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Michael Flynn Resigns; White House Handed Setback in Travel Ban Case; Oakley-Dolan Truce Brokered by Commish, Jordan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 05:00   ET



[05:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: the president's national security visor is out. Michael Flynn resigned overnight. This, the fallout from those controversial phone calls he had with Russia, sanctions discussed and apparently lying about it. Now, there are new questions from the administration about what it knew and when.

We have live team coverage beginning right now.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, February 14th. Happy Valentine's Day. I got nothing.

BERMAN: Well, I got some water?


ROMANS: All right. It is 5:00.m. in the East, everybody.

Only 25 days into the Trump administration and chaotic, series of early headlines has claimed its first victim, thanks to a scandal of his own making-- breaking overnight: National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigning under fire. The announcement coming in the mounting evidence Flynn spoke to the Russians about sanctions and then lied about it to top White House officials, including the Vice President Mike Pence.

Flynn's decision to step down coming moments after CNN learned the Justice Department warned the White House last month about Flynn's contacts with Moscow and his possible vulnerability to blackmail. Now, the stunning demise of one of the president's top confidant sending shockwaves through Washington.

I want to get the very latest from CNN's Ryan Browne live in the nation's capital.

Good morning.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine. As you mentioned, the Department of Justice under Acting Attorney

General Sally Yates warned the incoming Trump administration that they had intercepted phone calls and have the transcripts between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It was found that the two discussed sanctions.

Now, right now, Flynn was forced last night to submit a letter of resignation due to the fallout from all of this. And that letter read, "I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology. I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way."

Now, Flynn will be replaced at least in the short-term by retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg. He was previously serving as the chief of staff to the NSA. He is a long time adviser to Trump.

But there are others in the running for the long-term post, including Retired General David Petraeus who have, of course, commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has some baggage according to administration officials, based on the fact that he disclosed information leading to his resignation as CIA director, and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, another major flag officer who has worked in central command, a former Navy SEAL's name is also in the running according to administration officials -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. So, it will be a very dramatic day I'm sure after a very dramatic evening. Thanks so much for that, Ryan Browne.

BERMAN: And look, it was beyond drama yesterday. It was flat out confusing at the White House, because we were getting conflicting messages all day long about just where General Flynn stood and how the president felt about it.

Let's go to Dan Merica for us right now in Washington for a little sense of that, if, you know, your head isn't still spinning, Dan.

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It was difficult to keep up yesterday. You had the counselor to the president saying at about 4:00 that the president had full confidence in Michael Flynn. And then a mere 64 minutes later, to be exact, you had White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying that his position was being evaluated.

It is remarkable how fast the story moved not only inside the White House, but the fact that he is now resigned or has resigned after less than a month in office. It was interesting also that Donald Trump did not want to talk about this yesterday in the Oval Office when he was siding in Steve Mnuchin as treasury secretary pick.

Why don't you take a look at this video.


REPORTER: Do you have confidence in Michael Flynn, Mr. President? REPORTER: What exactly will you be evaluating with Michael Flynn?



MERICA: A little awkward to be polite. There are still so many questions about what happened here, when did the president about Flynn's communications, how much does he know about the Flynn's communications, and frankly who in the administration knew Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about this beforehand?

We were told that Flynn resigned, that he wasn't fired, despite what we know about Donald Trump and his public persona, and liking to fire people. And we're also told that the White House wants to move past this. That Donald Trump is ready to move on. That's going to be tough given how many questions still persist.

ROMANS: All right. Dan Merica, thank you so much.

[05:05:03] BERMAN: Crazy day.

ROMANS: Let's bring in our guest. From Washington, CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin, and here in New York, political analyst Ellis Henican. He writes the "Trump's America" column for the Metro papers.

Let's start in Washington where it was an eventful afternoon and evening, Josh. There are a lot of questions this morning about the Justice Department alerting the White House to concerns about Michael Flynn. What did they know?

Michael Flynn, did anybody else know that Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions? Maybe he was asked to by the president. These are all questions that are being asked and unanswered.

JOHSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right. I mean, what we saw over the last few days was the drip, drip, drip of stories and leaks about Michael Flynn, who did e talk to and what did he say? And eventually just became too much for the White House to deal with.

It's one of these things where none of these individual stories would have been enough to result in the firing of the national security advisor. But it just became such a huge problem and that they decided the easiest way, which was to get rid of the problem and that was to get rid of Michael Flynn.

It's a really stunning fall from grace from a guy who is close to the president during the campaign, was very close to him all throughout the transition. Crucial in appointing a ton of national security officials who still remain in the administration even though he's gone, was briefing the president every day, some say more than anyone else.

And so, now, the big question is for in the national security community is, who is going to take over that role? Who is going to be the president's right hand man? Because no matter what Michael Flynn did on Russia, his role in this presidency was so much bigger, so much more important. There's going to be big shoes to fill.

BERMAN: You know, you bring up a great point there, Josh. During the transition when the president-elect at that point was being criticized for not taking the daily intel briefings that he was privy to, what the transition team was telling us is, oh, it's General Flynn is briefing him every day, maybe several times a day. That was his main conduit to all kinds of information, again, which does beg the question, would General Flynn have had that conversation with the Russian ambassador about sanctions without the president-elect's knowledge?

That's the question the president-elect has not answered directly, or the president has not answered directly, not yet. And, Ellis, you know, Friday, the president was asked about this entire story. He was on Air Force, on his way down to Florida. I think we have that sound because I just want to play you his non-response on Friday to that.


TRUMP: I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

REPORTER: "The Washington Post" is reporting that he talked to the ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions --

TRUMP: I haven't seen that. I'll look into that.


BERMAN: So, it was Friday. The president saying I haven't seen it. I'll look into it.

Well, now, we learned overnight, in the midst of General Flynn resigning, that the Justice Department had told the White House that General Flynn did have these conversations weeks ago with Russia and weeks ago, sanctions came up. So, no one told the president or was the president, you know, evading the question there artfully?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, timelines are very stubborn things, aren't they? And we have to unpack some of that. First, we know that Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, did give a briefing to Don McGahn, the White House counsel.

Now, I guess we don't know that McGahn actually told President Trump about it. But it seems highly likely that he would have. Plus, if you are talking to the national security advisor every day, it seems like maybe something that would have come up in one of those conversations, doesn't it?

ROMANS: The whole thing, Josh Rogin, is just fascinating. What we're hearing is that the president is moving on. He's moving on.

So, what is he moving on to? You say these are big shoes to fill here.

ROGIN: Right.

ROMANS: You know, General Petraeus. I mean, who's in the running here?

ROGIN: First of all, I don't think President Trump is really taking his hiring and firing cues from Sally Yates, you know? And I also don't think he would not fire General Flynn based on, you know, him simply just talking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.

Remember that day after, you know, Donald Trump tweet after the Russians decided not to respond to the sanctions. Donald Trump tweeted, "Oh, Vladimir Putin, see, I told you he was smart." Right?

So, it's not as if Michael Flynn was working against the policy of the administration, right? When they say they're moving on, it's because it's become a huge political problem. Let's look what happened over the last couple of days, in addition to this, they open air national security meeting in the middle of Mar-a-Lago, outside the dining room, right? They walked back their China policy. I mean, it just looks like the Keystone Cops.

So, when they say they're moving on, what they're saying is, OK, all of those horrible things that you've read in the press about what's going on in our national security bureaucracy, that's all over. Nothing to see here. We got rid of the problem. It was Michael Flynn.

The truth of the matter is, the problem really wasn't Michael Flynn. There's a lot going on behind the scenes that Michael Flynn was not responsible for. But he is the fall guy and he is taking the blame.

It's when they say they are moving on, they are saying, all of those stories that were bad about what's going on in national security and the Trump administration, that's all solved. Nothing to see here. Let's get on to our agenda.

BERMAN: Ellis, you were nodding right there.

HENICAN: I mean, moving on, is Washington speak for please don't ask me any questions about that, right?

[05:10:04] I mean, there's a whole bunch of other stuff I want to talk about. This is really, I mean, let's take one step back. This is the first real stumble, isn't it? I mean, the first thing --

BERMAN: The first?

HENICAN: Well, no, but it's the first one that you can't sort of interpret a way. There's no way to say that I appointed this guy as my national security advisor. I made him truly the guy that I was listening more than anyone else on these issues.

And you know what? He had to leave two weeks in. I mean, there is no way to spin that in a way that makes it good. So, I don't know. I -- to me, it's the one that even folks in the administration have to say, well, you know, that General Flynn thing maybe didn't work out so well.

BERMAN: All right, guys, we obviously have a lot more questions about this. Good thing you are coming back to talk later to talk about it more.

ROMANS: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: All right. One of the president's top money men sworn in to his new post. But there is a nominee whose confirmation seems in serious jeopardy. That's next.


[05:15:06] ROMANS: All right. Two of president Trump's top money men find themselves in very different spots this morning.

The labor secretary pick Andrew Puzder, his nomination seems to be in jeopardy. After weeks of hearing delays and harsh criticism from Democrats over his record as a fast food CEO, he is now facing pushback from Republicans.

Four GOP senators are withholding their support for him. Sources tell CNN the four are Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Murkowski and Collins were the two GOP defectors in the vote for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. That caused a tie which was broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Now, GOP leadership is scrambling to save Puzder's nomination. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

But, Steve Mnuchin, hello, Mr. Treasury Secretary. Welcome to the job.

He was sworn in after passing the final Senate vote. Mnuchin is a former partner of Goldman Sachs and mortgage banker. More recently, he produced movies in Hollywood, a pretty diverse resume. You know, he sort of branched out from traditional Wall Street banking and did other things, including owning a mortgage bank, which was a problem during the hearings, but he got over that.

ROMANS: All right. A new blow for the Trump administration travel ban. A federal judge in Virginia has granted that state's request to halt the ban. The ruling affects everyone who lives in Virginia, and anyone who attends or works at a public university there.

In her opinion, the judge wrote, "Maximum power does not mean absolute power." The decision came on the same day that the Trump administration was back in the Seattle courtroom facing the federal judge who first stopped the ban.

Let's get the latest from CNN's justice reporter Laura Jarrett live from Washington. Where are we now, Laura, in this?


So, in yet another twist in the ongoing legal drama over the president's executive order, District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle, that same judge who initially halted the travel ban a little over a week ago, denied a request from the Trump administration yesterday to postpone any further proceedings in his court while the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals separately considers whether to rehear the case before a larger panel of judges.

This is sort of a procedural nightmare. But what it means from a practical standpoint is that the nationwide challenge against the travel ban brought by the states, Washington and Minnesota, will now proceed to the merits in front of Judge Robart. They will demand documents, e-mails and even depositions. Now, sources are telling us the Trump administration is huddling up on legal options, including possibly rewriting or modifying the executive order.

But some say they've got to move fast here because these court rulings are popping up all over the country. As you mentioned, a different federal judge in Virginia put out a complete halt to enforcing the executive order against Virginia residents last night.

So, the ball is squarely in the government's court on what happens next, John.

BERMAN: And will they draft a new ban or a new executive order? What exactly will that entail? That is what we are watching for as soon as today.

Laura Jarrett for us in Washington -- thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks.

BERMAN: Call him Ambassador Jordan. Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, he can probably still play and score 30 points, and he managed to broker peace between the owner of the New York Knicks and a player who has just been arrested. I know it's confusing, but it is crucial and Coy Wire has it in the "Bleacher Report", coming up.

ROMANS: Can you speak? Can you speak?

BERMAN: I don't have to much longer.


[05:22:56] BERMAN: The UConn Lady Huskies make college basketball history again. They won their 100th straight game.

ROMANS: Wow, congratulations.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy. COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and John.

This is the definitely one of the most dominant teams in the history of sports. They have 11 national titles. They won their last 99 straight games by almost 40 points per game. They have not played cupcakes the entire way. Over a quarter of teams they have faced down that stretch were ranked.

Number six South Carolina, last night, they were actually the taller, bigger team in this one. But UConn, they were howling in the night, at home in front of a sellout crowd. UConn wins 66-55. A little bit of history.


GENO AURIEMMA, UCONN HEAD COACH: It doesn't matter who we're playing, no matter where, no matter what the situation, we don't take time off. We don't take any games off. We don't mail any of them in. And it doesn't matter if we are playing the worst team or the best team in America. I'm really, really proud of that.

GABBY WILLIAMS, UCONN FORWARD: This is something we will have forever, and our names in the history books now. So, this is something special.


WIRE: Two New York Knicks got called to the principal's office yesterday. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sat down Knicks legend and fan favorite Charles Oakley and team owner James Dolan at league headquarters in New York City. This was to discuss the former Knicks star being forcibly removed from Madison Square Garden last week and banned from the arena by Dolan subsequently.

Silver even had NBA legend, his royal airness, Michael Jordan, called in to take part in the meeting and hopes to help resolve the quarrel. And it looks like cupid came early for these two. Dolan now says he hopes Oakley will return to the garden as his guest in the near future.

Hopefully, we'll cover this story just one more time guys and it will be a video of the two sitting side by side, sharing some popcorn at MSG.

BERMAN: The kiss cam at MSG.


BERMAN: We'll see. Coy Wire, great to see you, man. Thanks so much.

WIRE: You too.

ROMANS: A detente I guess heard around the world.

BERMAN: All right. A huge, huge night at the White House. The president's national security advisor, he's out, resigning after the controversy swirling about his phone calls with Russia. Now, new question s about what the White House knew and when.


[05:29:40] ROMANS: Michael Flynn is out. Big questions remain, who knew what and when about his conversations with Moscow before the inauguration that led to Flynn's resignation as national security adviser.

We have live coverage beginning right now.

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

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Great to see you. Thirty minutes after the hour right now.

A flat-out stunning turn of events overnight. A mere 25 days into the Trump administration, just 25 days, the president's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, he is out.