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Fight Over Inauguration Crowd Sizes; Ethics Lawsuit Filed Against President Trump; Super Bowl LI Set for February 5 in Houston; Women's March Across the Country Bigger Than Expected; Rolling Back Obamacare; British Prime Minister Theresa May to Meet Trump Friday; Eighteen Dead after Southern Tornadoes. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A controversy first weekend for the Trump administration claims about inauguration crowds descending into -- devolving into a battle over what qualifies is fact versus fiction.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Taking the president to court, new legal action coming this morning over President Trump's still remaining business ties.

ROMANS: And the match up for Super Bowl LI is set. Who came out on top in the conference championship?

BERMAN: The Patriots did. The Patriots did.

ROMANS: Oh, my little Green Bay Packers coming (ph) through. I'm happy today.

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

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Monday, January 23rd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east.

ROMANS: Good morning everybody.

BERMAN: You know when I say it's Monday, you could call that a fact. Now, if I called it is Tuesday, well you could say that is untrue or if you're the White House you might call it an alternative fact. New question this morning about the Trump administration's relationship with veracity.

Apparently, the president was not too happy after a "New York Times" reporter tweeted a photo from this inauguration showing the crowd was smaller than 2009. He sent the White House press secretary Sean Spicer to the briefing room to complain.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall. This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period both in person and around the globe.


BERMAN: Several of Spicer's claims were false, but White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has a different way of describing them.


CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS SHOW HOST, NBC NEWS: You did not answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood. Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: No, don't be so overly dramatic about it Chuck. You're saying it's a falsehood and they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point really --

TODD: Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.


BERMAN: Sean Spicer is set to give his first official White House press briefing at 1:30 this afternoon. He'll take questions presumably today. When he came out on Saturday to give that statement, he did not take any questions.

ROMANS: Well, that was a lecture. That wasn't (INAUDIBLE) press briefing so we will watch that today. Kellyanne Conway made more news overnight when she walked back earlier remarks about Donald Trump's tax returns. On Sunday morning, Conway said that president Trump will never release his tax documents.

Conway told ABC News that the issue was "litigated all through the election." She said people didn't care. But last night, Conway revised that returning to the campaign's earlier position that Mr. Trump is under audit and has been advised by accountants and lawyers not to release. What she did not say is whether he will release the tax documents when said audit is finished.

BERMAN: And in just a few hours, the president will be hit with the lawsuit. The group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington or CREW for short is filing a suit that claims every time one of the president's businesses accepts payments from foreign governments, selling a hotel, building these for something, it violates part of the constitution called the emoluments clause.

CREW, that group, says that as long as the president has a stake in the Trump organization, the American people have no way of knowing whether his Oval Office decisions are actually motivated by personal profit. The White House has not responded to the suit yet. The president has said he will not sell, but will put the business -- his businesses -- at a trust run by his sons. One of their sons, Eric Trump tells "The New York Times," "the lawsuit is purely harassment for political gain and frankly, I find it very sad."

ROMANS: Critical confirmation votes later today for two of President Trump's top cabinet picks. This afternoon, senators begin debating the nomination of Mike Pompeo as the next CIA director. Democrats are vowing to raise questions about the Kansas Congressman and support for surveillance and data collection on Americans. By 9:00 p.m. tonight, Pompeo is expected to be confirmed.

And there is growing support for Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, whose nomination is set for a vote this afternoon by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

[04:05:02] Hold out Republican Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham indicating they will support the nomination of the former ExxonMobil CEO giving the GOP the votes they need when the issue comes before the full senate, that as the Trump administration turning up the heat on Congress to push through more of the president's nominees. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer clearly has other ideas.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This cabinet is unusually unique and a lot different than others. We call it the swamp cabinet, billionaire and bankers. And they're all going to get, many of them, the controversy ones and there are eight or nine of those, are going to get very, very thorough discussions on the floor.


ROMANS: Only two of President Trump's cabinet picks have been confirmed so far, General James Mattis as Defense Secretary and General John Kelly as head of Homeland Security.

BERMAN: Now, all of this cast a tumultuous first week in office for President Trump. It all started on Saturday when he visited the CIA headquarters in Virginia. He gave remarks and seemed to focused as much on politics as they did on intelligence.


TRUMP: I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.


TRUMP: And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field. I said wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out. The field was -- it looked like a million, a million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.


BERMAN: All that was given -- you see the stars behind him right there, those stars honor CIA officers killed in the line of duty. The fact that the president gave the remarks that he gave at that location drew a pretty tough response from recently departed CIA director John Brennan.

ROMANS: Remarks about himself, not remarks about the location where he was or about -- he said he was 100 percent behind -- a 1,000 percent behind the CIA community. But look, a spokesman for John Brennan said in a statement that he "is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump's despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA's Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Trump should be ashamed of himself."

Back at the White House, president Trump trying to get back to a policy message. He is starting with essential promise of his campaign renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA in meetings now set with leaders of Canada and Mexico to get the renegotiation ball rolling.

And this morning, Trump is scheduled to -- President Trump is scheduled to sign some executive orders ahead of a big meeting with congressional leaders of the White House. Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has the latest.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, President Trump starting his first full week as president with a full list of items on his desk. He is going to potentially look at executive actions, executive orders ranging from immigration to trade to other matters. He is also keeping a close eye on Capitol Hill where he is going to try and start enacting his agenda.

But tonight at the White House, he is going to invite over Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leaders of Congress to start building those relationships and start talking about how indeed he will try and repeal and replace health care and other matters like tax reform and other things.

He is trying to build the relationships and there is certainly a different tone on Sunday from Donald Trump at the White House than he took earlier in the weekend when he was expressing so many grievances. Listen to what he said in the East Room on Sunday.


TRUMP: As I said during my inaugural address. This is not about party. This is not about ideology. This is about country, our country. And it's about serving the American people.

We will prove worthy of this moment in history and I think it may very well be a great moment in history. So, be proud. Be very proud.



ZELENY: President Trump saying we will prove worthy of this moment. And that certainly is the feeling and the aspiration and goal here at the White House heading into the first full week. He is also going to Philadelphia later in the week to meet with Republican congressional leaders who are having a retreat there.

So this first full week as Donald Trump takes power in Washington as Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House for the first time in 10 years will certainly be filled with challenges for them without question. But it's a reminder for Democrats that they are indeed in the wilderness. They will need to work with him if they want to stay relevant, John and Christine.

BERMAN: Our new senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Thanks for that Jeff.

Organizers say the mammoth turnout for Women's Marches across the country is just the start they hope of a progressive renewal. The protests were way, way bigger than expected, with more than a million people marching in several cities including New York (ph), Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles -- doesn't (ph) even count the main event in Washington, which was so crowded that participants could not really even march through the city.

[04:10:01] We are in Washington on Saturday and you could see people streaming in from every direction toward the center of that march. And then I was in TV while all these other marches were happening and we just kept on seeing aerials and they kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And it wasn't even just the United States. There were marches and protests around the world as well.

ROMANS: I got to tell you one, the D.C. has so many -- the women in the D.C. march just rolling out of Union Station, you know, just thousands and thousands of women and men and kids with strollers and families and multi-generation. It was really -- it was something. A lot of interesting and kind of clever signs, and I would say, I mean from my point -- what I saw, what I witnessed was pretty positive energy. It wasn't negativity about today. It was more like we're here. We're watching and this is what we want.

BERMAN: There was plenty of negativity this week. Madonna had a few things to say that weren't exactly uplifting in terms of a message toward the White House.

ROMANS: That was not the feeling among the women who I happen to talk to in the crowds but you're right.

BERMAN: So as for the White House response, there was no official comment from the White House. But the president seems to be of two minds on twitter on Sunday. He wrote, "Watched protest yesterday, but was under the impression that we just had an election. Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly."

And then a couple of later -- hours later this is what he wrote. He wrote, "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views." That's the kind of message, you know, for generations we've often heard during protests from presidents.

We should note the big questions, one of the big questions was can the people who organized this march turn it into anything other than a venting of emotion? Is it more than just cathartic?

ROMANS: All right, time for an "Early Start" on your money. This morning, President Trump's executive order Friday delivered on a major campaign promise, rolling back Obamacare. But the order could have little impact on the law at first. Why? Because Obamacare is controlled by regulations but can't be undone with a single order, but the order can tweak how those regulations are carried out.

The goal is minimizing the financial burden of Obamacare. For example, agencies could expand who remains uninsured without penalty or not impose fines on small businesses that don't provide health care. The order also gives states more flexibility on how they expand Medicaid.

And this is part of how Obama care will be dismantled, changing regulations without passing new laws, and thought the administration promises no one will lose coverage during the transition, Republicans are already repealing provisions with no firm replacement plan in place. So this has begun. There are a lot of questions about what happens now as it starts to move forward.

BERMAN: And again, we couldn't get more executive action this morning on immigration and trade so watch this space for that.

As for the president's approach to diplomacy, it is getting its first test. Critical talks with key allies in the works. We're going to tell you who he is meeting with and what is on the agenda.


ROMANS: Our new president, the new president, Donald Trump plays host to the first world leader of his presidency when British Prime Minister Theresa May visits the White House on Friday. May swept into office on the heels of the Brexit movement.

The prime minister says she wants to build on the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. focusing on trade and the importance of NATO. But can she and Trump keep things stable? Let's go live to London now and bring in CNN's Nic Robertson. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine. Well of course, they do see eyes way on some things -- on Brexit, on counterterrorism, on defeating ISIS. They see eye to eye there. Trade of course for Theresa May the important thing. She's negotiating Britain out of the European Union.

She has told the European Union no deal is better than a bad deal and she's -- as (INAUDIBLE) said, you know, she may turn Britain into something of a tax haven if she doesn't get a good deal from the European Union. So, what better to strengthen our hand, Britain's hand, when they go into those negotiations in a couple of months than to know she has got some commitments from President Trump on trade can help her.

NATO, President Trump has said that he feels is obsolete on the European Union he said that his ambivalent to that whether or not it should remain united. Theresa May is likely to say actually a strong European Union is good. It's what she said to European leaders at least. And she's likely to say as well that NATO is important to Britain's collective security -- Europe's collective security, United States collective security.

And she's likely to say, well, let me go talk to those other NATO leaders who you say President Trump, you say are not paying their way. Let me encourage them to try to do that. So, that's likely to be the nature of the discussions as we understand so far. She may also urge a little caution for him in his future dealings with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. But again, trade -- trade, that's going to be key for Theresa May.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks a lot, Nic Robertson, for us in London. Thanks.

BERMAN: And that will be a fascinating relationship to watch. Another, the president invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House next month. The two leaders spoke on the phone on Sunday. The president called their conversation quote "very nice." The new administration has restated its commitment to relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But officials say it will not happen anytime soon. Let's get the latest from CNN's Ian Lee, live in Jerusalem. Ian, you know, I imagine the tenor of this conversation between the now president Israeli Prime Minister. Far different than it would have been a few weeks ago with President Obama.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're really in the honeymoon stage right now. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump really night and day difference than President Obama. Looking at just the Israeli papers today, all the talk really is about potentially moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

We also have heard from the mayor of Jerusalem saying that he will try to make it as smooth as a transition as possible. But we are hearing from the White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying hold on, pump the breaks a bit, saying that they're just in the beginning stages of even discussing this subject.

We're also hearing from the Palestinians as well there as against us as ever. Their president, Mahmoud Abbas, was in Jordan talking to King Abdullah about this. King Abdullah saying that he will rally regional and international allies to help block this move.

They say the status of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations and not taken unilaterally. So, still a long ways to go. This isn't as you say going to happen overnight. And there is a lot of opposition and once Donald Trump gets a feel for that opposition, he possibly could change his mind.

[04:20:00] BERMAN: He seems pretty committed to it so far at least. Ian Lee, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right, encouraging news this morning for former president George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush after a health scare that landed both of them in the hospital last Wednesday. Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital say now that President Bush is recovering well from pneumonia and they hope to move him out of from the ICU in the next couple days. So Mrs. Bush, who was admitted for bronchitis, she has chosen to stay at the hospital one more night instead of being discharged to be close to her husband.

BERMAN: A couple of fighters' right there to be sure and we wish them well as they continue to recover.

All right. So, did Tom Brady finally meet his match? The short answer is no. The Ne England Patriots headed to a record ninth Super Bowl. There will be another team there -- which is it? Does it even matter? That's next.

ROMANS: Oh, come on.


BERMAN: Super Bowl LI is set which is why I did not sleep last night. The New England Patriots, they will make the record ninth appearance this time against the Atlanta Falcons who will be there for the second time and they are hoping for the first title.

Tom Brady was a lot like Tom Brady last night, which means nearly perfect. And he was good at football too. He threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-17, really kind of blowout against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady is 39 years old. You're not supposed to be able to do this at that age in this game.

He is seeking his fifth Super Bowl ring which would be a record for a starting quarterback. And he's doing all of it after being suspended for the first four games of this season. Now, the Patriots they will play the Falcons who are frighteningly good. They took the NFC crown with a 44-21 rout of the Green Bay Packers.

[04:25:13] It could have been 144-21 because it was not that close. MVP frontrunner Matt Ryan threw 4 touchdown passes. He ran for a fifth. Atlanta was unreal. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are just unbelievable. Atlanta is going to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. The game is February 5th in Houston.

ROMANS: All right, 25 minutes past the hour. At least 18 people are now confirmed dead after tornadoes ripped across the south over a 48- hour period. Twisters were spotted in Mississippi, across Southern Alabama and Georgia and into the Florida panhandle. Trees knocked down near Adel, Georgia with mobile homes completely torn apart. Authorities say four people died in that state.

This tornado just hit outside of Albany, Georgia. Governor Nathan Deal declaring a state of emergency for seven counties. It will remain in effect for the next week. It follows a fatal tornado that struck in Southern Mississippi on Saturday. Authorities say the twister packed winds above 265 miles per hour.

BERMAN: All right, the baseball world is in mourning -- the shocking death of Kansas City pitcher Yordano Ventura. The hard throwing 25- year-old right hander was killed in a one vehicle car crash in the Dominican Republic early Sunday morning.

His jeep was found on the side with his windshield caved in. Ventura's body was discovered on the side of the road. The Royals flag in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is flying at half staff this morning. This is a tragic death. Andy Marte, who was a former major league, 33- years-old, played for a bunch of different organizations, he was killed as well. You know, and this follows the death of Jose Fernandez late last year. Too many young stars have died over the last year in tragic accidents. And I know the baseball world is really, really shocked this morning.

ROMANS: All right, 27 minutes past the hour. President Trump's senior counselor says alternative facts are guiding the new administration. We'll take you through the surreal series of events next.

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