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President Trump Goes Off; GOP Moving Ahead with Health Care Overhaul; VP Pence Offering "Reassurance" to Europe. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You're dishonest people. This is fake news put out by the media. I inherited a mess. It's a mess.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And that is just the tip of the iceberg. An erratic performance from President Trump at a White House news conference, it's a performance that has many asking, what could come next, just four weeks into his term?

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

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miguel Marquez. Good Friday morning to you.

KOSIK: Good Friday to you.

MARQUEZ: It is Friday, February 17th, 4:00 a.m. here on the East.

This morning, everything at the White House is running smoothly. Just ask President Trump. In a bizarre, extended news conference, the president lashed out in a stunning public display of anger at the media, at judges, and leakers and at his critics. He complained about inheriting a mess and insisted that reports and leaks about turmoil in his administration are false. Despite his insistence that all is well in the West Wing, Mr. Trump will now have to begin his third search for a national security advisor.

Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward said no to the job, these days after the president demanding Michael Flynn's resignation for misleading the vice president over his talks with the Russian ambassador.

In a statement, Harward explained declining the national security job this way, "Since retiring, I had the opportunity to address financial and family issues that would have been challenging in this position. Like all service members, understanding and live this job requires 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and focus and commitment to do it right. I currently could not make that commitment." KOSIK: But it may not be as simple as that. A senior Republican says central to Harward's decision was, quote, "a question of clarity" regarding the lines of authority and more bluntly, a friend of Harward's says he was reluctant because the White House seems so chaotic. The friend says Harward called the job an expletive, which starts with an S, sandwich.

A White House official asked by CNN if there's another candidate for national security adviser on the horizon replied, "Not that I'm aware of."

MARQUEZ: Now, the timing of Vice Admiral Harward's decision perhaps not entirely a coincidence. It came just hours after the president's rants of a news conference which marked a total break from everything we have seen before. Even Capitol Hill veterans were stunned. One Republican senator texting CNN's John King, "He should do that with a therapy and not on live television." Another Republican lawmaker called it the new normal, adding, "We're just trying to manage this s- word."

CNN's Sara Murray has more from the White House.



Donald Trump capped of off a very busy week with a rock 'em sock 'em press conference, something very different from what we are used to seeing in the east room. He stretched on for an hour slamming the media and going after his former political opponent Hillary Clinton, all as he assured the press and American public that there's no turmoil in this White House.

TRUMP: I turn on the TV. Open the newspapers. And I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved.

MURRAY: All of that and the president making news on Russia, insisting he is not aware any of the top campaign advisers were in contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Now, that runs contrary to what we are hearing at CNN from sources who say that there are former Donald Trump top campaign officials who were in constant contact with Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign.

And in that press conference, President Trump continued to speak glowingly about Russia, saying he hopes to have positive diplomatic relations going forward.

Today, Donald Trump heads to South Carolina for an event at a Boeing plant there, before he heads off to Mar-a-Lago, also known as the "Winter White House" for the weekend.

Back to you, guys. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: OK, Sara Murray, thanks for that.

And the news conference marked the first time President Trump answered questions about reports his campaign was in constant communication with Russia. The president also responded to news the Russians have a spy ship patrolling the Eastern Seaboard.



TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship 30 miles off shore. Everyone in the country would say, "Oh, it is so great." That's not great. That's not great.

I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you had a lot of presidents that haven't taken that tack. Look where we are now.


KOSIK: All of this coming the day the top America and Russia diplomats met for the first time since Trump took office.

But how were the remarks received at the Kremlin?

[04:05:00] Let's go live to Moscow now and bring in our Clare Sebastian.

Good morning, Clare. What are you hearing?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Alison, I think we are getting a sense of perhaps a little confusion, even perhaps frustration at the mixed messages from Washington. On the one hand, President Trump says he wants a closer relationship with Russia, but the comments from the defense secretary and secretary of state in the last 24 hours.

I want to read a tweet from a prominent Russian senator, Aleksey Pushkov, I think summed it up. He says, "Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks in vain that he can put pressure from a position of strength. Tillerson is playing a second carry," three lines from one administration."

I want to point out the comments from Mattis where he said, they hope to start dialogue from a position of strength have provoked a fairly strong reaction here in Moscow. The defense minister here saying that he called that fruitless and he wanted clarity on that. We heard from another deputy prime minister who said that NATO should check its facts about the Russian military before saying it wanted to approach Russia from a position of strength.

Publicly, there is still the will here in Russia. We had the president saying yesterday that he thinks, you know, it would be a good time to restore dialogue with U.S. intelligence agencies. I think there is a sense of euphoria that we saw when Donald Trump first took office and certainly when he was elected is starting to fade fairly significantly, Alison.

KOSIK: Confusion and mixed messages, they seem to be hallmarks coming out at the administration at this point.

All right. Clare Sebastian, thanks so much.

MARQUEZ: Now, President Trump also sticking with the line that it's more important to investigate the source of all of the recent leaks that embarrassed his administration rather than looking into the substance of them. Here is what he said when asked about Michael Flynn's forced resignation as national security advisor.


TRUMP: What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information. It was given illegally. That's the real problem. How does the press get this information that's classified? How did they do it?

You know why? Because it's an illegal process. And the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves.


MARQUEZ: Now, the FBI is not expected to pursue criminal charges against General Flynn over his contact with Russian officials. Law enforcement officials tell CNN that FBI agents found Flynn cooperative and do believe he did not intentionally mislead them.

KOSIK: OK. Many can agree that there are a lot of bizarre moments at the news conference, but here's one of the more bizarre, the president asking an African-American reporter to set up a meeting between him and the Congressional Black Caucus. Longtime White House correspondent April Ryan, she had asked about the president's campaign promise to revitalize inner cities. So, in his answer, Trump claimed African-American Congressman Elijah Cummings had canceled a meeting with him, something Cummings later said never happened. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Every day I walked in, I said, I would like to meet with him, because I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight, he was probably told, he was probably told, don't meet with Trump. It's bad politics.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I'm still excited about meeting with the president. I think basically his staff gave him some incorrect information. The meeting was never set. We didn't get all these calls that we talked about. I'm still looking forward to meeting with the president.


KOSIK: For her part, April Ryan says she is a journalist, not a meeting convener. But she says she would like to cover a conversation between the president and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Almost completely lost in the president's news conference, the first thing he actually said. Alexander Acosta is the nominee for secretary of labor. He is currently the dean of the Florida International University Law School. He led the civil rights division at the Justice Department for are two years under George W. Bush. He was also a U.S. attorney.

And before that, he served on the National Labor Relations Board from 2002 to 2003 under Bush. He has an under grad and law degree from Harvard.

Acosta is the only Hispanic pick in the Trump administration. He also spoke out against anti-Muslim discrimination and testimony to Congress six years ago and handled discrimination cases as assistant attorney general. As labor secretary, he will be tasked with protecting workers from discrimination, improving workplace safety and adding job opportunities. Plus, he is expected to oversee the monthly jobs report, something the president has called a hoax.

MARQUEZ: President Trump vowing to roll out the new executive order on immigration next week. The president says the new version of the order will keep Americans safe while acknowledging it will be, quote, "tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision." He is referring to the court ruling that suspended his current travel ban and the subsequent move by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding that decision.

[04:10:01] The three-judge panel overseeing the proceedings has agreed to hold off further action as they await Trump's new executive action.

KOSIK: Veteran Republican operative Mike Dubke expected to be named the new White House communications director. Two Trump's administration officials tell CNN's Jim Acosta the announcement could come as soon as today. Dubke, who is the founder of Crossroads Media, would take over the communications role from Press Secretary Sean Spicer who is currently doing both jobs.

MARQUEZ: One of President Trump's biggest promises, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Are Republicans finally taking some steps to get it done?


KOSIK: There's still no plan, but there is movement within the GOP on the vow to repeal and replace Obamacare. Congressional Republicans met privately to hear from officials leading the efforts. Still, internal division over key components are slowing the process as lawmakers head home for a week-long recess where angry voters are expected to demand answers.

[04:15:04] CNN's Phil Mattingly has more now from Capitol Hill. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Miguel and Alison. Look, there's no question about it. Republicans just haven't coalesced around a repeal-and-replace plan like they expected. They campaigned on this issue for multiple elections now and there are real problems here.

But over the course of the last couple days, we have seen them really start to work behind closed doors to try to get information out to members. Some members want to move quickly. Some would like the process to slow down. Here's what's important: those members are now going home for recess, where they're faced with town hall backlash, seven-figure ad buys by one liberal group attacking them on this issue specifically.

This is why these meetings, these briefings are so important. And this is why Speaker Paul Ryan laying out an actual timeline matters. Take a listen.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Obamacare and repealing Obamacare was a big reason why we won the House in 2010. It's a big reason why we won in 2014. And it's still yet a reason why we won the White House in 2016. We owe this to the conservatives around the country who elected us to repeal, to completely repeal Obamacare.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, there is no question about it. There is a long road ahead. But the fact legislation will actually start moving, the process of legislating will actually start happening, that in and of itself will start assuaging some of the concerns of the members.

But the reality is this, on policy, not just on politics, not just on timeline, there are clear differences inside the Republican Party still on what to do with Medicaid, on what to do with the taxes that are applied to the Affordable Care Act. They don't have straight answers on that yet. That will be with the negotiations going forward.

It is a long path ahead. No question about it. But there is at least movement and we talked to Republican aides and they acknowledge that is a positive sign going into what is expected to be a rough recess -- Alison and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: All right. Our thanks to Phil Mattingly.

The Senate is in session at this very hour for a rare overnight debate as the clock ticks down toward the vote on the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. At least check, it seems opponents do not have enough votes to block the Oklahoma attorney general's confirmation. Pruitt has long criticized the agency he's poised to lead and filed more than a dozen lawsuits questioning its policies.

The vote is set for 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This comes as an Oklahoma judge ordered Pruitt to release thousands of documents believed to be communications he had with the fossil fuel industry. Pruitt has until Tuesday to comply with that request.

Now, on the heels of President Trump's explosive new conference, the vice president heads to meet with world leaders overseas. How he can ease concerns about the administration.


[04:22:07] MARQUEZ: Vice President Mike Pence on his way to Europe where he is expected to offer reassurance as he meets with world leaders at the Munich security conference. Those assurances are needed perhaps more than ever as mixed signals on foreign policy keep coming out of Washington, D.C.

CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live in Munich for us with more.

Nic, I imagine there's going to be a lot of European leaders who want a private moment with the vice president.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You can bet. The perspective from Europe at the moment is not only Vice President Mike Pence, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, all coming to Europe at this time.

There's a sense this is damage control by the White House administration because President Trump has been so critical of the European Union, so critical of NATO. He has been very critical even of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Mike Pence will be meeting and speaking with Angela Merkel when he's here. She has been criticized by President Trump of handling of refugees, of the German economy, taking advantage of U.S. business and industries.

So, there's a lot for him to say, a lot for him to do. The message that we heard from Tillerson, from Mattis, and the message we expect to hear from Pence is reassurance that the United States is with its transatlantic allies and wants to work together, support NATO, isn't going to rush quickly into some deal with Russia, is going to exercise caution and concern.

You know, the worry here for European leaders for Angela Merkel when she talks with Mike Pence and the others when they get to talk with them here, you know, what's going to happen when he gets back to the White House? What will they hear from President Trump? There is a real concern and uncertainty about the state of disappearance of chaos within the administration at the moment.

We heard it from the Russians in a critical way. The Europeans, if you will, the Germans, the French, the British, you know, they get it. It's a new administration. But they're worried about the message. So, this reassurance coming from Mike Pence would be hugely important.

He's also expected to give the priorities from the U.S. perspective for the relationship with the transatlantic allies. But the reassurance absolutely key and really needed -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: It will be interesting to see how he walks that fine line between with his own administration and what European leaders want to hear. That relationship always so close and now in question.

Nic Robertson for us, thank you very much.

KOSIK: Let's switch gears now and talk about the weather. Shall we?

MARQUEZ: Ah, the weather. Thank God, the weather, yes.

KOSIK: Storms in the West last for a weekend, and bring more than a foot of rain and in the area of that shaky dam in Northern California.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joining us now with the latest.

Good morning.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Miguel and Alison.

It is going to be a difficult weekend across California, as a series of storms continue to line up across the Pacific. This will produce big time rains and big time snowfall for the mountainous region.

[04:25:03] Not good news for the already threatened Lake Oroville Dam. Evacuation orders continue across this region.

Take a look at the latest flood watches across Central and Southern California, including Los Angeles. We could experience 5 to 10 inches of rainfall across the south-facing mountain slopes. It's not only heavy rain. It's strong gusty winds that could bring down trees and topple power lines, gusting in excess of 50 miles per hour.

The central U.S. looks dry, weak disturbance moves across the Southeast. We have dry conditions across the northeast. The temperatures for the Big Apple today, 42. The nation's capital, 50.

Back to you.


MARQUEZ: Thanks to Derek Van Dam.

The future of the Jets quarterback Darrelle Revis very much in the air this morning. Revis once considered the best cornerback in the league, he is accused of punching out two men in alleged street brawl in Pittsburgh last weekend. He's now charged with four felonies and misdemeanor.

Revis' attorney told ESPN his client did not start the fight and suffered injuries of his own. That lawyer also says he's been trying to reach out to Revis to arrange his surrender.

KOSIK: President Trump with the news conference, the likes of which we have never seen before. More from a surreal sight at the White House coming up next.