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Trump Advisers Spoke Often to Russian Operatives; Flynn Fallout; Trump Hosting Netanyahu. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 15, 2017 - 05:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Now, it's the president's threats to tax Mexican exports that's got them all worried.

[05:00:03] They're going to be lobbying against the plan unveiled last year by congressional Republicans for a broad border adjustment tax. That could increase the tax bite on any company that imports goods and could lead to higher prices for consumers and lower sales and profits for retailers.

You know, we talk about a lot of uncertainty in the health care environment, but retailers are feeling that uncertainty as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now.


KOSIK: Breaking overnight, top advisers to Donald Trump's presidential campaign were in frequent contact with Russian officials, at the same time, Moscow was executing the hack of the DNC.

BERMAN: And the White House now trying to limit the damage following the resignation of Michael Flynn. New questions, though, are emerging about why key information was kept from the vice president.

Good morning, everyone. A lot going on. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

KOSIK: Very busy morning. I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning. It's Wednesday, February 15th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And breaking overnight, sources telling CNN there was constant communication during the 2016 campaign between Russian operatives and top aides to then-candidate Donald Trump. The extensive contact was picked up as part of routine U.S. surveillance of Russian officials and others. Our sources are telling us it drew the attention of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement partly because it came as Russia was known to be hacking mostly Democratic organizations.

The new revelations coming as the White House tries to limit the damage following the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after he misled the White House about his own contacts with Russia during the transition.

For the latest now, let's get to CNN's Pamela Brown in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John and Alison. High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence. Multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN, President-elect Trump and then President Obama were both briefed on the details of the existence of communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to U.S. officials familiar with this matter.

And both the frequency of the communications and proximity to Trump of those involved raised a red flag with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. And according to these officials, the communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to U.S. intelligence.

Among several senior Trump advisers regularly communicating with Russian nationals were then campaign manager Paul Manafort and the adviser Michael Flynn, according to our sources.

Now, officials emphasized that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However, these communications sent out to investigators due to the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved. Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations.

But adding to U.S. investigators' concern were intercepted communications between Russian officials before and after the election, discussing their belief that they had special access to Trump. Now, two law enforcement officials tell CNN these officials cautioned the Russians could have been exaggerating their access -- John and Alison.


BERMAN: All right. Pamela Brown for us in Washington, thanks for that reporting.

Now, through every twist and turn, Moscow has denied again and again that it did anything to influence the U.S. election despite all of the evidence to the contrary, including the intelligence report. So, what does the Kremlin have to say now?

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live from Moscow with the latest.

You know, Clare, we heard from Russian officials right after the election. They said, we've in contacts with the Trump team, you know, all during the campaign. So, how do they see it differently now?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, John, we just had a reaction from the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov when asked about a report out from CNN, initially, of course, reported by "The New York Times." He said, "Don't read morning newspapers."

When pressed on this, I'm just going to read the quote, he said, "Maybe there is some information about who these people are and when these events took place. Perhaps when the time comes, someone will say something about us. Let's wait for that. Don't believe this personalized information."

So, what we read into this, he's trying to dismiss this, saying that it comes from unnamed sources. But interestingly, you know, this is a relationship that's under a lot of scrutiny but here in Moscow and the U.S. We are expecting to see a high-level meeting takes place tomorrow in Germany, between Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state and his counterpart, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They will certainly be looking for more clarity from each other about how the Russian/U.S. relationship is going to go. It's going to be a heightened past few days for that relationship.

Several key military incidents have been reported on the U.S. side. A Russian spy ship floating off the coast of Delaware. Russian jets buzzing a U.S. naval ship.

[05:05:01] That apparently happened last week in the Black Sea. The Russian defense ministry denying that. And the report that Russia has deployed a cruise missile in violation of a 1987 treaty. Russia is denying that.

But there's a lot of concern that this relationship might not be quite as smooth as they had originally anticipated through Trump's statements during the campaign.

BERMAN: All right. Watching from Washington for us, Clare Sebastian, thanks so much.

Let's break it down here in the United States. Joining us right now, CNN politics digital managing editor, Zach Wolf.

Zach, great to see you this morning.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BERMAN: Zach, let me get, first of all, your reaction to this news that broke overnight. I mean, if you went to sleep for two hours you missed, honestly, the latest giant development the word from CNN and "The New York Times" reporting that Trump campaign official has contact with Russian officials during the campaign.

Just a basic question, Zach, why should that matter to the American people?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR: Well, simply because, you know, for so long, there have been these talks about, you know, essentially, this idea of Russia and the Trump campaign has been something that's dogged it since day one. I mean, there was Paul Manafort, the then campaign manager who was forced out over, you know, his ties to Russia, and then Michael Flynn, his national security adviser. So, the idea of the Trump campaign and then the Trump administration

talking to Russia has been something we've been talking about for months now. And these latest revelations show that people in the campaign, Paul Manafort specifically were talking to people in Russia. It's just kind of an incredible thing to learn. That U.S. intelligence and, you know, the FBI were talking about this stuff.

KOSIK: And you make a good point. I mean, the White House has really gone to great lengths to try to convince the American people that the White House doesn't have any kind of relationship with Russia. I mean, even, you know, whether it's Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer even talking about this hours before the latest information came out. Listen to what he said at a White House briefing.


REPORTER: Back in January, the president said that nobody in hi campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now, today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My understanding is what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period, well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did -- he did speak with the ambassador --

REPORTER: I'm talking about during the campaign.

SPICER: I don't have any -- there there's nothing that would conclude that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.


KOSIK: You know, it just feels like there's an incredible cover-up happening here.

WOLF: Well, it certainly goes to the issue of White House credibility. I mean, Sean Spicer, he might not have known. He wasn't a member of the Trump campaign. He was working for the RNC. So, maybe there's obviously some deniability for him there.

But, you know, the idea that Russia already was working against the Clinton campaign, something that's been documented by the U.S. government. And the intelligence committee before Trump got in office. But they were also talking to the Trump campaign, kind of, it raises eyebrows to be sure. And even Republicans, on Capitol Hill are saying this needs to be investigated now. And that was before the most recent revelations.

So, you kind of feel like we're at a tipping point with this whole story right here.

BERMAN: I do want to get to the issue of Capitol Hill because of the key players going forward. It's not just Sean Spicer denying there were contacts. Mike Pence, once again, on a Sunday show on January 15th, he was asked directly did anybody in the campaign have contact with the Russians. Listen to what he said.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Was there any contact in any way between Trump and his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts?

MIKE PENCE, THEN-VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Well, of course, not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the -- this is all a distraction, it's all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and question the legitimacy of this presidency.


BERMAN: The reporting now, Zach, is that there were contacts, there were discussions. The important question now is what were those discussions about? What did they discuss? Did they discuss something that was beyond just pleasantries and looking forward to perhaps the next four years, if Donald Trump would win?

And a lot of that has to do with how much Republicans on Capitol Hill will seek to investigate this? How much will they seek to investigate the Michael Flynn matter? And we're getting sort of different grades of answers on that right now.

WOLF: That's right. I mean, there are a number of different House and Senate committees that could look into this. And, you know, to varying degrees of secrecy, if something happens in the intelligence committee, you know, those have a tendency to sort of go away for, you know, months even years at a time, and you don't hear anything about them.

[05:10:04] Is it going to be in a more public committee where people are called up and asked to testify in public. That could be a little more explosive, I think in the public psyche. It seems like, you know, this is a very difficult thing for Republicans on Capitol Hill. They're essentially investigating themselves. It's their guy in the White House. And that's why it's going to be so remarkable to see them investigating, you know, these ties.

And you have to call them ties at this point, between the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. And, you know, those people are gone, perhaps, now or not. But those ties have existed between them and the Russian government. It's remarkable.

KOSIK: And what they talked about, that's key here -- the content of what they talked about.

All right. Zach Wolf, we've got so much more to talk about. We're going to bring you back in about 20 minutes to discuss this morning. Thanks.

WOLF: Sounds good.

KOSIK: All right. The White House hoping to shift the conversation today, hosting the Israeli prime minister. We are live in Jerusalem with a preview. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:13] BERMAN: So many questions this morning rounding the White House, including the Trump campaign with Russia during the election season. In the midst of all of that, President Trump hosts the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today. And their meeting comes on the heels to some pretty big news, the disclosure from the White House that they will no longer insist on the two-state solution as the ultimate goal of finding peace in the Middle East.

But, White House sources tell CNN the administration policy on Israel is still a work in progress.

I want to go live to Jerusalem to bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann.

Oren, that news came out of a briefing last night from White House officials. The language they used is that Donald Trump will no longer insist on the two-state solution, being the primary goal of Mideast peace.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's a very big break from decades of U.S. foreign policy which says a two-state solution, an Israel state and Palestinian state is the only option. That senior White House official saying that the White House is open to any suggestion or any options that both sides agree to.

Well, the Palestinians have made it clear there is no other option. They will only agree to a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state. But what this shows, the White House policy remains unclear. It's not net been formally formulated. Now, we've seen a change over the course of the election and the last few months.

Initially, President Trump had promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That is a promise he's backed away from, the administration saying still evaluating here. As well as settlement here thought that President Trump would be pro-settler and in line with the right wing views here and he's back away from that, saying the expansion settlements is an obstacle to peace.

So, now, we have more evidence that the Middle East policy hasn't yet been formulated. He's waiting for input from Israel, as well as input from Arab diplomats. All of whom are coming together to shape that policy and we'll see what comes out of it here. Certainly, Prime Minister Netanyahu trying to get better ideas of as well.

Netanyahu wants to keep the meeting focused on both Iran and security, as well as coordination and between the two countries. He wants to keep it away from the Israeli Palestinian conflict and certainly from any talk of a Palestinian state. That's because he's under pressure from his coalition and even his own party to back away from his public commitments to a peace process in pursuit of a Palestinian state.

John, this meeting is so important for both leaders. The optics of it, a statement coming before they've even talked. These leaders trying to show that the relationship is off to a very strong start in the early days of the administration here.

BERMAN: Oren Liebermann, we'll be watching alongside you. It all happened starting at 11:00 here in the United States. Thanks so much, Oren.

KOSIK: A major exit from Obamacare. Humana saying next year, it's going to drop coverage in 11 states, where it sells individual policies, both on the Obamacare exchange and outside of it. It covers 152,000 policyholders in those states. And they will be covered through the end of the year. Now, the company says it expects to lose $45 million on those exchanges.

Humana also saying costs are too high and there aren't enough young healthy enrollees in the poll. This is the first major insurer to exit Obamacare under President Trump who has promised to repeal the law. Now, the president did tweet on this saying Obamacare continues to fail. Humana to pull out in 2018 will repeal and replace and save health care for all Americans.

BERMAN: All right. Big news this morning: Kate Upton is now a three- time "Sports Illustrated" cover model.

KOSIK: She's no match for Tom Brady.

BERMAN: She's on the cover of the "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue. We're going to have much more on --

KOSIK: We're going to pull that picture up. And not let Coy Wire come up --

BERMAN: Coy is a pretty good looking guy. Coy's going to cover all of this on "Bleacher Report."

KOSIK: There he is.


[05:23:30] BERMAN: There is a new best in show. A real dog this time.

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

You know, I've heard that every dog has its day. Ba dum-dum. I don't know.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and John.

We're talking about Rumor. Named after Adele's hit song "Rumor Has It." Rumor for sure named winner of the top prize of the 141st Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, beating out 2,800 dogs from more than 200 breeds. Rumor was runner-up last year, but she had this one on the doggy bag, clawing her way back to take best in show.

No prize money at Westminster. But there is money to be earned. Breeding after a big win. Rumor's handler said, quote, "We're going to go home, relax and find her a husband," end quote. Love is in the air.

LeBron James had no love against the T-Wolves on Valentine's Day. Cavs learning that big man Kevin Love will miss six weeks due to a knee injury. But LeBron still scores, 25 points, 15 assists and one that you're not going to want to miss.

Check this out, the no-look between the legs of Andrew Wiggins. My goodness, that's embarrassing. Have you ever had a pass between your legs? That's the worst feeling in the world with James and Cavs. They win 116-108.

Strange moment in hockey last night. Check this out, Duck's forward reaching out and smashes the leg of an official.

[05:25:01] So, there are multiple reports that Vermette was upset that the linesman dropped the puck too early during the faceoff, while Vermette was dropped early from the game, ejected. Now, he's looking at least a ten-game suspension for applying physical force to an official. Anaheim wins 1-zip.

It is official. Supermodel Kate Upton will grace the cover of this year's "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit edition. She went on Jimmy Kimmel last night for the cover's big reveal. Check it out.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST: So, this is a big deal. Can we get a drum roll or something, please?

Here we go, the cover of the "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue for 2017. Well, Kate, what do you think?


WIRE: Well, the human sand castle swimsuit cover model. Kate tweeted she's honored and excited to be back with an issue that celebrates beauty and confidence in all shapes and sizes, she says. So, that's good stuff. And her fiance Justin Verlander was pretty pumped, too, sending out tweets and congrats to his fiancee.

BERMAN: You remember how she was when Verlander didn't win the Cy Young. She said so, you know, he's returning the favor this time, I'm sure. Go back and look at that, I can't repeat what he said on TV.

Coy Wire, great to see you this morning, thanks so much.

WIRE: You too guys. Thanks.

KOSIK: Thanks, Coy.

Big developments happening overnight. Top advisers to Donald Trump's presidential campaign had extensive contact with Russian officials. We've got details -- next.