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EARLY START

Russia Investigators Interview Kushner; Trump Tweets Draw Outrage; Lauer Fired: When Will He Speak?; Trump Calls Kim Jong-un "A Sick Puppy"; Tiger Woods Returns to the Golf Course. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:02] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The Russia special counsel taking no chances with Michael Flynn. And to make sure there's nothing they've missed, investigators turned to another key figure, Jared Kushner.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Outrage and condemnation after the commander-in-chief tweets out violent videos from a far right British group. Now, even our most staunch American ally is voicing anger.

BRIGGS: Still no sign or statement from Matt Lauer since the abrupt firing over accusations of sexual misconduct. New accusers coming forward in the hours after he was taken off "Today."

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

ROMANS: Nice to see you all this morning. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, November 30th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East, 10:00 a.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Seoul South Korea.

But this morning, let's start in Washington. Special counsel's Russia investigation is zeroing in on Michael Flynn. As first reported by CNN, senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law met earlier this month with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. A source familiar with the meeting tells us Flynn was the main topic of conversation.

BRIGGS: The source says investigators wanted to see if Kushner has information that might clear Flynn of wrongdoing. This after Flynn's lawyer told President Trump's legal team last week he would to longer share information about the investigation with them. And that is just one of the indications a possible plea deal might be in the works for Flynn.

Justice correspondent Pamela Brown has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine and Dave.

CNN has learned that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor has met with Robert Mueller's team. Earlier this month Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn worked together closely. Foreign policy was in Kushner's portfolio, Flynn was the former national security adviser. So, they're scheduled to intersect. Their paths crossed.

So, it would make sense that the special counsel team would interview Kushner about Flynn specifically. The lawyer for Kushner, Abbe Lowell, told us Mr. Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.

And it's important to note that all appearances here is that she was interviewed as a witness. Most defense attorneys would not let someone be interviewed in this capacity if the belief was that a client was a target. So, he was interviewed as a witness here.

But that doesn't mean that he won't be called back to special counsel interview about other topics beyond Michael Flynn. He was really at the nexus of many parts of this investigation. So, it would take sense that he might be called back down the road, at the very least as a witness to discuss these other aspects of the investigation with Robert Mueller's team.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you.

There is condemnation around the world of the president's retweeting of violent anti-Muslim videos from the far right U.K. political group. Not a hint of criticism of course coming from inside his administration. The president often warned about Europe and the U.S. being threatened by immigration from Muslim majority nations, but he has seldom shared anything as offensive or explosive as this.

BRIGGS: One video purports to show a young Muslim migrant attacking a boy on crutches. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defending the re-tweets, insisting the president is only starting to start a conversation about border security. She also downplayed questions about the authenticity of these videos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking act. That's what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House source tells CNN administration staff has resigned itself to the idea the president will never stop tweeting. There have been head scratching moments lately like Mr. Trump's assault on the free press, his Pocahontas slur, potential fallout from this latest tweets is wide ranging and could affect foreign policy. Later this morning, the president meets with the crown prince of Bahrain in the Oval Office. BRIGGS: British leaders meanwhile condemning President Trump for

retweeting these anti-Muslim videos from a far right fascist U.K. political group, but not a hint of criticism coming from inside the administration.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister Theresa May saying, quote, British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents -- decency, tolerance, and respect.

ROMANS: President Trump responding to Great Britain's polite phrasing with a brash tweet. After first tweeting the wrong Theresa May, he told the prime minister: Don't focus on me. Focus on the destructive, radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan.

[05:05:01] Good morning to you live with us here in studio.

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Great to have you here.

So, you cover immigration and border security for us here at CNN. Is the president trying to start a conversation about border security or hate?

KOPAN: Well, we can't know what's in his head, but certainly, this video doesn't seem to address anything have to go do with border security. In fact the Dutch government said the person in the video isn't a migrant at all but someone born in the Netherlands.

You know, Sarah Sanders said he wanted to talk about the threat. It's not clear to me what the threat she is referring to here is. It's obviously an awful scene that's depicted in the video, but the White House has failed to connect that in any way to any threat to the United States. That's what really puzzles.

ROMANS: What's so puzzling it's almost as if it's off the top of his head. He'd seen this on his feed. He only follows I think maybe 40 people. So, someone else, was it Ann Coulter, someone else had been --

BRIGGS: Ann Coulter.

ROMANS: Ann Coulter had tweeted this, he retweeted them in rapid succession. On a morning when he had 3.3 percent GDP growth, very good, on a morning where he should have been doing a victory lap about the tax vote proceeding, and his guy at the CFPB won the first legal round, there were a lot of things he could have celebrated and had been story lined during the day and he rewrote the storyline and missed that opportunity. This was remarkable to me.

KOPAN: Stop me if you've heard this story before, but yes, the president has shown an incredible tendency to go off message, exactly when his party needs him to just be focused, and you think about well, they're just tweets and his base loves it and are they really that big? They are in the sense the Republican Party right now is trying to pass the biggest tax reform overhaul in decades.

And it was a day, yesterday. I mean, they got a major procedural vote. They are still trying to get some squeamish senators off the fence, trying to cut deals, to then have all the senators in Washington be asked all day, which they were, how do you feel about what the president did this morning and tweeting this anti-Muslim videos, it completely derails the whole process.

ROMANS: So, some of the deficit hawks and progressives actually are really concerned that yesterday should have been a day talking about how this isn't true tax reform anymore. These are tax cuts for companies and this tilts way to the rich and to companies. And the president is selling something that doesn't exist on tax reform, instead we were talking about this. So, there are those concerned the American people don't really have the full picture on tax reform because everyone is all distracted by those other things.

KOPAN: Yes, and sure. I mean, it's a common refrain when the president tweets something off topic. They're sort of a debate, is he intentionally trying to distract or -- it's completely unclear to me how many thought goes into some of these retweets. I think he shoots from the hip. That was always his M.O. That's what voters elected him on.

So, you can't necessarily say it's surprising he still does that. But certainly, there is a debate as to whether it's a strategy to distract from, something that could be criticized.

BRIGGS: Boy, I think we have to dismiss with the notion there's any strategy to this at all. But to the notion of these tax cuts, you have Johnson and Daines saying they want help for small businesses. You have Rubio and Lee saying they want to double the child tax credit.

All these concerns really seem like they're going to get brushed over. This thing is going to get through one way or another, is it not?

KOPAN: That's definitely what it seems like. In some ways, it feels like the Obamacare debate where there's a puzzle that doesn't fit together. You know, if you do what Marco Rubio wants, it raises costs and it hurts over here, and if you deal with the deficit triggers, then you lose Kennedy.

And so, there is a bit of that, but at the same time, you definitely are hearing from senators, at the end of the day, they want to pass something and none of these maybe show stopping.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Well, health care made them inherently squeamish, whereas tax cuts is fundamental to who they are, who the party is.

ROMANS: Unless it raises rates, unless it raises taxes on the middle class, unless you have coal miners paying more taxes in the next five or seven years as some the projections show, then there's a reckoning, you know, at the ballot again later on.

BRIGGS: Could be, could be. It seems like, to your point.

KOPAN: Well, it's moving so fast and it changes so quickly that it's almost hard to tell at the end of the day what we're actually going to end up with to do those calculations.

BRIGGS: When it goes to conference with the House, that's when things get very interesting.

Tal Kopan, we'll see you in about 30 minutes.

ROMANS: All right. Staying on the subject of taxes, the president once again falsely claimed he won't benefit from the GOP tax plan. Promoting the bill in Missouri, Trump said it would hurt, hurt wealthy Americans like him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're also going to eliminate tax breaks and complex loopholes taken advantage of by the wealthy. Who are they? I don't know.

I think my accounts are going crazy right now. That's all right. Hey, look, I'm president.

[05:10:01] I don't care. I don't care anymore. I don't care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump still has not released his tax returns. It is impossible to know exactly how the tax plan affects him.

But both versions of the bill contain provisions that would help him and his family, like eliminating the estate tax. Currently that taxes the inheritance on estates of there is 5 million or more, or repealing the alternative minimum tax. That's according to Trump's leaked 2005 tax returns, that was the bulk of the taxes he paid that year in 2005, the alternative minimum tax.

Or tax cuts for pass-through businesses. Pass-throughs pay taxes through the owner's tax rate, not the corporate rate. Make up the majority of the Trump family business. Both the House and Senate bill give pass-throughs significant tax cuts.

And Ron Johnson would like further tax cuts for those pass-through businesses.

BRIGGS: Get it? Is he going to get anything on this, really?

ROMANS: Look, there's so many changes that could happen between now and when this finally gets reconciled.

BRIGGS: Because the House won't rubber stamp what gets through the Senate.

ROMANS: I'll tell you what I know gets through, 20 percent corporate tax rate. Companies are going to get the tax rate that they want.

BRIGGS: So, Rubio and Lee won't get the 22 percent rate they want in exchange for --

ROMANS: I doubt it, 20 percent is what -- I think that is the center piece of this whole thing.

BRIGGS: OK. The shock has not yet worn off from the sudden firing of Matt Lauer from the "Today Show" after accusations of sexual misconduct. The latest reporting from our Brian Stelter, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:47] BRIGGS: Still no word this morning from now former "Today Show" host Matt Lauer after the stunning news NBC fired him over an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. NBC earned credit in some quarters for taking swift action, but later in the day, reports emerged that the network had protected Lauer.

ROMANS: The entertainment trade paper "Variety "citing several women who say their complaints to NBC executives fell on deaf ears. And now, NBC says it's received new accusations against Lauer since his firing.

Senior media correspondent Brian Stelter has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Dave, good morning.

New allegations against Matt Lauer in the wake of his firing on Wednesday, and now, as we start at new day, there are questions about who knew what when. And whether Lauer is going to speak out, whether he's going to apologize, confirm some allegations, deny them. You know, so far, there's been silence from Lauer's team.

Meantime, NBC has confirmed two women came forward and contacted the network with their own allegations of improper sexual behavior by Lauer. That was in the wake of his firing announced on Wednesday morning.

The timeline here is a little bit unusual. We've seen versions of this in the past two months ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, where there's a bombshell story, improper -- allegations of improper behavior and then disciplinary action. We saw that last week with Charlie Rose at CBS.

But it happened a little bit differently with Lauer. Executives at NBC knew that "The New York Times" and "Variety" were working on stories about Lauer's past, possible allegations of misconduct.

But it wasn't until Monday night that anyone contacted the HR department to issue a formal complaint. When that happened, an investigation ensued on Tuesday. And by Tuesday night, NBC decided to fire Lauer.

That's what led to the chain of events on Wednesday, the shocking announcement on Wednesday's "Today Show" that Lauer's contract had been terminated.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: As I'm sure you can imagine, we are devastated and we are still processing all of this. We are heartbroken. I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and partner and he is beloved by many, many people here.

And I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell. And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.

STELTER: And shocking turn of events for the morning TV world, which now is in this unprecedented situation. Think about it -- one of the anchor chairs at CBS is empty because Rose is fired. Now, one of anchor chairs at NBC is empty because Lauer has been fired.

In so many cases up until now, people have felt shamed in silence. But we can see how that's changing now as companies feel pressure to take these allegations seriously, investigate them and take action -- Christine, Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Brian will join us live on the program shortly.

Meanwhile, a scheduling glitch left American Airlines without enough pilots and staff during the busy holiday travel period. The pilots union says it was notified last week a computer system inadvertently gave too many American pilots time off for the holidays.

ROMANS: Uh-oh. The airline says it's working to address the issue. American says it plans to pay pilots who pick up open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate. The pilots union, though, is advising crews not to take these assignments because they may violate the union contract. Got to get that worked out, folks.

BRIGGS: You can also imagine those pilots, it's kind of like when you're offered $250 to get bumped for the next flight. Those pilots are probably saying, how about 300 times our rate.

ROMANS: They hold all the cards right now, too.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: Nineteen minutes past the hour. The NFL looking to join its player in their fight for social justice. But some players are still not on board. Andy Scholes explains in this morning's "Bleacher Report" next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:24:13] BRIGGS: The NFL pledging nearly $100 million for social justice causes of important NFL players.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys.

The NFL worked with a group of players to come to an agreement to partner on a plan to address social justice issues considered important to African-American communities. Now the agreement does not include language calling for the players to end their national anthem protest, but the league hopes this effort will help end the controversial movement. That's according to multiple reports. The deal calls for the NFL to contribute $89 million over 7 years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, media relations and education.

All right. All eyes on the sports world on the Bahamas today as Tiger Woods makes his latest comeback.

[05:25:02] And he was fine-tuning his game yesterday following a 10- month layoff due to his fourth back surgery. Tiger tees off in the Hero World Challenge this afternoon along with PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas.

So, what is Tiger most looking forward to?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, 14-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: Competing again. It's been a very long time. And I'm really looking forward to getting out there and playing with Justin and having a good time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: All right. Florida Atlantic head coach, Lane Kiffin, and Tennessee, they're got a strained relationship since Kiffin left the school for USC, after just one season back in 2009. Well, yesterday, Kiffin went on social media to take a shot at his own school's search for a new head coach.

Check it out, he tweeted a picture captioned: breaking news, Kim Jong- un has turned down the Tennessee job. Kiffin trolling the school because apparently everyone has turned down the job including Jeff Brohm, Perdue's head coach, those reports yesterday. They were negotiating, failed to come to an agreement and where Tennessee goes from here, guys, I don't know because it seems like they're having quite the issue finding a new head coach.

But Lane Kiffin becoming one of the most followed on Twitter these days.

ROMANS: Very funny.

BRIGGS: I did not see that coming. Well played by Lane Kiffin. Great shot, it was good hire. They should have some courage and fortitude but --

SCHOLES: Yes.

BRIGGS: Anyway, Andy Scholes, thanks, my friend.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right. Have a good one, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Does Jared Kushner know anything that could jeopardize the special counsel's investigation into Michael Flynn? Investigators spoke to Kushner to find out. More next.