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EARLY START

NYT: Trump Believes Mueller Will Treat Him Fairly; 12 Killed in NYC Fire; New Year's Eve Security Preparations Underway. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Revealing new insight from President Trump on key topics for next year. He thinks the Russia special counsel will be fair. But what he said about the attorney general and North Korea will stun you. We have live coverage and reaction to the president's comments, ahead.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And a holiday season tragedy in the Bronx. At least a dozen people killed in a deadliest apartment fire in New York City in a quarter century.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. I'm sitting in for Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

[05:00:01] Happy Friday, everybody. It's December 29th. It's 5:00 p.m. in the East, 1:00 p.m. in Moscow, 6:00 p.m. in Beijing. We'll check in live in both of those locations shortly.

But we start with the eyebrow raising interview with the president and the "New York Times." After weeks of watching his allies try to discredit the special counsel's investigation, President Trump is giving Robert Mueller the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Trump sitting down with the "New York Times" for this interview at his golf club in Palm Beach.

KOSIK: On Russia, the president took a different tone than many in the Republican Party that we've seen lately. I want you to listen to "New York Times" reporter on CNN last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He thought Bob Mueller was going to be fair to him, which really undercuts and undermines an argument that many in his party have been making in the last several weeks, that they've been attempting to discredit and undermine Mueller's investigation, calling it partisan. So, this kind of goes against that. But at the same time, the president repeated a lot of the complaints and criticisms that he's had about the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Among those complaints the investigation is bad for the country. President Trump told "The Times" it makes the country look bad and it puts the country in a bad position, so the sooner worked out, the better it is, for the country.

BRIGGS: President Trump also told the newspaper 16 times, in 30 minutes, there was no collusion with Russia. He also says some congressman have been, quote, unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole investigation is and that his base is stronger than ever.

KOSIK: The president's comments coming amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the tone growing more confrontational over the last few days because of a series of issues.

CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live for us in Moscow.

Frederik, good morning to you. So, any reaction yet from the Kremlin about this very eye-opening interview in "The New York Times"?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Alison, yes. We just got off the phone with the Kremlin literally a couple of minutes ago.

This is the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov. I'm going to fly over some of the things he told us on the phone. He said I'm not quoting exactly here because we're still in the middle of working that out. He said the Russians had repeatedly stated what he called their opinion on anti-Russian hysteria, which he believes is maintained in the U.S. at this point in time.

The Russians saying they are still perplexed in connection with all the ongoing investigations, and they also go on to say, this is me quoting more directly, this, of course, is an internal affair of the United States, but in this case, this is damaging to our bilateral relations and the Russians say they deeply regret this.

As you can see, Dmitri Peskov there saying -- pretty much saying things that the president is saying as well. So, he believes this investigation is damaging to the relations, damaging to the standing of the United States. And you're right. I mean, we have seen the tone between Moscow and Washington grow more confrontational, especially over the past week, with, of course, that op-ed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, where he said that relations between Russia and the United States were poor.

The Russians called that confrontation, even called the op-ed itself fake news. So, you can see that at this point in time, relations are not good and they certainly don't seem to be improving any time soon, Alison.

KOSIK: All right. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, live from Moscow -- thanks very much.

BRIGGS: President Trump going on to defend his decision to keep trade active with China, pointing to the North Korea threat and telling "The Times" China is hurting us bad on trade because I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. Excuse me, Alison, the first time Mr. Trump has directly being easier

on China.

KOSIK: It is, of course, the hope they pressure Pyongyang to stop the advancement of nuclear weapons. The president calling North Korea, quote, a nuclear menace, which is no good for China.

BRIGGS: Trump's comments came hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea. The president tweeted: caught red-handed. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen.

The president said if China doesn't help with North Korea, he could still take action on trade. Trump was asked by "The Times" how recently the oil transfer happened. He said it was very recently. In fact, I hate to say it was report the Thursday on Fox.

CNN's Alex Field is live in Beijing.

Alex, this is going to get quite the reaction from Xi Jinping. When was the last time and what is the intelligence on Chinese shipment of oil to North Korea?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president may be watching reports on this on Fox just on Thursday, but certainly, this is something the government agencies have been following and have been aware of for sometime now. You know, even back in November, where you had the Treasury, the U.S. Treasury talking about the possibility of North Korea working to skirt the sanctions against the rouge regime by using an illegal network of ships in order to try to bring oil into the country.

[05:05:08] The very bold acquisition from President Trump now is that China is allowing that to happen. That tweet again saying that China has been caught red-handed came on the heels of a South Korean media report in which media reported that there were satellite images that showed Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean ships. That is, of course, a flagrant violation of the resolutions and the sanctions that are aimed at curbing and curtailing the resources and the revenue streams that flow into North Korea and fund that regime.

Look, officials in Beijing not taking this lying down. In response to those South Korean media reports and in response to questions about the president's tweet today, officials have again said that they are fully upholding and implementing all U.N. Security Council sanctions and resolutions. They went on to say that if they had any clear evidence of Chinese ships or companies acting illegally, defying these sanctions, that those companies and those individual vessels would be dealt with.

So, is it this happening? China says no but South Korean officials say they have further evidence. They say back in November, they actually seized a ship that had left a port in South Korea. It's a ship that's registered to Hong Kong, released by a company in Taiwan and they say that that ship had gone into international waters and transferred oil to North Korean vessels, evidence they say of this illegal network, the very thing that the president is now saying that he's drawing attention to, something he says he won't tolerate.

We'll see where it goes from here, Dave.

BRIGGS: Sure will be an interesting next 24 hours. Alexandra Field live for us, 6:06 p.m. there in Beijing. Thanks.

Joining us to talk about this and making EARLY START debut, CNN politics multi-platform editor, Brenna Williams.

Good morning to you, Brenna, and welcome to the show.

KOSIK: Good morning. Welcome.

BRENNA WILLIAMS, CNN POLITICS MULTI-PLATFORM EDITOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

BRIGGS: Appreciate you getting up awfully early.

We're still combing through the gold that is the "New York Times" interview with the president. So much to get to, including the fact that we as the media will basically have to let the president win re- election in 2020.

What's your headline from this 30-minute chat with Michael Schmidt?

WILLIAMS: Where to begin? I think the one thing that stood out to me is he mentions he wants to be bipartisan on some of these big deals he's looking to make moving forward. I mean, obviously, tax reform kind of went through without that bipartisan deal but he mentions infrastructure, he mentions DACA. He says that he wants to be bipartisan in some of these big deals, while simultaneously slamming Joe Manchin who he is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate. So, it's interesting.

As with most storylines dealing with the president, it's kind of a tale of both sides of the spectrum.

BRIGGS: I think that stood out to me, the president taking a not so subtle shot at Jeff Sessions. You remember Sessions recused himself from the special counsel's Russian investigation months ago after it came to light that he met with Russian's ambassador during the campaign.

Trump saying this, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

First of all, can he really have the absolute right to do whatever he wants because he's the president of the United States?

WILLIAMS: No.

BRIGGS: In short. WILLIAMS: In short, no. You can't do whatever you want. There are obviously things in place to keep you from doing whatever you want. I mean, as well as public opinion, keeping, you know, keeping that in mind.

I think the thing that was interesting to me about this piece is that he mentions the Hillary Clinton e-mails and deleting 33,000 e-mails, which was a line that was mentioned on the campaign trail multiple, multiple times and since. 2016 will never go away but the fact he mentioned that but says I'm not getting involved with this, I'm not getting involved.

And I think it was really interesting -- I believe the quote was it's too bad that Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation. And he goes on to talk about how former Attorney General Eric Holder was very loyal to Obama, very loyal to President Obama.

BRIGGS: Let's talk about that because that was the next thing I wanted to ask you about. He says that Eric Holder totally protected President Obama. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, these were real problems and Holder protected the president. I have great respect for that, I'll be honest. I have great respect for that.

What do you make of the president suddenly complimenting Eric Holder in this loyalty he showed President Obama?

WILLIAMS: Well, if there's the one thing that we know about President Trump is that loyalty is the most important thing to him, loyalty above anything else. I mean, he says that all the time. It's been something that's come up with multiple members of the cabinet. And we know that that is the most important thing to him.

So, even though, you know, Eric Holder is a Democrat, President Obama is a Democrat.

[05:10:04] He showed loyalty, which is the number one thing that is important to President Trump. I was not surprised at all to see that he valued that in someone else, even it was somebody from the other party.

But the fact that he said it's too bad his own attorney general felt he needs to recuse himself goes to kind of the tension we've seen between President Trump and really anything having to do with this Russian investigation.

KOSIK: You know what strikes me about this interview is how it came about. No aides sitting by him. Just chatting it up.

And, of course, you think about what he said -- he gave himself several pats on the back. For one thing, about knowing taxes better than a CPA. I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.

If he knows taxes better than anybody, I want him to do my taxes. Better yet, let me see his taxes, huh?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think one thing we do know is what are you guaranteed in life? Death, taxes and the fact that Donald Trump will probably not release his taxes.

So, I think that it was fascinating to me that we didn't get an end- of-the-year press conference which is tradition, right? Instead he sat down with the "New York Times", which is not his favorite news outlet, and talked to them for 30 minutes without any aides. I believe "The Washington Post" reported that, when asked about the interview, someone said what interview, right?

So just somebody from the quote failing "New York Times," in his words, was able to sit down with the president of the United States and just chat it up for 30 minutes instead of having a normal end of the year interview press conference where multiple outlets got to ask him questions. That was one of the most fascinating things that you can just walk up to him. Some of his friends stopped by, were chatting. Just -- you know -- have it shooting --

BRIGGS: Shooting the breeze.

WILLIAMS: Shooting the breeze. Yes.

BRIGGS: Well, he's right about one thing. He is selling copies of the "New York Times," because people are going to pick up this paper this morning.

KOSIK: If you haven't read it, you want to read the transcript.

WILLIAMS: It's fascinating. Yes, absolutely.

BRIGGS: Brenna Williams, thank you so much. We'll see you in about 30 minutes.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely, thank you.

KOSIK: OK. Some horrific news right here in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Twelve people dead including a 1-year-old. As a fire rages through a Bronx apartment building. Hear from the fire commissioner, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:58] BRIGGS: Some breaking news overnight. Fire officials in New York trying to determine what sparked the deadliest fire in the city in at least the last 25 years. At least 12 people were killed including a 1-year-old. Officials say the fire started on the first floor of an apartment building just before 7:00 last night near the Bronx zoo. Firefighters arrived within three minutes, battling flames in frigid temperatures. The fire quickly spread to the top floors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLASIO: We're here at the scene of an unspeakable tragedy in the middle of the holiday season, a time when families are together. Tonight here in the Bronx, there are families that have been torn apart.

DANIEL A. NIGRO, NYFD COMMISSIONER: This tragedy is without question historic in its magnitude here, and our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one here and everyone that's fighting for their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: As do ours.

Officials say the victims range from 50 years old and we mentioned that 1-year-old. We'll have a live report from the Bronx next half hour. Also, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on "NEW DAY" this morning.

KOSIK: OK. Apple apologizing to customers for how it rolled out and update that could slow down older iPhones. To make up for it, the company will offer cheaper battery replacement. On their Website Apple posting a long explanation saying: We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize.

First and foremost, we have never -- and would never -- do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product.

To make amends, Apple will temporarily drop the price of replacement batteries to $29 beginning in late January. The price will go back up to the usual $79 in 2019.

A lot of customers upset with the company about a software update which deliberately slowed down older phones in some situations to extend battery life. Some actually thought it was a ploy to get you to upgrade to new devices. A number of people around the world have filed lawsuits over the feature and are seeking class action status.

BRIGGS: With final preparations under way for New Year's Eve authorities in New York have a close eye on two big factor, security and the weather.

Athena Jones, braving the bitter cold for us, has more from Times Square.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and Dave.

The New Year's Eve celebration here in Times Square is an iconic event. It's also a massive security challenge, and it's one the NYPD working with state and local and federal officials is used to undertaking. The police commissioner said that preparations for this year's event began as the last of the confetti was being swept up after last year's celebration.

We're told there will be an increased police presence this year and that's due in part to the two recent terror attacks right here in New York. This entire area will be sealed off to traffic starting early in the day and the 12 access points that spectators will use to access this year will be manned by teams of police. There will be police with heavy weapons, there will be dogs that are capable of detecting radiological material. There will also be sanitation trucks and cement blocks to help seal off the area.

Now, authorities, the mayor, the police commissioner on down all say that there is no direct credible threat to Times Square or New York City, but that everyone should remain vigilant. Now, based on last year's numbers, we could be up to 2 million people out here celebrating on Sunday night, ringing in 2018. Although that number might be diminished slightly by the fact this is set to be the coldest New Year's Eve in 55 years.

The mayor warned folks to pay attention to the weather, bundle up, take precautions if they're planning to come out and celebrate -- Alison, Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: OK, Athena, good advice. The entertainment world mourning the loss of legendary actress Rose Marie.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

[05:20:03] KOSIK: Rose Marie was best known for her role as Sally Rogers on the "Dick Van Dyke Show". She also had a run on the game show "Hollywood Squares". Marie's career spanning nine decades beginning as a child star in the '20s and '30s.

She earned three Emmy nominations. She was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001. Rose Marie was 94 years old.

BRIGGS: Well, in case you haven't noticed, it's freezing cold. The obvious answer is more global warming. We end 2017 the way we spent so much of it. Reading bizarre tweets from the president of the United States, in this case confusing global weather with global climate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: Five-twenty-four Eastern Time.

In a tweet as bizarre as it was lacking in scientific knowledge, President Trump sarcastically suggested climate change to be a good thing apparently not realizing climate change and local weather are not exactly the same thing.

While he was on vacation in sunny Florida where it was in the mid-70s, the president fired off this tweet: In the east, it could be the coldest New Year's Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming. That our country and not other countries was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up. The president fired off this tweet. In the east it could be the coldest new year's eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country but not other countries was going to pay trillions are dollars to protect.

The president's tweet further distances his climate policy to the vast of majority of scientists.

KOSIK: Mr. Trump has a history of linking the temperature in any one place to the existence of climate change, something climate scientists have said is inaccurate.

[05:25:03] It is worth pointing out, though, the president's golf course in Ireland recently received permission to build sea walls to prevent erosion. The president's company cited global warming on its application for the wall.

BRIGGS: So, just how much colder will it get in this final weekend of 2017?

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the New Year's forecast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good Friday morning, Dave and Alison.

If you are headed out to watch the ball drop in Times Square this weekend, bundle up, bring every piece of winter gear that you own. Eleven degrees, that's the official midnight forecast. When you factor in the wind, it will feel like a mere 3 below zero.

And this puts it at the coldest New Year's Eve forecast in New York City since 1962. It could top out in the top three ever. The coldest ever, by the way, was set in 1917 where it was only one lonely degree in Times Square.

This is the set up, frigid arctic air, settling in across eastern half of the country. We do have a chance of snow today from Chicago, into Grand Rapids, Michigan. National Weather Service has once again issued wind chill warnings and advisories from upstate New York, right through Maine. That will likely be re-issued into the weekend.

Check out these wind chill temperatures right now, well below freezing from Boston, into New York, Portland, only 11, in Pittsburgh, six right now, near Cleveland. Actual temperatures, not much more promising for New Year's Eve, 14 degrees for Chicago, 26 in D.C., Atlanta, running at least 20 degrees below where you should be this time of year. And, by the way, chances of more lake effect snow this weekend.

Back to you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: It should be wicked. Thank you, Derek.

Well, we've lonely got about 30 minutes left in this program, not nearly enough time to discuss everything the president said that raises eyebrows in his "New York Times" interview. Why he's going easy on China. What he thinks about the special counsel and harsh words once again for his own attorney general.

EARLY START back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)