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George H.W. Bush Hospitalized; Chelsea Manning's Sentence Commuted; Trump's Final Days Before Inauguration; Four Cabinet Hearings Today on Capitol Hill; 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Class Announcement Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 05:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNNMONEY EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes, providing you're looking at things in a transactional deal-making way, that's fine. But I was at a breakfast this morning where people are talking about, you can't do that always with public policy.

[05:00:06] Davos feels different. There's an intensity about what will happen, an uncertainty about future direction. And they believe the rules by which they have lived their lives here for so many years are about to change. And they, frankly, don't know what to do.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Globalization backlash embodied by Donald Trump, by Brexit, by a whole bunch of other things, it's all right there in front of them.

All right. Thank you. Richard Quest, nice to see you. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Put the cap back on that marker, the one that you get on your scarf there. Thanks, Richard.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: Big backlash after President Obama commutes the sentence of Chelsea Manning. How could the move affects future actions against people who leaked classified material?

BERMAN: The president-elect making preparations for his presidential inauguration, taking a hands-on approach, we are told, to getting his speech, as more Democrats decide to boycott.

ROMANS: And a critical day on Capitol Hill. The man charged with overhauling Obamacare faces the Senate after the education nominee runs into some pushback.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Nice to see you this morning. It's Wednesday, January 18th, just after 5:00 a.m. in the East. We do have breaking news this morning: 92-year-old former President George H.W. Bush has been hospitalized in Houston, that's according to local media. His office chief of staff Gene Becker tells KHOU-TV and "The Houston Chronicle" that President Bush is doing fine, although the reason for his hospitalization not immediately disclosed. His office says it expects him to go home in a couple of days.

Of course, remember, he had never been planning to go to the inauguration this Friday. We don't know how this will affect George W. Bush, whether he still plans to attend the inauguration. George H.W. Bush, he's been in the hospital over the last couple years battling many, many health issues. But he's also enjoying life and staying current in public affairs. We wish him the best.

All right. We do have big news from President Obama on his way out the door. The president commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army private convicted of leaking 750,000 pages of documents and videos. She will now be released in May.

There's been no so far word from the Trump team yet regarding the decision on Manning. But the move has stirred up significant controversy. A senior defense official tells CNN the president made the decision over the objection from his own Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Manning released the secret documents in 2010 through WikiLeaks which has been advocating for her release. Of course in this past election, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange leaked documents that the intelligence community says were hacked by Russia with the aim of helping Donald Trump win the election.

Let's get the latest on this. I want to bring in international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson from London.

Nic, what are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the White House has commuted Manning's sentence because she has accepted responsibility. She has shown remorse. It's a long sentence, twice in the past 12 months, she's tried to commit suicide, already six years served. That was the rationale behind it.

We have here in London, Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy since August 2012 because he says he fears being sent unjustly and unfairly to the United States for investigation there. However, if you will ignore that alarm for the moment, it normally goes off this time of the day.

However, what we understand from Assange, in the last few days, he tweeted that he would in fact hand himself over to U.S. authorities if President Obama commuted Manning's sentence. That has now happened.

Now, we had a tweet from Assange's lawyer saying he's ready to follow through on the commitment that he made. That, however, is a very interesting development. At the very time, as you say, Donald Trump is coming to office, WikiLeaks allegedly played a role in the leaking of information. It did play a role in the leaking of information that had been hacked from DNC computers. And therefore, you arrive in this very interesting situation where

Assange is almost offering apparently, I don't know if it will happen, to hand himself over to the next administration, who on the surface appeared to have helped -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, unclear, or uncertain at best whether or not we can take Julian Assange's word on whether or not he will turn himself over.

Nic Robertson, glad the car alarm on your Porsche stopped going off during a live report. Thanks so much, Nic.



BERMAN: All right. Moment after the clemency announcement, WikiLeaks tweeted victory and this brief statement from Julian Assange, "Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage and determination made the impossible possible."

[05:05:01] The ACLU and Amnesty International also cheered the news of the commutation.

ROMANS: But on Capitol Hill, reaction from Democrats was muted and harsh, really harsh from Republicans. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, says the shortened sentence was dead wrong. It gave a green light to hacking and cyber attacks.



REPORTER: Why is that?

MANCHIN: That was treason and espionage. It should have been 35 years.


ROMANS: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN's Dana Bash, "Manning stabbed his fellow shoulders in the back by releasing classified information and putting their lives at risk. President Obama, by granting clemency to Manning, slapped all of those who serve honorably in the face."

And Senator John McCain called the commutation "a grave mistake that I fear will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline. It also devalues the courage of real whistle-blowers who have used proper channels to hold our government accountable."

Confirmation hearings get underway in the Senate today for four more of the president-elect's cabinet picks. Wilbur Ross is the nominee for commerce secretary. Scott Pruitt tapped to head up the EPA. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley up for ambassador to the U.N. Georgia Congressman Tom Price picked up for secretary of health and human services. Tuesday was a tough day of questioning for the education nominee,

Betsy DeVos.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Phil Mattingly. He's on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, John and Christine, week two of confirmation madness kicked off on Tuesday. It was really kind of one primary hearing everybody was focused on, and that was the president-elect's selection to be his next education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Now, she is well-known both in political circles and in education circles for a couple of reasons. Politically, she comes from a family, and she herself, some of the biggest donors in the Republican Party.

As part of that donation, a part of where their money goes, education reform. Vouchers, charter schools, big issues that the DeVos family and Betsy DeVos in particular have focused on that have made her a prime target for Democrats.

And that's certainly showed in her confirmation hearing. Take a look at this exchange between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Betsy DeVos, primarily on how much experience the nominee actually has.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Mrs. DeVos, have you ever taken out a student loan from the federal government to help pay for college.


WARREN: Have either of your children borrowed money in order to go to college?

DEVOS: They've been fortunate not to.

WARREN: Uh-huh. Have you had any personal experience with the Pell Grant?

DEVOS: Not personal experience, but certainly friends and students with whom I've worked.

WARREN: So, you have no personal experience with college financial aid or management of higher education?

MATTINGLY: Now, even though there were consistent attacks from Democrats and outside groups, particularly public school teacher, labor unions have been really targeting her nomination, she has a lot of heavy support as well. Jeb Bush, obviously the tormenter, or tormentee, if you will, of the president-elect throughout the Republican primary process has come out in support. A lot of outside support, a lot of Republicans who feel like Betsy DeVos represents the direction they want to go when it comes to federal education policy. They've gotten behind her nomination. And there's every expectation that she will be confirmed barring some

late-breaking development we haven't heard about yet.

Now, it becomes the view of who comes next, and guys, there's no question about it. Today's hearing with Tom Price, the selection to be secretary of health and human services is the biggest one on the docket, probably this week, maybe for the entire administration. Think about the number one policy issue for the president-elect -- repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Tom Price has a huge role in that, not only because he has the expertise working on this issue on Capitol Hill, working as a doctor. But also in that role, he can do a lot unilaterally to help that process along.

But he has major problems as well. Democrats with pointed policy questions for him, but also pointed questions about Tom Price's ethics, how he operated on Capitol Hill, our own Manu Raju breaking a lot of news about how Tom Price used his private trading account, whether or not there was possibility of insider trader. We've seen a lot of Democratic senators point to that. So, that might be a problem.

Keep a very close eye on those questions. Now, Tom Price answers them at that hearing today -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that, Phil Mattingly.

All right. Donald Trump's commerce secretary pick Wilbur Ross, he also faces lawmakers today. Ahead of that hearing, the famed investor has reached an agreement with federal officials to avoid, tried to avoid conflicts of interest. If he is confirmed, he will step away from Invesco and its subsidiaries, including his firm W.L. Ross and Company.

He would divest of various stocks and bonds, including shares of Apple and Boeing. He will delay selling dozens of less liquid assets. He owns things like hedge funds that, you know, you can't just sell them overnight.

BERMAN: Boy, do I know that.

ROMANS: Yes, it's a problem you always have, John. But, you know, up to six months after his confirmation, he'll get rid of those.

The plan details nine passive investment vehicles he will keep. Those involved shipping and real estate. While he may face questions from lawmakers on these holdings, pay very close attention to what he says about trade. Sources tell CNN that Trump aims to give the Commerce Department a bigger role on trade policy and negotiations.

[05:10:04] Shortly after his election, Ross said his first goal would be to renegotiate NAFTA. And this is somebody, Wilbur Ross is somebody who -- over the years, I've interviewed him many times, and he's very aware with how the trade relationship between the U.S. and China is. You know, you will hear from his critics will say, oh, it's somebody

who has bought distressed companies and offshore jobs, you know? A few thousand since 2004 according to a Reuters report. But he knows how the world works and he knows about the industries that have really suffered, because that's what he did, he goes in and he buys suffering industries. So, he knows about textile, he knows about steel, he knows about real estate, he knows about all those things they've been hammered, where people have lost a lot of jobs.

BERMAN: Well, his testimony is just one of the hearings we will be watching today very closely, what will he say, what will Tom Price say when they are grilled, perhaps, by the senators. We'll discuss that and much, much more, with our panel coming up next.


BERMAN: Two days to go until Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. And a huge day of hearings on Capitol Hill.

Joining us to discuss, CNN politics digital managing editor, Zach Wolf, and political economist Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investment.

ROMANS: Hi, guys!

BERMAN: Zach, just look who will up on Capitol Hill today, and to me, the headliner for testimony is Tom Price, the Georgia congressman, up to be secretary of Health and Human Services, overseeing the overhaul of Obamacare. And now, there are a great number of questions, Zach, about what the administration, incoming administration wants, versus what the Congress wants.

[05:15:02] ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR: That's right, Donald Trump said pretty recently he might be interested in insurance for everyone. That had a lot of people on Capitol Hill scratching their heads. These Republicans who want to repeal and potentially replace Obamacare, which is a law that sought to provide insurance for everyone.

So, there's a lot to work out, the details. How fast to go if you just repeal Obamacare, is it going to take insurance from a bunch of people? You know, Republicans on Capitol Hill see, I think, maybe a slower path than Donald Trump. At least that's what it seems like. There are a lot of unanswered questions here.

ROMANS: Greg Valliere, I know you read "The Wall Street Journal" every morning like I do. Big headline this morning, dollar sinks as Trump talks it down.

Talk to me a little bit, first of all, he has shattered protocol and broken with generations --, honestly, of protocol on how you deal with the dollar. U.S. presidents don't talk down the dollar. What's going on here?

GREG VALLIERE, POLITICAL ECONOMIST: Well, two things astonish me, Christine. Number one, you're right, no president, no treasury secretary has ever talked about the dollar. It was considered very inappropriate to do that, number one.

Number two, does he really want a weaker dollar that would bring inflation, that would make the U.S. a less attractive place to invest in? I think a lot of professional economists have always believed that a strong dollar is fundamentally good. Now, he may reverse that.

ROMANS: What's the plan to that? I mean, do you think he was speaking off the cuff today from his, from Wilbur Ross, his pick to be commerce secretary, we'll hear something more measured, and something maybe that markets will be, you know, more traditional?

VALLIERE: Probably, but, you know, a lot of these cabinet nominees can say stuff during hearings. But Trump's the man. I mean, whatever he says is going to nominate. If that's what he really believes in a weaker dollar, that's really astonishing.

BERMAN: Of course, these hearings have been revealing versus what the nominees say versus what the president-elect has said. Last night, Donald Trump was speaking to a group of diplomats in Washington, D.C. and he was talking about Rex Tillerson. I think there are a number of interesting things about the sound bite you're about to hear. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: And we have great respect for your countries. We have a great respect for our world. We have a man that I wanted right from the very beginning, Rex Tillerson. And these lights are bright but he's out there somewhere. Where is Rex?

Thank you very much. Thanks, Rex.

I think it's tougher than he thought. He thinks -- you know, he's led this charmed life. He goes into a country, takes the oil, goes into another country --


It's tough dealing with these politicians, right? He's going to be so incredible.


BERMAN: I'd like to engage in the parsing of what Trump said, first of all, he said he's the man I wanted right from the beginning, Rex Tillerson. We don't believe that to be the case, right? Rudy Giuliani, the first name rumored to be secretary of state, then there was Mitt Romney and perhaps others. Only after Robert Gates and others suggested Rex Tillerson that Tillerson came up. Donald Trump trying to rewrite history there.

And the other part I thought fascinating was, I think it's tougher than he thought. Tillerson is facing very tough questions from Republican Marco Rubio. We still don't know if he will vote for Tillerson. When I heard him say tougher than we thought, I was wondering if Donald Trump believes this confirmation process overall with all of his nominees may have been a bit tougher than he thought?

WOLF: It certainly seems like that. We saw some tough questioning last night for his education secretary pick. There was tough reporting on Tom Price on his stock purchases from CNN's Manu Raju. We haven't yet seen a scheduled hearing for his labor secretary, Andrew Puzder. The list goes on.

Each one of these people have had some difficulties. I think the one person who hasn't had any difficulty so far was the one that everybody expected to have the most difficulty, that's Jeff Sessions, his attorney general.

ROMANS: Yes. I'm going to be really interested on seeing Wilbur Ross today, because, look, you know, what he says about China and the relationship between U.S. and China is potentially game changing, although this is why people elected Donald Trump, Greg Valliere, because they wanted a game-changer. And, you know, when he talks down the dollar, when he threatens China, he is changing -- he is changing the game. That's exactly why he was elected.

What do you want to hear, Greg, from him about pro-growth policies in this inauguration speech? He's writing it himself, as people tell us.

VALLIERE: Yes, obviously, a really huge speech. Most of these speeches are forgotten within a day or two. John Kennedy's wasn't. The most are forgotten. I do think he's got to talk about healing, about bringing both parties together. He hasn't done that yet.

But for the markets, Christine, he really needs to emphasize tax reform, where he's going to go with stimulus. He really hasn't said enough about that in the last few weeks.

ROMANS: We don't have any details. I mean, we know what the House plan is. We don't -- I mean, there's question, Greg, whether he's in lock stop or walking down the same path as Paul Ryan right now.

VALLIERE: And here's a real surprise, these incredibly detail- oriented.

[05:20:00] He's in charge of all of the details on the inauguration. And apparently, he's getting into the deep leads on the tax reform bill. He made some very controversial comments a couple days ago, indicating that this bill might be tougher than we thought to get enacted.

ROMANS: We know that companies want to see tax reform. They're very happy, Greg and Zach, to say, hey, we're creating jobs in the U.S., jobs they were already creating in the U.S. because they want to curry favor with this president on tax reform. So, we'll see what happens.

Guys, we'll talk about this again in about 20 minutes. Don't go away.

BERMAN: You know what I want to hear on these hearings today. I want to know these nominees' positions on Tim Raines, which is one of the most important questions at stake today. Major League Baseball, actually not baseball that announced it. Cooperstown announced the inductees in the hall of fame class in 2017. Whose getting in? And will those people linked to steroids finally get their chance?

Andy Scholes with this morning's "Bleacher Report", that's next.


BERMAN: The last thing a team wants to do the week of AFC championship game is off-the-field controversy or stir up the hornet's nest of the New England Patriots. But that's exactly what the Steelers are going through this week.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more on this morning's bleacher report.

Hey, Andy.


Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin clearly not happy with his star wide receiver Anthony Brown for posting a video from their locker room after the win over the Chiefs. And Tomlin said Brown will be punished.


MIKE TOMLIN, STEELERS HEAD COACH: It was foolish for him to do that. It was selfish for him to do, and it was inconsiderate for him to do. We will punish him, we won't punish us. I think that's oftentimes why you see great players move around from team to team.


SCHOLES: Brown has apologized for posting this video that shows Tomlin calling the Patriots a bad name.

Now, Pittsburgh plays at New England Sunday in the AFC championship.

Baseball Hall of Fame Class 2017 will be announced later today. The great Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines expected to make the cut. Ivan Rodriguez and Trevor Hoffman also have a chance. Now, the Hall of Fame is voted by baseball writers.

[05:25:00] You need to be on 75 percent of ballots to gain induction. This is the last year writers can keep their ballots anonymous. Based on the ballots made public so far, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, they won't be getting in once again due to their ties to steroids. But both have an increase in votes. So, them getting in next year is not out of the question.

All right. Finally, in case you missed the Siena Rider basketball game last night, you missed some fireworks. A scuffle late in the game that led to a heated exchange between the coaches. Then check out what happened after the game.

Sienna, they're going to go shake hands after we see all of the scuffling. But Rider is going to walk offer the court but that didn't stop Sienna from going through the motions. Those are solid handshakes that he's handing out there. I guess Sienna was just in the better mood because they did win the game over Rider.

BERMAN: The air handshake, mastering the art.

All right. Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama stunning Washington by commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning who gave hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. We've got the fallout this morning.


BERMAN: A prison sentence for Chelsea Manning commuted by President Obama. So, how will this affect the handling of leaks under future administrations?

ROMANS: Just two days now until President-elect Trump becomes President Trump. Final preparations underway as more Democrats boycott.

BERMAN: And a big day on Capitol Hill. This could be contentious. The president-elect nominee to overhaul Obamacare faces the Senate the day after the education nominee ran into serious pushback.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: It's nice to see you all this morning. Nice to see you, John. I'm Christine Romans. It's about 30 minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning.

BERMAN: We do have breaking news I want to tell you about, 92-year- old former President George H.W. Bush has been hospitalized in Houston. This is according to local media.

Let's get the latest on this from Athena Jones live for us in Washington.