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EARLY START

Who Leaked Trump's Taxes?; GOP Health Care Struggle; U.S. Concerned Putin Interfering in Libya; Dutch Voters Cast Ballots Today. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:09] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is the long-awaited Trump tax reveal. Well, sort of.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it isn't.

ROMANS: The figures from the president's 2005 tax returns leak out. But it contains few answers and leaves many questions. And the most critical, who leaked this?

BRIGGS: And the president now facing health care resistance from the very lawmakers he's counting on to get the bill passed. Can this bill survive as pressure mounts for changes, with the House speaker refuses to budge?

Good morning, and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you this Wednesday morning.

BRIGGS: And you, trudged through the snow.

ROMANS: Yes, we got more to go. School closed today again. Ew.

Four a.m. in the East here.

Let's talk about the big story overnight, the big Trump tax tease turned out to be something closer to the Trump tax distraction. The White House confirming a report that Donald Trump 2005 tax return showed $38 million in taxes paid on more than $150 million in income, though the White House hand-forced by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow who teased a major scoop. She brought on journalist David Cay Johnston who said an anonymous source left the first two pages of Mr. Trump's return in his mailbox.

In the end, Maddow's report was widely criticized as overhyped and a disappointment, with only the top line figures on earnings and taxes paid. There are still a lot of questions here.

BRIGGS: Question hanging over all of this, is there a chance the return was actually leaked by Mr. Trump himself? Perhaps in order to draw unwelcome attention away from the Republican health care bill and the Russian connection?

CNN's Don Lemon asked the journalist who obtained the very tax return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think it's possible that he could have sent them to you?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, JOURNALIST RECEIVED TRUMP TAX RETURNS: Oh, absolutely. Donald has a long history of leaking information about himself. And he doesn't think quite like most of us do. He doesn't have the sort of framework of what makes him look good or look bad that the rest of us have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: And the White House for its part took aim at the very messenger, saying in part, "You know you're desperate for ratings when you're willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago."

Now, for the record, it's not illegal to report the contents of a legally obtained tax return. Mr. Trump promised to release his tax returns himself after the conclusion of a routine audit but it remains unclear when that might be. Never.

More recently, aides have suggested that since he won the election, he will not be releasing his returns.

You're a tax guru, what was the big headline? I'm still looking for it.

ROMANS: Donald Trump made a lot of money.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: Donald Trump paid some taxes. That was 2005. It was a long time ago, and it doesn't reveal any kind of connections he may have where -- I mean, there's just a lot of questions. A lot of questions.

He should just release it all, right, so the questions go away. What the pages don't display are the biggest concerns over the president's finances. Where did it come from? The nature of investments. Most importantly, any financial ties to Russia or other sovereign countries. Those questions can only be answered if the president releases his entire tax history.

The first president in decades not to do so, he's holding himself to a different standard than American tradition here.

So, what do President Trump's 2005 tax returns show? First, the president wrote off more than $100 million in losses in 2005. That reduced his tax bail. And of the $38 million the president paid, $5 million was regular income tax. The rest was paid under the alternative minimum tax, the dreaded AMT. It's an additional tax that prevents wealthy Americans from avoiding

income taxes. And the president wants to eliminate it. Without it, Trump would have paid a 4 percent tax rate in 2005. That's less than what the poorest Americans pay.

BRIGGS: OK.

ROMANS: There you go.

BRIGGS: Somebody wants to know who is invested in all the Trump businesses, but you're not going to find that, are you, from any tax return?

ROMANS: It depends. It depends on how the deals are structured. It depends on how the income is reported coming in. So, it depends. That's why so many tax experts would just like to see it.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: The lack of transparency --

BRIGGS: Who hold his debt? Probably not going to find that out either.

All eyes on President Trump's tax return, there's another story at least as important on Capitol Hill. New Republican defections are making the road to passage even tougher for the House health care bill. "The Washington Post" is reporting overnight that conservative populists loyal to President Trump are urging him to ditch his support for the House Bill. It is on top of members of the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus and several moderate House Republicans vulnerable in 2018 who all now say they won't support this bill. Several Republican senators including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all now say changes need to be made to the House bill.

ROMANS: Opponents speaking out today. There's a conservative Republican rally near the Capitol at 1:00 p.m., featuring remarks from Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

House Democrats set to have their say as well today at a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and the House Budget Committee has postponed its review of the bill from today to Thursday.

[04:05:09] That will give the White House more time for its full court press to salvage the bill.

With the latest now, CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the fallout from those damaging CBO numbers only serving to continue on Capitol Hill for a second day. The reality as House GOP leaders look across the playing field right now is they've got significant problems on both sides of ideologically spectrum. They have conservatives who've been very boisterous about their concerns about this bill. Now, they need to worry about moderates. Those moderates who that coverage number could pose very real political difficulty for them going forward.

The reality remains this, House GOP leaders not planning any major changes for this bill, despite what you heard from some White House officials. It's a reality that was kind of underscored by Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Take a listen.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the only vehicle that seeks to achieve what people on our side of the aisle have been talking about since 2010. This is it, if we don't get this through, the goal of repealing Obamacare and instituting a system that will be patient-centered is going to be unbelievably difficult.

MATTINGLY: And, guys, really, that's kind of the underscored selling point here. This is the bill, this is the moment, this is what you campaigned on for cycle after cycle after cycle. If you missed this opportunity, it goes away. There's no second changes. There's no alternative bills that are in the works right now. Everybody needs to get behind this bill.

But I can't stress enough, the idea that the White House has perhaps been freelancing and negotiating with conservatives, they're saying frankly that if there's any negotiation at all on this House bill, it's become very frustrating to House leaders, sources tell me, as they recognize that their strategy, their bill itself was agreed upon by the White House a couple weeks ago. Any divergence from those agreements, at least according to House leadership sources, that causes problems -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Long way to go. Thank you, Phil.

Tensions boiling over the battle to overhaul Obamacare. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska already said she publicly has concerns about her party's healthcare replacement plan. Listen to her reaction when CNN's Manu Raju asked her where she stands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(INAUDIBLE)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: A minute to get to my constituents, please?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes or no on the House health care bill?

MURKOWSKI: Would you please respect --

RAJU: I respect --

MURKOWSKI: I've been getting in there for two hours, come on.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Hey, man, long days on Capitol Hill, add a snowstorm to it.

Senator Murkowski considered a critical swing vote on health care reform --

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[04:14:48] BRIGGS: The Pentagon growing increasingly concerned about Russia interfering in Libya. U.S. aerial reconnaissance detecting Russian aircraft and a large drone at an air base in western Egypt closed to the Libyan border.

[04:15:01] One U.S. general testifying he believes the Kremlin is trying to determine the course of Libya's political future.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian for the latest developments.

Good morning to you. What is Russia saying about this presence?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Dave.

We're getting denials from all corners here in Russia. The Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying he has no information about it. The defense ministry saying there are no Russian forces in Egypt -- this was, of course, reported by "Reuters" -- calling it a hoax and the Kremlin saying that it has no information either about special forces or the presence of a drone on the Egyptian border with Libya. But they are saying at the Kremlin that they are, you know, keen to see the situation in Libya stabilizing and they are having contact with all sides there.

But there is no suggestion there that they are -- well, at least from the Kremlin, that they are planning to, you know, intervene in that process. However, we have certainly been seeing a closer engagement from Russia in Libya in recent months, not only with the internationally backed government in Tripoli, but in particular, with the head of the rival administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk led by Khalifa Haftar, the general. He visited Moscow twice last year. Not only that, but he also boarded a Russian carrier in the Mediterranean in early January, had a conference call there with the Russian defense minister.

And that, in particular, is raising concerns in the U.S. that Russia may be looking to install or prop up a Russian-backed leader in Libya to perhaps cement its influence in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean after the success of its intervention of Syria leading to the continued presence of Bashar al Assad's regime there.

Certainly, the Russian side saying that is not the case. They are talking to both sides in the conflict. In fact, the Libyan prime minister was just in Moscow earlier this month. So, that is the line we are getting from Russia, Dave. BRIGGS: Clearly, a leadership void there in Libya. Thank you, Clare.

ROMANS: All right. A big election today overseas. Will the popular surge we've seen in several countries change the leadership dynamic from major ally. We'll take you to the Netherlands.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:21:41] ROMANS: Welcome back.

Voters are heading to the polls in the Netherlands today in what's seen of the first of several elections testing a populist sentiment in Europe this year. Immigration and the continued membership in the European Union of some of the hot button of a campaign to elect a new parliament and it comes amid growing attentions with Turkey serving as a backdrop.

CNN's Atika Shubert live for us in the Netherlands as voting there gets underway.

Good morning, Atika. Good afternoon -- I guess it's late morning for you.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's still morning here.

And we're inside a polling station here in Volendam, people have just been voting. It's been a pretty steady trickle of people coming through. They've had more than 100 votes in the first hour. And they expect about 70 percent to 75 percent turnout.

Now, this is a town of about 23,000 people were in. And the last election, quite a number voted for Geert Wilders of the far right Freedom Party. But that may change this election. Immigration, identity have been part of a very heated debate here.

But a lot of voters have been telling us, the economy matters to them and health care. And a lot of voters, even as of last night, haven't made up their minds yet. They're going into the voting booth right this morning really still unsure. It's a very unpredictable election and it will be a tight race for all of the candidates.

ROMANS: Here's something so interesting, Atika, about the nationalism you're seeing in some of these European elections. The Dutch economy is actually doing pretty well, isn't it?

SHUBERT: It's doing actually very well. They've had growth the last year of 2.1 percent. That's actually more than the United States had.

And it's something that the incumbent prime minister is putting his election, his reelection campaign to. He's saying, you know, with the austerity programs we've put in place, growth has come back, let's not change the plan by going with a candidate like Geert Wilders who wants to have a referendum throughout the E.U.

So, this is part of his campaign. Let's stay the course. Whether or not that's what voters ultimately choose, we'll have to find out later tonight. Results come in around 9:00 p.m. local time.

ROMANS: Yes, and fascinating. Fascinating parallels to the U.S. election where just as the economy was starting to do better, you heard in the voting -- you know, in the polling places, people thought the economy was terrible and that really directed and influenced their vote.

Thank you so much, Atika Shubert. We'll check in with you as voting continues today.

BRIGGS: Five deaths now blamed on the nor'easter that slammed the Northeast but the snowfall and strong winds aren't over for some areas. The storm easier than expected on major cities, like Philadelphia, Washington and certainly here in New York. But smaller running like Binghamton, New York, where buried, you can't spot the car under all that snow.

ROMANS: Oh my goodness!

BRIGGS: Sort of. I think there's a mirror we see hanging out. Record-breaking snow totals of almost 30 inches there with more expected today.

ROMANS: The snow, winds, the sleet, making a mess in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania rather. This downed tree crushed a car and car's spun out as cameras were rolling near Boston. Amtrak will run modified service today between Boston and D.C. Nearly a thousand flights cancelled already for today. Uh-oh, a total of almost 9,000 since Monday.

Schools in Boston still closed today. Some schools in New Jersey via the New York suburbs also closed for today.

So, who has the most snow and what conditions are they facing? Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri tells us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[04:25:00] PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Dave and Christine.

After yesterday here, you're seeing some improvement across parts of the major cities, but you work your way towards the north, it is a different story. Still some heavy snow left in place fall around the Southwest, 90s in place around places like Phoenix.

But look at this, Bridgewater, in the Catskill Mountains, 40 inches came down. In places like Norfolk, we're talking about a 15 to 25 or so inches. And in just a few miles, a significant difference. Central Park, 7 inches, four miles away, the observations of 13 inches in place.

So, again, it shows you the significant differences based on the track of that storm. But still, some snow showers left in place around northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire today, about 3 million underneath the blizzard warning that's in place, and about 20 million in the winter weather alerts. But expect about eight to 12 more inches to come down in places like Syracuse, potentially around Burlington, work your way out towards Stowe (ph), could see another foot of this before it's all done with by this afternoon. And just a blustery day left in store across much of the Northeast today.

And notice, it really wants to warm up, but not by much, not at these seasonal levels there where we should be around 49. We keep it below that level through at least the next week across the Northeast.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Thank you, Pedram.

What did you get there at home?

ROMANS: I don't even know.

BRIGGS: We haven't been home yet because of it.

ROMANS: I'm afraid.

BRIGGS: I don't know either.

ROMANS: I'm afraid.

We've made it almost two years for Donald Trump's taxes, now that we have it, or some of it, it's more like a -- more like a distraction than a big revelation. Who decided to leak out this information?

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