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FBI Denied White House Request; Trump Heads To CPAC; Steve Bannon Makes Rare Appearance At CPAC. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: And did the White House violate procedure by speaking with the Bureau? Exclusive CNN reporting and the White House response you don't want to miss.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: And, President Trump getting ready to speak at CPAC after his vice president and top advisers set the stage. We'll tell you what to expect.

ROMANS: And concern among some intelligence officials that the White House is injecting politics into their agencies to suit its needs on the upcoming travel ban. Live coverage on all our political headlines right now. Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. We are the opposition party, at least, if you ask Steve Bannon yesterday at CPAC. The White House, overnight, voicing objections to exclusive CNN reporting about communications between the Trump campaign and Russia. Multiple U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI rejected a White House request that it knock down reports about constant communication between Trump campaign officials and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

CNN and "The New York Times" first reported on those contacts last week. Now, late last night, Press Secretary Sean Spicer objected to our characterization of the White House request to the FBI. He told us, "We did not try to knock the story down. We asked them" -- the FBI -- "to tell the truth."

ROMANS: Another White House official said that the request was made only after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting on communications during the campaign was accurate. And even if that were the case, the White House reaching out to the FBI would violate procedures on communications with the Bureau about active investigations.

CNN's Evan Perez was part of the team -- the CNN team -- that broke this story. He has more for us this morning from Washington.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, a U.S. official says that this all began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after these stories were published. The White House official says that McCabe told Priebus that "The New York Times" story vastly overstated what the FBI knows about these contacts.

But a U.S. official says that McCabe didn't discuss the aspects of this case and we don't know exactly what McCabe told Priebus. A White House official says that Priebus did later on reach out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. The FBI refused. The FBI has refused to comment on this story.

The communication between the White House and the FBI was unusual because of a decade-old restriction on such contacts. Now, the request from the White House would appear to violate procedures that limit these types of communications with the FBI on pending investigations.

A White House official says that McCabe initiated these conversations. But, either way, the White House asking the FBI to help refute these stories runs contrary to Justice Department procedures memos that were issued in 2007 and 2009 that are supposed to limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Evan, thank you. Today, President Trump addresses the conservatives who helped put him in office. The president speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this morning shortly after 10:00 a.m. CNN's Tal Kopan is leading our digital team coverage at CPAC. She joins us live from Washington. My, how times have changed. A year ago he turned down CPAC fearing some backlash and, now, taking center stage. What do we expect?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Dave. And, you know, we expect, I'm sure, a warm reception for the president who has led his party out of the wilderness and into the White House, so to speak. You know, he takes the stage a little bit later this morning and, even yesterday, it was the main subject. Many of his White House staff were there teasing his appearance. Kellyanne Conway said after today it will be called "TPAC" for Trump, you know.

And so, there's a lot of anticipation of what he says, but keep in mind, you know, while being at a rally is sort of Trump in his element, this is not a crowd that's exactly the same as one of his rallies. And as you mentioned, it's a crowd he skipped last year. And these are folks who are in some ways political operatives who may have some orthodoxy that's a little bit different than what he's said in the past. So it will be really interesting to see what message he brings to them and whether it's any different than the Trump we've sort of gotten used to on the campaign trail. TBD on that.

But we did get a little preview last night. Vice President Mike Pence who, of course, is a sort of conservative darling, a long-timer at CPAC, really knows this audience. He came out and gave sort of a full-throated defense of the White House policy moving forward. And, you know, one of the things he really went after -- as the Hill dragged their feet a little bit on what they want to do on Obamacare, Mike Pence went straight for it and said it will absolutely repealed. And let's take a listen to that.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me assure you, American's Obamacare nightmare is about to end, despite the best efforts of liberal activists at town halls around the country. The American people know better. Obamacare has failed and Obamacare must go.


[05:35:20] KOPAN: And, you now, that actually followed another marquee event which was when we saw, on stage together, all buddy- buddy, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. And, you know, Bannon really delivered a populous, economic, nationalist message, not necessarily what they're used to hearing at CPAC. But certainly, you know, the man sort of known a little bit as Trump's brain really laid out the vision from the White House in that regard. It sounded a little bit different than Mike Pence but also was warmly received.

So, we're waiting to hear what the president has to say to CPAC today and more from the conservatives who are gathered there.

BRIGGS: A lot of great body language there this morning. I mean, they, yesterday, were very chummy.


BRIGGS: It was a good presentation. Thank you, Tal. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: Tal Kopan, trying to --

KOPAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: -- refute, I think, some of that image a leaking -- a leaking cabinet that's at odds with each other. Let's break all this down. "CNN POLITICS" reporter Eugene Scott is here again, and from Washington, CNN contributor Salena Zito, reporter for "The Washington Examiner" and a "New York Post" columnist.

Salena, you're in that room and you can tell us a little bit about the feeling. You think it's pretty warm, the response here. Talk to me a little bit about Steve Bannon and his performance yesterday and the -- you know, he said he's going to go to war for this president every day and for, you know, the deconstruction of --

BRIGGS: The administrative state.

ROMANS: -- the administrative state and for economic nationalism.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER, COLUMNIST, NY POST: Well, I mean, it was -- you could hear Trump's voice throughout when Bannon was speaking, right? He was talking about, you know, the media, about the establishment, about disrupting sort of politics as we know it. And he was very strident about that but he was also very passionate and warm about it.

And he presented all the tenants of what Trump won on in terms of inciting people, not only conservatives but sort of that blue -- that blue line -- that blue barrier of moderate Democrats to join him, and it was very well received. It was a very unifying message from the Trump administration coming out yesterday from all aspects, from Bannon and Priebus to Pence. I suspect the same thing from Trump and Kellyanne Conway yesterday. Very happy crowd. They have the majority of everything --

ROMANS: Right.

ZITO: -- for the moment.

BRIGGS: Yes, and in the spirit of Trump, Priebus, and Bannon, we'll continue the chemistry here --


BRIGGS: -- the touching (touches Scott on shoulder). So, look, it played very well in that room.

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: How does that one play nationally? He certainly articulates --

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: -- the worldview that people have been looking for from Donald Trump. How does it play across the country?

SCOTT: I don't think very well. I mean, we saw a poll yesterday showing that approval for Donald Trump is actually below 40 percent now. Now, that's the base. That's the people who were already on board the Trump train. But I don't think that Steve Bannon or Priebus said anything that would bring people who have been challenging the administration onto their side.

One thing that was very interesting is that they consistently said everything you're reading about us is wrong. What would have, perhaps, been helpful would be to specify what's wrong exactly and to give some details that would help people.

BRIGGS: Well, they did point to them being a team --

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: -- working together, not fighting one another. That they spend some 15 hours a day in the same room, which pushes back --

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: -- against the notion that they don't like each other and don't get along. SCOTT: But we're -- I think there's more interest in not that team

but their teams, right, and so they may work together, whether that's true or not, but these people below them -- what they're doing is, I think, of heavy interest.

ROMANS: Can you talk a little bit about this use of the word "military operation?"

SCOTT: Sure.

ROMANS: I mean, I think we have the sound that we can play where the -- where the president is talking about the removal of criminal undocumented people in this country -- listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting really bad dudes out of this country and at a rate that nobody's ever seen before, and they're the bad ones. And, it's a military operation.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was using that as an adjective. It's happening with precision and in a manner in which it's being done very, very clearly. I think we've made it clear in the past, and Sec. Kelly reiterated it, what kind of operation this was. But the president was clearly describing the manner in which this was being done.


ROMANS: This is another, Eugene, example of the president says something forcefully and then his team has to kind of go -- kind of re-explain what he really meant. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a law enforcement agency, it's not a military --

SCOTT: Right.

ROMANS: -- agency.

SCOTT: Right, and I think the challenge that the Trump administration runs into is that many people don't always hear the clean-up. I do think the White House has been very clear they're not going to use the National Guard. They're not going to use the military, as of now, to go about their deportation goals. But I think there are people who are fearful along the border that this could be more forceful.

[05:40:07] ROMANS: Well, I think it's for Democrats, frankly. When he was talking about military operation, deportation forces, that could be something that comes back to haunt him --

BRIGGS: Again --

ROMANS: -- in four years in the campaign ads.

BRIGGS: But, what the Trump administration is saying is it was a semantic debate.

SCOTT: Right.

BRIGGS: Characterize the manner in which they'll go about it.

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: That military -- maybe he meant militant? I don't know, Salena. Is this a semantic debate? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt here?

ZITO: You mean -- he doesn't use words the same way we do, right? He doesn't -- he doesn't --

BRIGGS: He has the best words, he just doesn't always use them.

ZITO: Right. And so, he doesn't put the emphasis on the precision of how he uses them in the same way that newspapers and reporters are used to, sort of dissecting what the president is saying. You know, Ithink at that moment what he was trying to be very specific about was more about the bad dudes, as he says, as opposed to, you know, the military part.

He's trying to convey look, we're not trying to break up families. We're not trying to get rid of, you know, good people. We're really after the bad guys. And in the way that he said it because he used the word "military" because he's trying to denote strength, it comes across as like oh, my God, the military's coming out to take people away.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Right.

ZITO: That's his problem. That's his challenge.

ROMANS: Yes. Salena, thank you so much for joining us this morning -- this Friday morning. Eugene, very nice to see you. A great conversation, guys. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: There are new calls for President Trump's tax returns this morning. Several town hall event constituents demanded that lawmakers push for the release of the president's tax information, many feeling it's the only way to make sure the president does not have international conflicts of interest, especially with Russia. One GOP congressman from Florida, an ardent Trump supporter, says he agrees.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Let me say right here, right now, absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns. (Cheers)

TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: Would the Judiciary Committee get him to release the tax returns? You all can --

GAETZ: Well, I'm one member of the Judiciary Committee but I do believe that Donald Trump should release his tax returns.


ROMANS: President Trump is not legally obligated to release those tax returns, though every president and presidential nominee has done so for the past 40 years. During the campaign Trump said he would release his returns when they are done being audited, but the IRS says audits do not prevent individuals from disclosing tax data. Dave Briggs thinks there's about zero percent chance he ever releases his tax returns.

BRIGGS: My advice would be is if you're waiting for those tax returns don't hold your breath. He might just take his name off buildings before that happens but, anyway, we shall see.

Did President Trump's lawyer really promise to deliver a controversial peace plan for Ukraine directly to the White House? A Ukrainian lawmaker says yes and he's speaking out to CNN. We're live in Kiev.


[05:47:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Repeal the job-killing healthcare law so we can get started on replacing it. It should be repealed and it should be replaced. We can repeal Obamacare and replace it.


BRIGGS: Former House Speaker John Boehner spent years advocating just that, but he's now throwing cold water on the idea that Republicans can actually repeal and replace Obamacare. At a healthcare industry conference in Florida, Boehner said the president and Congress will wind up repairing, not repealing the health law.


BOEHNER: I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace because that's not what's going to happen. It's not all that hard to figure out, except this. In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like -- not once.


BRIGGS: Safe bet you'll hear some pushback today at CPAC against that. The former speaker also weighed in on the first month of the Trump administration. He says the administration will likely look much like the Trump campaign, sometimes divisive, incoherent or disrespectful, but he says, also sometimes effective.

ROMANS: There is concern this morning among some in the Intelligence Community that the White House may be politicizing intelligence related to the travel ban. A senior White House officials tells CNN that President Trump has assigned the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to help build the case -- the legal case for the temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. Now, that ban was blocked, of course, by the federal courts.

The official says the evidence for a security threat from those countries is substantial, but some intelligence officials tell CNN they are worried the Trump White House is shopping around among agencies, seeking an intelligence report to fit its policy instead of the other way around. The White House declined to make on-the-record comment for this story.

BRIGGS: New fallout on the administration's move to return authority to the states regarding bathroom policy for transgender students. Arguably, the most high-profile face of the transgender community, Caitlyn Jenner, speaking out.


CAITLYN JENNER, ADVOCATE FOR TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: I have a message for President Trump from well, one Republican to another. This is a disaster and you can still fix it. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community. Call me.


ROMANS: And that's being shared pretty widely on social media this morning.

BRIGGS: Ninety seven hundred retweets. But again, this will likely be settled by the Supreme Court, regarding a Virginia case, soon.

ROMANS: All right. It is about 50 minutes past the hour. The Dow is on fire. Ten straight days of record highs. Your 401(k) is loving it. Now just a few gains away from topping another major milestone. I'll tell you what it is. That's next.

BRIGGS: Good news for our retirement.


[05:54:15] BRIGGS: A bizarre story linking a push for peace in Ukraine with the president's personal lawyer. A Ukrainian lawmaker says he presented his plan for peace to Michael Cohen, who promised to take that plan to the national security adviser. Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live in Kiev. He spoke to this Ukrainian lawmaker who made these accusations and has more on the story this morning. Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave, a complicated tale here but it all evolves dinner at a luxury Manhattan hotel between, as you said, Ukrainian M.P.Andrii Artemenko, Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and businessman Felix Sater.

Now, it does open an interesting window onto the perhaps unofficial, unconventional, at times private, and some may say left field ways in which diplomacy and foreign policy -- at least it's perceived here in Kiev -- in the Ukrainian capital -- to be occurring around the Trump White House. Here's what thatUkrainian M.P. had to say to me.

[05:55:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF ANDRII ARTEMENKO, UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER: We probably spoke around 20-25 minutes where I present my intentions -- my peace plan for the Ukraine. How we can stop the war, how we can finish this. And also, he says listen, this is a gentleman that's very potential (ph) and he wants to send your message to Trump administration.

WALSH: When you first spoke to Felix Sater, did you ever imagine that your peace plan would end up on the then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's desk?

ARTEMENKO: No, absolutely not. It was the Michael Cohen idea. He mentioned his name first in all my meetings. And he said listen to Michael Flynn for his personal opinion. He's most powerful man who can really support this idea. Really support -- who can help you. Who can provide this information President Trump.


WALSH: Now, Felix Sater says he was at the dinner -- says that peace was discussed and that Mr. Cohen said he would consider this an issue for Michael Flynn, the security adviser. That contradicts Michael Cohen. He says yes, he was at the dinner. They didn't discuss peace. And also, conflicts the White House who said it never got anywhere near them from Mr. Cohen or Mr. Artemenko.

What we do see here, though, let's say, is this public perception that in a world of the Trump White House, if you happen to know somebody from Trump's business past or a personal acquaintance you might able to freelance a peace initiative straight to the highest levels of the White House. That upset some here who see the official peace track for Eastern Ukraine to be way more important about pressuring Russia through diplomacy, not perhaps these backroom difference initiatives which some welcome because anything, frankly --


WALSH: -- could bring peace here. But others say perhaps destroys that broader established State Department-based way of dealing with complex issues like war here. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Thank you. You have the appearance that Rex Tillerson is once again on the sideline -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning here. The Dow hitting another major mark. Ten record highs in a row. Dave Briggs, the average is up more than 750 points over those 10 days.

BRIGGS: Cha-ching.

ROMANS: Great for your 401(k). Futures are slightly lower right now after a drop in global stock markets so we'll watch that. If the Dow can keep this thing going just a few more days, two more milestones. The longest streak of record highs was 12. That was back in 1987. The longest streak of gains at the close, 14, set way back in 1897. I don't think they had iPhones then.

Check out some of these big names. Each of these companies hit all- time highs during trading. Amazon, Apple, Home Depot, Boeing, Southwest Airlines, JPMorgan Chase. These are just a handful of the S&P 500 stocks at all-time highs. It shows how broad this rally has been. Your retirement account likely benefiting here. They are widely-held.

Quickly, what's the catalyst for all of these record highs right now? Investors excited about Trump's promises to roll back regulations and spend big on infrastructure. And despite recent comments that it's going to raise rates soon, fairly soon, many believe the Fed -- the Federal Reserve is way behind the economic curve. That's keeping cheap money flowing.

The biggest prize for Wall Street right now would be tax cuts. Investors feel that will boost corporate profits. And yesterday, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wants tax reform done by the August recess.

BRIGGS: One would expect to hear from President Trump on that tax cut plan --

ROMANS: Perhaps.

BRIGGS: -- coming this morning at CPAC.

ROMANS: Perhaps in just a few hours. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Have a great day. I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The FBI rejecting a White House request to knock down media reports about Trump's associates and Russians.

PEREZ: The request would appear to violate procedures.


PENCE: Despite the best efforts of liberal activists at town halls, the American people know better.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The Trump White House seeking an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.

TRUMP: We're getting gang members out, we're getting drug lords out. It's a military operation.

GEN. JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I repeat, there will be no use of military forces in immigration.

SPICER: The United States will not yield its supremacy to anybody.

TRUMP: If countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 24th, 6:00 here in New York. Chris is off today. David Gregory joins me. Great to have you here.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN HOST: Good to be here. Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Happy Friday.

GREGORY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: If only it weren't such a slow news day.


CAMEROTA: Kidding. We begin with two CNN exclusives about the Trump White House. CNN has learned that the FBI rejected an unusual request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports that the Trump campaign was in constant contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

GREGORY: There is that and another CNN exclusive. Growing concern in the Intelligence Community this morning about the steps the White House is taking to build the legal case to justify its travel ban. Is the Trump White House politicizing intelligence?

We are now at day 36 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.