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Trump Takes Aim at TOP FBI Official; GOP Warnings; Frigid Week to New Year's; Russian Opposition Calls for Election Boycott. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, we are. We're going to go buy the new phone.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go buy the new phone.

BRIGGS: I'm just wondering if they're breaking our screens on purpose too.


BRIGGS: Because, I mean, everyone you know has just shattered iPhone screen.

KOSIK: They broke mine his year. I know, right?

BRIGGS: Right.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: President's holiday Twitter rage -- getting into the Christmas spirit? -- at the FBI. He targeted the deputy director as hostility over the special counsel's Russia probe is amplified.


SEN. JEFF FLAKES (R), ARIZONA: By and large, we're appealing to older white men and they're just limited number of them.


KOSIK: Two of the outgoing Republican lawmakers lamenting the direction of the Republican Party. Hear their warnings for the president and the GOP.

BRIGGS: And Santa's gift for much of the country, a frigid final week of 2017 -- the coldest air of the season and icy conditions that already sent one plane spinning off the tax taxiway in Boston.

Good morning, everyone. Happy boxing day. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. I'm sitting in for Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, December 26th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. And President Trump seems ready to tackle what remains of 2017 as the Christmas holiday comes to a close. Just last evening, the president tweeted this: It's back to work in order to make America great again, which is happening faster than anyone anticipated. So, as the year comes to a close, the president's latest tweet storms are giving us a peek of what we can expect for 2018.

BRIGGS: Over the holiday weekend, the president railed against the FBI in the growing concerted efforts to discredit the special counsel's Russia probe. He also slammed the media, complaining he's not getting enough credit for his accomplishments and touted recent stock market gains in the GOP tax bill, a rallying cry Republicans will certainly need as they head toward midterm elections.

KOSIK: The president's tweets getting the most attention targeting FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Mr. Trump taking aim at McCabe's wife. When Jill McCabe ran for Virginia state senate, she accepted campaign cash from a political actions committee for Virginia governor and Clinton ally, Terry McAuliffe. To be clear, though, these donations all occurred before McCabe took over as deputy director of the FBI and before he would have had any oversight into the Clinton e- mail investigation.

BRIGGS: The president also noted McCabe's pending retirement which emerged last week. Two sources tell CNN McCabe told officials months ago he was planning on retiring in the coming months. Several sources say he is not being forced out. McCabe sat down for two interviews last week with House committees examining Russian collusion and the Clinton e-mail investigation.

KOSIK: Former President George W. Bush's ethics chief calling out the president on Twitter for his anti-FBI tweets. Richard Painter saying this: Using Twitter on Christmas Eve to intimidate a witness in a criminal investigation is not a very Christian way to celebrate the holiday, but it does make Mr. Mueller's job easier, and that's a nice thing to do. Merry Christmas.

Love that sarcasm.

BRIGGS: Several Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley have called for McCabe's removal. Democrats argued the GOP criticisms of McCabe and the FBI are meant to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller as the Russia investigation intensifies.

Let's discuss all this with Siraj Hashmi, a commentary writer and editor at "The Washington Examiner."

Good to see you, my friend. Hope you had a good Christmas.

KOSIK: Good morning.


BRIGGS: It really has been airing of the grievances, though, really all year long for this president. I know he wants to take credit for this war on Christmas, but this war on the FBI, is it shared by Republicans in Congress, or is this opinion from James Lankford, Republican senator, and no dove, no snowflake, to quote the far right, Lankford tweeted this. The thwarted ISIS-inspired attack on San Francisco's Pier 39 is another example of amazing work at the FBI and intel community. He ends this: Thankful to Christopher Wray and his team, the very people the president is knocking on Twitter.

So, is the president's war on the FBI shared by Republicans in Congress?

HASHMI: I think that you'll actually find that the Republican Party is split on the FBI, because if you look at the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, led by a Republican, James Comey, finding that there was no indictment on there, was pretty unnerving to a lot of Republicans. And I think that stuck with many members in the Republican Party in Congress, as well as President Trump, and what we're seeing right now is the attack on the FBI from President Trump is simply to undermine the investigation that's currently going on, with respect to his campaign ties to Russia.

[05:05:01] KOSIK: But is this more than just a tweet?

"Newsweek" is reporting that there is a main federal law regarding tampering with a witness. Basically, this is a federal law that calls for punishing whoever knowingly uses intimidation for those persuading another person for undue influence. I mean, we saw Richard Painter over the weekend tweeting about this, saying using Twitter on Christmas Eve to intimidate a witness in a criminal investigation is not a very Christian way to celebrate the holiday. But it does make Mr. Mueller's job easier. That's a nice thing to do, merry Christmas.

So, is this just a tweet or is this something more serious than just a tweet?

HASHMI: I will push back and say it's just a tweet. President Trump tweets a lot of things that are either very controversial or could easily be taken out of context. Say for example, the Michael Flynn tweet where he said he fired Flynn because of his lying to the FBI. A lot of people saw that as obstruction of justice. His lawyer pushed back saying that's not.

That's actually probably one of the tweets that's up for debate whether he knew it was obstruction of justice or not. But as far as what he's going for with respect to Andrew McCabe. I wouldn't go as far as to say that's witness intimidation.

BRIGGS: Just a tweet to (INAUDIBLE) some upcoming historical novels about this presidency. Here's one more about pushing things forward, from this president. He says he hopes everyone's having a great Christmas. Tomorrow is back to work in order to make America great again.

So, where does the press focus his attention as we turn forward? What's first up for Republicans as we close out 2017 and look into 2018? HASHMI: Well, after passing the GOP tax bill, which was huge for the

president, especially closing out 2017, you know, knowing that he couldn't get forward on repealing and replacing Obamacare, he at least got the individual mandate. So, where he turns to from here is bipartisanship. He's going to look for bills like the infrastructure bill, entitlement reform, with respect to Medicare and Medicaid.

And if he's able to get some of those winds, he might look forward towards securing more funding for the border wall, getting the wall built, and actually passing the RAISE Act, which would encourage obviously his base with respect to his immigration policy.

BRIGGS: Got to get back to the B-word there. Bipartisanship in 2018? Can you tell me one congressional Democrat who wants to work with this president? And we haven't seen any outreach to begin with.

HASHMI: I mean, there are several Democrats who are actually looking to work with President Trump. I mean, Joe Manchin has been a pretty vocal advocate at least with working with Trump, you know, when it comes to the opioid epidemic, when it comes to infrastructure. Those are several things that I think many Democrats can get on board with.

And if you're looking at something like infrastructure, that's something Democrats really want to move forward on. In terms of bipartisanship, that's something that they actually can come to agreement on.

KOSIK: OK, Christmas is over, but got to ask you this. President Trump claiming that he made OK for all of us to say merry Christmas although we know that President Obama said it many times during his presidency.

Why is it so important for Mr. Trump to push this forward?

HASHMI: Because it reinvigorates his base. Because the culture war is something that his base really looks forward to fighting against. You know, the fight against political correctness, saying merry Christmas, you know, saying that they're proud to be American, saying things like make America great again, or America first, while those are politically charged terms and possibly merry Christmas is now becoming a politically charged term, I can't say that with utmost certainty, but that's something that he really likes doing.

KOSIK: I never felt like I couldn't say merry Christmas before President Trump became president.

BRIGGS: He never stopped saying merry Christmas.

HASHMI: You know, I got arrested three times under Obama for saying merry Christmas.


KOSIK: You had me there for a second.

BRIGGS: All right. Siraj from "The Washington Examiner", we'll talk to you in about 30 minutes. Thanks.

KOSIK: OK. Two outgoing Republican lawmakers with a harsh assessment of the president and the Republican Party. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent, warning of Trump's negative influence on the GOP. Listen.


FLAKE: Look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans sometimes. You look out there and you say those are the spasms of a dying party, when you look at the lack of diversity sometimes. Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. If we continue to go down that path just to drill down on the base, then I think you'll have a lot of people realize there's no future for them in this party. I know a lot of them.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Certainly the president has been a factor. You know, I've often said this administration at times has taken the fun out of dysfunction. You know, I expect a certain amount of dysfunction in government and sometimes you can laugh at it, but it's not so funny anymore. Now, this test has changed. The issue is loyalty to the man, to the president. And for some, loyalty is not enough. You have to be angry and aggrieved.


BRIGGS: Flake said if Trump finishes his term and seeks reelection, he will possibly face an independent challenge and possibly a Republican challenge.

[05:10:05] Flake did not rule himself out in 2020, though he added that's not on his plans right now.

KOSIK: Meantime, the biggest newspaper in Utah with a harsh Christmas editorial for Orrin Hatch. After backing Hatch's last run, "The Salt Lake Tribune" says Hatch should call it a career. The paper cites what it calls his utter lack of integrity. That rises from his unquenchable thirst for power. Hatch did promise that 2012 would be his final campaign, but he started putting together a 2018 run.

BRIGGS: The paper says Hatch is part of the dismantling of two national monuments and his role as Senate finance chairman helping pass GOP tax overhaul are enough. Quote: Over the years, Hatch stared down a generation or two of highly qualified political leaders who were fully qualified to take his place. That's not only not fair to all of those who were passed over, it is basically a theft from the Utah electorate. If it would be good for Utah if Hatch having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career. If he doesn't, the voters should end it for him.

Hatch is 83 and it's long been buzzed about that Mitt Romney will run for that seat, something the president does not want to see.

KOSIK: That's going to really get interesting if that happens.

BRIGGS: It's going to get very interesting. Ahead, a Christmas scare for some JetBlue passenger. Their flight

doing a 180 after touchdown in Boston.


BRIGGS: Quite a scare but no serious harm when a JetBlue flight slid off a taxiway at Boston's Logan Airport. Officials say flight 50 from Savannah, Georgia, skidded on ice after it landed around 7:15 Monday night. The plane spun around until ending up facing the opposite direction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were straight and, all of a sudden, started fish tailing and, yes, it started getting rough.

[05:15:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once I realized we were going off the runway, I was like, uh-oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, we started sliding and then we started spinning and spinning, and spinning and ended up in a snow bank.


KOSIK: They seemed to be in good spirits considering what they went through. Firefighters helped passengers off the plane and they were bussed to the terminal. Authorities say no one was injured and this happened after snow had forced the airport to close its runways for a short period Monday morning.

BRIGGS: Wintry weather going to leave quite a mark this week. We'll see the coldest air this season in the plains and those dangerous wind-chills moving in East for New Year's Eve. We're talking 9 degrees for the ball drop here. Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Alison.

What a way to end 2017, right? We've got big time cold air in store over the next couple of days and the arctic blast already being felt across the Great Lakes, parts of the Upper Midwest. And when we say big time cold blast, we're talking about wind chills this morning as cold as 20 below to 25 below zero.

So, when you look at these numbers, we often say protect the 3 P's, the pets, the pipes, the plants. This is absolutely for some would be a life threatening scenario to be outdoors for more than several minutes. And of course, you take a look at the perspective into the early morning hours. The ambient air temperature in places like Minneapolis, minus six, you factor in a light breeze, 24 below zero, what it feels like, 16 below in Chicago and work your way out further look into the afternoon hours, the best they can do in Minneapolis, zero for high temperature, mind you, 24 is the normal high temperature for this time of year. And again, that's the concern. We get there for only a few minutes,

and literally by the time the sun sets, we dip below zero and stay there for the foreseeable future. The arctic air wants to scoot off towards the east. And it's not just that. It's a multiple shot of cold air here we're watching today.

So, enjoy the 29 in New York City here. The store -- what's in store here really drops us down eventually into the lower 20's by New Year's Eve, single digit low temperatures potentially when the ball drops. We're going to watch this very carefully going into this weekend.


KOSIK: OK, Pedram. Thanks very much.

And some investors may be wishing 2017 never ends. That's because the Dow has had its best year since 2013. It's up 25 percent for the year and if the holiday spirit winds up lifting spirits again, we could see the Dow go above 26.5 percent by the end of the year. It would make it the strongest gain since 1995 when it spiked 33 percent.

But it's not just the Dow on fire. The S&P 500 is up 20 percent for the year. That's the best performance in four years. And the Nasdaq had left both behind up nearly 30 percent.

Euphoria on Wall Street has been driven by a combination of things, healthy fundamental, strong economic and profit growth, along with excitement about the Republican tax overhaul. The lower corporate tax rate and incentives to return overseas profits could spark a wave of share buy-backs. The reason many analysts are raising their forecast for next year but in the background idling behind this revved economy is inflation which could wind up pushing the Federal Reserve speed up interest rate hikes.

BRIGGS: United Airlines has apologized to a passenger who claims the airline gave away her first class seat to a Texas congresswoman. An airlines spokeswoman says their internal system show Jean-Marie Simon cancelled her Houston to Washington flight last week after a weather delay, but Simon denies she ever cancelled. She says she ended up on the flight in coach only to see Democrat Shelly Jackson Lee in what had been her first class seat. United says Jackson Lee's upgrade was automatic and not because she was a member of Congress. The airline gave Simon a $500 travel voucher.

KOSIK: More than 50 years after her role in the sound of music, actress Heather Menzies-Urich has lost her battle with brain cancer.


KOSIK: A song we all know. Menzies-Urich played Louisa von Trapp in the 1965 classic.

Her son says she was diagnosed with cancer about a month ago and her health declined rapidly. She married actor Robert Urich in 1975 and launched a foundation to raise money for cancer research after his death in 2002. Urich is survived by three children and eight grandchildren. She was 68 years old.

BRIGGS: What a classic.

A Christmas tribute from Arizona Cardinals wide receiver to Larry Fitzgerald to Senator John McCain who is battling brain cancer. Fitzgerald plays in the senator's home state and previously visited Vietnam, touring places where McCain was tortured as a prisoner of war. In a letter to "Sports Illustrated", Fitzgerald offered holiday wishes and prayers that McCain lives another 20 years, adding: As soon as my boys are of age I'll tell them stories about the quality of man I've gotten to know.

[05:20:00] I'll tell them Senator John McCain will be revered and respected for as long as the United States of America has a place in this world and his legacy will outlive us all.

If only politicians could follow Fitzgerald's lead and give praise to a man who deserves it.

KOSIK: Absolutely. We do wish him well.

BRIGGS: Absolutely, we do.

KOSIK: Election chaos gripping Russia this morning. A top critic of Vladimir Putin won't be allowed to challenge him. Now, the opposition is calling for a boycott. We are live in Moscow.


BRIGGS: Five-twenty-four Eastern Time. Russian president Vladimir Putin's would be opponent in the upcoming presidential election is being told he cannot run. Opposition activist Alexey Navalny now calling for a boycott of the election in response.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live for us in Moscow.

Good morning, Fred. Why can't he run?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's because he has a conviction in the past for embezzlement, and under Russian law, at least that's what the election commission said, that if you have such a conviction in your record, you are not allowed to stand in election for president.

Now, Alexey Navalny for his part says all of that, both his conviction and this move now is politically motivated and it's something that he wants to appeal. There were also protests around Russia over the weekend to let him run. There were other opposition figures as well who said that they believe that he should be able to run.

However, the Russian authorities are saying that is not going to happen. And all of this actually Dave just took another twist a couple of minutes ago when we asked the spokesman for Vladimir Putin. His name is Dmitri Peskov about all of this, and he says not only is Navalny not able to run but the fact he's calling for a boycott may get him into trouble as well. He says and I want to quote. His call for boycott will be quote

subject to a thorough check for conformity or nonconformity to current law. So, all of this could bring legal trouble for Navalny as well. However, it looks as though this is something that Vladimir Putin is going to have to deal with over the next couple of months as other opposition figures say they believe Navalny should be able to run.

BRIGGS: Criticizing Putin is a dangerous habit. Gutsy Navalny.

Thank you, Fred. Appreciate it.

KOSIK: The Secret Service now interviewing a Los Angeles psychologist who says he sent the manure-filled package found at Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's home in Bel-Air. He says the manure filled box was a political protest against the recently passed Republican tax bill. Investigators say it was left in a neighbor's driveway Saturday and prompted a response from the LAPD's bomb squad. Mnuchin was not at his home at the time. I'm just hoping that the bomb squad didn't actually get in there and dig through the box, and if they did, they have gloves and --

BRIGGS: It's a nice visual. Thank you. I'm going to think about that for a moment.

KOSIK: No problem.

BRIGGS: Left in a neighbor's driveway.

KOSIK: I know.

BRIGGS: Nice job, Steve.

KOSIK: Bashing the Russian special counsel is getting louder. How will conservative groups up the ante with the president's angry tweets about the FBI.

BRIGGS: And it's about 27 degrees outside in New York. That's on the warm side for the rest of the week, though.