Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Fires Acting Attorney General; Trump to Announc Supreme Court Pick. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 04:30   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: fast moving developments in Washington. The White House capping a dramatic day, installing a new acting attorney general after booting the old one out for refusing to back the president's travel ban.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This chaos overshadowing the lead-up to the president's big announcement today, his choice for the Supreme Court.

[04:30:03] More on the wild night and what lies ahead right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. Thirty minutes past the hour.

And it is hard to overstate the nature of what's happening in Washington. Rapid developments overnight in a move that evokes President Nixon's mass firings amid the Watergate investigation in 1973. The Trump administration achieving a level of chaos that would be unusual for any White House, let alone one trying to find its footing just a week and a half on the job.

A new acting attorney general has been sworn in, replacing the old acting A.G., Sally Yates, after she ordered the Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Trump's travel ban in court. The U.S. attorney for eastern Virginia, Dana Boente, took the oath and quickly rescinded Yates' order. We'll have more on that in just a moment.

CNN's Evan Perez has been on this story from the start and joins us now with the latest.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: George and Christine, an extraordinary series of events, as President Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, because she had ordered the Justice Department not to defend the president's executive order on immigration and refugees.

The president's order rolled out chaotically over the weekend ban travel to the United States from people of seven countries deemed to be security risks. Yates is an Obama appointee, and a nearly 30-year career lawyer in the Justice Department. On Monday evening, she told Justice Department lawyers that, quote, "I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remained consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what's right." She went on to say that she didn't think that the executive order is lawful.

A few hours later, the White House issued a statement attacking Yates for being weak on illegal immigration. The statement said Yates, quote, "has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States."

The new acting attorney general is Dana Boente, the top federal prosecutor in northern Virginia. He will remain in office until the Senate confirms Senator Jeff Sessions expected later this week -- Christine, George.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that.

The new acting attorney general issued a statement overnight, reversing its predecessor's earlier directive. It says this, "Based upon the Office of Legal Counsel's analysis, which found the executive order both lawful on its face and properly drafted, I hereby direct the men and women of the Department of Justice to do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our president."

HOWELL: Reaction overnight to President Trump's move has been strong from both sides. Lawmakers' statements highlighting different legal interpretations of the ban, as well as the widening political gulf.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, "The firing of Sally Yates underscores how important it is to have an attorney general who will to stand up to the White House. The attorney general should be loyal and pledge fidelity to the law, not the White House. The fact that this administration doesn't understand that is chilling."

ROMANS: On the Republican side, Senator Ted Cruz highlighted Yates' status as an Obama appointee. He said, "It is fitting and sad that the very last act of the Obama DOJ is for the acting A.G. to defy the newly elected president. Sally Yates now joins the ignominious succession, from Eric Holder to Loretta Lynch, attorney generals who put brazen partisan interests above fidelity to law."

HOWELL: Also noteworthy, earlier in the day, the White House had foreshadowed its approach to internal dissent. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to a memo signed by dozen of State Department diplomats opposed to that travel ban by saying they need to get on board or consider moving on.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think they should get with the program or they can go. Hold on. Hold on. This is about the safety of America. It's his number one duty, as it should with any leader, to keep our people and our institutions safe from attack. And if somebody has a problem with that agenda, then they should --

that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post or not.


ROMANS: It's like those Justice Department lawyers will be kept busy growing against the lawsuits seeking to overturn the travel ban. But Dana Boente's turn as an acting attorney general, it may not last very long. His permanent replacement, Jeff Sessions, is one of four cabinet nominees set for committee votes today, along with Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, Tom Price for health and human services secretary, and Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary.

But the president's travel ban may complicate matters for his nominees. Senate Democrats say they will demand that all of them come out against what Democrats call Trump's Muslim ban. President Trump's secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson is moving to the vote over the Senate Democrats. A final confirmation vote is now expected tomorrow.

HOWELL: Also overnight, new criticism from a top Republican from the administration's chaotic rollout of that travel ban.

[04:35:00] The House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul says the ban as written goes too far. His statement reads, quote, "We should not be turning away people who have lawfully been approved to come to the United States. This issue could have been avoided through better coordination between the White House, Congress and the agencies on the frontlines, which is more important now than ever."

But despite all the opposition, the administration is standing by that order and is trying to smooth things over. Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will meet with Republican leaders today.

The White House correspondent Sara Murray, she has the latest for us.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George and Christine.

Donald Trump beginning his week under fire by both Democrats and Republicans for his rollout of this travel ban. There were members of his own government agencies who weren't sure how to implement this ban when it was passed. And a number of Republican allies on the Hill say that they were not consulted. They were taken by surprise. And even if they do agree with what the travel ban includes, they do not agree with some of them called a sloppy rollout.

Now, in spite all of that, the White House vigorously defended the move on Monday. Here's what Sean Spicer had to say.

SPICER: If we announced this earlier, this would give time for people to flood into the country who could have done us harm. That's not exactly a sound strategy, right? So, the people that needed to be kept in the loop were kept in the loop. The people that needed to be briefed were.

MURRAY: There's no indication however that President Trump plans to slow down his breakneck pace. Today, he is going to be having a meeting on cyber security and we are expect him to sign executive action on that front.

But the big show comes this evening, when we're expecting Donald Trump to announce his pick for Supreme Court justice.

Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: All right. Sara, thank you for that.

President Obama is speaking out against President Trump's travel ban without ever mentioning his successor. The former president said last night that he might step into the debate if he felt that Trump administration policy conflicted with American ideals. Now, a spokesman says Mr. Obama fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals based on their faith or religion.

President Trump denies that his travel discriminates against Muslims.

President Obama says he is heartened by the level of engagement taking place. He expects to see protests when American values are at stake.

HOWELL: Also new overnight, a lot of developments, folks. Another personnel move to address the top campaign priority. President Trump has named acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, as it's better known. A department veteran, Thomas Homan, replaces the current acting director, Daniel Ragsdale. Unlike the turbulent situation at the top of the Justice Department, Mr. Ragsdale keeps his job, returning to his previous post as deputy director.

ROMANS: So, a dramatic 12 hours in the White House and more drama ahead today. President Trump preparing the choice for Supreme Court tonight. That announcement planned in the East Room of the White House at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Mr. Trump wrapped up interviews last week.

And two sources close the process tells CNN these are the most likely President Trump's three finalists. Neil Gorsuch, who sits on the federal appeals court in Denver, Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and William H. Pryor Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite objections to the possible choices, Democrats are hesitant to carry out an all-out war to block the president's nominee. They are concerned that Republicans will then deploy the nuclear option, reducing the threshold for carrying a filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes.

ROMANS: All right. The confusion over President Trump's travel ban stoking concerns on Wall Street this morning. The tax cuts are no longer this White House's top priority. The Dow tumbled 122 points for the biggest loss since the election. Futures down this morning as well.

The growing fear of divisions between Republicans could stall the number one goal of investors, the promise of lower tax rates.

In a meeting with small business leaders Monday, the president brushed aside criticism of the rally he started.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The stock market has gone up massively since the election. Everyone is saying, oh, the market will go down. I said, the market's not going down.

You know, the smart people know me. The business people know me. They know what I'm about. So, the market went massively up. In fact, when I was elected, a lot of the really smart people went out and bought a lot of stock. And they have been rewarded.


ROMANS: Actually, as he is speaking, the stock market was tumbling. It is so rare to see a sitting president and the press secretary on the same day talking about moves in the stock market. This is a game changer in the White House.

Trump also says he's going to do a big number on Dodd-Frank. That's the regulation enacted in the wake of the financial crisis that would help -- that could help refuel the rally, he says. What's clear, Trump is watching the market and he does not want a decline on his watch.

HOWELL: Now, news about the former President George H.W. Bush. He is back home this morning, leaving a Houston hospital where he stayed for 16 days battling pneumonia and respiratory issues.

[04:40:04] The 92-year-old Bush needed surgery to insert a breathing tube and spend time in intensive care. Doctors say he has fully recovered now. America's 41st president expressing gratitude last night for all the prayers and all the kind words.

ROMANS: They wanted to get home in time for the Super Bowl. They still want to go to the Super Bowl.

HOWELL: Right, in Texas.

ROMANS: You're right.

All right. Confusion over the president's travel ban extending far beyond America's borders. Several European countries now trying to understand how it affects them. We go live to London, next.


ROMANS: Protests against President Trump's travel and immigration ban breaking out across the U.S. and Europe now for a third straight day. Officials overseas are frankly scrambling to clarify what this executive order means for their citizens with dual nationality. Clarity seems hard to come by here.

[04:45:00] Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Nina Dos Santos.

We've heard companies from Google to Goldman Sachs to Ford to, you name it, speaking with one voice about how this is against American values and against American interests. And in some cases, companies are telling their employees, you know, you don't have to travel because we don't know how to figure this out.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Just yesterday, in fact, I was speaking to Sir Martin Sorrell, Christine, who's the head of the world's biggest advertising company, WPP. And he is saying, well, look, at the moment, we are still trying to evaluate what this means for 250,000 staff and, of course, their families who are often living in some of these countries with them as they've been posted, some of these locations to, including the United States, where by the way, WPP has about 25,000 people at the moment.

So, companies very much here in the U.K. and elsewhere trying to understand what this means for staff. Countries as you mentioned there, Germany and France, trying to find out exactly what this means for dual nationality citizens of theirs. In the meantime here in the United Kingdom, the embassy of the United States in London has confirmed and this is reiterated by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, just in the House of Parliamentary yesterday that citizens of the United Kingdom who also hold a secondary passport in these seven countries will be exempt from this particular ban.

But that hasn't stopped people from taking to the streets here. In Westminster, we found thousands of people converge on the streets, Christine, last night, to protest the Donald Trump's policies and that travel ban, as well as the upcoming state visit that Theresa May, the U.K. prime minister has promised him on behalf of the queen.

ROMANS: All right. Nina Dos Santos, thank you so much for that. Live for us this morning in London. Thanks.

BLACKWELL: The Trump administration is reinstating the CIA director to the National Security Council. It's a move aimed at quashing the firestorm that erupted in Washington when the president appointed chief political strategist Steve Bannon as a regular committee member. Critics, including several Republicans, also objected to the Director of the National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff not having a permanent seat at the table.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice took the new administration to task for the omissions on Twitter describing the move as she says, quote, "stone cold crazy."

ROMANS: All right. Stone cold crazy has the Trump stock market rally turned cold. Will we see more losses today? Does all of this confusion and chaos over travel delays overshadow tax reform? That's the big fear. CNN Money Stream is next.


[04:51:40] HOWELL: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm George Howell.

President Trump's controversial travel ban and refugee ban struck a nerve with many Americans, but the move has also gained share of supporters and some of their backgrounds may surprise.

We get more now from CNN's Martin Savidge in Atlanta.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Good morning, George.

I sat down and spoke to seven supporters of Donald Trump, all of whom said they voted for Donald Trump and all of whom now say they supported him on his immigration executive order.

Among them were two immigrants. They all essentially stressed one point, and that is national security and immigration in our modern and troubled world go hand-in-hand. And that Donald Trump is actually carrying out his primary responsibility to the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you agree with our president that so many people are left on the airports? I'm saying, yes, there's a human side which I think -- which we could have done differently. But the intent -- I think the intent is right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I walk that same street in Nice with -- where the truck ran all over the people. So, I'm aware that we're just a few steps removed from terrible things that could happen. And I'm OK with the temporary stop so that we can re-evaluate where we are.

SAVIDGE: When I pointed out the majority of 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia which wasn't on the list, they all admitted that the list is not necessarily perfect, but it is a start. They all only see it as temporary -- George and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Martin Savidge, thank you for that.

Tehran appears ready to retaliate for President Trump's executive order, banning most Iranian travelers from entering the U.S. The Iranian state TV reporting a committee has now been assembled to come up with reciprocal actions and measures at Iranian embassies around the world. Officials say the directives designed to ensure Iranians are treated with dignity, especially those having trouble in the U.S. It comes as the Trump administration requests a closed door meeting with the U.N. Security Council after Iran reportedly condemned the medium-range missile test over the weekend.

A U.S. defense official tells CNN the test was a failure and post no threats or its allies in the region.

HOWELL: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is gearing up for his inaugural overseas trip by reaffirming the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea against the involving North Korea threat. He spoke with the South Korean defense minister ahead of Thursday's trip to Japan and South Korea. The two expressed their commitment to proceed with the so- called THAAD missile system and the need for closer cooperation to defend against North Korea.

ROMANS: We now know the identity of the Navy SEAL killed in Yemen. The Defense Department has announced that Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed during a raid on al Qaeda militants. The Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis offering condolences to the 36-year- old's family and friends. He said the U.S. would not long exist if it weren't for the selfless commitment of warriors like Owens. This is the first combat death under the Trump administration.

HOWELL: Canadian officials say the suspect in the shooting that left six people dead at the Quebec City mosque Sunday was a lone wolf. They identified the shooter as Alexandre Bissonette. The university student faces six counts of first-degree murder and five attempted murder charges. The Canadian public safety minister says the attack was one that would have been difficult to prevent.

[04:55:00] He says the nation's terror threat remains unchanged. On Monday night, marchers held a candlelight vigil at the mosque to honor the victims.

ROMANS: In a major shift, the Boy Scouts of America will now accept members based on their gender identify, opening the door for transgender boys to join. That means the Boy Scouts will no longer require birth certificates to determine membership eligibility. This new policy takes effect immediately. This move comes eight months after an 8-year-old Cub Scout in New Jersey accused the organization of kicking him out for being transgender.

HOWELL: Well, switching to weather now, snow expected in the Midwest and here in the Northeast.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest for us.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: George and Christine, good morning to you both.

We're watching a pretty active pattern across parts of the Great Lakes, multiple days they'll be getting some snow showers here, big dip in the jet stream allowed some of the action to roll right cross this region seeing some snow showers over the past 24 hours. And the cold air certainly going to be in place here to support the sticking around into the afternoon hours as well. And notice this, at this hour, even around Detroit, Cleveland, we are seeing snow showers come down.

Punxsutawney, the place to be in a couple of days, of course, and that is where some snow is still coming down, where winter weather advisories are in place as well. And as this disturbance scoots off towards the East by this morning and late this morning into the afternoon hours, we get some snowfall that will accumulate around New York City, potentially one to two inches, work their way towards Boston could get 4 to 6 inches by the time they get through tonight.

So, certainly, some decent snow level for the northern periphery cities. But I think New York will be kind of on the cusp for getting some of the lighter accumulations and back out towards the Great Lakes, the favorable spots. We'll get some lake enhanced snowfall as well.

But notice, temps generally into the low to mid-30s. Again, we'll dip into below freezing into the evening hours. So, we get some of the snow to stick around into tomorrow morning as well.

And beyond this, a little bit of warming trend down across the south -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Pedram Javaheri, thanks for that.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream right now. The big test for the stock market's Trump rally maybe President Trump himself. Futures pointing lower this morning. The market suffering its biggest drop since last September yesterday.

The fallout from the travel ban as investors worrying that tax cuts and deregulation may be delayed. Global stock markets are mixed. Oil is down. That travel ban has the stock market at a turning point and it is a huge week for Wall Street.

Trump's executive order and Supreme Court pick will reveal his true priorities and Wall Street's true priority, it's tax reform. The Federal Reserve starts a two-day policy meeting today. A rate hike is not expected, but expect clues on the timing of the next move. And hundreds, hundreds of companies report earnings this week, from Exxon this morning to Apple after the close. How much money are they making, and what do they think about the quarter ahead?

And, finally, the first jobs report in the Trump presidency is Friday. How will the administration react to it? It has blasted this number in the past as phony, fake and misleading. What will the Trump White House say about jobs?

Today is the last day to sign up for Obamacare. If you missed this deadline, you likely cannot get coverage for 2017. The penalty this year if you do not have insurance is $695. So far, 11.5 million people have signed up on these federal and state exchanges. It's up from this time last year.

Final days are crucial for attracting younger, healthier consumers, which has been a problem for the program. The Department of Health and Human Services last week pulled the final $4 million to $5 million in advertising, promoting the very end of open enrollment. Advocates and insurers denounced that move.

President Trump and congressional Republicans started the process of repealing Obamacare. But that's going to take time. The program is still law. It continues this year, maybe even next year. You have to have insurance.

Insurers have signed contracts to provide coverage through the end of the year. So, personal finance folks are saying, don't ignore open enrollment. This is your last day even if you don't have insurance. You should sign up.

HOWELL: All right. EARLY START continues right now.


HOWELL: Breaking overnight. President Trump fires his acting attorney general after she refused to cooperate with the travel ban. How is in charge now and how it will affect the president's controversial executive order?

ROMANS: All of this a major distraction. Just hours before the president is set to make his first nomination to the Supreme Court. Will the attorney general battle affect Trump's nomination to the high court?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. It has been a busy 12 hours. It will be another busy 12 hours. I'm Christine Romans.

HOWELL: It has been busy.

I'm George Howell in for John Berman. It is Tuesday, January 31st, 4:59 on the East.

And it is hard to overstate of what's happening in Washington. Rapid developments overnight in the move that evokes President Nixon's mass firings amid the Watergate investigation in 1973. The Trump administration achieving a level of chaos that would be unusual for any White House, let alone one that is trying to find its footing after just a week and a half on the job.

A new acting attorney general had been sworn in, replacing the old acting A.G., Sally Yates, after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Trump's travel ban in court.