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Flap Over White House "Alternative Facts"; Ethics Lawsuit Against Trump To Be Filed Today; Key Senate Votes For Tillerson And Pompeo; President Trump Takes New Tone; Trump To Host British Prime Minister; Trump Invites Netanyahu To White House. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:03] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Super Bowl LI, the matchup is set. Two phenomenal quarterbacks make it to the big game.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Did you (inaudible) for the next day off?

BERMAN: I'm doing a special for CNN down there. I'm going to be -- I might happen to be there for the game.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, January 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east. One of President Trump's top advisers taking serious heat for defending a White House spokesman's false claim calling them alternative facts.

This all started with a tweet from the "New York Times." A "New York Times" reporter showing crowds at the Mr. Trump's inauguration compared with Mr. Obama's inauguration in 2009.

A source with the knowledge of the situation tells CNN President Trump was outraged with this comparison and sent White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer out to refute the story and what turned into a bizarre news conference.


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


ROMANS: White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, was asked about the discrepancy over crowd size that other false claims Spicer made. She was asked by NBC's Chuck Todd.


CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": 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, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You are saying it is a falsehood. They are giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that, but the point remains --

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


ROMANS: Sean Spicer is set to give his first official White House press briefing at 1:30 this afternoon. We're told he will answer questions.

BERMAN: All right, there was more news overnight from Kellyanne Conway. Conway walked back some remarks she had made about Donald Trump's tax returns. On Sunday morning, she seemed to say that the president would never release his tax documents.

Conway told ABC News the issue was, quote, "Litigated all through the election. She said people didn't care, but last night, she revised her statement returning to the campaign's earlier position that the president is, quote, "under audit and has been advised by accountants and lawyers not to release the taxes."

She did not indicate after the audit is complete whether those documents will be released. And again, you can release your tax returns if you are under audit. There is nothing legally that prevents you from giving so.

ROMANS: All right, it won't be long until the first lawsuit is filed against President Trump, say, within the next few hours. The group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington or CREW is filing suit today. Now this group claims that the president began violating conflict of interest laws the moment he was sworn in because his businesses accept money from foreign governments.

For the very latest, we turn to CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, in Washington for us. Good morning. So when do we think this is going to happen?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning, Christine. So just in a couple hours, we are going to see this lawsuit filed and as you said, you know, the foreign emoluments clause is a revision in the constitution that you just don't hear about very often.

But essentially it prohibits the president from accepting an item of value from a foreign official without Congressional approval on. As we know, President Trump has a stake in hundreds of businesses and partnerships all over the world.

And so in the months leading up to inauguration day, ethics experts called on him to divest himself of these holdings to avoid emoluments problems, but he refused and instead opted to keep that ownership stake.

Now that Trump is president, the plaintiff in this case say he is illegally receiving cash and other favors from foreign officials by virtue of keeping that ownership stake.

So when a foreign diplomat stays at his D.C. hotel or the Bank of China makes a lease payment for its spot in Trump Tower that violates the Constitution.

ROMANS: Now Trump has said his team said they will give any profit from foreign governments to stay at his hotel to the U.S. Treasury so that is how they seem to want to attack this. I wonder, Laura, is a judge likely to let this go forward?

JARRETT: Well, you know, the emoluments clause doesn't come up every day in federal court. So there is a bit of a debate happening right now among experts on how this would apply in this context. Some say there are market transactions like paying for hotel bill simply don't violate the Constitution.

Other lawyers like the ones who are going to file this lawsuit say any foreign payment is forbidden because it goes to the very heart and purpose of the Constitution. The framers were worried about this exact issue of corrupting influence is what the plaintiffs say.

The main hurdle here, though, is that the plaintiffs are going to have to show that they have standing to come in to federal court. You have to show you have been harmed in some way. That will be a challenge for them.

[05:05:04]You know, the other thing to watch here is the plaintiffs may try to get their hands on the president's tax returns. You hear a lot about. You know, they will claim that they need to examine what income Trump has received from foreign governments. So that's something to watch as well.

ROMANS: We know the White House has issued no comment on this, but Eric Trump, one of the president's son has said this is political harassment. He called it a very, very sad, sad lawsuit.

JARRETT: That's right.

ROMANS: Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

ROMANS: (Inaudible) the issue of standing is fascinating here because the group essentially claims that its standing is that as a watch dog group, it had diverted too much attention to this as opposed to other things it wants to be looking over. That may not be persuasive legal arguments. We'll have to wait and see.

Critical confirmation votes for later today for two of the president's top cabinet picks. This afternoon, senators will begin debate on the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be the next CIA director. Democrats are raising questions about the Congressman and his support for surveillance and data collections. By 9:00 p.m. tonight, Congressman Pompeo will be confirmed. There is also growing support for secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson. His nomination will get a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham now say they will support the nomination of the former ExxonMobil CEO. That should give the Republicans the votes they need when he comes before the full Senate.

We don't know how Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida will vote. He was very tough on Tillerson during the confirmation hearings.

The fact that most of the nominees seemed to be getting more support has the Trump administration turning up the heat on Congress to push through the nominees more quickly. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer clearly has some 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 billionaires and bankers. They're all get, many of them, the controversial ones and there are eight or nine of those, are going to get very, very through discussions on the floor.


BERMAN: Only two of the president's cabinet picks have been confirmed so far, General James Mattis as defense secretary, and General John Kelly as head of Homeland Security.

All of this caps a pretty tumultuous first weekend in office for the president. He started on Saturday with a visit to CIA headquarters in Virginia and he gave remarks that at times seemed to focus as much or more on politics than they did on intelligence.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth 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. They show an empty field. I said wait. I made a speech. I looked out. The field was, it looked like 1 million or 1.5 million people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody was standing there.


BERMAN: The president is denying that he is in any kind of feud with the intelligence community despite some pretty harsh words during and especially after the campaign. Just a few weeks ago, he accused intelligence officials of acting like Nazis claiming they were behind a smear campaign against him. The president's remarks Saturday about the media and the inauguration crowds were spoken in front of the Wall of Stars honoring CIA officers killed in the line of duty.

The fact that the president gave the statement he did where he did brought on a tough response from recently departed CIA Director John Brennan.

ROMANS: Brennan's spokesman said in a statement 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 ashamed of himself.

Back at the White House, President Trump trying to get back on policy message. He is starting with a central promise of his campaign, renegotiating the North American free trade agreement, NAFTA. Meetings now set with leaders of Canada and Mexico to get the renegotiation ball rolling.

This morning, President Trump is scheduled to sign some executive orders ahead of a big meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House.

Let's break down his first weekend in office. We brought in our CNN politics reporter, Eugene Scott. He is here with us in New York after being here with us in Washington.

I want to listen to the president a little bit in the east room on Sunday. This was a moment after the entire weekend of events. A moment that felt like an evolution of President Trump. Listen to him talking about who he is here to help.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: And as I said during my inaugural address, this is not about party. This is not about ideology. This is about country, our country. It is about serving the American people. We will prove worthy of this moment in history. I think it may very well be a great moment in history. So be proud. Be very proud.


ROMANS: It's not about me. It's about the people. That is, to me, that was the period on the sentence of the weekend, a very tumultuous weekend.

[05:10:07]EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. I noticed quite a few times even on inauguration day and the day after while I was covering the campaign, he often said I'm the only one who can fix this. I'm the only one who can do this.

But when he was inaugurated, he often said we. We did this. We are a movement and we are going to help take this country to where it needs to be. But there's been some concerns since he got in the White House about who he is talking to exactly and which people he is for. You may have seen that he removed -- the White House removed the civil rights page shortly after he was inaugurated and replaced it with the law enforcement protection page. The women's page was removed. Immigrants page was removed. The LGBT Americans page was removed. There was a lot of concern about who Donald Trump is here to serve.

BERMAN: Look, it was a messy weekend. I mean, there was a lot this weekend that were really messy for them. He got in the fight over crowd sizes, which is not something I imagine most voters care about. I can't believe that it's something --

ROMANS: If he had just allowed that 30 seconds or that tweet to go by, that would have been the end of the story. He made it the news story of the weekend by being so angry about it.

BERMAN: But the thing is, he is president. He now has an opportunity to make everyone forget what happened this weekend. He just has to do stuff that voters care about and he will be signing executive actions today. They may be controversial. We don't know what they are about. They could be about trade or immigration. He needs to start delivering on some of the plans proposals.

SCOTT: He certainly does. We covered the campaign and the first hour he will sign an executive order deporting people. He said on the first day he would sign executive order stopping the resettlement program for refugees from Syria. I don't think anyone is thinking that's what is going to happen today. But it will be interesting to see how he will explain to people him not signing some of the things he campaigned to sign.

ROMANS: What do you expect from Sean Spicer today? It will be a true press briefing. He will take questions. The first time he went out in front of the press was a lecture really, right, this weekend. I mean, that was remarkable. Veteran reporters were just stunned.

BERMAN: He said things that weren't true.

ROMANS: I mean, just stunned. What do you expect today?

SCOTT: Well, hopefully facts. Not alternative facts, but just hopefully real facts addressing issues that American voters said they cared about, which is Obamacare. They want to see these confirmations go forward or at least understand what the people that the Trump administration have put up will accomplish.

Also, you know, tonight there will be a meeting between the Democratic and Republican leaders and President Donald Trump. They want to know what are some of the main topics that that group is going to focus on.

BERMAN: You will come back in a little bit, Eugene, and we will talk about why the White House came forward and said these things this weekend that aren't true. There are some explanations for it. We'll talk about that. Thanks so much.

SCOTT: See you soon. BERMAN: All right, the president's approach to diplomacy. He gets his first test this week. A lot of firsts this week including first meetings with key leaders, some big phone calls this weekend. We will tell you which leaders he is speaking with first and why.



BERMAN: This is a week of firsts for the president including his first visit with a foreign leader. British Prime Minister Theresa May will come to the White House on Friday. She's swept into office on the heels of the Brexit movement.

The prime minister says she wants to build on the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom focusing on trade and the importance of NATO.

Let's go live to London and bring in CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. Nic, you know, this meeting is very, very interesting. Both leaders need something from him.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Absolutely. I mean, for Donald Trump backing Brexit and Theresa May embodying Brexit right now. It's sort of validation for both of them of that position. He wants strong partners as well to defeat ISIS. Certainly, he is going to find that with Theresa May.

But she does come wanting something particularly trade. She wants to know that when Britain leaves the European Union that Britain can have a better, stronger trade relationship with the United States.

She also wants to have better leverage going into those talks with the European Union. She's told the European Union no deal is better than a bad deal. She said she will turn Britain into some kind of tax haven to compete with the European Union if she doesn't get her way.

But that question of NATO, they don't see eye to eye. Donald Trump says it is obsolete. Theresa May just yesterday called the head of NATO to discuss how she could -- what sort of message she could take to Donald Trump.

So clearly she's sort of trying to service several interests here. One of those is connecting with Trump on trade, but also saying NATO is important to both of us -- John.

BERMAN: We will be watching that meeting very, very closely this Friday. Nic Robertson, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: President Donald Trump also invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House next month. The two leaders spoke by phone on Sunday. The president called their conversation, quote, "very nice."

The new administration restating its commitment to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But officials say it won't be happening anytime soon.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Ian Lee live in Jerusalem. It was a campaign pledge from then Candidate Trump, to move that embassy, but a lot of allies and neighbors saying that should be done in the broader context of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis not just on its own. What's the latest?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. In Jerusalem, it really is the talk of the town with their local newspapers talking about this move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But we have heard from the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer pumping the brakes a bit saying that they are in the beginning stages of even discussing this subject.

The Palestinians are very much against it threatening that they could revoke their recognition of Israel and all agreements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Jordan to rally support.

King Abdullah said he is going to organize with regional leaders and international leaders against this move. But there is something crucial here, Donald Trump is riding a wave of support in the Arab world right now.

President Sisi of Egypt was the first international leader to call and congratulate Donald Trump when he won the presidency. So if they move forward with moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it could jeopardize a lot of those cordial, warm feelings right now that Arab leaders have for Donald Trump.

ROMANS: All right, Ian Lee, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: We have encouraging news about former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady, Barbara Bush. The health scare landed them both in the hospital last week. Now doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital say that the president is recovering well from pneumonia. They hope to move him out of the ICU in the next couple days. As for Mrs. Bush, she was admitted for bronchitis. She has chosen to stay in the hospital to get a little bit more rest and also to stay close to her husband.

[05:20:09]All right, we are down to the final two football teams. The New England Patriots going to the Super Bowl for a ninth time. The Atlanta Falcons going for a second time. Can anyone beat Matt Ryan and Julio Jones? Gosh, I hope so. Coy Wire, though, I think he feels differently. We will cover that in the "Bleacher Report." That's next.


BERMAN: This is your read. I'm so excited. I want to read it.

ROMANS: The match up for Super Bowl LI is set. It's the New England Patriots. You see why he is jumping in versus the Falcons.

BERMAN: I think I need to recuse myself from the Patriots story. We will try. We have former Falcon Coy Wire to bring his non-partisan view to this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. If this Super Bowl is anything like the conference championship games, we are in for a quarterback battle. The Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, never been to a Super Bowl versus to the Patriots Tom Brady who has been to more than any player in the NFL history, seven of them.

The 39-year-old Tom Terrific picked the Steelers apart yesterday and they didn't look easy too. Torched the Steelers for 384 yards. Three touchdowns, two of them going to Chris Hogan. Chris Hogan played one year of college football. He was a Lacrosse player before that. Patriots dominated, 36-17. Hines Ward caught up with the unlikely hero after the game.


[05:25:04]CHRIS HOGAN, PATRIOTS WIDE RECEIVER: Everyone buys in. This locker room, you know, defense, offense, special teams. We want to win. We do everything that we can throughout the week and throughout the season to win.


WIRE: All right. Earlier in the day, the Atlanta Falcons rise up and beat down Green Bay Packers. Matt Ryan showing why he is the frontrunner for the league MVP award, four touchdown passes and then running for a fifth. I got to play in Atlanta. This was the final game to be played in the Georgia Dome. The only facility in the world to host the Olympics, final four and Super Bowl. It ends with an NFC championship and Super Bowl berth. I got catch up with some of my former teammates after the game.


MATT RYAN, FALCONS QUARTERBACK: Good way to send it out for sure. We need to make our statement two weeks from now. That's where our mind set is.

DEVONTA FREEMAN, FALCONS RUNNING BACK: We are going to the Super Bowl -- whoever.


WIRE: Now the Falcons have been to a Super Bowl, but they've never won one. They will get their first shot after 18 years. That is something worth dancing about. Falcons' 74-year-old owner, Arthur Blank, showing you how to get down. This was a surreal moment for me. My last game to be played in the NFL was in the Georgia Dome against the Packers in 2011.

Here we were yesterday. Final game in the Georgia Dome in the playoffs against the Packers. I know that John Berman will be at the Super Bowl. I apologize in advance. You will have to deal with a lot of this. The biggest super fan of them all. The super day in many ways. I cannot wait for all of this, John Berman.

BERMAN: You've earned it, Coy Wire. The guys yesterday earned it. Is there any way to defend Julio Jones?

WIRE: You know, if there is any team that can do it, it is the New England Patriots. They take the most potent weapon and shut you down. You saw that with Antonio Brown. If there is a way, Bill Belichick will find the way and make it happen.

BERMAN: Fingers crossed.

ROMANS: Is there a bet between you two?

BERMAN: We would not do that. If the Patriots win, I smile. If the Falcons win, it's cheating.

ROMANS: You can get his haircut.

BERMAN: Let's go to break.

ROMANS: President Trump's senior counselor says alternative facts are guiding the new administration. I'll take you through the surreal series of events next.