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Trump's "Monday Night Massacre"; Trump's Supreme Court Pick. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 05:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: 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?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

[05:00:09] The U.S. attorney for eastern Virginia, Dana Boente, took the oath and quickly rescinded Yates' order.

CNN's justice reporter Laura Jarrett has more from Washington -- Laura.


It is fair to say we saw a truly extraordinary turn of events last night. The story all started around 6:30 p.m. when my colleague Evan Perez broke the story that acting Attorney General Sally Yates had told her team of lawyers that she was not convinced that the executive order was lawful. And so, she instructed her team at the Justice Department to not defend the order in court, which as you know would have mattered in the short-term a lot, because there are all these active lawsuits all over the country right now about this order.

But less than three hours later, she was fired and gone. The White House put out a statement last night around 9:00 p.m., saying Yates had, quote, "betrayed the Justice Department by refusing to enforce a legal order." And President Trump acted swiftly. He replaced her with Dana Boente, a top federal prosecutor out of Virginia.

And then Boente quickly issued new guidance to the lawyers at the Justice Department, directing them to defend the executive order since the administration says the office that typically provides legal advice to the executive branch, it's called the Office of Legal Counsel had signed off on the executive order.

So, as you might imagine, Yates' firing setoff a fire storm on Capitol Hill last night with senators on both sides of the aisle speaking out quite harshly. Senator Ted Cruz went after Yates hard, saying she put partisan interests above the fidelity to the law.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer defended her, saying this underscores how important it is to have an attorney general willing to stand up to the White House. The timing of Yates firing will prove to be really interesting, because later this morning, the judicial committee is set to vote on the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions. That's President Trump's pick for attorney general. And while he will not be there in person, you can guarantee the senators are going to bring up what has happened over the past several days in Washington.

HOWELL: So, again, the big headline, Dana Boente in. Sally Yates out. The question, though, how does this impact current and future litigation over the executive order?

JARRETT: Well, no court has had an opportunity yet to evaluate the constitutionality of the president's travel ban. But lawyers are gearing up for that fight next. And advocacy groups filed a suit in federal court yesterday saying the order violates the Constitution by discriminating against Muslims.

And meanwhile, courts are still dealing with the fallout from what happened over the weekend. Lawyers in Virginia filed an amended complaint yesterday, detailing new problems with customs agents allegedly making travelers forfeit their visas at Dulles airport. And Washington's state's attorney general also declared that he is suing Trump. So, these cases are not going away anytime soon, George.

HOWELL: Laura Jarrett following this story for us in Washington -- Laura, thank you so much.

ROMANS: It is likely those Justice Department lawyers will be busy defending the growing list of lawsuits seeking to overturn the travel ban. But Dana Boente's turn as acting attorney general may not last 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 service secretary, Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary.

The president's travel ban may complicate matters for the nominees. Senate Democrats say they will demand that all of them come out against what the Democrats call President Trump's Muslim ban. Mr. Trump's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, moving to a Senate vote over the objections of most Senate Democrats. 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. The House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul says the ban as written goes too far.

His statement reads as follows, "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 we've seen, the administration is standing by this order and trying to smooth things over. Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will meet with Republican leaders today.

White House correspondent Sara Murray 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.

[05:05:01] 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.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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 expecting 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Sara Murray, thanks for that.

Let's assess all the effect of the Justice Department turmoil this morning with political analyst and best selling author Ellis Henican joins us this morning. And I want to get to sort of the ins and outs and the drama at the Justice Department in the moment.

But the bigger picture here, it's so fascinating to me -- the idea that Democrats would slow walk, you know, the confirmation process for the appointees.


ROMANS: That's expected.


ROMANS: I'm not surprised. And Donald Trump, the president keeps complaining about that. But I'm not surprised.

What does surprise me is now the rift developing among Republicans. That could slow the priorities from here on out over the travel ban.

HENICAN: Well, you're looking at exactly the right thing. I think the Republicans' perspective, Christine, the cost is getting higher by the day of the support that would naturally be given to a new Republican president in a situation like this. If Donald Trump says, stick with me, stick with me, that's fine if the cost isn't high. But, boy, now you've got to stand up and explain the travel ban. What the problems are with our allies. Why Congress wasn't included. Why homeland security, the CIA --

ROMANS: Didn't know about it.

HENICAN: -- and the other government agencies, were included -- that's a heavy lift for a Republican who may one day need to be reelected.

HOWELL: So, you know, important to point out, Jeff Sessions is the person who is set to take over.

HENICAN: In the hot seat.

HOWELL: And, indeed, you know, it's interesting, though, to see Jeff Sessions questioning Sally Yates for the deputy role. I want to listen to this and what he has to say and wha she says. Interesting.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things you need to say no about. You think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper?

If the views of the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or deputy attorney general say no?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.


HOWELL: Just say no.

ROMANS: A great clip.

HENICAN: Who found that? That's terrific.

HOWELL: Given that exchange, he will be held to the same standard.

HENICAN: You know, it's very, very good point. But that is the law of the land. I think that is the theory of working in a job like that. You are supposed to follow the law. There will be people who look at Sally Yates and see a hero.

ROMANS: Fascinating. There are a lot of Republicans who look at her and see an Obama appointee. So, that's the mood in Washington right now.

I want to talk about the travel ban. I have been looking at the legal analysis. Some say, I mean, "The Hill" had a great piece that said, it's clumsy, but perfectly legal when you go back to 1952 Immigration Nationalization Act that the president has the rights. Others say it is unconstitutional.

How bogged down do you think it's all going to be in the courts?

HENICAN: It's already bogged. First of all, there are so many challenges to it. And there really are great principles of law. The president nationally does have an awful lot of leeway, particularly on immigration issues, particularly involving people who are outside of our borders.

But one of the limitations and this is what the other side will argue are what it comes down to discrimination based on things like national origin and religion --

ROMANS: They can prove this is religious based.


HENICAN: It is truly a clash of the great ideals in America.

ROMANS: I mean, you look at all these companies. I rarely see companies coming out together against a travel ban. Everybody from Microsoft, to Yelp, to Ford.

Interesting, Goldman Sachs came out yesterday against this as well. And the Goldman Sachs CEO wrote a pretty impassioned letter to his employees about, you know, the values of the country and company. Steve Bannon used to work at Goldman Sachs and he, many say, is one of the architects behind this.

HENICAN: Right. And don't forget, those are all global companies at this point, depending on employees and customers. Not so easy to just pull the security gate.

ROMANS: These various companies are excited about the Donald Trump presidency because what they thought was going to be tax reform. Now, the big worry is those divisions will be talked about among Republicans. Does that slow tax reform and does that derail the Trump rally?

HENICAN: Right. Is the bump becoming a slump?

[05:10:02] Do you like that? That's a term?

ROMANS: To hear a president, a sitting president talked about the stock market.

HOWELL: But the uncertainty at the same time. I mean, the bump happened, but there are so many questions and there are so many companies, there are so many countries that are trying to figure it out.

HENICAN: I'm trying to learn the expressions of Christine. Bump. Slump.

ROMANS: How do we go from here? Because normally on a day when we were saying, we are X hours away from the announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, that is the only story.

Today, that's the other big story.

HENICAN: Around 7:30 tonight, we'll try and get to that, right?

ROMANS: Remarkable.

HENICAN: It's an awful lot to keep track of. We are doing our best. How about that?

ROMANS: All right. Ellis Henican, nice to see you. Come back in a few minutes.

All right. Again, the big question on Wall Street, the burning question this morning -- will President Trump kill the stock market rally? The Dow suffering its biggest loss since election day, dropping 122 points. Futures are down again this morning.

This is an abrupt pull back after a 10 percent climb fueled by promises of lower tax rates and less regulation. The White House press secretary is not worried and had a remarkable comment yesterday about the market run up, saying this is an added benefit of Trumponomics.


SPICER: When you look not just at the ups and downs of a market, but you look at consumer confidence and a lot of the other market indicators, a Trump presidency brought a lot of confidence back to traders, to investors, more importantly to job creators. The overall commitment that businesses have to want to work with this administration, to add jobs, to create better jobs, to add benefits, to find out how the president can ease the regulatory burden they face. So, it's a holistic process that is being undertaken to unleash the American economy.


ROMANS: So rare, George, to talk about stocks from the president yesterday and from Sean Spicer from the podium. Very rare.

It also runs a risk. You know, what if they can't deliver here in the near term as the president, the cheerleader in chief of the American stock market?

HOWELL: Yes, unprecedented.

Confusion over the president's travel ban not limited to the United States. Several European countries are trying to understand how it affects travelers there.

CNN is live in London next.


[05:16:26] ROMANS: Protests against the travel and immigration ban breaking out across the U.S. and Europe for a third straight day. Officials overseas scrambling to clarify what this executive order means for citizens with dual nationality. Clarity it seems can be hard to come by.

I want to go to London and bring in CNN's Nina Dos Santos.

Nina, remarkable to watch the video of this protest here. It's a question of law and in some cases a question of values. You hear people complaining about this travel ban. What about the facts for these governments? What are they advising their dual nationality citizens?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems that many of them are advising completely different things, Christine. So, on the one hand, we've got Germany telling some of its dual nationality citizens who don't go to U.S. saying don't go to U.S. embassies to try and apply for visas. And if you do have one and are planning on traveling to the United States, you can expect to return down at the border.

In France, however, where officials are still trying to gain clarification of exactly what it means for their dual nationality citizens, they are telling people with some of these passports and a French passport, that if they're traveling on their French passport, they actually you should approach American consulates in Paris for advice before they apply for a visa. And here in the United Kingdom, it seems as though, according to the

foreign office, British citizens that have dual nationalities on seven nations are planning on traveling on their British passport, they'll be OK. They'll be allowed into the United States. They'll be able to get an exemption here for these executive orders.

So, the big question is what does it mean for other countries across Europe? What does it mean for the U.K.? And does this set a dangerous precedent, some countries across the E.U. getting favorable treatment in comparison to others. Those are the kind of questions that people are going to be asking today here across Europe, Christine.

ROMANS: It's so interesting just, you know, the logistics of it, but also, you know, American companies, big multinational companies and international companies that are saying it makes it look as though the United States is putting a big "closed for business" sign, you know? You have companies actually telling their workers if you need to sit tight, you can't take -- do business travel, that's fine for now.

You know, dozens and dozens of CEOs are calling each other, talking about how they're going to try to all together voice their concern about this. Certainly, certainly, a really amazing development.

Nina, thank you so much for that. We'll talk to you again very, very shortly.

HOWELL: The identity of the first member of the military to lose his life under President Trump has been released. We'll have that story for you, next.


[05:23:15] HOWELL: Welcome back.

The Trump administration is reinstating the CIA director to the National Security Council. The move is aimed at quashing the fire storm that erupted in Washington when the president appointed chief political strategist Steve Bannon as a regular committee members. 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 that table.

ROMANS: 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 been assembled to come up with, quote, "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 conducted medium-range missile test over the weekend. A U.S. defense official tells CNN the test was a failure and post no threats to U.S. or its allies in the region.

HOWELL: We know the identity of the Navy SEAL killed in Yemen in the first combat death of the Trump administration. The Defense Department has announced Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed during the raid on al Qaeda militants. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis offered condolences to the 36-year-old's family and friends.

ROMANS: All right. In a major shift, the Boy Scouts of America will accept members based on gender they identify with, opening the door with transgender boys to join. That means the Boy Scouts will no longer require birth certificates to determine membership eligibility. The 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: All right.

[05:25:00] So, if you're just waking up with us, a lot to talk about. A stunner at the Department of Justice. A new acting attorney general is in. The old one is out, fired by the president for refusing to defend his travel ban.

More on the dramatic developments in Washington as EARLY START continues.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight: legal drama. Trump fires the acting attorney general for defiantly refusing to uphold his travel ban. He quickly installs a replacement and quiets none of the uproar.

HOWELL: The chaos overshadowing the lead up to the president's big announcement today in primetime for his choice for Supreme Court. More on a wild night and what lies ahead. What lies ahead? Who knows?

Welcome to EARLY START. I'm George Howell.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

It is hard to overstate the nature of the rapid developments we saw in Washington overnight. In a move that evokes President Nixon's mass firings amid the Watergate investigation back 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.