Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: My Nuclear Button Works; Trump's Twitter Tirade; The 2018 Agenda. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The lines of communications are back open this morning between North and South Korea. This just hours after the president, President Trump's 280 character message to Kim Jong-un. Anything you can nuke, I can do bigger.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president's tweet on North Korea part of a wild and wide-ranging social media tirade. He took aim at Iran, Palestinians, Democrats, his own deep state Justice Department, and, of course, the media.

ROMANS: And the Senate returns to Washington today. Top level meetings on tap. Can the White House get its 2018 agenda off the ground?

EARLY START's coverage from Seoul, Berlin, Jerusalem and Washington begins right now.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018.

When the novel troubling Trump tweets is written someday, last night will get a prominent chapter. We start this morning with nuclear war being threatened over tweets. Overnight, diplomatic contact resumed between North and South Korea.

Just hours ago, North Korea called South Korea through a now revived communication line. Discussions resume after a green light from Kim Jong-un. It's widely viewed as a way to drive a wedge between Seoul and the United States. And it came hours after President Trump capping off a wild day of tweets appeared to taunt Kim Jong-un and North Korea.

ROMANS: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I, too, have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works?

Just ruminate on that for a minute. That tweet drew sharp criticism including from former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It would almost be amusing if it weren't for the gravity of the subject. When we're casually back and forth by whatever means kind of a dueling banjo who has the bigger male appendage, it's also almost a manhood thing when there are potentially millions of lives at stake, an untold death and destruction here. And to me, it's very disturbing.


BRIGGS: Lawmakers also weighed in like Democratic Senator Ed Markey who tweeted, quote: Imagine being a service member or the family of a service member stationed in Korea and reading this. This borders on presidential malpractice.

ROMANS: All this comes following Kim Jong-un's peace overture to South Korea which has now resulted in direct discussions.

For the latest, let's go live to CNN's Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

Bring us up to speed.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, we've just had a readout of sorts of the conversation that North Korea had had with South Korea. It is very short. The names have been taken out for security reasons. The North Koreans called at 3:30 p.m., 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The South Korean said, hello, this is X. The North Koreans said, hello, this is X.

That is all we have been given and it appears as though what that may have been the main crux of the conversation. They say that the communication lines were open for 20 minutes to check for logistical, for technical things and the South Koreans are now waiting to see if the North Koreans phone back again today while the business hours are still open. So, the question is why is Kim Jong-un deciding that he does want to speak to South Korea? Some suggesting that it's because he wants to draw a wedge in between the U.S. and South Korea alliance.

But we've heard from State Department spokesperson. We've heard from many people here in the region. That alliance is simply too strong to be able to be split apart by any kind of mind games. The South Koreans, though, are very welcoming of the fact that this is happening. We have heard from an official saying that Kim Jong-un himself, a North Korean, welcomes what President Moon Jae-in has been saying about the Olympics.

So, as far as the North Koreans want, they are going to be talking about the Olympics. President Moon would like to push that, but certainly, it is too early to be thinking about that. But the fact that North and South Korea are talking for the first time in a number of years is significant.

ROMANS: They are talking and the president is tweeting about North Korea.

All right. Paula, thank you so much for that. President Trump weighing in again on the deadly anti-government

protests in Iran. The president tweeting: The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All that money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation, and no human rights. The U.S. is watching.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., echoing her boss's sentiments.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom.

[04:05:02] All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.


BRIGGS: The White House won't go as far as saying it wants regime change. For now, Ambassador Haley says the U.S. is seeking emergency Security Council meeting in New York and a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva to deal with the Iran crisis.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has reportedly extensively from Tehran. He's monitoring all the developments live for us from Berlin.

Fred, good morning to you. How is Iran responding to these comments from President Trump?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Dave. It's pretty anger responses coming from the Iranian government, accusing the U.S. of directly meddling in Iran's affairs and also trying to stoke the protests as well. In fact, if you look at Nikki Haley's comments, there were some things that the Iranians said straight afterwards saying, look, this is proof that the U.S. is trying to cheer on these protesters there in Iran.

And it's really interesting. If you look at the Iranian power structure, there is usually a battle that goes on between moderates and hardliners. Now, all sides at this point in time are coming out and essentially accusing the U.S. of meddling in their affairs, saying some of these was stoked by outside forces. But then, there's the difference.

While the hardliners only accuse the U.S., the moderates around President Rouhani are saying, look, we do have some problems in this country that we need to address and we do need to listen to these protesters as well. One of the things that he was saying is he wants things to be more transparent in Iran and certainly also trying to see what these folks are saying and some of the issues that they have, especially if you look at the economics fear, where a lot of people fear they don't have the proper ways to develop, the many skills they do have because this is a highly educated population.

Now, these protests are still going on from what we're seeing. They might be getting a little weaker but it certainly is way too early to tell. But yes, some angry reactions coming out of Tehran from the foreign minister, from the president, from moderates, from hardliners, from the supreme leader, especially at those tweets from President Trump, but certainly also at the remarks from Nikki Haley as well, Dave.

BRIGGS: Tough to get much of a glimpse of those protests across Iran either, just past 12:30 p.m. there. Fred, thanks.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Haley also targeting Pakistan for playing what she calls a double game with the U.S. Haley confirming the Trump administration is withholding $255 million in military aid until Pakistan does more to combat terrorism.

ROMANS: President Trump threatening the Palestinians with the same tactic, tweeting: We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions. Hundred of millions of dollars a year, and get no appreciation or respect. They don't want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?

Let's go live to Jerusalem and bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann -- Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, a furious reaction from Palestinian leaders who said that they will not be blackmailed. PLO Central Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that President Trump or he accused President Trump, I should say, of sabotaging the Palestinian search for freedom and justice.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, hasn't responded yet but some of his ministers have, praising President Trump's promise to cut off aid to the Palestinians. One even saying it will bring sanity back to the international discourse.

But part of Trump's tweet seems to contradict what he said last month when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The next line in his tweet there was that he's taking Jerusalem off the table, which goes directly against what he said last month when he said the U.S. isn't determining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or contested borders, meaning Jerusalem is negotiable. This latest tweet seems to go against that.

Meanwhile in Israel, the Knesset here enacted a law that essentially makes it harder to negotiate Jerusalem, that requires a larger majority of Israeli's parliament to hand over any part of the holy city to a foreign entity. That, of course, would be the Palestinians in negotiations with the goal of tightening the Israeli grip on the city.

All in all, that means Trump's peace plan which might still in the works, according to that tweet, looks even more remote than it did just a couple of weeks.

ROMANS: It certainly is a fascinating way to start the New Year, isn't it? Watching these really important matters distilled into social media. All right. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: And it's not done yet, Christine. President Trump's Twitter feed also focused stateside again, targeting his own Justice Department. The president going after former Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, as well as former FBI Director James Comey, saying, the, quote, deep state Justice Department must finally act on them and others, suggesting a conspiracy against him.

Here's how White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded when asked about that tweet.


REPORTER: Does he believe the entire Justice Department and its more than 100,000 employees are part of this deep state?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that.


ROMANS: Deep state Justice Department. The tweet comes days after the State Department released thousands of Abedin's e-mails, some of which contained classified information.

[04:10:04] A report in the conservative "Daily Caller" says one e-mail Abedin forwarded from her State Department account to her personal Yahoo account included passwords to government systems. That e-mail was not marked classified as the president claimed.

BRIGGS: The Senate back in session today as the administration tries to jump start its legislative agenda. White House official set to meet with congressional leaders from both parties, and one major issue still unresolved, the Children's Health Insurance Program. Yes, health care for children.

CHIP is popular on both sides of the aisle, but Congress has still failed to reauthorize long-term funding.

ROMANS: As of now, there's only money through March. States have already started warning that 9 million children will lose their coverage if lawmakers don't move quickly. Dreamers also on the agenda and they were part of Trump's Tuesday tweet-fest as well.

BRIGGS: He wrote: Democrats are doing nothing for DACA, the Dreamer program, just interested in politics.

The president predicted Dreamer supporters will eventually fall in love with Republican Party.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has a preview of today's legislative battles from the White House -- Jeff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, a big legislative agenda on tap and that is what's going to be driving this day in Washington. Two top officials here at the White House will be heading to the Capitol Hill later today to meet with House and Senate leaders to talk about those agenda items. Of course, first and foremost, the government spending bill.

January 19th is the new deadline. Of course, this is some unfinished business from last year. The House and Senate and indeed the White House must come to some agreement on this government spending bill. Of course, immigration also front and center in all of this.

Now, the president is going to have congressional leaders to Camp David this weekend to talk about the agenda as well. Of course, a key Republican goal, keeping the House and Senate in Republican hands. That is a tall order at least Democrats believe they can possibly win back the House.

So this agenda will be front and center in politics as it takes center stage -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House -- thanks, Jeff.

BRIGGS: All right. The longest-serving Republican in Senate history set to call it a career. He's been there since the late '70s. Could Orrin Hatch make way for Mitt Romney in Utah? We'll discuss on EARLY START.


[04:15:23] ROMANS: All right. Two new Democrats set to take their seats in the U.S. Senate today, although their tenure there may be short lived. Meantime, Utah's Orrin hatch, the longest serving Senate Republican, is ready to call it a career after seven terms. His departure paving the way for former presidential candidate and Trump critic Mitt Romney to run for that seat.

Let's get more this morning on this state of play in the Senate from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.



A New Year and a lot of new changes this week here in congress. Later today, Vice President Mike Pence will swear in two new Senate Democrats. Doug Jones who won that Senate race in Alabama against Judge Roy Moore, and Tina Smith, the lieutenant governor of Minnesota, who replaces Al Franken. He resigned of course after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

Also adding to the mix changes up here this week, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He announced on Tuesday that he will not seek re-election and that he will be retiring.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I've always been a fighter. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves and for me, that time is soon approaching.

SERFATY: Hatch had previously been lobbied directly and personally by President Trump. President Trump wanted him to stay and run for re- election.

This now opens the door potentially for Mitt Romney, a chief critic of Donald Trump, to potentially throw his hat into the race. He released a statement on Tuesday praising Orrin Hatch but notably, he made no decision, no announcement whether he will run or not -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks.

The president tweeting his congratulations and thanks to the Utah senator, saying Hatch has been a tremendous supporter and I will never forget the beyond kind statements he has made about me as president. He is my friend and he will be greatly missed in the U.S. Senate.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump also taking credit for U.S. air travels safest year on record, but there hasn't been a death on a U.S. passenger flight since 2009. In a tweet, the president says he's been very strict on commercial aviation leading to zero deaths in 2017.

Now, there were a few fatal plane crashes overseas last year, but even taking those into account, air travel actually in 2017 was the safest ever and domestic air travel has been for several years. The Trump administration has introduced a number of air safety measures like banning laptops in certain international flights, and proposing to privatize the air traffic control system, but experts say 2017's safety record is due to improvements in the airline industry, not very strict action by the president, longer rest periods for pilots, better technology for tracking both planes and weather.

In fact, airline accidents have been on the decline since 1992 even as more people -- a lot more people hit the skies. Nearly 3.7 billion people flew in 2016. That's more than triple the number 25 years ago, but the president again trying to take credit for some pretty dramatic numbers on air safety.

BRIGGS: At one point yesterday, we thought that tweet would make the most news and be the most out of step with the norm.

Meanwhile, a bizarre twist stemming from this comment by the wife of failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.


KAYLA MOORE, FAILED SENATE CANDIDATE ROY MOORE'S WIFE: Fake news would tell you that we don't care for Jews. One of our attorneys is a Jew.


BRIGGS: That was Kayla Moore last month the day before Alabama's Senate election, but turns out, Richard Jaffe, a prominent Jewish defense attorney who represented the Moore family, campaigned for the Democrat in this race. Jaffe says Doug Jones is actually a close friend. He tells "The Washington Post" he's not completely certain Kayla Moore was talking about him but in any case, he was shocked and disturbed by her comment.

ROMANS: That's an interesting twist to that story.

BRIGGS: It is indeed.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

If the cold weren't enough, snow is making its way up the East Coast. How much it's in store. Why are temperatures actually going down for the weekend?


[04:22:52] BRIGGS: All right. To the weather now, the deep freeze hitting even the Deep South. In Pensacola, Florida, the frigid temps turning this pool into a solid block of ice, even colder of course in the northeast where Niagara Falls was mostly one big beautiful icicle.

For the rest of the week, the extreme cold will linger with the addition of snow moving up the East Coast.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joining live from the CNN weather center in Atlanta where, Ivan, it is warmer in Atlanta than it is in Anchorage, Alaska.

What's ahead of us?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's completely backward, right? Incredible stuff.

We can get these cold outbreaks all the way into Florida but we don't get usually in Florida what's behind me right now. It is snowing across North Florida. Perry, Madison, Monticello, just east of Tallahassee here, mixing in with a little bit of rain as well, some freezing rain. It's a mess.

And, in fact, we have winter storm warnings that extend from the panhandle of Florida through southeast Georgia into the Carolinas. Winter storm warnings posted there for the potential of two to four inches of snowfall and a new upgrade of the National Weather Service, not only winter storm warnings for Boston, but for the shore here, Cape Cod, the islands we're looking at blizzard conditions heading into tomorrow. What that means heavy snow combined with winds and at times could be blowing 60 to 70 miles an hour.

In fact, this storm, the coastal low offshore will have hurricane force winds. It's going to be a potent storm and it's just getting going here across south Florida. There comes the rain, but it is crashing with the cold air that has already made its way down to the south. So, that's why we have the precip that's going to be mixing in as far as sleet, snow and then accumulating snowfall as we go a little bit further to the north from South Carolina, North Carolina, and then it will be snow from New York and then points to the Northeast.

By the way, for the Northeast, this will be a Thursday event. Today, Wednesday will be for Florida and for the Southeast where primarily more and more worried about the ice, not so much the snow. That will be an interesting event. But the ice will be treacherous.

And then here's the forecast for New England and for the Northeast. New York not as much, but this is going to be a big New England storm with upwards of a foot of snowfall again combined with those 60, 70- mile-per-hour winds. Oh, and then yes, an arctic blast for the weekend.

[04:25:01] Just in case that wasn't enough.

BRIGGS: Oh, should be pleasant. And I said it's warmer. It's actually colder in Atlanta than Anchorage, Alaska. Got it right now.

Thank you, Ivan. We'll talk with you in a bit.

CABRERA: You got it.

BRIGGS: Elsewhere, Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez fired after an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct. The school's athletic director saying the decision was based on the direction and climate of the football program. Rodriguez posting a statement on his Twitter account saying a former assistant threatened to file a $7.5 million lawsuit against him, alleging harassment.

Rodriguez says the accusation is baseless and false and he claims he voluntarily took and passed a polygraph test as part of the school's investigation. He also alleges his accuser refused to cooperate with the probe. Rodriguez also admitting to a consensual extramarital affair with a woman not affiliated with the university.

ROMANS: All right. There was no grand prize winner in Tuesday night's $361 million mega millions drawing. You know what that means. Get rich quick fever across America.

The jackpot for Friday's drawing is even more mega, jumping to at least $418 million that you are very unlikely to win. If you are still feeling lucky --


ROMANS: -- or delusional, tonight's Powerball drawing is the next chance to lose. The jackpot is estimated $440 million.

BRIGGS: When we all pool tickets here at EARLY START, you are not getting a share. You are not getting a bag of chips from my 400 million. ROMANS: Office buzz kill, I am.

BRIGGS: Yes, I'm playing.

All right. Ahead --

ROMANS: Put it away in a real investment account.

BRIGGS: I waste that money on a Starbucks. Why not waste it on a $400 million shot?

ROMANS: I know, I'm teasing.

BRIGGS: Ahead, one phone call with huge ramifications. North Korea has reopened a line of communication with the South. It comes hours after the president's most direct nuclear threat against Pyongyang.


ROMANS: Communication back open this morning between North and South Korea. It comes hours after the President Trump's 280 character message to Kim Jong-un. Anything you can nuke, I can nuke bigger.