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President tells about an attack in Sweden that never took place; Senate to investigate Russian interference in the election; A new executive order on immigration to come this week; Secretary Of Defense Mattis now in Baghdad; Investigation on the death of Kim Jong- Un's half brother; NBA's Sacramento Kings trade Demarcus Cousins. Aired 4-4:30 am ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 04:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN EARLY START SHOW SHOST: The terror attack that wasn't, prompting new questions about the commander-in-chief. What led President Trump to tell supporters about an attack in Sweden that never took place?

ANA CABRERA, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: And are the top senate committee prepares to investigate Russian interference in the election. Officials are trying to preserve evidence saying don't get rid of any documents related to this issue.

SANCHEZ: And with the new executive order on immigration expected this week, Homeland Security is outlining changes on how enforcement of those laws will be carried out. The impact this could have on undocumented immigrants ahead. Good morning and welcome to "Early Start." I'm Boris Sanchez.

CABRERA: Good morning to you. Good morning as well. I'm Ana Cabrera. It is Monday, February 20th. It's 4:00 a.m. bright and early in the east on this President's Day. Let's begin with the surprising comment made by the president over the weekend at that same campaign style rally in Tampa where the president slammed the media for spreading falsehoods.

He made a comment that's drawing questions about where he gets his facts and how he forms his world view. President Trump was trying to back up a claim that unchecked immigration poses a threat and listen to what he said here.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden, they took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.


SANCHEZ: The main problem with that claim as you know, Ana, is that there was no attack Friday in Sweden. Mr. Trump and his remarks also mentioned Germany, Brussels, Nice and Paris so, the context was clear. It turns out the remark came one day after Fox News aired an interview with a filmmaker who's tried to tie Sweden taking in refugees an increase in violent crimes there.

Now Mr. Trump is trying to clarify his point. The White House is trying to clean up the mess and Sweden is trying to contradict the president's claim. CNN's Athena Jones is traveling with the president. She has more from Palm Beach.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Ana and Boris. The president's comments at that Melbourne rally on Saturday suggesting there may have been some sort of terror incident in Sweden on Friday night left a lot of people all around the world scratching their heads. The president later Sunday tweeting that he was referring to a Fox News report that aired on Friday night. Here are some of what that report had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps no nation on Earth is more committed to accepting foreign migrants and refugees than Sweden. In 2016 alone, the country accepted more than 160,000 asylum seekers despite having a population of less than 10 million people. Only 500 of these migrants were able to get jobs in Sweden. But if these arrivals are not able to work, they're at least able to commit crimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was an absolute surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden once they began this open door policy. So, they know that this crime is happening. They can feel it. The statistics are clear. But they would refer to what is the root cause behind it and say, oh, it's just happening more violence. It is men who are raping people not the refugees. They'll make excuses for it. I think that's kind of what they're referring to and the government has gone out of its way to try to cover up some of these problems.


JONES: What's clear here is that the president is an avid watcher of cable news. It's where he gets a lot of his information from. But this lack of precision, the fact that he said something that made it sound like he was referring to a terror incident left a lot of people scratching their heads.

You have the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt taking to twitter to say Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound." The fact of the matter is that the president often repeats things that he's heard or read without checking and this has become a problem. It shows that the president's words matter and that a lot of people all around the world are listening very, very closely to what the president says. Boris, Ana.

SANCHEZ: All right, Athena, thank you. It is worth noting Swedish government figure show the overall crime rate there has changed very little over the last 10 years. Something that Stockholm no doubt had in mind when its embassy in Washington tweeted out this, "We look forward to informing the U.S. administration about immigration and integration policies."

Meantime, the Trump administration is holding nothing back in an effort aimed at ending questions at home and abroad about its stance towards Russia. Vice President Mike Pence in Germany telling world leaders that the U.S. will "hold Russia accountable" even as it seeks avenues for cooperation. This as the White House chief of staff goes on a Sunday talk show to flatly deny recent reports of constant contact last year between Russia and the Trump campaign.


[04:05:00] REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Top levels of the intelligence community had assured me that that story is not only inaccurate but it's grossly overstated and it was wrong. That story in the "New York Times" is complete garbage. And quite frankly, they used different words than that.


CABRERA: It is now clear the White House won't get the final say on this. The senate committee suggests it will conduct a full pledge deep dive investigation into the Trump-Russia connection. CNN's Ryan Nobles has more from Washington.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Ana, good morning. This is a significant development. The senate intelligence committee sending more than a dozen letters to agencies, organizations and individuals connected to the Trump administration telling them to preserve records related to Russia. It's among the clear signs yet that there will be an extensive bipartisan investigation into the Russian government's attempt to interfere in the recent presidential election.

Now the move comes after a private briefing of Republican and Democratic members of Congress by FBI Director James Comey. It was after that meeting which remains a secret that Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, "confident that there would be a bipartisan probe into the issue."

And up until now, the Senate Intelligence chair, Richard Burr of North Carolina had been reluctant to take that step despite being pushed by the ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia. The White House did not deny that the letters had been sent but push back on the idea that there was a big deal saying that just because the records were requested doesn't mean they will reveal anything.

The president himself has forcefully defended the validity of his election win and he's worked hard to downplay any suggestion that there was an attempt by Russia to intervene on his behalf. Boris and Ana.

CABRERA: Thanks Ryan. Now the White House is not backing down after a senior National Security advisor was reassigned following a disagreement with President Trump. White House officials have confirmed Craig Deare was removed from his role as a Senior National Security adviser and sent back to his original Defense Department job. Now Deare had been assigned to the NSE by the Trump administration,

but political reports during a speech Thursday he slammed the president. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon and what Deare says overall dysfunction in the White House. Following his reassignment, an administration spokeswoman said people who don't agree with President Trump should not have a job at his White House.

SANCHEZ: President Trump is trying to narrow the field of candidates for new National Security Advisor. On Sunday, the president interviewed several potential candidates at Mar-a-Lago. Among them, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and acting National Security Advisor General Keith Kellogg among several others. They have looked at interviews coming with concerns that Michael Flynn's forced resignation from the job leaves the White House unprepared to face any sudden foreign policy crisis. Vice Admiral Bob Harward turned down the job last week.

CABRERA: President Trump says he well release a new executive order on immigration this week and we're getting a small glimpse into what it could contain. We have obtained memos from the Department of Homeland Security which show Trump's order could send undocumented immigrants from Mexico back across the border while they await court proceedings.

The new guidance would also tap in laws on asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors entering the country and give broader authority to immigration officers. This new executive action could come as soon as today. Now an appeals court has already suspended the proceedings on Trump's original travel ban.

SANCHEZ: President Trump's attacks on the media are themselves coming under fire from Republican Senator John McCain. This debate kicked off on Friday when the president tweeted this, "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people."

Senator McCain joked with NBC's Chuck Todd about his own sometimes contentious relations with the media. He said he wasn't calling the president a dictator but that dictators get started by attacking the press.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I hate the press. I hate you, especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press and without it, I'm afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.


SANCHEZ: CNN contributor Paul Bernstein who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Watergate calls President Trump's attacks on the press "more treacherous than Richard Nixon's" CABRERA: Time for an "Early Start" on your money this morning. A controversial pillar of the Republican tax plan may be dead in the water. And with President Trump promising a proposal in the next few weeks, what exactly does this mean for tax reform?

A central part of the house GOP's plan is a tax on imports coming into the U.S. companies who rely on imports oppose this including the big retailers many of whom met with President Trump last week, and reports of just many Republican lawmakers don't want it either. So, what's the problem?

[04:10:00] Well, this import tax would help pay for that proposed big corporate tax cut butting the rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. It's going to cost an estimated $1.8 trillion. So this import tax would off setback cost by $1.2 trillion or so and Republicans really have no backup plan to try to balance this budget.

So Trump has not said just yet if he's going to include this import tax in his plan. However, his previous tax proposal did not contain it and experts estimated that tax proposal of the president would cost the u.s. $7 trillion.

SANCHEZ: One of many battles likely ahead in Congress this year should be interesting to watch. Great to finally work with you on the desk this time.

CABRERA: I know. Our Colorado connection. Boris and I both worked in Denver for a while together.

SANCHEZ: Yes, right.

CABRERA: And now we made it in New York.

SANCHEZ: Great to be on the desk with you.

CABRERA: Likewise.

SANCHEZ: The Secretary Of Defense lands in Baghdad for the first visit in the new administration. How will he ease concerns after the president famously said we'd take Iraqi oil? A live report from the Middle East next.


SANCHEZ: This morning, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has landed in Baghdad Iraqi forces launch an offensive to re-capture the western part of the city of Mosul. The move comes after Iraq regained of control of eastern Mosul in a month's long battle. CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live in Istanbul with the latest. Ben, Mosul is the last major ISIS holdout in Iraq. How significant would progress there be?

BEN WEDEMAN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT CNN: It'd be quite significant. This is a city, the second largest city in Iraq and for the Iraqis to drive ISIS out of western Mosul will really be the final chapter in this war that's been going on for more than two and a half years. And of course the presence of Secretary Mattis underscores of course the role the United States plays in that fight.

Of course there were around 5,000 U.S. military personnel supporting Iraqi forces in the battle in addition to the involvement of the U.S.- led coalition in terms of aircraft bombing targets as well. Now, before Secretary Mattis arrived in Baghdad, he make an interesting statement contradicting what we heard from President Trump the day after his inauguration at CIA headquarters where he said that we may have a chance in the future to seize Iraq's oil. Secretary Mattis directly contradicted that before he arrived in Baghdad.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future. We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil.


WEDEMAN: And of course, this comes as something as a reassurance to the Iraqis who are also upset by the fact that Iraq was included in that list of seven countries in the executive order on the travel ban. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Ben Wedeman live for us in Istanbul. Thank you, Ben.

CABRERA: The U.S. is making its presence felt in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Officials say they deployed an aircraft carrier as part of routine maritime operations. This comes amid the growing tension between the U.S. and China over territory and trade. China warning the Trump administration against challenging its sovereignty after learning about this deployment.

OK, this just that bizarre case that started last week. The death of the half brother of North Korea president and now more suspects are being sought in the death of Kim Jong-Un's half brother which officials are calling an act of terrorism. We are live in Kuala Lumpur next.


CABRERA: North Korea now accusing Malaysia and South Korea of collusion in the investigation in the death of Dictator Kim Jong-Un's half brother. Four suspects are in custody. There is an ongoing search for four more in the death of Kim Jong-Nam. And police say he was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last week. The Malaysian government is now ratcheting up diplomatic pressure on its search for answers. CNN's Saima Mohsin is live in Kuala Lumpur, and Saima, South Korea is actually calling the death of Kim Jong-Nam a terror attack?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Ad they didn't stop there. They have said, Ana, that this is undoubtedly according to them without a doubt North Korea's doing. They believe Pyongyang is behind the murder of Kim Jong-Nam. This is now a murder investigation as I confirmed with police over the weekend. South Korea also as you say, calling it terrorism. That has been met with a lot of anger from the North Koreans.

Now, I'm actually outside the DPRK embassy to Kuala Lumpur and just to show a while ago actually the ambassador in an incredibly unprecedented way came out of the embassy, came out here to speak to the press read us quite a long statement to us, in which he said that the Malaysian authorities are colluding with the South Koreans.

Now, the criticism of the Malaysian government started late Friday night when the ambassador actually came to the mortuary after midnight and read out a statement criticizing their handling of the case so far. That was responded by early Monday morning here local time by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry calling the ambassador to the ministry for discussions about the situation. An unprecedented diplomatic move.

They also recalled Malaysia's ambassador to North Korea from Pyongyang for and I quote "consultations." Now, this back and forth has culminated almost into this climatic point of the North Korea ambassador statement in which he said that they do not trust the Malaysian authorities investigation that's the embassy has identified -- now, this is the crucial part, Ana. They have identified the dead man as Kim Chol (ph) according to his passport, which they claim to be a diplomatic passport.

You will remember the deputy prime minister of Malaysia held a press conference last week telling us all that this was indeed Kim Jong-Nam as identified by North Korean officials themselves. This argument continues and this is getting more and more complicated. Ana

[04:25:09] CABRERA: More and more interesting. Saima Mohsin in Kuala Lumpur. Thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Now to the west coast of the United States. More storms headed to water logged northern California after five people died in the state over the weekend. Power was knocked out and cars as you can see were submerged in southern California as the region experienced one of its most drenching storms in recent years. Meantime, forecasters expect heavy rain throughout the day for much of northern California and another storm expected to hit the region mid week.

To sports now, a blockbuster trade overshadowed the NBA's All-Star Game yesterday. Multiple reports say the Sacramento Kings have agreed to trade big man Demarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a package of three players and several draft picks. Cousins, one of the premier players in the NBA but he stirs up a lot of controversy on and off the court that have made him a lightning rod around the league.

The deal pairs Cousins with Anthony Davis who stole the show at the All-Star game last night playing on his home court in New Orleans. He scored a record setting 52 points in the All-Star game obviously winning the games' MVP award as the Western Conference beat the East in a low scoring affair, 192 to 182. They don't play much defense in these games.

CABRERA: It's all offense all time.

SANCHEZ: But it's fun to watch obviously.

CABRERA: They make it so it looks so effortless to playing.

SANCHEZ: Yes, so easy.

CABRERA: Well, big questions for President Trump after suggesting to thousands of supporters a terror attack happened in Sweden. Only problem? It didn't happen. So how is the president defending his actions?