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Trump Aides In Constant Touch With Russians During Campaign; Russia Tight-Lipped On Trump Connection; Pence Has Denied Contact With Russia; Trump Hosting Netanyahu. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 15, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:31:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, new questions for President Trump dating back to his time as candidate Trump. Top advisers to his campaign were in frequent contact with Russian officials. The question this morning, what were they talking about?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Also, new questions over the Michael Flynn debacle at the White House. Why was the vice president kept in the dark about the probe into Flynn's conversation with Russia about sanctions?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Great to see you again. Thirty-one minutes after the hour. Breaking overnight, the swirl of controversy surrounding the White House, Russia in the eye of the storm. Sources tell 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 say 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 come as the White House tries to limit the damage following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn after he allegedly misled the White House about his own contacts with Russia during the transition.

Let's get the very latest on all these breaking developments overnight with CNN's Pamela Brown in Washington.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE & SUPREME COURT 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 Barack Obama were both briefed on the details of these extensive 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 the 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 then-adviser Michael Flynn, according to our sources.

Now, officials emphasize that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However, these communications stood 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 caution the Russians could have been exaggerating their access -- John and Alison.


KOSIK: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks very much. And through every twist and turn in the Trump-Russia saga, Moscow has denied again and again that it did anything to influence the U.S. election despite mounting evidence to the contrary. So, what does the Kremlin have to say now? CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live from Moscow with the latest. You know, many Americans may be waking up stunned to hear these new revelations. What are you hearing from Moscow?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alison. Well, we've just heard from the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and he didn't actually deny there were any contacts. Certainly, this is something we've heard from Russia in the past. The deputy foreign minister admitted a few days after the election that there had been contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign -- never any suggestion there was anything unusual about this.

But the Kremlin spokesman did pour cold water on the reporting around this, saying don't read morning newspapers, you know -- this is anonymous information. And he did say that at a later date more might come out but let's wait for that time, so leaving the door open there and, as I said, not denying any contact. It is the kind of rhetoric we've been hearing out of Russia all morning against the media, mainly.

Another senior Russian politician tweeted earlier that they're trying to beat Trump with the Russia card, essentially suggesting that the media are trying to whip up anti-Russian feeling around this president who, for a long time, has said he had wanted closer relations with Russia.

[05:35:10] One thing that the Russians are very worried about, though, Alison, is that comment from Sean Spicer in the briefing yesterday where he said that President Trump wanted Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. Both the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry saying today that that is a closed issue here in Russia. That that will not happen. Crimea is part of Russia. So certainly, some strains appearing in this relationship that there was so much hope about today.

KOSIK: Do we have that sound on Crimea? OK, let's go ahead and listen to that and I'll come back to you, Clare.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been incredibly tough on Russia. He continues to raise the issue of Crimea, which the previous administration had allowed to be seized by Russia. President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea. At the same time, he fully expects to and wants to be able to get along with Russia, unlike previous administrations, so that we can solve many problems together facing the world, such as the threat of ISIS and terrorism.


KOSIK: OK. So, Clare, based on what you're hearing out of Moscow we're not seeing that de-escalation that he's talking about.

SEBASTIAN: Well, certainly, the issue of Crimea here is a closed one, Alison, as I was saying. There is no suggestion from anyone in Russia that the status of Crimea could change. They see it now as part of the Russian federation. They're even building a bridge between mainland Russia and Crimea.

But, there may be more clarity coming out as we go through this week. We are expecting to hear the -- to see the first face-to-face meeting between high-level Russian and U.S. officials. Tomorrow, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are now expected to meeting and bond at the G20 foreign ministers meeting. That could be a crucial point as we try to get more clarity about how this relationship will unfold.

KOSIK: Yes, and Russia looking to have a good relationship, supposedly, with the U.S., but hearing about Crimea and then these provocations that we had talked about before, it's certainly interesting to see Russia trying to assert itself. Clare Sebastian, thanks very much.

All right, helping us to break down the latest on team Trump and Russia and all the fallout over this, "CNN POLITICS" digital managing editor Zach WOLF joining us again live this morning from Washington. Good morning.


KOSIK: You know, we've watched the White House over the past several months really go to great lengths to deny that there's any relationship between Donald Trump as the candidate, Donald Trump and his aides, as president -- so between that relationship and Russia --

But we're hearing many different stories from what we're hearing out of the White House beginning with -- beginning with the vice president, who talked about -- who talked about this on morning shows, defending the fact that there is no relationship and that Michael Flynn didn't talk about anything about sanctions with Russia during the time when Donald Trump was a candidate. Also hearing the same thing from Sean Spicer just hours before these new revelations came out. I want you to listen to all of this and we'll talk about it on the backside.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the -- this is all a distraction and it's all a part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this president.

JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Back in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now, today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even Gen. Flynn, had any contact with Russians before the election?

SPICER: My understanding is that what Gen. 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.

KARL: I'm talking about during the campaign.

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


KOSIK: So, where you're hearing denial after denial from the Trump White House on this, it's really feeling like a cover-up.

WOLF: Well, so, Sean Spicer, we should note, was not part of the Trump campaign when these contacts apparently took place. Mike Pence, we were told, I think, when he made those comments didn't know that the contacts had taken place. He was one of the last people, it sounds like, in the White House to find that out.

I would be interested to, you know, hear somebody ask him if he still thinks this is an effort to, you know -- part of a narrative to delegitimize the campaign now that it's pretty clear, according to U.S. Intelligence, you know, sources that, in fact, there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. That will be an interesting follow-up, I think, with him. [05:40:00] But, you know, clearly, there have been consistently -- consistent denials from the Trump campaign and then the Trump White House that these contacts took place and it turns out that they did, at least according to this latest reporting. So that brings, I think, a lot of credibility into question.

BERMAN: Right. There's the honesty issue about whether the talks happened or not. The White House had been misleading about that during the transition -- Sean Spicer, right there. That is now clear if these conversations did take place as we are now reporting. But then, the issue is what was taking place during these conversations? What did they talk about? That matters, too, because just talking, in and of itself, isn't necessarily breaking any rules or even pushing the boundaries of any rules. Conversations can happen so there needs to be investigations.

One would think that Congress wants to look into this to find out just what the truth is. How much willingness is there on Capitol Hill when it comes to the Republicans leading Congress, Zach?

WOLF: Well, you know, Republicans on Capitol Hill would essentially be investigating their own guy -- their own White House. We have seen some indications that investigations will take place, likely I think, in the Intelligence Committees -- those proceedings at the Intelligence Committee level. Often, we don't know for sure yet about this because it's still in the planning stages -- it would happen, likely, in private, potentially.

Is Michael Flynn going to be called to testify? That's a -- that's kind of an open question here. Are we even going to hear from these primary sources? Republicans on Capitol Hill haven't said that they would do that. The committee that spent the most time investigating the Benghazi scandal from the previous administration has said -- Jason Chaffetz has said he's not going to investigate this. He wants to punt to the Intelligence Committee instead. So you don't feel the same sort of zeal for investigations with this administration, certainly, that you did with the Democratic one, despite these pretty shocking things that we're learning.

KOSIK: You know, meantime, you've got President Trump kind of putting the blame on leaks coming out of the White House. He tweeted, "The real story here is why there are so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington. Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, etc.?" This isn't about leaks, this is about so much more.

WOLF: Well, I think there's the policy thing that John was talking about. What was promised, if anything was promised? What was discussed in these calls? That's something we need to get to the bottom of. I think for the White House, they want to know that they can have, you know, conversations amongst themselves and not have those things leaked to the media, so that's distressing to them. I don't think, personally, that's it a larger issue than the -- than the Russia ties but, you know, clearly the White House has a different -- has a different view.

BERMAN: All right, Zach Wolf for us in Washington. Very, very busy morning there. Thank you so much, Zach.

KOSIK: Thanks, Zach.

BERMAN: Obviously, the White House will face questions on this today. The president will face questions on this today. He will answer questions when he appears with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. What's going to happen during that meeting? We're live in Jerusalem with a preview.


[05:47:00] BERMAN: A very busy day in Washington with a lot of questions for the White House and President Trump. He will take questions as he meets with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister comes to the White House today for meetings and, of course, these meetings also happen at a very big time for these two countries.

The White House, overnight in a background briefing, made clear that it will no longer insist on the two-state solution as the ultimate goal to try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sources do tell us that the administration's policy on Israel is still a work in progress.

Let's go live to Jerusalem and bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann. Oren, you know, this is a big development. The two-state solution has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy, not to mention, really, international policy for many, many years.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been the international consensus that a two-state solution is the only way forward for peace in the region and that certainly hasn't changed, not even with the senior White House official saying the White House won't "insist on a two-state solution," saying they're open to any agreement that brings peace between the two parties here -- between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians rejected that, saying there is no other option here. It's an Israeli state next to a Palestinian state.

What's clear is that the White House and President Donald Trump's Middle East policy is not yet formulated. It remains unclear and ambiguous as he takes input not only from Israel but also from Arab diplomats about how to handle such a complex and delicate region, especially as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This meeting, of course, also important for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he wants to focus it on Iran security and then coordination and cooperation between America and Israel. He wants to stay away from talk of settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That's because he's under pressure, not only politically from his coalition and his party, but also from his right-wing voter base to abandon the pursuit of a Palestinian state. So he'd like to keep talk away from that.

The optics of this meeting so important. In fact, they've scheduled their statement for before their meeting so they won't have talked yet about any serious policy. But what they want to show here, and that is both Trump and Netanyahu, is that they're off to a far better start and a much stronger relationship than the rocky end of the relationship between former President Obama and Netanyahu. John, it's such a critical time for both of these leaders to show that they're strong. Netanyahu facing his own criminal investigation back home, as the Trump administration deals with the resignation of Flynn.

BERMAN: They both deal with domestic, not to mention relationship issues as well. Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

What a day we have had. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us now. Good morning, sir.

KOSIK: Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Good morning, John. Good morning, Alison. Well, we were asked by a GOP Congressman yesterday to move along -- that the situation had ended. We said there was zero chance until the questions got answered, and guess what? There are even more questions now.

We've heard from the White House consistently, as recently as yesterday, that nobody with the campaign was involved in any communications with Russia during the election. That is not true. Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is going to be here with CNN reporting that proves that that is not the case.

[05:50:15] We're also going to be speaking to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle because calls for an investigation are growing louder. We now know that the FBI has multiple probes going on around this area of exchange between the current administration and Russia. The questions remain, though. Who knew what Gen. Flynn was doing? Had he been instructed to have these communications? What was the timing of all of this? And ultimately, what is behind this appeasement of Russia?

We are also going to have Kevin Brady on. Now, he's the ranking GOP member, the head of the House Ways and Means Committee. He wants to talk about tax reform. They say they have a plan that's going to make your life better. And also, he could have a critical role, John and Alison, in the investigation into any contacts between our president and Russia, but he is stalling them. We'll ask about that, as well.

KOSIK: All right. So much going on.

BERMAN: Yes, big questions, Chris. Looking forward to it. Thanks, man.

KOSIK: See you then. The record rally for the stock market rolling on, even more impressive -- the performance of two stocks that are probably part of your 401(k). We're going to show you big gains, coming up next.

[05:55:30] BERMAN: Nearly 200,000 people have the green light to return to their homes. These are all the people who live near the Oroville dam in Northern California. Authorities lifted the mandatory evacuation order although a warning remains in effect, with crews still trying to finish repairs to the spillway. President Trump has approved emergency aid for the area.

There is a new "Best in Show." The name of that dog is Rumor. It is a German Shepherd. Thank goodness, a real dog, because normally there's little toy dogs.

KOSIK: Oh, that's true. That's a good point.

BERMAN: These dogs that are really just big cats.

KOSIK: This is one --

BERMAN: German Shepherds --

KOSIK: -- one darn dog.

BERMAN: I mean, you know, no Lab has ever won or retriever has ever won --

KOSIK: Really?

BERMAN: -- "Best in Show" which is a pet peeve of mine. Pet peeve, no pun intended.

KOSIK: That's almost as good as mine before.

BERMAN: This is the 141st Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

KOSIK: Oh yes, look at her go.

BERMAN: Rumor was runner-up last year. This time she beat out nearly 3,000 other dogs and her owners say right now what she's going to go do is, you know, try to find a husband.

KOSIK: Yes, forget Disneyworld.

BERMAN: Forget Disneyworld.

KOSIK: All right, from dogs to your money. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Record run -- it's another record run for stocks set to roll into day five this morning. We're looking at Dow futures -- they're higher. S&P 500 futures -- S&P 500 futures up slightly. Both have hit four straight record highs.

And two widely-held stocks, they are also at all-time highs. I'm talking about Goldman Sachs hitting its first record close since the recession. Investors are loving those bank stocks this year, thanks to the president's promises of lower taxes and less regulation. Apple shares also closing at an all-time high. Shareholders are pretty darn optimistic about the next iPhone. That's after a sales rebound in the last quarter.

The stock market pushing higher despite comments from Janet Yellen that another rate hike could come next month. Testifying before Congress, the Federal Reserve chair said waiting too long would be unwise, but many analysts think the Fed is already behind the curve. Yellen says if the Fed sees steady improvements in employment and inflation it may pull the trigger on another rate hike. Its next meeting is set for mid-March.

And the CEOs of seven major retailers are heading to Washington to take on a proposed border tax. Sources are telling "CNNMONEY" that the chief executives of Target, JCPenny, Best Buy, and GAP are going to be meeting with President Trump, plus the leaders of Tractor Supply Company, AutoZone, and JoAnn Fabric. Those are names you know.

It's not the president's threats to tax Mexican imports that has them worried -- no, no. They're going to be lobbying against the plan by congressional Republicans for a broad border adjustment tax, and 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. So there's not only uncertainty in the healthcare industry, there's a lot of uncertainty in the retail markets, as well.

BERMAN: It would be most significant tax reform, you know, in generations. And, Kevin Brady, who is one of the authors of it, he's on "NEW DAY" in a little bit so it will be interesting to hear from him.

KOSIK: And we'll be watching, and thanks for joining us. I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, February 15th, 6:00 here in New York.

And we do begin with breaking news. The White House just said there was no contact between the Trump campaign and Russia before the election, and yet multiple sources tell CNN several high-level advisers to the president repeatedly made contact with senior Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Among the names captured in intercepted phone calls are Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the now-ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. So what is the connection between Russia and the Trump administration? It is day 27 of Mr. Trump's presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jim Sciutto. He is live in Washington with all of the breaking details. What have you learned, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Chris and Alisyn, good morning. This is what we know. High-level advisers very close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. Intelligence. This, according to multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and administration officials. President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of these extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, again, according to officials familiar with the matter. Boththe frequency of these communications and the proximity to Trump of those involved "raised a red flag with U.S. Intelligence and law enforcement."