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EARLY START

Trump Seems to Take Both Sides in GOP Battle; McCain Blasts Spurious Nationalism in Speech; Iraq Seizes Critical City From Kurds; North Korea Rejects Diplomacy with U.S.; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:30:36] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels. We'll probably now I think, as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump walking a very fine line within his own party. A public show of unity with the Senate leader, following a show of support for his former chief strategist who's calling for a total takedown of the GOP establishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Some half-baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: And Senator John McCain with a pointed message to some of the president's most ardent supporters. McCain warns against the kind of nationalistic attitude he says left others on the ash heap of history.

Welcome back to EARLY START. 31 minutes after the hour.

We start with growing rancor within the GOP. President Trump trying to advance his agenda, looking for common ground between Republicans in the establishment and the populist movement. In a rapid fire series of events on Monday the president seemed to align himself with both sides.

First, the president stood up for his former chief strategist Steve Bannon who just a day earlier said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Right now it's a season of war against the GOP establishment. This is not my war, this is our war.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BANNON: And you all didn't start it. The establishment started it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: In a meeting with his Cabinet, President Trump scolded Republican lawmakers and seemed to side with Bannon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to blame myself. I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done. We've had health care approved and then you had a surprise vote by John McCain. But you had a few people that really disappointed us. They really, really disappointed us so I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Then just a short time later the White House abruptly called a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. There the president catered to the establishment wing saying he and the face of the establishment, Mitch McConnell, are actually closer than ever.

Today the president will welcome the prime minister of Greece to the White House for meetings and a joint news conference at 1:30 Eastern Time in the Rose Garden. Maybe then we'll get a little more clarity on which end of the president's party he's actually backing.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meeting in the White House on Monday to talk about tax reform. Of course, these two Republican leaders have been at odds for weeks, if not months. They are coming together to push tax cuts, tax reform. They know it's key to keeping the Republicans' agenda.

The president, for his part, said there's no civil war in the GOP. People are working together. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate and with the people in Congress. I mean, I have a -- with our House of Representatives. I have a great relationship with political people. If you read the papers you think I'm like on one island and they're like on the other. Well, it's not the way it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Of course complicating this view for the president is Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to the White House, who says he's waging war with the Republican establishment. Waging war specifically with Mitch McConnell which made their meeting in the Rose Garden all the more awkward.

Senator McConnell said Republican victory is the most important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCHELL MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The goal here is to win elections in November. You have to nominate people who can actually win because winners make policy and losers go home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So the president came to South Carolina late Monday evening for a Republican fundraiser for the governor here but he is focused on midterm races but, more importantly, on tax reform.

The challenge, of course, for this Republican majority in the House and Senate is getting some type of legislative achievement. Health care collapsed, other issues have not gone forward. Tax cuts, tax reform are the most important priority on their agenda. We'll see if the president and the Senate Republican majority can get this passed this year.

BRIGGS: That's right, Jeff. Just 28 legislative days left this year.

Meanwhile, the Republican infighting also triggering a strong response from Arizona senator John McCain. The senator spoke as he received the prestigious Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. McCain cautioned against moving backward toward nationalistic, America First impulses like those pushed by many Trump supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:35:10] MCCAIN: To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth. For the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: McCain also warns that if nationalist tendencies are allowed to take root, they could relegate the U.S. to a backseat on the world stage.

The White House pushed into damage control mode after President Trump spoke publicly for the first time about four American soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger. The president says he wrote personal letters to the fallen soldiers' families and plan to phone them soon. Then he falsely accused other presidents of failing to extend the same courtesy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. For me, that's by far the toughest. So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.

I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: All right. Fact check, the tradition of presidents reaching out to family members of slain U.S. servicemen long established. President Obama did it regularly, according to former administration officials. And President Trump backtracked a little bit when pressed about those comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: President Obama, I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn't, I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do -- all I can do is ask my generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The White House insists the president was not criticizing his predecessors. Officials claimed he was simply stating a fact that past presidents sometimes called and sometimes wrote letters.

The president's claims angering former Obama staffers. One of them tweeting, "That's an f-ing lie to say President Obama or past presidents did not call the family members of soldiers killed in action. He's a deranged animal."

Pete Souza, a former White House photographer, taking a softer tone, posting this photo of President Obama giving a Posthumous Medal of Honor to the parents of an Afghanistan Army sergeant.

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein expected to make a major announcement in the battle to halt the nation's opioid epidemic. The action comes as the president is set to declare a national emergency next week to address the crisis.

Meantime, the president has abruptly stopped expressing confidence in his pick for drug czar after reports surfaced claiming Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino helped steer legislation that would actually make it harder for the DEA to act against big drug companies.

West Virginia Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, whose state has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, calling for the White House to remove Marino from consideration for the position.

President Trump has hailed the federal government's response in Puerto Rico, but the American people apparently have their doubts. In a new CNN poll, approval of the president's response to recent hurricanes has dropped 20 points since Hurricane Maria's devastating hit on Puerto Rico. His approval now at 44 percent compared to 64 percent in September.

At his Rose Garden news conference Monday the president again criticized local relief efforts in Puerto Rico saying ample supplies have reached the island but have been held up by distribution issues. Many Puerto Ricans still have no access to clean water or electricity nearly a month after the hurricane and more than 85 percent of the island still without power.

The Supreme Court will rule on a case between the federal government and Microsoft. And the outcome will determine the privacy of customer data stored overseas. Tech companies stored data both inside and outside the U.S. and they routinely hand it over to law enforcement with a warrant until last year. That's then Microsoft challenged the 1986 law the police were using to access the data, saying it was, quote, "enacted decades before there was such a thing as cloud computing and that wasn't intended for information outside the U.S."

A New York court agreed. But the Department of Justice is challenging that decision claiming it restricts law enforcement's ability to collect evidence. Holding back investigations. The court will hear the case early next year and issue a decision by June.

Ahead, North Korea with an outright rejection of diplomacy with the U.S. Why Pyongyang says it won't talk until it has a missile that reaches the entire United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:44:07] BRIGGS: Two U.S. funded armies who've nearly succeeded in defeating ISIS in Iraq may now end up turning their sights on each other. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk which had been under Kurdish control is now in the hands of Iraqi Security Forces and pro-Iranian Shia militia. The forces entered the disputed city, set up checkpoints and lowered a Kurdish flag, which had been flying over a government building. It's a move that could have lasting impact on the future of Iraq and the wider Middle East.

For the latest let's bring in CNN's Ben Wedeman live in Iraq -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dave. This certainly does complicate American efforts to defeat ISIS. The United States spent billions and billions of dollars training and arming both the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Peshmerga, the paramilitary unit of the Kurdish regional government.

And it was only -- it was exactly a year ago today that that offensive in which they were working very well together to drive ISIS out of Mosul began but one year later they have their guns facing one another.

[04:45:13] We understand that at least 15 Peshmerga were killed in clashes with the Iraqi army yesterday outside of Kirkuk. And of course the question is, what happens, for instance, to the oil. Now about a quarter of Iraq's oil comes from the Kirkuk area and all of those oil fields are now in the hands of the Iraqi government. And ironically or paradoxically not only does the United States back the Iraqi government, so does Iran.

And Iran of course is really one of the major beneficiaries from this rather dramatic changing situation in Kirkuk and really the broader Middle East -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Ben, thank you. A diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis appears to be

off the table for now. A North Korean official telling CNN the Kim Jong-un regime has no interest in diplomacy until it's able to hit the East Coast of the United States with a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile.

Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley monitoring the latest live from Tokyo -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. This is a message that has been reiterated to me when I was in Pyongyang and now out of Pyongyang as well. But the North Koreans simply feel now is not the time for talk with the United States. They listened to the threats from President Trump directly including the speech at the United Nations General Assembly where he said that the U.S. could totally destroy North Korea, also coming up with that rocket man nickname for their Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un which was absolutely infuriating. Really hitting the North Korean establishment to the core, hearing that kind of an insult from the president of the United States.

And so they feel that the only way that they can communicate right now with the Trump administration is to, in their words, send a clear message, and that message being that they possess an effective nuclear deterrent. An intercontinental ballistic missile that can travel all the way from the Korean peninsula to as far away as New York or Washington.

And so to demonstrate that ability the North Koreans would have to do two more things, this official said. One, launch a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, see how far it can go and show the world. We've seen other missile launches over Japan. This launch, if they went through it, it would be even more provocative, and then taking it even one step further, this official saying North Korea would need to detonate a nuclear device aboveground, over the Pacific. A threat first made by North Korea's foreign minister at the United Nations.

He did not say those words lightly. Those obviously came from the top of North Korean leadership, which means that North Korea is very seriously considering an above-ground detonation would be the first that the world has seen since China exploded a nuclear device aboveground back in 1980.

Obviously there are a lot of risks that come with an act like that, but North Korea at this point they say feels that it is simply necessary before they are able to engage in diplomacy with the United States, because they want to approve, they say, that they could not only defend themselves but could also attack the mainland reliably if necessary in the event of a war breaking out. And in fact North Korea's United Nations envoy, the deputy ambassador said earlier this week, quote, "nuclear war may break out at any moment" -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Terrifying. All right, Will Ripley live for us in Tokyo. Thank you, sir. Could be days or weeks before some residents are allowed back home in

areas devastated by wildfires in California. Firefighters are starting to get better control on some of the fires, though. The latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:08] BRIGGS: 11,000 firefighters slowly gaining the upper hand on the deadly wildfires in California. Officials now cautiously optimistic with two of the largest fires about 60 percent contained. In some areas, authorities have gone from response to recovery, with power being restored and debris removal underway. The crisis, though, far from over.

Fifteen significant wildfires still burning across California scorching 217,000 acres while destroying more than 5700 structures. At least 41 people have been killed, including the driver of a water truck who died Monday when his vehicle rolled over. Damage estimates so far topping the $3 billion in Sonoma County alone.

Will the weather help or hinder firefighters' efforts? Let's ask meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

(WEATHER REPORT)

[04:55:04] BRIGGS: Pedram, thanks.

The Coast Guard suspending its search for a missing worker following an oil rig explosion on Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans. Authorities have identified the missing man as 44-year-old Timothy Morrison of Katy, Texas. Eight people were aboard the platform at the time of the explosion Sunday night. Seven were rescued and taken to area hospitals. Coast Guard officials report no visible signs of pollution from the blast. The Louisiana State Police Hazmat Division is investigating the cause of the explosion.

Army Sergeant Beau Bergdahl could spend the rest of his life in prison. Bergdahl pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He walked off his military post in Afghanistan back in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban who held him captive until 2014. His release negotiated by the Obama administration as part of a prisoner exchange. Bergdahl telling a military judge Monday that he left his post on his own and understands that doing so was against the law. Bergdahl's sentencing hearing begins next week.

The New York Yankees down but not out. Todd Frazier sparking the offense last night at the Bronx with a three-run homer lifting the Bombers to an 8-1 rout of the Houston Astros in game 3 of the ALCS. Also a big night for slumping rookie slugger Aaron Judge. The Yankees' MVP candidate highlighting a five-run fourth with that three- run blast. Also had some great defensive plays in support of CC Sabathia, the veteran lefty, six shut-out innings to help New York post a 2-1 deficit. Game four, 5:05 Eastern this afternoon in the Bronx.

Dodgers and Cubbies tonight 9:00 on TBS. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stocks are

mixed after Wall Street hit record highs. The Dow is now less than 50 points shy of its next milestone, 23,000. Bank stocks recovered from last week's losses but the real focus this week is earnings. Profits were fantastic in the first two quarters but S&P 500 companies should report lower profit growth in the third. Today expect reports on United Health, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and IBM.

Netflix plans to spend $8 billion on programming next year. That's up from $6 billion this year. The spending boost comes as other tech giants Apple, Amazon, Facebook, are using their cash to find original shows and movies but Netflix's investment in content has paid off so far. The company added more than five million subscribers last quarter. That sent the stock to a record high. Shares are now up about 64 percent this year.

A Wi-Fi network flaw could let hackers spy on basically every device on earth. Researchers discovered a huge vulnerability affecting Wi-Fi connections.

Here's how it works. When connecting to Wi-Fi, an attacker can trick a device into connecting to their Wi-Fi access point. Once linked, they can potentially steal personal data. The operating systems at risk include Google Android, Apple Mac OS, and Microsoft Windows. But there's a silver lining. There are no reports of this flaw yet, and some companies have already issued patches.

EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels. We'll probably now I think, as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump walking a very fine line within his own party. A public show of unity with the Senate leader, following a show of support for his former chief strategist who's calling for a takedown of the GOP establishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Some half-baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: And Senator John McCain with a pointed message to some of the president's most ardent supporters. McCain warns against the kind of nationalistic attitude he says left others on the ash heap of history.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. Christine Romans is off. It's Tuesday, October 17th, 5:00 a.m. in the East, it's 12:00 noon in Iraq, 5:30 p.m. in North Korea. We'll have the latest from both regions shortly.

But first, amid growing rancor within the GOP, President Trump is trying to advance his agenda, looking for common ground between Republicans in both the establishment and the populist movement. In a rapid fire series of events Monday the president seemed to align himself with both sides.

First, the president stood up for his former chief strategist Steve Bannon who just a day earlier said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Right now it's a season of war against the GOP establishment. This is not my war, this is our war. And you all didn't start it, the establishment started it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)