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EARLY START

Trump Speaks Out On Mueller, Sessions, and 2018; Growing Tensions Between U.S. And Russia; Deadly Bronx Apartment Fire. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:13] 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 to him. But what he said about his own attorney general and North Korea, let alone China, will stun you.

We have live coverage and reaction to the president's comments straight ahead.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Thirty minutes past the hour.

It's a fascinating interview in "The New York Times". Among the nuggets, the media will basically have to let Donald Trump win reelection in 2020, but so much more to get to.

After weeks of watching his allies try to discredit the special counsel's investigation, President Trump giving Robert Mueller the benefit of the doubt. He says he thinks the special counsel will treat him fairly.

Mr. Trump sitting down with "The New York Times" for this impromptu interview at his golf club in Palm Beach.

KOSIK: On Russia, the president took a very different tone than many in the Republican Party.

Here's "New York Times" reporter Michael Shear on CNN last night -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: 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 for 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, as you said, 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 very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's 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 said some congressmen have been quote "unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole investigation is, and that his base is even stronger than ever."

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

CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live in Moscow. Good morning to you, Fred.

So, what is the Kremlin saying about this sort of eye-opening "New York Times" interview with President Trump?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly have commented on it and they generally also commented on relations between the U.S. and Russia. It was quite interesting.

This coming from the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, who, in a call that we were on as well, stated that he believes that U.S.- Russia relations is one of the major disappointments of this past year. So you can clearly see how the Kremlin feels about how things are evolving between the U.S. and Russia.

They also commented directly on this interview that the president gave, especially regarding the Mueller investigation. There, Dmitry Peskov, the same spokesman, saying that the Russians have repeatedly stated their opinion on what they call the anti-Russian hysteria that has fomented and maintained in the U.S. And they also say they are perplexed by the ongoing investigation.

They went on to say this is, of course, an internal affair of the United States, but in this case, of course, this is damaging to our bilateral relations. And the Russians say that they do regret this.

So, actually, quite a similar tone to the one that the president took. Him, of course, also saying that he believes this is weakening the United States. The Russians have repeatedly said that as well. They said that they believe this is embarrassing for the U.S.

And the Russians, of course, continue to maintain that they did not meddle in the elections in the United States in 2016. But it certainly seems as though the Russians -- it's sort of dawning on the now that this investigation is not going away and also, that the whole complex of U.S.-Russia relations is not going to improve very quickly, Alison.

KOSIK: And this certainly not going away. Interesting that they're -- that Russians are calling it anti-Russian hysteria here in the U.S.

All right. CNN's Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

BRIGGS: To President Trump going on to defend his decision to keep trade active with China, pointing to the North Korea threat, telling the Times, "China's hurting us very badly on trade but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war."

KOSIK: It is the first time Mr. Trump has directly admitted being easier on China and hopes they pressure Pyongyang to stop its advancement of nuclear weapons. The president calling North Korea, quote, "a nuclear menace which is no good for China."

BRIGGS: President Trump's comments came hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea.

The president tweeting, "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 says China -- if they don't help with North Korea, he could still take action on trade.

[05:35:02] Trump asked by the "Times" how recently the possible oil transfer happened and he said, "It was very recently. In fact, I hate to say it, it was reported Thursday morning on Fox." Not sure why he hates to say it.

But, CNN's Alex Field live for us in Beijing. What is the intelligence on the Chinese shipping oil to North Korea?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, this is something that officials from a number of countries have been looking at longer than just Thursday with this Fox News report, of course.

We know that Pyongyang has provided nearly constant provocations over the course of the last year. The international community has responded with a raft of sanctions against North Korea aimed at curtailing and cutting those resources -- those sources of revenue.

But the reality here that the international community is also aware of is a question of whether or not North Korea is finding ways to skirt those sanctions to specifically get the oil that they need for their economy. Also, for their military.

One way to do that is to work through these illegal shipping networks. And the president, very boldly, accusing China on Twitter of allowing this network to happen in the waters of off North Korea. His accusation essentially, that North Korea is getting oil, that

China is allowing it to happen, and that it's happening in these ship- to-ship transfers. These are, of course, prohibited by the U.N. Security Council's resolutions.

China is denying this. They responded to these claims earlier this week, actually when South Korean media outlets published reports that there were satellite images showing Chinese vessels transferring oil to North Korea vessels.

Chinese officials here in Beijing have said that China is doing its part to fully uphold an infinite all-sanctions against North Korea. And they say that if they find any evidence of ships or companies participating in forbidden activities that they would deal with those specific entities.

However, South Korean authorities are insisting they have evidence of an illegal network. In fact, they say they seized a ship back in November -- a ship that was registered to Hong Kong that was being leased by a company in Taiwan. They say that ship had left a port in South Korea, traveled into international waters, and provided oil to North Korean vessels. That --

BRIGGS: Wow.

FIELD: -- now under investigation -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Just when things were quieting down, further ratcheted back up.

Alex Field live for us tonight in Beijing, thanks.

KOSIK: OK, let's go back to "CNN POLITICS" multi-platform editor Brenna Williams to talk more in-depth about this interview that President Trump did with "The New York Times" kind of out of nowhere, you know. The media didn't get a year-end news conference but we got this 30-minute interview transcribed in "The New York Times".

And during this 30 minutes it just felt like it was one of these interviews where it was like a stream of consciousness if you -- if you read through the transcribed text of it where we can even kind of get a bird's-eye view into where the president sits on the political spectrum, where he was talking about DACA and not being centered.

He said, "No, I'm not being centered. I'm just being practical. No, I don't think I'm changing.

Look, I wouldn't do a DACA plan without a wall because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country. We need the wall.

I'm always moving. I'm moving in both directions."

You know, I guess we can sort of intimate there moving in both directions meaning from Republican to Democrat. Is that what we can surmise? BRENNA WILLIAMS, MULTI-PLATFORM EDITOR, CNN POLITICS: So, I think the thing to remember is that first and foremost, the president is a businessman. He's always going to pair give with take. He wants his wall and, you know, Democrats want -- and, you know, many Republicans in Congress want to work on DACA.

But you can't get anything with Donald Trump without, you know, giving a little bit. So I think that that's interesting. I would not say that he's making a radical swing to the left by any means.

BRIGGS: No.

WILLIAMS: But, I mean, I was also fascinated by just how wide-ranging this interview was and, I mean, every line there was something to dig into. That's one thing you can say for President Trump is that he -- you know, everything out of his mouth is something that you want to pay attention to. Everything that he tweets, everything that comes from his thumbs is something that you want to pay attention to.

So, you know, for better or for worse, everything that he said is something that we're going to be talking about for, you know, probably the next few days. Like you said --

BRIGGS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- we didn't get an end-of-the-year press conference. This is basically what we get. So --

BRIGGS: It's interesting you mention that, no end-of-the-year press conference. But what we hear is that he wanted to give one, and it's clear from this interview that he wants to talk -- that he has an awful lot to say. He wants to defend his accomplishments. He wants to discuss these things.

He might be better suited to do it, except when he goes on and says this about the Justice Department.

Quote, "I have the 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."

That's when asked about if he would investigate Hillary's e-mails.

Does the President of the United States have the right to do whatever he wants to do with the Department of Justice?

WILLIAMS: No. Like I said earlier, it's -- you can't just do anything you want, even though you're the president, without angering members of Congress, without angering the public. I mean, he is still the elected President of the United States. He still answers to the voters.

[05:40:13] Even though, later on in the interview he essentially says that the press is who's going to let him win again in 2020. So that was fascinating to me because I was unaware -- I don't know about you guys -- that the press chooses the president, but that was the implication there. I still think it's the voters, but he had -- he had a lot to say.

But, yes, he doesn't -- he can't just do whatever he wants despite what he may imply. But even so, if he does think that he can do whatever he wants, it's good that he's showing restraint in this particular matter.

KOSIK: Another standout quote from the interview that I found was this not so subtle jab he took at Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the special counsel's Russia investigation.

In this interview, he said, "It's too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it's too bad he recused himself. I don't want to get into loyalty but I will say this.

Holder protected President Obama -- totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, these were real problems and Holder protected the president and I have great respect for that. I'll be honest, I have great respect for that."

He's trying to get a message here across, isn't he?

WILLIAMS: Yes, not so subtle, which -- while, you know, being a good businessman is his -- is his forte, being subtle, probably not.

And there's been tension between Donald Trump and Attorney General Sessions almost since the beginning. He's not been happy about that recusal from the Russia investigation. He hasn't been super quiet about that.

But I think it's really interesting that, you know, he values loyalty so much that he even admires it in the other party. And, you know, goes on to compliment former Attorney General Holder, and he says that he really appreciates that loyalty.

We do know, you know, that loyalty is the number one thing with President Trump. If you're unloyal to him --

BRIGGS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- you know, you may be on the chopping block, and we've known that.

BRIGGS: Yes, he loves loyalty. He loves numbers as well, telling Michael Schmidt he has 158 million people from various social media platforms.

He won't love the number -- I think the most common word in the transcript is inaudible. I lost count at 18. That's just --

KOSIK: Apparently, it was nosey in the room where the interview was going on.

BRIGGS: Well, perhaps that's the reason.

WILLIAMS: Well, the thing that fascinated --

BRIGGS: My highlighter ran out.

But before we go I want to ask you because it's our last show of 2017 and you have a new piece coming out that everything in 2017 was an utter dumpster fire. Tell us what you mean by that and cite some examples.

WILLIAMS: So, OK, 2017, like 2016, was kind of a rough year but there some kind of heartwarming moments that we -- that we all witnessed kind of as a country together.

I mean, obviously, there's that terrible shooting back this summer on the Republican baseball team. And I thought that one of the more heartwarming moments was when Steve Scalise came out and threw out the first pitch at the Nationals game. I thought that was a wonderful moment and everyone was very supportive of that.

And then, Sen. John McCain. Obviously, he's dealing with his cancer diagnosis. And whenever he returned to the floor, he returned for a very controversial vote on procedures on the Obamacare vote but he received bipartisan applause.

And, you know, there's a lot of infighting and a lot of partisanship in Washington but, you know, John McCain served his country and he's, you know, did so in the military. He did so in the Senate for years and years. And I think that it will really nice that that was recognized.

First lady Melania Trump visited a children's hospital in Rome and only hours later, one of the little boys she talked to was told that he was going to get the heart transplant that he needed. And, I mean, literally, warming my heart, right? It was great.

So, you know, there were a lot of low moments in 2017, but there were some real moments of light as well. So --

BRIGGS: Thank you for that.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

KOSIK: The stuff that was great, too.

BRIGGS: We needed that. Thank you. Happy New Year to you.

WILLIAMS: Happy New Year.

BRIGGS: It is good to remember that there were some great moments in this year.

Do come back for us in 2018.

WILLIAMS: I would love to.

BRIGGS: Thanks for coming. We appreciate it, Brenna Williams.

KOSIK: Thanks, Brenna Williams.

WILLIAMS: Happy New Year.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, horrific news right here in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Just awful news out of the Bronx. Twelve dead, including a 1-year-old, as a fire rages through a Bronx apartment building. We're live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:48:53] BRIGGS: All right. 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.

CNN's Scott McLean at the scene of the fire in the Bronx. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Dave.

The fire started on the first floor of this building, which is just a stone's throw away from the Bronx Zoo, just before 7:00 last night.

The fire department responded quickly -- three minutes or less, according to city officials -- but the flames -- they seemed to spread even faster. One hundred and fifty firefighters ended up here battling those flames.

But not everybody made it out. Those who did had to climb down those fire escapes into absolutely bone-chilling temperatures.

Our local affiliates reported speaking to one woman who was waiting outside frantically because the last text that she had received from her mother said that she was stuck inside of a third-floor apartment.

All told, there are 12 people confirmed to be dead. They range in age between one and 50 years old. There are other people who have been injured.

[05:50:00] The mayor and the fire commissioner say this is the worst fire in the city in decades.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

DANIEL NIGRO, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: 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)

MCLEAN: Now, the mayor said that there still may be more fatalities from this fire because there are still people in the hospital.

Now, this building, it has 29 units inside and according to public records it's only had four complaints since 2004, and none of them seem to be fire-related.

Dave, obviously, the cause of this is unclear. They -- the fire department is obviously investigating.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on "NEW DAY" this morning.

Scott McLean live for us in the Bronx. Thank you.

KOSIK: That's just devastating.

BRIGGS: It is just awful. The fire department did save 12 people. You always have to take your hats off to our brave fire department.

KOSIK: Absolutely. All right.

Partying with the president and Fabio just got a little more expensive. How much more? We're going to get a check on "CNN Money Stream," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:03] BRIGGS: All right.

Two of the best teams in the NBA head-to-head last night. The Celtics making an epic comeback to beat Andy Scholes' hometown team, the Houston Rockets.

KOSIK: Good morning, Andy Scholes. You've got more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, guys.

BRIGGS: Morning.

SCHOLES: You know, after the refs made the headlines after that big Christmas Day showdown between the Cavs and the Warriors, they stole the headlines again deciding this Rockets-Celtics game. Some very questionable calls at the end.

Now, the Rockets, they did have a 26-point lead at one point and they were up just three with 11 seconds left after a Jayson Tatum dunk to make it a one-point game. The refs called James Harden for an offensive foul even though Marcus Smart was basically given him a bear hug.

Celtics hit the brawl (ph) right back. They score to take the lead. Then again, watch this. Harden called for a foul before the ball is even inbounded for the second straight play. Just unreal.

Celtics win 99-98.

Now, there were only two refs in this game because one hurt his back during warm-ups. Harden said you can't have just two officials for a big game like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES HARDEN, GUARD, HOUSTON ROCKETS: You can't have two officials in a professional game. There's a lot of no-calls that need to be called because that changes the dynamic of the game. It's a professional game on national T.V. You can't have it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: All right.

Thirteenth-ranked Stanford taking on 15th-ranked TCU in the Alamo Bowl. We get to that one. The horned frogs, they staged a big comeback in the fourth to win a wild one, 39-37.

And everyone's talking about this -- what happened after the game. A kid took off his TCU shirt to reveal a Stanford shirt to take a selfie with Bryce Love, and then he put that TCU shirt back on.

This is the fan in question. He tweeted the pic out afterwards. Coleman Leonard is his name. He said, "C'mon guys, it's THE Bryce Love."

To be fair, Coleman, he goes to a high school the DFW area and he says he's planning on applying to go to Stanford. So I guess you could wear both shirts, I guess.

All right. Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech squaring off in the Camping World Bowl. Mike Gundy's team getting the win 30-21.

But they failed badly when it came to hitting their coach with a Gatorade bath. Check this out. They were so late they hit Gundy while he was shaking hands with Hokies' coach Justin Puente.

So, guys, I can only imagine how mad Puente must have been. Not only did his team lose the game, he got hit with a Gatorade bath by the opposing players.

BRIGGS: Well, you know, with Gundy, you have to get the mullet. So they were trying to come from behind just to get the mullet.

SCHOLES: Do it earlier, though. It's too late at that point.

BRIGGS: That's good stuff. Thank you, my friend.

KOSIK: Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Happy New Year to you.

SCHOLES: You too, guys.

KOSIK: Happy New Year.

All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

The Dow ticking up yesterday 60 points. It is set to end the year with six straight weeks of gains and that's a first since 1954.

With the holiday season wrapping up trading was light all week. Yesterday had the second-fewest amount of shares traded on any day this year. Dow and S&P futures are moving up this morning and this is the last trading day of 2017.

Partying with the president isn't cheap. The president's private club, Mar-a-Lago, raising its prices for their annual New Year's Eve bash. Tickets are up from $525 for members to $600. And for non- members, it's up $750 from $575 last year.

That is money that's going into the club. It's going into the president's pockets. In 2017, revelers not only have the opportunity to meet the president but also celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and Dave's favorite, Fabio.

BRIGGS: You got it.

KOSIK: This year --

BRIGGS: Love Fabio.

KOSIK: This year, the president is expected to attend the ball again. No word on Fabio but this, of course, raising a lot of questions about access -- buying access to the president and money going into the president's pockets because of the office that he holds.

BRIGGS: Right. They doubled the initiation fee --

KOSIK: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- to Mar-a-Lago after inauguration. All right.

Well, we want to thank all of you for joining us this year. It's Happy New Year for us.

KOSIK: Happy New Year.

BRIGGS: Our next show is on Tuesday. Thank you for being here, Alison, all week.

KOSIK: It's been a great week. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: All right. "NEW DAY" has Bill de Blasio on that tragic fire here in the Bronx. And also, this intriguing "New York Times" interview with President Trump.

We'll see you next year, everybody.

KOSIK: Bye.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone.

BRIGGS: President Trump contradicting his supporters, saying he thinks Special Counsel Mueller will treat him fairly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's just a way of him trying to project that everything is fine. I have it under control.

KOSIK: President Trump mocking global warming in a new tweet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to remind him that what global warming is. I mean, it's causing very severe weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of his supporters probably don't believe in global warming either.

DE BLASIO: This will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom texted my sister that they were trapped in their room.

NIGRO: Our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, December 29th, 6:00 here in New York.

Chris is off; Bill Weir joins me. Happy --