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President Trump's Angry News Conference; GOP Moving Ahead with Health Care Overhaul; VP Pence Offering "Reassurance" to Europe. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:30] 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.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, calling that preview of the press conference a bit of a gross understatement. President Trump with an extraordinary condemnation of virtually all of his critics that has everyone asking, what could possibly happen next?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

And 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.

Bob Harward said no to the job, this days after the president demanded 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. He said, "Since retiring, I had the opportunity to address financial and family issues that would have been challenging in this position. Like all service members understand 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." MARQUEZ: 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 lines of authority." Another Republican official says Harward didn't feel he'd be able to form his own team and more bluntly, a friend of Harward says he was reluctant because the White House seems so chaotic.

The friend says Harward called the job an "S" word sandwich. That's pretty blunt.

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

KOSIK: The timing of Vice Admiral Harward's decision is 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've ever seen before. Even Capitol Hill veterans were stunned.

One Republican senator texting CNN's John King saying this, "He should do that with a therapist and not on live television." Another Republican lawmaker called it the new normal, adding, "We're just trying to manage this expletive."

CNN's Sara Murray has more now 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.


MARQUEZ: Thanks to Sara Murray.

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 that 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, "Oh, it's so great."

[04:35:03] 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.


MARQUEZ: Now, all this came the same day the top American and Russian diplomats met for the first time since Trump took office.

How were the remarks received at the Kremlin, though? We want to go live to Moscow and bring in our Clare Sebastian. She's there for us.

Clare, he talked about Moscow and Russia in that press conference yesterday. A lot of mixed messages. How are they defining the tea leaves there in Moscow?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miguel, there's a lot to decipher here in Moscow. And I think there is some level of confusion about the mixed messages coming out of Washington. And perhaps some concern that political forces might force President Trump to move away from his stated pro-Russia policies that certainly we heard in the campaign.

I want to read a tweet from a Russian politician Senator Alexey Pushkov, tweeting in the early hours in the morning in Moscow. "Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks in vain he can put pressure from the position of strength. Tillerson is playing second to Kerry. Three lines from one administration."

So, I really think that kind of sums up the mood here that just not sure which direction this is going to go. How the president is pulled in different directions. But on the Mattis comments, the defense secretary saying yesterday in Europe that he expects that the U.S. diplomats will negotiate from a position of strength a fairly strong response to that here from Moscow.

The Russian defense minister saying that that would fruitless. That he expects clarity from Washington on that issue. Another sticking point could be Ukraine. Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, saying he expects Russia to abide by the Minsk agreement to reduce tension in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine is certainly a key sticking point here in Russia. Russia said repeatedly that this is an internal Ukrainian issue, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Fascinating that they are seeing such stark differences of opinion coming out of this administration, clearly not on the same line with Russia.

Clare Sebastian for us in Moscow -- thank you.

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


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.


KOSIK: The FBI is not expected to pursue any criminal charges against General Flynn over his contact with Russian officials. Law enforcement officials tell CNN that FBI agents found Flynn cooperative and do not believe he intentionally misled them.

MARQUEZ: Now, one of the strangest moments of the news conference that is saying something was 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 had asked about the president's campaign promise to revitalize inner cities. In his answer, Trump claimed African-American Congressman Cummings, no shrinking violet, by the way, had canceled a meeting with him -- something Cummings later said never happened.


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.


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

KOSIK: A meeting setter upper.

MARQUEZ: Setter upper, it's a new job.

KOSIK: Almost completely lost in the news conference, the first thing he said when he came out of the gate, Alexander Acosta. Acosta is the new nominee for secretary of labor.

So, let me give you some background on him. 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. Acosta is the only Hispanic cabinet pick in the Trump administration.

[04:40:01] He also spoke out against anti-Muslim immigration in testimony years ago and he handled discrimination cases as assistant attorney general. As labor secretary, he will be tasked with protecting workers from discrimination and improving workplace safety and adding new job opportunities. Plus, he's going to be overseeing the monthly jobs report, something the president has called a hoax.

MARQUEZ: Now, 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.

The three-judge panel overseeing the proceedings has agreed to hold off further action as they await Trump's new executive order.

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: So, are Republicans getting closer to repealing and replacing Obamacare? Signals out of Washington, D.C. showed movement, but how close are they to a deal? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:45:34] MARQUEZ: Well, 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.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


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.


KOSIK: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

And the Senate is actually in session right now. It's 4:47 a.m. East Coast Time. This is a rare overnight debate as they clock ticks down toward a vote on the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. And it appears 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 he's actually filed more than a dozen lawsuits questioning the very agency's 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. He is expected to be confirmed by then.

During the first month in office, two presidents have seen bigger stock market gains than Donald Trump. Got a hint for you, they are both known by their initials. Hmm, I'll give you the answer next.


[04:52:48] MARQUEZ: Vice President Mike Pence on his way to Europe today 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 are coming from Washington.

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

Nic, what would be the thrust of the Europeans, what do they want to hear from Mike Pence?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They want to hear the message of the one that in particular that is coming with, which is reassurance. Let's not be under any illusions here. Right now, European leaders are looking at what's going on in the White House.

They heard everything President Trump had to say. So, you have the vice president coming out saying one thing (VIDEO GAP) Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, in Germany the past day or so. And you have James Mattis, secretary of defense, who has been in Brussels, will be here in the next couple hours as well.

The message they are bringing as far as the Europeans can see is one of damage control and damage limitation against what President Trump has said. Think about it this way. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, she will be on the state speaking with Mike Pence early tomorrow.

Angela Merkel had been heavily criticized by President Trump, criticized for her policies on refugees, letting so many into the country, criticized equating her essentially with President Putin in Russia and criticizing as well her saying that the German economy is trying to steal jobs from the United States.

So, you know, when Mike Pence comes here and he speaks with Angela Merkel, it will be reassurance. We're told he'd lay out the priorities from the U.S. perspective. But that's what we heard from Secretary of Defense Mattis to the NATO allies, reassuring support from the United States. That is what we heard from Rex Tillerson yesterday in Bonn, saying that he wasn't going to go over the heads of the Europeans to make a deal with Russia. There were concerns about Russia's involvement in Ukraine.

All of these things are very important to European leaders. But they'll be under no illusion as well what happens when these top three administration executives get back to the White House. What will they then hear from President Trump?

[04:55:02] They will have watched the press conference and heard about it yesterday as well.

So, those concerns will continue. But reassurance at this time is very critical. I was at a European Union meeting two weeks ago. Absolutely worried about the direction of the United States is going in. So, this potentially begins a reset on that concern.

MARQUEZ: To be a fly on the wall on those meetings later today. Nic Robertson for us in Munich -- thank you very much.

KOSIK: All right. Let's talk some weather. Storms in the West could last for a week and bring more than a foot of rain, including some in the area of that shaky dam in California.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joining us now with the latest.

Good morning.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have big weather heading toward southern California this weekend, Miguel and Alison. Take a look at the latest watches from the National Weather Service. Anywhere you see that shading of green, we have flash flood watches in place. That includes, by the way, Los Angeles.

Now, rain is not the only concern. High winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, perhaps. You can see the shades of red indicating the high wind warnings in effect. That is all thanks to a series of storm systems that continue to line up our atmospheric river of moisture that's going to produce significant rain and high elevations of snowfall. Not good news for the already threatened Lake Oroville spillway. Remember, evacuations are still in place across the area.

Elsewhere throughout the U.S., dry for much of the eastern half with the exception of the southeast with the weak disturbance moving through. But if you like spring temperatures, look at the warm up in the nation's capital and the Big Apple.

Back to you.


KOSIK: Definitely take that warm-up.

MARQUEZ: We do like warm-ups, don't we?

KOSIK: Absolutely.

MARQUEZ: All right. Thanks for that.

The NFL career of New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis hangs in the balance. Revis, once considered the best cornerback in the league, 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: OK. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream.

The five-day streak of record highs for the three averages, it is over. The Dow managed a small gain on Thursday's close. But NASDAQ and S&P fell slightly. Despite the president's comments on tax reform and news conference yesterday, investors -- well, they now want to see action. That has futures ticking lower this morning. Stock markets in Europe and Asia are falling as well.

Now, there is one trading day left in the first month of Trump's presidency. But the stock market needs a huge gain today to make the Trump stock rally the biggest of all time. Currently that record belongs to Lyndon B. Johnson in his first month in office. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the S&P 500 jumped 6 percent. The second best gain during a president's first month in office came after JKF inaugurated in 1961.

But Trump is in third place with a 3.8 percent gain so far. He is pretty happy about it. He tweeted about it first thing yesterday morning, "Stock hits new high with longest winning streak in decades. Great confidence even before tax plan rollout."

OK. Americans are taking a lot more debt. Total household debt in the U.S. jumped to, get this, $12.5 trillion at the end of last year. It is now less than 1 percent below the peak debt total the economy hit in the third quarter of 2008. That was on the eve of the Great Recession.

This is all according to the New York Federal Reserve data. Now, I know while these numbers look alarming, there were two big differences between now and 2008. So, there are fewer delinquencies now and fewer bankruptcies. So, that shows more stability and with a tight labor market, Americans, they're feeling more confident to take out more loans.

Mortgages account for two/thirds of all outstanding debt. Student loan debt is 10 percent. But I want to show this. Check out what is next, auto loans. This was a big reason for the jump in debt overall.

Auto loans hit the highest level on record in 2016. Americans now owe more on their cars than they do on credit cards. You know what they say? If you can't pay down the debt on the credit card each month, put those in the freezer and forget about them.

MARQUEZ: The freezer helps.

KOSIK: The freezer helps. Keep them cold. Exactly, out of reach.

MARQUEZ: Good solid financial advice.

EARLY START continues right now.



TRUMP: 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.


KOSIK: Oh, that is just the tip of the iceberg. An erratic performance from President Trump at the White House conference. It has the performance has many asking what could come next just four weeks into his term?

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

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. It is Friday, February 17th, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

KOSIK: And this morning, everything at the White House is running smoothly.