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White House Defends Wiretap Claims; Budget Facing Harsh Criticism; Republican Health Care Plan in Jeopardy? Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:09] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You're mischaracterizing what happened today. Where was your passion and where was your concerned when they all said that there's no connection to Russia? Where was it then?


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House delivering a blistering defense of President Trump's wiretapping claims despite the fact that bipartisan members of the Senate Intel Committee say there is no evidence.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Would you cut funding for Meals on Wheels? President Trump's budget plan is facing serious backlash this morning. But the White House stands by their numbers.

BRIGGS: And the number of House Republicans opposing the GOP health plan reaching a critical number overnight. House Speaker Ryan lost more support than he can handle to pass the bill.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs on this St. Patrick's Day. One of us remembered. One of us did not.

ROMANS: I have a green pen. That's all. But I'm --

BRIGGS: A green pen?

ROMANS: I'm Irish every day. I'm not just Irish today. How's that?

BRIGGS: Well done.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. I'm 16 percent Irish everyday.

I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, March 17th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Good morning, everybody. The White House lashing out on all sides, defending President Trump's unfounded wiretapping accusations. The most combative stance yet unleashed in the White House briefing for the ages. This thing was epic, folks. Press Secretary Sean Spicer pushing back hard against reporters,

quoting the House speaker, congressional and intelligence leaders who all say there is no evidence President Obama ordered a wiretap of the Trump campaign.

Speaker Paul Ryan not mincing words on the subject.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have not seen evidence there was a wiretap or FISA court order against Trump Tower or somebody in Trump Tower.


BRIGGS: Ryan backed up by Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Mark Warner. Their statement saying, quote, "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications the Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.

CNN's Jim Acosta was directly in the line of fire at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the White House is still digging in, trying to explain President Trump's baseless claim that former President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. During a testy news briefing over here at the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer predicted the president will still be vindicated after the Intelligence Committees up on Capitol Hill investigate the matter. Here's what he had to say.

SPICER: The president has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance. So, that's --

ACOSTA: It sounds like, Sean --


ACOSTA: -- that you and the president are saying now, well, we don't mean wiretapping anymore, because that's not true anymore. So, now, we're going to say other forms of surveillance. What's it going to be next?

SPICER: No, no -- Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day, we've talked about this for three or four days. What the president had to, quote, "wiretapping," in quotes, he was referring to broad surveillance. And now, you're basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.

The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does -- but where was the concern -- (CROSSTALK)

SPICER: -- hold on. I just --


ACOSTA: -- not evidence --


SPICER: No, no. What I -- I think the president addressed that last night, said there's more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there's widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people. That came up --


ACOSTA: -- investigation going on as to whether there was contact between the president's campaign and the Russians --


SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you -- you somehow believe that you --


COSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at these various --


SPICER: OK. OK. I get it. Somehow, you seem to believe that you have all of this information. You've been read-in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: And President Trump will have another opportunity to sound off on this controversy when he holds a joint news conference with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on today -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Jim, we admire your restraint.

FBI Director James Comey will testify before the House committee on Monday. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, telling CNN he expects Comey will also say he has seen no evidence to support the president's wiretapping claim.

ACOSTA: All right. Jim Acosta asked the White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney if the deep cuts in the new White House hard power budget are also a hard-hearted budget.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: I don't think so. In fact, I think it's probably one of the most compassionate things we can do. This budget simply reallocates and reprioritizes spending as any family or business would do.


ROMANS: The thing here, though, the federal government is not a family and it is not a business. And while supporters will say the budget cuts wasteful and inefficient program, there is a whole lot of backlash to get some of things getting cut hard here. For example, Meals on Wheels. The White House says there is no evidence that Meals on Wheels works.

The program in many independent studies say otherwise. This started back in 1954. It supports 5,000 community organizations. It helps 2.4 million seniors get meals and safety checks and friendly visits.

And supporters and administrators of Meals on Wheels say that, you know, a year of the cost of feeding a senior in Meals on Wheels is way less than one day in an ER if they were to fall or something were to happen and no one to check on them.

[04:05:06] Another move that's getting push back is the $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health, the NIH. A 20 percent budget reduction.

The American Medical Association issuing this statement, "The American Medical Association has grave concerns with proposed deep cuts to the NIH and their impacts on public health. NIH conducts vital research into cancer, chronic diseases and other illnesses, all of which are major drivers of health care costs," end quote.

Bottom line is, will private companies, you know, fund research into very obscure diseases? No, that's what the government steps in. That's where the government researchers step in. So, that's a big concern there.

BRIGGS: Highly controversial day on the Hill and those measures indeed.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: Well, the bill to replace Obamacare hanging in the balance this morning with the growing number of Republicans voicing opposition to the plan. House Speaker Paul Ryan clinging to his hope the measure will survive. He cannot afford to lose support from more than 21 Republicans. And right now, exactly 21 Republicans have gone on record saying they will either oppose or are leaning against this measure.

President Trump still sounding hopeful, tweeting, quote, "great progress on health care improvements being made. Republicans coming together."

More now from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.


Opposition continues to stack up here on Capitol Hill over the House health care bill. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, he has very little room for error here as he continues to work behind the scenes to wrangle the votes he needs. The bill did inch forward a bit on Thursday up here on Capitol Hill, passing the Budget Committee. It now goes on to the Rules Committee. And that's where Speaker Ryan can potentially make these small tweaks and small changes that he has been talking about.

That's where essentially it gets really difficult. You have Ryan who very well knows he needs to attract enough conservative votes and make enough changes to attract new conservative votes, but not make too many changes to lose moderate votes.

Here is how he put it on Thursday.

RYAN: Clearly, the main parts of this bill are going to stay exactly as they are, but we are making those improvements and refinements based upon the feedback we're getting from our members and the president of the United States is the one who's been mediating this. The president of the United States is the one who's bringing people together and sitting around a table, hashing out our differences so that we get to a consensus document.

The goal here is get to a bill that can pass.

SERFATY: And note there at the end, Speaker Ryan taking pains to portray that he and President Trump he believes are in sync as they push forward on this bill and really trying to push some ownership and some responsibility for its passage back on President Trump -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Sunlen, thank you for that.

Developing this morning, the Seattle federal judge who temporarily blocked President Trump's first travel ban has declined to extend that order to travel ban 2.0. But Judge James Robart's ruling issued last night makes no practical difference between -- because two other judges have already blocked the new travel from going into effect for now.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirming that the administration does plan to appeal those two rulings, rulings that are preventing the president's revised ban on travelers from six majority Muslim countries from going into effect.


SPICER: The danger is real and the law is clear. The president was elected to change our broken immigration system and he will continue to exercise his constitutional authority and presidential responsibility to protect our nation.


BRIGGS: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee believes President Trump may have revealed classified information during an interview Wednesday night with FOX News. And the president was being asked about his wiretapping allegation against President Obama when he revealed the CIA had been hacked before he took office. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want people to know the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken, that was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation.


BRIGGS: Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff says he's trying to determine from intelligence officials precisely what Mr. Trump was talking about. He acknowledged the president has the power to declassify anything anytime, but he called Mr. Trump's comment, quote, "reckless".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in South Korea today among rising tensions with North Korea. But why does Tillerson believe diplomacy has already failed? We'll go live to Seoul, next.


[04:13:42] BRIGGS: Happening right now: Rex Tillerson overseas in South Korea, speaking right now with the South Korean foreign minister. Tillerson sending a clear message the Trump administration is abandoning diplomatic efforts to talk North Korea out of a nuclear confrontation. The secretary says after two decades of trying, it's time for a new approach.

You can see him standing at the podium now as the South Korean foreign minister speaks.

For more on what he means, let's go live to Seoul, South Korea, and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks.

Paula, are you with us?


Yes, I'm just up at the DMZ where Secretary Tillerson was a little earlier today, talking to the military brass. As you say, though, he is now talking to the politicians. He is next to Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister.

And the main headline of what he said is if policy of strategic patience is over. This was the Obama administration policy, almost a wait-and-see policy. Not engaging with North Korea. But it's widely believed to not have been successful as North Korea's nuclear and missile program has increased and increased with some intensity over recent years.

Now, Secretary Tillerson also said that North Korea must understand the only way to a secure and peaceful future is to abandon developments of nuclear weapons.

[04:15:06] Now, he did mention a new range of policies. I've just been dipping an eye of this press conference. At this point, I haven't heard anything new. So, we still don't know exactly what the policy will be for the Trump administration.

But we are hearing Secretary Tillerson saying that this is not just an Asian problem. It is a global problem. More countries need to be involved and China needs to be doing more, the main trading partner and main ally of North Korea, also mentioning THAAD, the U.S. missile defense system, which started to arrive here last week. China is furious about the deployment. Secretary Tillerson said that the economic repercussions that China appears to be carrying out on North Korea are inappropriate and troubling, of course, after this trip just on tomorrow, on Saturday morning local time, he will be heading to China. So, some fairly strong words for Beijing there -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Wow. And a very important trip at this time. Thank you so much, Paula.

ROMANS: All right. A stunning new study finds female financial advisers at Wells Fargo Bank are 20 percent more likely than men to lose their jobs. The research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows Wells Fargo, the highest rated women fired from misconduct between 2005 and 2015. The study also found men were three times more likely to misbehave and twice as likely to repeat offenders.

In a statement, Wells Fargo said it focuses a diverse and inclusive work environment. The study likely to add to concern over the bank's cultural issues following last year's fake account scandal.

BRIGGS: Huge fire overnight destroying a five-story apartment building under construction in Raleigh, North Carolina. The blaze spread to a nearby building and grew to five alarms before midnight. One neighboring telling CNN affiliate WRAL that he saw a parking deck catch fire followed by 10 to 15 explosions. The cause is under investigation.

ROMANS: The pictures are something.

All right. President Trump meeting Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel today. It will be their first meeting since the president slammed Merkel on the campaign trail. What is on their agenda? We're going to go to Berlin, next.


[04:21:33] ROMANS: All right. A defining moment for U.S. and German relations. President Trump hosting Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House today. It will be their first face-to-face meeting since Mr. Trump ridiculed the chancellor on the campaign trail, accusing her of ruining Germany.

CNN's Atika Shubert live from Berlin for us.

Just to be a fly on the wall here. Angela Merkel, someone who has tried to steer Europe through years of financial and political crises, clearly with a global agenda, a globalist point of view, Donald Trump with America first.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, these are two leaders on opposite corners. It is interesting to see them try to reestablish some sort of relationship.

I mean, Merkel used to have a close relationship with President Barack Obama. And now, she is starting from scratch. So, she's got to find a way to connect with President Trump.

At the moment, they are at polar opposites. I mean, when it comes to, for example, the E.U., Trump has said, you know, he could do without the E.U. Meanwhile, she is a main champion of the E.U.

When it comes to NATO, he said NATO is obsolete as an organization. For her, it is the cornerstone of German and European security. And that's not getting into the refugee issue where Trump famously said that for Germany -- opening the door for refugees has been a catastrophe. She, on the other hand, has very pointedly told Trump directly on the phone that she feels his immigration ban was, quote, "wrong and in violation of international law."

So, they're going to have to overcome all this difference to find some common ground. Now, that may be the issue of trade. On that issue, even then, there are major differences. Trump has taken issue with the trade and balance with Germany and the U.S., threatening at one point to put a border tax, of course, which would affect German carmakers, even those producing in the U.S.

So, there's a lot of issues for them to talk about. But perhaps the most important thing for them is to simply establish a good working relationship which at this point they don't have yet.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. A very obviously important meeting today.

Thank you for that, Atika Shubert.

BRIGGS: Sure is.

McDonald's now saying it was the victim of a hack attack. After this tweet appeared on top of its page Thursday, reading, "Donald Trump, you are actually a disgusting excuse of a president. We would love to have Barack Obama back. Also, you have tiny hands."

Moments later, McDonald's tweeted its account had been compromised, and vowed to launch an investigation. The president is known to be a, quote, "huge fan" of the fast food china, once even appeared in a McDonald's commercial alongside that big purple blob Grimace. Not sure what Grimace is -- ROMANS: There he is.

BRIGGS: Long been a mystery.

ROMANS: Also a picture on Air Force One or campaign trail where he's sitting there with a whole bag of McDonald's on the plane, campaign plane more recently. So, he is still a fan.

BRIGGS: Well, people wondered about this because Robert Gibbs, of course, works for McDonald's. Now, the former press secretary for President Obama. So, some thought he was behind it, but they confirmed they were hacked.

ROMANS: All right. "Saturday Night Live" doing something it has never done in its 42 years. It's taking the show live across the country for the first time. That means you'll get to see more of Press Secretary Spicey. Melissa McCarthy will host May 13th. But the first "Saturday Night Live" actually live in the Mountain and Pacific Times is set to air April 15th. That will be hosted by "SNL" alum Jimmy Fallon.

Top NBC brass say the move will allow everyone to get in on the joke at the very same time.

[04:25:03] BRIGGS: So, do you think Melissa McCarthy has any material? Or no?

ROMANS: Did you see the press briefing yesterday?

BRIGGS: It's going to be really tough to top it.

The big question in Washington, will President Trump defend his wiretapping allegations today when he faces reporters for the first time since his Twitter tirade? More on the epic White House defense of those claims, next.



SPICER SECRETARY: You're mischaracterizing what happened today. Where was your passion and where was your concerned when they all said that there's no connection to Russia? Where was it then?


ROMANS: A press he briefing for the ages. A defiant and combative White House defends the president's wiretapping claims, despite the fact that bipartisan members of the Senate Intel Committee say there is just no evidence.

BRIGGS: And some of the White House budget proposals hitting some of the most needy where it hurts. But despite the backlash, the White House is standing by its case.