Return to Transcripts main page

EARLY START

President Trump's First State of the Union; North Korea to Display Hundreds of Missiles Before Winter Olympics; Trump Doesn't Mention Russian Meddling; President Touts New Rules in War on Terror. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Are we sure this isn't John Oliver or some late-night comedian trolling us?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know. Can peacocks fly?

BRIGGS: I feel like they're making fun of all of us.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with reaction from the president's first State of the Union speech.

(MUSIC)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump mixing what some call a divisive agenda with calls for unity in his first State of the Union. He touted his accomplishments certainly on the economy and warned the nation about foreign threats as well as domestic.

We're live this morning in Washington, in Moscow, Kabul, and Seoul.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, January 31st. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

The president walked a fine line in his first State of the Union last night. He held fast to the tough-talking populism he embodied in year one, while making some effort to reach across the aisle. The hour and 20-minute speech is the third longest State of the Union ever. The president touted the economy, defending his America-first approach, even taking a jab at NFL players for not standing during the national anthem.

BRIGGS: On immigration, the president pushed for his bipartisan deal that includes a border wall and a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million Dreamers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities.

So, tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream because Americans are dreamers, too.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The night featured a series of emotional tributes. Among those honored, Police Officer Ryan Holets and his wife, who adopted a baby of a mother addicted to heroin. The parents of teenage girls killed by MS-13 gang members, and the parents of Otto Warmbier, the college student imprisoned by North Korea who fell gravely ill who was released to return to the U.S. just days before he died.

ROMANS: Melania Trump made her first public appearance in some time. The notoriously private first lady there with -- entering the room. This was her first public appearance since news broke of a reported payoff to a porn star to keep an alleged affair quiet. She arrived separately from her husband. We're told she and the president went back to the White House together.

BRIGGS: Huge applause there for the first lady.

Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts gave the Democratic response. He called out the president on the Russia probe, civil rights, school shootings in Charlottesville and said this about bullies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Bullies may land a punch, they may leave a mark, but they have never, not once in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Well, let's bring in "Washington Examiner" commentary writer Siraj Hashmi in Washington.

Welcome back bright and early, or up late. There's no sleeping in D.C. these days when we have these big, important events. Let's set the scene here a little bit.

You know, the president obviously says the state of economy is strong. BRIGGS: It is.

ROMANS: He touted a lot of his accomplishments. It was a long speech, the third longest state of the Union. Let's listen to a bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew -- that no people on earth are so fearless or daring or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there's a challenge, we tame it. If there's an opportunity, we seize it.

So, let's begin tonight by recognizing that the State of Our Union is strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. He called it a new American moment. There was positive reaction, 48 percent very positive reaction to the president's speech, 22 percent somewhat positive. Negative, 29 percent.

How do you rate it, Siraj?

SIRAJ HASHMI, COMMENTARY WRITER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, in terms of length, I'm trying to figure out, which is longer, the State of the Union or the new "Amigos" album, because both were over an hour and 20 minutes.

You know, I think what President Trump did tonight was actually good for him.

[04:05:05] I mean, it actually -- he stayed on message, he didn't get too off the cuff. He didn't, you know, stray away from what he was trying to do. And what he actually did, which I found pretty interesting, was he almost dared Democrats who were sitting in the House chamber to actually work with him in a way.

And what I mean by that is he kind of focused in on these emotional stories by telling about the MS-13 family, the family that was attacked by MS-13, the two daughters killed, focusing on Warmbiers as well as Ji Seong-ho.

You know, these are stories that almost captivate an entire audience regardless of politics. And in a way, many Democrats were, you know, forced to stand in a way because if they didn't, then, of course, they will be called out for it. And in the 2018 midterm election coming up, that's very hard to turn back to their constituents and say, hey, you didn't stand for this, what are you actually trying to send -- what type of message are you trying to send?

BRIGGS: Well, the message that the White House wanted to send was one of unity. That was the promise. Did they deliver on that promise of unity? HASHMI: From the State of the Union, I would have to lean toward yes.

Just by sheer numbers of how many Democrats stood and applauded for President Trump's lines with respect to whether it be about the economy or with respect to North Korea or some on immigration.

You know, I will not say that definitively it is a yes, but it is moving in the direction where I could say that Democrats might be willing to work with this president if he actually presents his arguments in a reasonable way. And that's what he did tonight.

ROMANS: I wonder, though, so we've got obviously a divided country and a midterm coming up here and Democrats who have been in the wilderness, frankly. But they could work together on infrastructure. That's something that both parties could have support for.

But I wonder if the political rancor maybe prevents the Democrats from coming to the table.

HASHMI: You know, if they can stick to clean bills, and by that I mean only focus on one issue at a time, you know, infrastructure seems to be one of those areas that Democrats would come to the table on. And actually, Republicans are probably, you know, a little bit wary about an infrastructure deal concerning the fact that President Trump has actually asked for $1.5 trillion, half a trillion dollars more than what Republicans in Congress were actually expecting.

ROMANS: Yes. And how much is the government going to kick in, how much are the states going to kick in, there's some question about whether the president is at odds with his own party on how that would be structured. Almost more controversy among the president and Republicans on infrastructure than there is between the president and Democrats.

BRIGGS: Well, both the far right and far left do not like what's on the table right now. And that's those four pillars that the president addressed last night. Of course, the pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million here. There's the chain migration or family unification.

This broad four-pillar plan ending the visa lottery as well, of course, and the border wall, is that when you think is likely to get through Congress, or are we looking at a more narrow path on immigration that Marco Rubio actually floated earlier in the day?

HASHMI: Well, one of the things about this immigration plan is probably it will get more moderate support than it would from the immediate -- far left or far right. One of the things the president is not balking at is this immigration deal. He wants to go through. This was drafted by his close team, including Stephen Miller, who he dubs his policy wonk on immigration. So, I can't say this is going to move it past the finish line.

There's going to be negotiations and concession that's have to be made on the White House's part, the Democrats' part. No one's going to walk away fully getting what they want. But this is going to be the framework, I believe, that they're going to move forward on. And if they can't get an agreement on it, then DACA, the recipients, the 600,000 to 700,000 are going to remain in legal limbo.

ROMANS: Dave and I were remarking earlier this morning that usually, you know, when a Republican president gives a state of the union, you hear something about deficits. You did not hear anything, not a whisper.

This is what the "Washington Post" says was missing in the State of the Union Address. Mr. Trump did not mention many of the nation's biggest longer term threats, the fiscal crisis, worsen by his tax bill, threatens future generations. Economic inequality is high. The world continues to warn Russia poses a threat to the elections. Sadly, the morning after a long speech, none of this is going to look any different.

Economic inequality may be the one place where Democrats can try to get in on the good economy message and say, hey, it's not as great as the president says.

[04:10:00] HASHMI: You know, with respect to economic inequality, I mean, President Trump's GOP tax cuts are still in effect. I mean, they haven't really fully taken place yet.

ROMANS: Right.

HASHMI: So, Americans can't really say for sure whether this is -- income inequality is actually going to matter come the midterm elections. I will say, though, that he did not address debt, something that many Republicans in Congress are worried about. Of course, global warming, Russia sanctions, which is something that Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of, he has failed to implement.

But I will say, though, that if President Trump is able to paint a picture to the American people that everything is fine, the chaos in the White House that you're hearing from the media, that's not what's happening. You know, Republicans actually have a good shot of winning the midterm elections considering the fact that more and more people might actually come to agree on the GOP tax bill.

BRIGGS: Yes, they certainly have a strong economic message. It's not clear what the Democrats' economic message will be in 2018.

Siraj, thanks so much. We'll see you again in about 30 minutes.

HASHMI: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump also said the U.S. must modernize and rebuild its nuclear arsenal, pointing to North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Perhaps someday in the future, there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only

invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administration that's got us into this very dangerous position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The guest of honor, Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector. The president describing how a train ran over his limbs after he collapsed from hunger as a child.

BRIGGS: Mr. Trump says, Seong-ho traveled on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom and he brought those crutches with him to Washington.

Now, Pyongyang promising a new show of force.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Will Ripley live in Seoul, South Korea -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Things are really getting interesting as we lead up to the Olympics next week. On the eve of the opening ceremonies, North Korea is preparing a major military point in Pyongyang. And two diplomatic sources are telling me that there will be many dozens, perhaps up to 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles on display, the Heosang-15, that North Korea recently tested -- the kind of missile that could potentially reach the mainland United States, according to many analysts.

Also, hundreds of missiles and rockets paraded through Kim Il-sung's square, all of this designed to send a message to the U.S. and South Korea that the North is very unhappy about the rhetoric from the United States. And, of course, President Trump's State of the Union only going to drive that knife in further according to many North Korea watchers, who are concerned about the possibility of even a North Korean missile test at some point before or during the Olympics, something that my sources are not ruling out.

And this new information coming from Victor Cha, who was a candidate for the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, but he was yanked from consideration for that job after he expressed opposition to the Trump administration floating around the probability of a preventive military strike. He thinks it could cost tens, even hundreds of thousands of lives. The Trump administration didn't like him saying that, and he is no longer a contender -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Hard to believe, no ambassador after a year.

Will Ripley live for us in Seoul, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The Russia investigation not addressed in the State of the Union. No surprise. What did cameras catch the president saying about a controversial memo that could affect the probe? Find out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:18:03] TRUMP: Around the world we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president did not mention Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. He did label the Kremlin as a competitor on matters of national security.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

You know, the president with his third-largest state of the union in history. Looming large over this is the Russia investigation.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It certainly was. I think from the Russian perspective, they believe that the State of the Union certainly could have been worse. It is noted in Russian state media that he did call Russia one of the rivals of the United States on the international stage and also one that threatened America's values.

However, there is one newspaper saying that Trump, quote, tried to erase the Russia trace with his State of the Union address. So, I think the Russians are quite glad that the investigation, the alleged Russian meddling, was not mentioned very much or not mentioned at all in the State of the Union address. However, of course, it is still very much in the public discussion.

One of the things that we've learned is that apparently there was a high-level Russian intel community delegation that visited the CIA and visited Washington, D.C., just last week. Now, the Russians are saying that the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service, Sergey Naryshkin, was also part of that delegation.

Needless to say -- and he is, by the way, sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014. Needless to say that there are many who want answers to some of those questions. Senate Minority Leader Schumer saying he wants to know exactly met this delegation, he wants to know exactly what was said at these meetings as well -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. And the story continues to unfold. Thank you so much for that, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow.

BRIGGS: All right. Regarding the war on terror, the president said this in his State of the Union speech --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement.

[04:20:01] Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Those remarks come amid a new surge of violence in Afghanistan, in particular in the capital of Kabul.

For more on that, we turn to senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live in Kabul this morning. It's been a bloody couple of weeks, Nic, four attacks in the last two weeks. What's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, the commander-in-chief not revealing a new policy. We know he's disagreed with Obama administration's laying out of that timelines and tactics. We do know what some of the Trump plan is here. There will be new American forces coming in the hundreds heading toward the front line to train Afghan forces.

There is no time line. It is, quote, conditions based. So, America is not leaving until the job is done. We don't quite know what victory is supposed to look like.

We do know that certain numbers you would need to work out with a victory upon us are now classified. That's to do with Afghan troop strength and how many Afghan soldiers or police are killed or injured on the job. They've certainly been classified at the request, the U.S. says, of the Afghan government.

The city reeling from a bloody past week and potential for violence ahead as Donald Trump said now is not the time to talk to the Taliban. The government here have agreed, and the Taliban said this shows that Donald Trump is a war-monger. Things are not about to get quiet here.

Dave?

BRIGGS: Certainly not getting better.

All right. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Kabul -- thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The president touting the economic successes during his first year. Soaring stocks, low unemployment, and how some workers benefit from corporate tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Roughly 3 million workers have gotten tax cut bonuses. Many of them thousands and thousands of dollars per worker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Dozens of companies have given bonuses. A small fraction of the billions in corporate tax savings for these companies.

Trump also credited slashing regulations for rebuilding industry. Now, he wants to rebuild infrastructure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We built the Empire State Building in one year. Isn't it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president called on bipartisan support for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, a planned combination of government and private contributions at home.

But abroad, Trump's trade talk once again turned tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We will protect American workers and American intellectual property through strong enforcement of our trade rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: But Trump did not name China, but the U.S. is currently investigating Chinese theft of American intellectual property that could spell more trade measures.

Last week, the administration slapped tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

BRIGGS: President Trump's attorneys trying to keep him from testifying in front of Robert Mueller's team. They're now arguing the special counsel has failed to meet the high threshold required to interview a president even though Mr. Trump has publicly stated he is looking forward to meeting with Mueller.

Mr. Trump's lawyers asking the team to demonstrate that only the president can give them the information they require.

ROMANS: "The Washington Post" now reporting top justice officials met Monday with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of releasing Republican memo alleging abuses at the FBI. FBI Director Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attended that meeting. Rosenstein questioned the memo's crazy and warned Kelly that releasing it could jeopardize information.

After the State of the Union, the president was heard having this exchange with Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.

TRUMP: Don't worry. A hundred percent. Can you imagine that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN has learned the Democratic rebuttal memo from Congressman Adam Schiff takes aim at the Republican Devin Nunes. Schiff claims the Nunes memo is an attempt to provide cover for the White House in the Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: The fear by some is that this gives President Trump the ammunition to fire Rod Rosenstein, put someone new in place who could fire Robert Mueller. That's the fear at least on the left.

ROMANS: All right. Hillary Clinton now says she would not make the same decisions she did in 2008 if confronted with a staffer accused of sexual harassment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:28:59] ROMANS: Hillary Clinton says she did not fire a 2008 campaign faith adviser accused of harassment because she did not think that was the best solution to the problem. In a Facebook post minutes before the start of the State of the Union Address, Mrs. Clinton admits now she would not make the same decision today. Her decision not to fire Burns Strider was met with frustration from longtime aides at the time then and now after a female staffer accused Strider of sexually harassing her. Clinton reassigned the accuser and Strider's apparent harassment continued with other women.

BRIGGS: In a major reversal, Hawaii officials have fired the emergency management worker who triggered the false ballistic missile alert. We're now told it was not an accident. The lead investigator says the employee did not know an exercise was underway even though five others in the same room were aware. He says the employee became confused, and a colleague had to take over his responsibilities. Officials are recommending changes including eliminating practice drills during a shift change.

ROMANS: They were having a practice drill, and this person was coming on or off the shift and thought it was really happening?

BRIGGS: Thought it was really happening.