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EARLY START

Trump Ordered Mueller Fired Last June; White House Offers Pathway To Citizenship; Sisters To Compete For Different Nations At Olympics; Trump To Deliver Populist Message At Davos. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:38] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth just got a lot more interesting. President Trump ordered Robert Mueller fired as special counsel last year. Why he didn't do it.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And, a White House immigration plan is on the table and it includes a path to citizenship for nearly two million. It also toughens up many immigration policies. One Democrat calls the deal ransom for Dreamers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, PRESENTER, "GOOD MORNING BRITAIN": Can I get an apology out of you just for the retweets of Britain First?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, if you're telling me --

MORGAN: It would go a long way.

TRUMP: -- that -- here's what's fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wait until you hear how the president answered that question.

He's set to take his America First message to a global audience this morning at the World Economic Forum. In just about two and a half hours the president takes the stage.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: That speech will be dramatic, but it will also be overshadowed once again because of this news late last night.

If and when President Trump does speech with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller expect at least one provocative question, which is why did you attempt to have me fired?

We have now learned President Trump ordered the firing of Bob Mueller in June and one person familiar with the matter tells CNN the president backed off when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order.

ROMANS: 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 is already responding to the Mueller news in typical Trump fashion.

Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is there traveling with the president. He joins us live from Davos. Good morning, Jeff.

What did the president say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

Not surprising, the president is pushing back on these reports and these new reports are really shining a light on new questions about potential obstruction of justice.

We know that the president has been consumed about this Russia investigation. He's called it a hoax, he's called it a witch hunt.

But now, these overnight reports are shining a light back on that period of time in May and June right after the special counsel was appointed.

We are learning that the president tried to fire him -- tried to dismiss him, but his White House top lawyer Don McGahn, who was his lawyer throughout the presidential campaign, stepped in and urged the president not to do that, even apparently going so far as saying he would quit.

Well, this morning as the president walked into a meeting here in Davos, he was asked about these reports. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, of course, dismissing this as fake news but the reality here is we have seen the president, again and again, dismiss things that we know to be true and have turned out to be true.

So the questions going forward here as we try to sort out all of this Russia news -- what's important, what's not -- this is important and significant because it speaks to potential obstruction of justice. Potentially, what the president was trying to do to stop this probe months ago.

Now, we do know the president has said he's willing to sit down with the special counsel's office. That could happen in a couple of weeks or so. So you just get the feeling that this is ramping up -- this is escalating at a moment in time of the beginning of the second year of the Trump presidency. Of course, he's here in Davos. All the conversation among elites and others is about the Russia investigation. The State of the Union address coming up next week. Again, having a hard time moving beyond that.

But the topic of the day here as we leave you from Davos, obstruction of justice. As you can see, a very sunny, still snowy day here -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. In about two and a half hours the president will take the stage and sell his "America First" agenda to a group of people who are concerned about protectionism from coming from the United States.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: It is a busy day there. All right.

CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer and historian and professor at Princeton University wrote about this breaking news in "The Atlantic." Good morning to you, Julian.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

BRIGGS: You wrote about this and throughout your article we see the name Archibald Cox, we see Nixon, we see Saturday Night Massacre.

Is this at all similar, based on your experience?

ZELIZER: Well, the one issue that's very similar is that when Richard Nixon moved to fire Archibald Cox, who was investigating him in October 1973, the reaction to it was here's a president who is abusing his power. Here is a president who sees no balance. And there are some people in Washington and around the country who read this story as part of a puzzle that leads to the same conclusion.

[05:35:05] ROMANS: When -- he didn't do it, though. He didn't -- he did not fire Mueller.

BRIGGS: That's right.

ROMANS: And we know that even just as recently as a couple of days ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said well, we know what would happen if he fires Mueller. It would have been -- you know, you guys would have freaked out. The media would have freaked out.

One of the things about this story -- this "New York Times" story -- is that there were three reasons that the president was zeroing in on for Robert Mueller -- why he was -- had conflicts.

There was some dispute over fees for his Trump golf club membership. He had previously worked with the law firm that represented Jared Kushner. And just the day before he became special counsel he had actually interviewed for the FBI director.

Do you think these are reasons or excuses?

ZELIZER: I think those are excuses. I think these are reasons to legitimate his concerns, other than the obvious one in the room, that he's upset and he is bothered by the investigation itself and has been trying in public, in private, to stop it at many different turns.

And so, I think these other reasons, either in his own mind or the spin we get afterwards, are some kind of legitimacy for why he wanted to bring this to an end and get rid of Robert Mueller.

BRIGGS: All right. Here are some more live pictures of the president at the World Economic Forum in Davos, meeting now with the Swiss president. A big speech comes at 8:00 Eastern time.

We'll see if they make any remarks here in a moment. If they do, we'll bring those to you.

But let's now spin back to some comments the president has made about the potential for firing Bob Mueller. Many denials from him and his administration in the past -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, have you thought -- or thought about considered leading to the dismissal of the special counsel? Is there anything that Bob Mueller could do that would send you in that direction?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: There are also those denials from his administration -- so many they barely fit on one graphic. There have been, as you can see here, several of those.

So if you want to believe the president has done nothing wrong, and you should if you are an American citizen, what do you make of all this because he, himself, has said he wants the special counsel investigation to play out?

ZELIZER: Well, there's a lot of evidence that he doesn't and some of this is a story like we now hear about what happened behind the scenes, just as important was what you're seeing right in front of our eyes. The Republicans and President Trump are constantly trying to discredit the investigation through fabricated stories and through outright partisan attacks. So it's unclear to me that he really wants this to play out.

Ironically, that would be in his best interest if there's nothing there, but let Robert Mueller clear his name rather than trying to stop it.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: Are you surprised that McGahn threatened to quit?

ZELIZER: A little surprised, but I'm not surprised. Lawyers understand the jeopardy that a president can get himself into and he's a seasoned political hand so he also can anticipate the kind of backlash that would happen if he did this.

ROMANS: It does paint a picture of a president, though, who has people around him who have to have the nuclear option to keep him on the right track. I'm going to leave, I'm going to quit, and there will be this big public, you know --

BRIGGS: We're going to go now to remarks from the president, live in Davos.

TRUMP: Davos has been exciting and in addition to that, I think we're bringing a lot of -- a lot of things back to our country, including tremendous goodwill.

I had meetings yesterday and last night -- dinner with some of the great business leaders of the world, as you know --

ALAIN BERSET, PRESIDENT, SWISS CONFEDERATION: Yes.

TRUMP: -- and it was very interesting to see and hear they're very happy with what's happening in the United States. We're setting records every day. We're setting records and we're going to continue to set records.

We actually -- believe it or not, we have a long way to go. We have a lot of up sight (ph). Tremendous -- we have a tremendous margin up and a lot of people are saying well, we've gone up a lot, but can you go up. We really have a tremendous -- I think we have a long way to go.

We've cut regulations. We've passed a tax bill the likes of which our country has never seen.

Included in that bill is ANWR. Tremendous potential in ANWR in Alaska, you know. It's part of the bill which people don't even talk about. They've been trying to get ANWR approved since prior to the Reagan -- President Reagan -- and we got that.

And the individual mandate, which is -- essentially, it's a -- at least a partial, but a pretty good repeal of Obamacare. It was a very important thing that we got that.

But we got the biggest tax cuts in the history of our country and we also have major tax reform. It's had a tremendous impact on our country. You see it and everybody sees it.

And, Switzerland is just a great place. So many friends in Switzerland. Great investors and you have a lot of our stock in the United States. So I have helped to make Switzerland even richer and I am very happy about that.

[05:40:07] But the stock market is up almost 50 percent. And I will say this with great conviction that had the opposing party won, in my opinion -- because they would have added additional regulations to already the tremendous regulations we have -- I believe the markets would have been down anywhere from 25 to 50 percent instead of being up almost 50 percent.

I believe we've done a great job and a lot of people are very happy about it, and in a little while I'll be speaking about it.

But I just want to thank you for honoring us. We have tremendous respect for you and congratulations on the election.

BERSET: Thank you.

TRUMP: And, tremendous respect for your country and it's an honor to be here. Thank you.

BERSET: Thank you. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thanks, everyone. Thanks, everyone.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone.

ROMANS: The President of the United States with the Swiss president, and making a new, Julian Zelizer -- a new wrinkle on his common refrain about how great the American economy is because of him. He's predicting it would have been a 25 to 50 percent drop in the stock market if Hillary Clinton were elected.

ZELIZER: Look, I think you just heard the argument that he is going to lay out for 2018 and Democrats should take it seriously. He is going to argue for all the problems you've had with me, for all the controversy I cause, the economy is doing well and if you gave control to the other party they wouldn't cut taxes, they wouldn't deregulate, and that's what I'm doing. And that's what the Republicans are going to bank on.

BRIGGS: And that's a powerful argument --

ZELIZER: Very powerful.

BRIGGS: -- for people that do vote largely based on their wallet and based on the fact they're getting a $1,000 bonus at the end of the year. Based on the stock market and their 401(k). That is compelling to take into 2018 and the Democrats' message is largely the resistance.

ZELIZER: Right, and even at Davos where's there's a lot of dislike of President Trump and who he is, he's using the argument there, overseas, to create some sense of goodwill. So you just heard, in some ways, the opening salvo of the November elections.

ROMANS: Oh, wow. The anti-Wall Street president who is now the Wall Street president is going to convince Main Street that all this wealth going to corporations and the richest people in the world is good --

ZELIZER: Exactly.

ROMANS: -- for you, too.

All right. Thanks, Julian Zelizer.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

BRIGGS: A lot of bonuses announced.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Year-end bonuses.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: A thousand dollars is an awful lot of money --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- for Americans.

ROMANS: All right, to immigration now. Strong reaction on both sides of the 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 framed the deal as a dramatic concession by President Trump because of the fact that those who are 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 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 hardline Republican senators back the White House plan. Senator Ted Cruz, though, says I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally. The response from House Republicans largely muted, a sign perhaps conservatives are not in love with the president's proposal.

And, Democrats are unhappy, too. Despite the offer of a pathway to citizenship, one advocate for immigrants calling the plan a way to get every item on Stephen Miller's white supremacist wish list.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin saying, "The White House claims to be compromising but this plan will put the administration's entire hardline immigration agenda on the backs of these young people," meaning Dreamers.

BRIGGS: Anytime you infuriate both sides of the aisle you're doing something right, aren't you?

ROMANS: Or it's a poison bill.

BRIGGS: It just might be.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 CLIP)

BRIGGS: Maybe not on Trump T.V., but that was a huge story in the United States. How's it going over before the speech at the World Economic Forum? We're live in Davos.

ROMANS: Siblings competing at the same Olympic Games are rare. Even more rare, the Brandt family. Their older daughter will compete for Korea; their younger daughter for the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN BRANDT, MOTHER OF MARISSA AND HANNAH BRANDT: It's really unusual when, you know, to have two daughters playing for two different countries.

HANNAH BRANDT, MEMBER, U.S. HOCKEY TEAM: You can't really script something like this.

MARISSA BRANDT, MEMBER, SOUTH KOREA HOCKEY TEAM: It's really nothing we could have ever dreamed of.

GREG BRANDT, FATHER OF MARISSA AND HANNAH BRANDT: It's just icing on the cake that we could follow along.

M. BRANDT: We're going to together and get to experience everything for the first time together, which is very special and not many people can say they've done that with their sisters.

H. BRANDT: The coolest thing about going to the Olympics together is I'm going to be walking around, I'll be at the dining room, and my sister's going to be there. Most people can't say that.

[05:45:00] Hockey has really brought the two of us together, playing on the line together as one. We always knew where each other were. We had that little connection.

M. BRANDT: Today we can bond over the sport and the relationships you make along the way. It's memories that will last a lifetime and I couldn't imagine growing up without having her there with me doing it.

G. BRANDT: We had always planned as a family to go to Korea someday.

M. BRANDT: I never thought in a million years it would be under this circumstance or going and being about to play the sport I love and represent my home country.

H. BRANDT: I was always super interested in the whole idea of her being adopted and the Korean roots even more so than she was. She just kind of wanted to fit in here.

M. BRANDT: Growing up, I really shied away from it. I didn't really want to embrace being Korean. I just wanted to fit in and look like my sister and not be different in any way.

So for me, this experience has been just really eye-opening and important for me to be able to embrace my heritage and -- yes, so now I can say I'm very proud to be Korean.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:50:16] ROMANS: A populist president on a global stage. Just over two hours from now, President Trump delivers his "America First" message at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And ahead of his speech, the president making some very interesting comments on a controversy he sparked last year.

CNN's Nic Robertson is continuing our coverage, live this morning from Davos. He sat down with Piers Morgan and addressed something that was a very big story both in the U.K. and here at home.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure, a lot for the president to digest here and conversations to have. By his own account, he is finding Davos exciting, by the account of those traveling with him, and he's getting a very good reception.

His speech in a couple of hours expected to last 15 minutes. He will say America is open for business and it should be fair and equitable, but the United States will be tough on anyone that interferes with the U.S. or steals U.S. intellectual property.

On the -- on his meeting with the British Prime Minister Theresa May, he said the relationship was great. She said it was special.

She's invited him to come to Britain again this year. That is expected to happen. They did begin to talk about that again, we hear from that meeting.

However, also in that meeting was the issue of President Trump's tweets about the Britain First extreme right-wing British organization that the president had retweeted. That coming up in an interview with Piers Morgan.

This is what the president had to say to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm in the United States so I don't read as much about it. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain --

MORGAN: Yes.

TRUMP: -- 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 about it.

TRUMP: Well, if you're telling me --

MORGAN: I think it would go a long way.

TRUMP: Then here's what's fair. If you're telling me there's a horrible people -- horrible racist people --

MORGAN: Yes.

TRUMP: -- horrible -- I would certainly apologize if you'd like me to do that. I know nothing about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: So, Piers Morgan there appearing to try to sort of set the agenda a little bit in Britain to placate some of these people that were angry that President Trump could have backed such an extremist organization as Britain First -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thanks so much. Nic Robertson in Davos, Switzerland for us. Thanks, Nic.

BRIGGS: Some breaking news overnight.

At least 37 people are dead, more than 100 others injured in a hospital fire in South Korea. Fire officials still do not know the cause. It started in the emergency room of the Sejong Hospital in the city of Miryang, about 160 miles from Seoul. A spokesman says many of the victims were elderly and died from smoke inhalation.

ROMANS: All right, 52 minutes past the hour.

The online feud, the race -- the fight, right, between Walmart and Amazon rages on. Now, Walmart looking to Japan for help.

"CNN Money Stream" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:57:00] BRIGGS: The United States Olympic Committee calling on all current members of the USA Gymnastics board to resign in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

In a letter obtained by CNN, the head of the USOC gives board members until the end of the month to leave and wants an interim board by the end of February, citing the need for fundamental rebuilding of the culture.

In its statement, USA Gymnastics says it embraces requirements laid out by the USOC but did not commit to resignations.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning. It's that time of the morning.

Another record day for the Dow, up 140 points on the back of 3M and Caterpillar. Caterpillar's annual sales grew for the first time since 2012 because of strong global economy -- a rising global demand for its equipment.

The S&P 500, a record high. Right now, global stocks are also higher. U.S. futures point to a fresh round of records. It's going to be a good day all around.

It'll be easier to find an airline seat in 2018 and that's worrying investors. United, American, and Southwest airlines all will increase capacity this year. The concern, more flights and larger planes would lower prices, sparking a fare war.

BRIGGS: That prompted a two-day sell-off for airline stocks. The six largest U.S. airlines have lost more than $14 billion in market value.

ROMANS: All right. Walmart looking to Japan's biggest online retailer for help competing with Amazon. Walmart teaming up with Rakuten to begin selling e-readers and audiobooks in the U.S. later this year.

Amazon, of course, began as an online bookseller. But the partnership will help Amazon -- or Walmart, rather, compete with Amazon on both sides of the Pacific.

In addition to selling e-books to American consumers, Walmart will set up an online grocery platform in Japan.

Oh, it's all about the digital dollar, isn't it?

BRIGGS: Indeed, it was.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

A busy day for "NEW DAY." They've got former federal prosecutor Michael Zelin to explain what this means that the president wanted to fire the special counsel Bob Mueller. And, live coverage from Davos continues.

We'll see you tomorrow -- we'll see you Monday. Have a good weekend.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Right? It's Friday, I almost forgot.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, January 26th, 6:00 here in New York.

Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Another day, another bombshell.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we've got new developments just in.

CAMEROTA: We sure do. So, we begin with breaking news for you.

President Trump is denying the bombshell reports that he tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. Sources say the president backed off that demand after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign over it.

This could be a key piece of evidence for Robert Mueller as he investigates possible crimes, including obstruction of justice.

BERMAN: Now, you will hear the debate about how significant this might be to the investigation. What is not debatable is that if the reports are true, and CNN has confirmed them, then the White House and the president lied about whether he ever considered firing Bob Mueller. They lied and lied repeatedly.

Now, in the midst of all this, CNN has also learned that the president is growing increasingly frustrated with his chief of staff John Kelly, who did not travel to Davos with the president.

And in just two hours, the president will address leaders at the World Economic Forum.

Let's begin our coverage there in Davos with CNN's Jeff Zeleny following the breaking news this morning -- Jeff.