still focusing, consumed if you will, by that overnight bombshell report that the President, some six or seven months ago tried to order the firing of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

And going back in time, we do know that the President last May and June was furious that the special counsel was even set up. Of course this came after the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Well just a short time here as the President was making his way to the Congress center here in Davos where he is having those meetings. Reporters asked him about these overnight news reports. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical "New York Times" fake stories.

(END VIDEO)

ZELENY: So the President, of course, using a common refrain saying, "fake news", a word that he says a lot. But the reality here is "The New York Times" reporting based on multiple sources, CNN also confirming that the President did indeed want the Special Counsel out of the way last June. Now all these months later likely have a sense of why.

Because the reality is that the Special Counsel's office has interviewed now so many people, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, and of course they want to talk to the President himself. Steve Bannon, of course, the President's former Chief Strategist at the White House, he will be interviewed by the Special Counsel's office later this month, by the end of the month. And then the President's own sit-down interview, should that happen. His lawyers are trying to negotiate terms here. But all of this raising questions. Was there obstruction of justice? Was the President trying to obstruct justice? That appears to be a central question of this investigation. Christine.

BRIGGS: All right, 11:00 a.m. there in Davos on a busy day for Jeff Zeleny. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right joining to us discuss all of this, CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and a Professor at Princeton University. Good morning. And you've written a piece overnight in "The Atlantic," "The Run Away Presidency." You say this is just another example of shock and awe in the first year of the Trump White House. What is the significance of this reporting? What does this tell us about, I guess, the core position of the President at the investigation?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, AND CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well at the heart of the investigation, as much of it's about collusion it's about his response to the investigation and whether he tried to stop it. And, this is a pretty compelling piece of evidence that the President was very aggressive and very intent on trying to stop Robert Mueller and that gets to the heart of how he used his authority as President of the United States and what his proactive response has been to try to stop this beyond dismissing it in public.

BRIGGS: In this piece in "The Atlantic" you say it is time we don't just focus all the attention on Trump the person, but more importantly, on the nature of the presidency that he controls and the awesome power. Why?

ZELIZER: Well, we keep talking about different instances whether it's his tweet threats that get us closer to war or this kind of muscular use of executive power which raise the question of how much power does the President have and what happens if it gets into the wrong hands and why doesn't Congress do more to check the President? That is the bigger question beyond President Trump, himself, that I think is front and center.

ROMANS: Depending how you view this President, it could be -- makes him either look guilty

[05:05:00] or obstruction of justice, or makes him look insecure, right, that he wants loyalty around him and he wants this thing to go away.

SALIZER: I think you're absolutely right and a lot of this is going to play out if it moves forward into the court of Congress. And so those perceptions actually matter, and part of what is going to happen whether Republicans are in control of Congress or Democrats, how do they see what the President did. It is not totally a legal issue; it's also very much a political issue. So that is why some of the stories can have a very big impact on what legislators are thinking about.

BRIGGS: You know, you wonder how this impacts those who will continue to stand up for this President and try to discredit the institutions, the FBI and the Justice Department. But, let's go back to the President's denials about wanting to or trying to fire the Special Counsel. Here is what he said in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

UNKNOWN REPORTER: Mr. President, you thought about or considered leading the dismissal of the special counsel, is there anything Bob Mueller could do that would send you in that direction?

TRUMP: I haven't given it any thought. I mean I have been reading about it from you people. You say, "Oh, I'm going to dismiss him." No, I'm not dismissing anybody.

UNKNOWN REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.

UNKNOWN REPORTER: Do you feel differently about (inaudible)?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. No. no,

(END VIDEO) BRIGGS: No that is just a sampling of the President's denials. Here are those from his Administration. As you can see, there have been several. In fact our graphics department working overtime to get them in one screen. Are these the actions of an innocent man? If you want to and you should want to believe in the innocence of the President of the United States, are these the actions of an innocent man?

ZELIZER: Certainly many will conclude they're not and that becomes a problem. What is his credibility? And if he is innocent, many people say let the investigation complete.

BRIGGS: He had said that.

ZELIZER: he has said that.

BRIGGS: ...needs to complete.

ZELIZER: Right. But then these stories come out that behind the scenes he is trying to stop it and in front of the scenes he's trying to stop it constantly by discrediting it so it looks bad. And, looking bad matters.

ROMANS: What is his agenda? He's - in Davos he's talking about regulatory reforms and tax cuts, but he's got immigration on. They've dropped a big immigration plan overnight. What does it mean for the agenda, these sort of things?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it hurts it because it undermines his credibility with both parties and it also just consumes the news. Right now we have a little bit of momentum after the tax cut and I think this is the kind of story that under cuts it. Personally though, I think there is an element that fuels it. He likes the controversy and likes the fight. There are two different tracks of the presidency. The legislative track which doesn't necessarily help, but there's that other side that defines who he is.

ROMANS: The street fighter.

ZELIZER: I think he loves the street fight.

ROMANS: Yes, the street fight.

BRIGGS: All right, Julian, thank you sir.

ROMANS: Thank you. Come back. All right, mixed reactions to that latest immigration proposal offered up by the White House. It calls for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young, undocumented immigrants based on employment, education, and good moral character. The White House framing the deal as a dramatic concession by President Trump because it effects those eligible for DACA and hundreds of thousands of others who meet the broader criteria.

BRIGGS: In exchange, the White House wants a $25 billion trust fund for a border wall and border security technology; more funds for personnel, closing the legal loopholes so people can be deported more easily; cutting family-based or chain migration beyond spouses and minor children; and an end to the diversity visa lottery program.

ROMANS: Several hard line Republican Senators back the White House plan. But Ted Cruz says "I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally." The response from House Republicans muted. A sign maybe conservatives are not in love with the President's proposal.

BRIGGS: Yes, Democrats unhappy despite the operative pathway to citizenship. One advocate for immigrants calling a plan a way to get every item on Stephen Miller's white supremacist wish list. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin saying the White House claims to be compromising that this plan would put the Administration's entire hard line immigration agenda on the backs of these young people, meaning Dreamers. Oftentimes if you infuriate both sides of the spectrum you're doing something right. Will this get through the House let alone the Senate...

ROMANS: Or there's also speculation that some sort of a poison pill. They can say they got out there with a big plan, but you know, the Democrats say look, it is mean and it restricts legal immigration. And, Conservatives say, it's amnesty. There's amnesty in there and they don't want it either. There you go.

BRIGGS: Neither side happy with this. Lindsey Graham is though for whatever that's worth. He liked this plan.

All right ahead, President Trump addressing his widely-criticized retweets of anti-Muslim videos last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: I'm in the United States. I don't read as much about it. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain and perhaps it was a big story in the U.K. But, in the United States, it wasn't a big story.

(END VIDEO)

BRIGGS: That as you all know, is not true.

[05:10:00]

How is it going over before his speech at the World Economic Forum? We're live in Davos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Fourteen minutes past the hour. At least 37 people are dead and more than a hundred others injured in the hospital fire in South Korea. Fire officials do not know what caused this fire. They say it started in the emergency room of the first floor of the Sejong Hospital in the city of Miryang, about a 160 miles from Seoul. A spokesman said many of the victims were elderly and died from smoke inhalation. It is South Korea's deadliest fire in nearly a decade.

BRIGGS: Populist President on the global stage. Less than three hours from now, President Trump delivers his "America First" message at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Ahead of that speech, the President making another interesting comments on the controversy he sparked last year where else, on twitter. CNN's Nic Robertson continuing our coverage live from Davos. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Good morning, Dave. Well, we are expecting the speech to last about 15 minutes.

[05:15:00]

President Trump, we're told, will hit on hot topic issues, potentially Iran, but a thrust of his message, America is open for business. The regulations in the United States make it a business-friendly environment. He is likely to say his policies are working. He's also going to reprise some of what he told the APEC Summit last November in Viet Nam, in Danang, where he said that United States wants to do trade but it wants it to be fair and equitable.

We've heard that before. He also is likely to say the United States will crack down and take a strong line against the theft of intellectual property rights. On the way in the meeting this morning in Davos to meet with Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President who is the Chair of the African Union. The cloud over this meeting and of course President Trump's comments about some African nations. The President was heard to say that the United States has great relationships with Rwanda at the moment, which is the way he also characterized the relationship with Britain when he met with British Prime Minister, Theresa May yesterday. He said the two countries have a great relationship. She said it was a special relationship.

There was talk as well of President Trump's visit to Britain coming up. That, we are told, is more likely to happen this year. And to that end, potentially, we heard there was an interview by a British broadcaster with President Trump where he pressed the President on the issue of the divisive tweets that the President retweeted from the minority, tiny, small, right wing British Nationalist Party, Britain First, that so outraged so many people in Britain. This is how that interview went.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: I'm in the United States. I don't read as much about it. perhaps it was a big story in Britain. Perhaps it was a big story in the U.K., but in the United States, it wasn't a big story.

MORGAN: Can I get an apology out of you just for the retweets?

TRUMP: Well, if you are telling me --

MORGAN: I think it would go a long way.

TRUMP: Then here is what is fair. If you are telling me it was horrible, horrible racist people, I would certainly apologize if you like me to do that. I know nothing about them.

(END VIDEO) ROBERTSON: So it appeared the broadcaster there, Piers Morgan tried to sort of pave the way for a slightly smoother presidential visit to Britain later this year. A (inaudible) a betting agency, a high street betting agency in the U.K. has just put the odds of the President meeting the Queen, it has raised those odds to 33 to 1. That is their assessment of the mood in the U.K. Dave.

BRIGGS: Get in on that action, nice. Interesting. We don't know if Piers Morgan followed up. Because the President said I would apologize once we see the final part of the interview, maybe Piers followed up and said are you sorry, but time will tell on that one. Nic live for us in Davos. Thank you.

ROMANS: At Davos, words can move markets. The U.S. dollar rebounding after President Trump told investors not to worry.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: The dollar is going to get stronger and stronger. Ultimately I want to see a strong dollar.

(END VIDEO)

ROMANS: So the dollar jumped 1% after that CNBC interview just a day after the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's words that a weaker dollar was good for trade, sent it to a three year low. Trump says Mnuchin's comments were taken out of context. But his remarks break breaks 25 years of American policy and earned a tongue-lashing from the head of the European Central Bank for violating an agreement not to start currency wars. At Davos today as other world leaders preach globalization, President Trump prepares to defend America first in his speech in just under three hours, raising alarms about protectionism. Not so though, says National Economic Director Gary Cohn.

BRIGGS: The President delivers his speech tomorrow. He's going to talk about the role that America plays in the world, and as America grows, the world grows, and it is good for the world to grow. We benefit when the rest of the world grows, and the rest of the world benefits when America grows.

ROMANS: America first, but not America alone. Cohn says it is about a level playing field, not protectionism. I'm told from people who were there that the American contingent is out and about talking to people and assuring people and talking about America is open for business. Come do business...

BRIGGS: And the message is well received?

ROMANS: I think there is -- they are surprised how there the American contingent there.

BRIGGS: It made a lot of people there a lot of money with the tax plan.

ROMANS: True. BRIGGS: All right, wrestling mogul Vince McMahon unveiling plans for a XFL Reboot. Andy Scholes with the details of the new football league coming in 2020 in the Bleacher Report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:20:00]

BRIGGS: The NBA All-Star Game taking on a different form this year. No more East versus West. It's had two teams drafted by Lebron and Curry.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this mornings, "The Bleacher Report." Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: The NBA found a way to spice up the all-star game this year and drafting the teams is simply a fun way to do it. Lebron and Steph leading vote-getters so they got to draft the rosters. They did it on paper. Lebron's team looks far superior to Curry's. Lebron taking Kevin Durant first and he also picked his old teammate, Kyrie Irving, then got reigning MVP Russell Westbrook as his sixth man. So Westbrook and Durant will be reunited again. Curry, meanwhile picking his other two other Warrior teammates, Draymond Green Clay Thompson. If you look at his team though, it kind of lacks the star power of Lebron's. Now Lebrun giving a pick (ph) of his draft sheet asking how he did in the D.M. debut. You'll notice, what person's name was last on that sheet and he was kind of bummed about possibly being the last pick.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

RUSSELL WESTBROOK, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER OF THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION: That's what I see, I was last pick on the list. I was just trying to figure out...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Alphabetical order.

WESTBROOK: See, I told you, man. Alphabetical order, man. Of course I was first.

(END VIDEO)

[05:25:00]

SCHOLES: And Durant had fun with the draft instragramming a photo shopped pic from the "Players' Tribune" of him wearing a shirt with Lebron's face saying, "I was coming for you Stephen".

All right, 19 years after the XFL folded, WWE founder Vince McMahon announcing the league is coming back. The XFL is set to return in the year 2020. McMahan saying the reboot won't be just like the original. XFL games will be about two hours long, faster paced, family friendly, and easier to understand. McMahon also said players won't be allowed to take a knee during the National Anthem in his games, and any player with a criminal record will not be allowed in the league. So guys, it will be definitely interesting to see how the XFL turns out this time around.

BRIGGS: Right because the first name everyone thought of was Johnny Manziel. He's got to be the anchor of the league but he technically has a criminal record.

SCHOLES: Yes.

BRIGGS: So he did tweet to Vince McMahon. That's kind of ...

SCHOLES: That he wanted in, yes.

BRIGGS: Yes, he wants in. All right, Andy Scholes, good stuff. Thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Okay, CNN has learned that the President demanded Bob Mueller be fired, first reported by "The New York Times." What is the President saying this morning? We're live with his response in Davos.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical "New York Times" fake stories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:00]