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Head of FBI to Testify on Capitol Hill; Judge Neil Gorsuch's Confirmation Hearing Today; Congress to Vote on GOP's Health Care Bill; AARP to Fight Health Care Bill; New Travel Ban Setback; Security Breach at White House; Teenager in Tennessee Missing for a Week; Wildfire in Boulder, Colorado; "Beauty & The Beast" Record Breaking March Opening; Secretary Tillerson Back from Asia. Aired at 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: The head of the FBI on Capitol Hill today testifying about Russian interference in the election and the president's unfounded claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: A crucial suspenseful week for Trump. His Supreme Court pick facing tough questions in the Senate. His GOP's health care plan is up for a vote in the house. We break it all down this morning. Good morning. Monday morning.

BRIGGS: It's a lot.

ROMANS: Still a lot going on. Welcome to "Early Start." I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Monday, March 20th. That means it is the first day of spring.

ROMANS: Happy Spring. Spring has sprung.

BRIGGS: Do you believe that? Yes. So it's in the 30s (INAUDIBLE) 4:00 a.m. eastern time. A crucial week for the president ahead with his legislative agenda, his Supreme Court legacy and well, his credibility, all on the line. The drama starts this morning with two big hearings on the Hill.

In just hours, FBI Director James Comey testifies to the House Intelligence Committee. He is expected to contradict the president, telling lawmakers that the Trump campaign was not wiretapped on orders from President Obama. Comey is also likely to be asked about alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

ROMANS: And later this morning, let the grilling begin. It's day one of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Let's start with the FBI director's highly anticipated testimony though. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the latest from Washington. RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine and Dave. This

morning serves to mark the first time that lawmakers can get FBI Director James Comey to say publicly what his agency has learned about President Trump's claims that President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. The White House has refused to back down -- this is by both Republicans and Democrats stating that there is no evidence to back up the president's claim.

Now, in addition to pressing Comey on the wiretap issue, expect the members of Congress to ask if the FBI has been able to conclude if the Russians were working directly with the Trump campaign to help elect a Republican. This is something the administration has forcefully denied. The Republican House Chair of the intel committee, Devin Nunes has said he's not seen any evidence to suggest there was collusion. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff though is not so sure.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST, FOX NEWS: Have you seen any evidence of any collusion between what I'll call Trump world, associates, of campaign officials -- Trump world and the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I'll give you a very simple answer. No. There is circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence I think of deception and that's where we begin the investigation.


NOBLES: And this divide could be where the congressional investigation could breakdown. If the findings of the committee breakdown over party lines that's where there's some dangerous that the whole probe could be written off by critics as being too political. It's something the leaders of both the House and Senate intel committees have promised they will work to avoid.

And while Republicans and Democrats seem to not be on the same page about the Russia's influence on the election, both parties have been clear about one thing. No one has been able to provide any evidence to support the president's the wiretap claim. And that is a point that could be emphasized during today's hearing. Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Indeed it will. Thank you, Ryan. CNN will have live coverage of the house intel committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey that begins in just a few hours, 9:00 a.m. eastern time right here on CNN.

ROMANS: Big morning. All right, on the Senate side of the capitol this morning, confirmation hearings begin for President Trumps Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch. The big question hanging over the nomination, what will Senate Democrats do? Gorsuch needs 60 votes to win senate confirmation, which means eight Democrats will have to cross the aisle and vote for him. Republicans say they are confident they can corral enough Democrats partly by leaning on those facing re- election in states won by President Trump -- that's their assumption. But many Democrats are still angry that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee never even got a hearing last year. They may look to retaliate and dig in their heels against Gorsuch.

BRIGGS: Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut vowing to fight against confirmation if he finds that Gorsuch has promised the president to rule against abortion srights.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Donald Trump has in fact established a litmus test promising, absolutely promising that he would nominate someone who will overturn Roe v. Wade. If he fails to be very specific and forthcoming and direct in disavowing that claim, we have to assume inescapably that he has met the litmus test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if he does fail, final question, are you prepared to potentially filibuster?

BLUMENTHAL: Not only filibuster, but use every tool that we have if he is in fact out of the mainstream in that way --


BRIGGS: But Republicans are making clear they will do what it takes to get

[04:05:01] Gorsuch on the high court even if that means changing senate rules to cut off the possibility of a filibuster. Today, Republicans are expected to praise Gorsuch record on conservative issues and play up the similarities to the man he hopes to replace, Justice Antonin Scalia. The hearing is expected to last four days. Republican leaders hope for a vote next month. Do you think they'll use all their power to keep him from getting on the high court?

ROMANS: I'll they you they are very angry about the treatment of their candidate under President Obama. You know, they're nominate --

BRIGGS: But they're going to get him through one way or another.

ROMANS: This should be exciting. An exciting week in general. We also have healthcare reform and now a top priority for President Trump today. He'll be meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Ezekiel Emanuel, a key architect of Obamacare.

House Republicans scrambling to secure the 216 votes they need to pass their repeal and replace bill ahead of Thursday's critical floor vote. More than two dozen Republicans now, two dozen, 26 I think is the number here against the measure or leaning against the measure. That's enough to kill the bill if no minds are changed.

The Trump administration says it may be willing to phase out Medicaid expansion earlier to satisfy conservative critics. BRIGGS: Of course Republican leaders are keenly aware that the

further they move the bill to the right, the harder it will be to pass in the Senate where Republicans are worried about the impact of those Medicaid changes are on older, low income Americans. The House Speaker conceding changes need better support on that demographic.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We believe that we do need to add some additional assistance to people in those older cohorts. If the person in their 50s and 60s does have additional healthcare clause that say a person at 20s and 30s, the tax credit (ph) adjust for that, but you're right in saying and we agree. We believe we should have even more assistance, and that's one of the things we're looking at.


ROMANS: Older, poorer and rural Americans. The very kind of demographic that supported Trump will see a huge increase in class.

BRIGGS: They've got a long way to go. A source tells CNN, top White House aides are divided over proposed changes to this health care overhaul with presidential adviser Steve Bannon favoring a more conservative approach and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus advocating for Paul Ryan's strategy.

ROMANS: This is AARP is stepping up the fight against the Republican health care bill. It's vowing to hold lawmakers accountable for how they vote on this and calls the bill a tax on older Americans. In a statement, AARP says this, "AARP recognizes the magnitude of the upcoming vote on this harmful legislation that creates an age tax, cuts the life of Medicare and gives sweetheart deals to bug drug and insurance companies while doing nothing to lower the cost of health care or prescriptions. We intend on letting all 38 million of our members know exactly how their representatives voted."

AARP uses this dire (ph) example from the Congressional Budget Office report. A 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year would see premiums rise from $1,700 into Obamacare to a staggering $14,600 under this new Republican plan. Look at that. More than half of your income paid for health care.

They pay more because this new bill lets insurers charge older Americans four to five times what younger people pay. AARP is really on the lobbying offensive here. You heard Paul Ryan on Fox News this week abd talk about the cohort that they're going to --

BRIGGS: The cohort. That is an interesting term.

ROMANS: That's sort of budget talk for, OK, we got it. We hear you.

BRIGGS: Yes. It should be a tough needle to try to thread here getting this through. The Trump administration's revised travel ban is suffering another setback in court. U.S. Distrit Judge Derrick Watson denying a Justice Department request to clarify the scope of his decision to block the executive order. Judge Watson insisting there is nothing unclear about the scope of his ruling. That means the 90-day ban on six mostly Muslim nations as well as the 120-day ban on all refugees remains halted.

ROMANS: You may recall it was seven countries under the first travel ban. One country the administration removed from its revised version is Iraq. Later today the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is slated to meet with President Trump -- some topics on the agenda, the fight against ISIS and economic assistance to Iraq. Following the meeting, Mr. Trump will hop on a plane Louisville, Kentucky where he'll hold a rally this evening.

BRIGGS: Hillary Clinton letting the world know she is through licking her wounds and is leaving her low profile behind. Let's listen to the defeated Democratic nominee for president speaking to an overflow crowd at a St. Patrick's Day event in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am ready to come out of the woods.



CLINTON: And to shine a light on what is already happening around kitchen tables and at dinners like this to help draw strength that will enable everybody to keep up.


[04:10:00] BRIGGS: Out of the woods. Mrs. Clinton told the crowd she and her friends are, "having a hard time watching the news these days. Do we take offense that?

ROMANS: I don't know if we take offense. I'm just a messenger. I'm just a messenger. I don't design the message but I will say that what will that role be? That's what we'll be interested. Where is the leadership going to come from the Democratic Party?

BRIGGS: Who's party is it? Is it still hers?

ROMANS: Right. And what will that leadership be? What kind of role could she play here?

All right, two men detained at the White House in one day. Secret Service under scrutiny following these incidents and a string of others over the past week. We will tell you the latest, next.


BRIGGS: Two new security incidents at the White House this weekend. First late Saturday night, the Secret Service detained a man who claimed to have a bomb in his vehicle. No confirmation yet whether any device was found. President Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida at the time. Earlier Saturday, an unarmed man was arrested for jumping over a bicycle rack in front of the White House. He old authorities he was trying to deliver a document.

[04:15:00] ROMANS: All right. Police still searching for a credible clue this morning seven days after a 15-year-old Tennessee girl was abducted by a teacher at her high school. Elizabeth Thomas' alleged kidnapper, 50-year-old Tad Cummins is believed to be armed and dangerous. Police said they have received 250 tips from 24 states but none of them helped locate the girl. Thomas and her captor were last tracked by investigators to Decatur, Alabama.

BRIGGS: More than 400 homes evacuated in Boulder, Colorado because of a wildfire that appears to be human caused. Another 800 homeowners put on notice. They may have to flee if the wind shifts direction. Now over 60 acres of woodland already scorched near the University of Colorado. The fire only 50 percent contained as of last night. Much of Colorado battling through drought conditions along with Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nebraska.

ROMANS: Hope they can get that under control. All right, Disney's live action version of its classic "Beauty & the Beast" saying hello to some big dough.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There goes the baker with his tray like always.

ROMANS: That's Emma Watson. She's starring as Belle.

BRIGGS: She's lovely.

ROMANS: She broke the record for the biggest March debut of all time. The biggest March debut of all time, earning $170 million. That's also the best opening weekend of 2017 so far. Even more impressive, the film raked in $350 million worldwide this weekend. The remake of a 1991 -- remake of the classic Disney story and they've really hit it out of the park on this one. I know we're talking about --

BRIGGS: I begged my 5-year-old to go see it with me and she said no.

ROMANS: She said no? I begged my three boys to go. They looked at me like I'm crazy but I think we are going to go.

BRIGGS: I can't wait to see it.

ROMANS: I think it's not just little girls who love it. I mean they've really --

BRIGGS: I think the beast is a little scary for some of the little ones but it looks like a fantastic film.

Well the suspense building for a pivotal congressional hearing into Russia's meddling in the election. But will Russia be paying attention? How officials in Moscow are responding, next. [04:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: FBI Director James Comey expected to shine new light today on the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. intelligence community has said Russia hacked the DNC and the Clinton campaign in an attempt to help President Trump win. How is the Russian government reacting to the investigation? CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joining us live from Moscow. Good morning to you Nick. It is all eyes on this hearing here, is that the case over there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're pretending I think is bad (p) to say that they're not going to be paying attention, saying that they're too busy and won't be watching. That's from the Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov. He said a few days ago they didn't expect any new details from these hearings and called the kind of consistent drumbeat of accusation against Russia that it meddled in that electoral campaign, quote, "a broken record with a futuristic song."

Now, bear in mind here there's two different ways you can look good exactly how Moscow is feeling about this enormous amount of noise about their intervention or alleged intervention. You could see perhaps they're maybe relishing the idea denying as they do still that they're able to influence U.S. electoral campaign from afar, that sort of global puppets masters perhaps that may make them feel they're beginning to restore that sort of Soviet grandeur that is so important for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin had.

But on the other side too, it does box them in to some degree in terms of White House policy. Donald Trump who has been very conspicuously absent in saying negative things about Vladimir Putin, well, it's going to be tough for him to come up with any kind of policy that may suit Russia's interests or perhaps lead to some sort of (INAUDIBLE) between Moscow and Washington because of these accusations of collusion, because of the scrutiny of links between his people and Vladimir Putin's people.

That's the mess we're in right now. I'm sure there will be some in the Kremlin delighted to see the kind of (INAUDIBLE) and bickering that these accusations are brought out even though they deny to have anything to do with it..

BRIGGS: Asked about Putin over the weekend and Trump called him a quote, "tough cookie." That was all he had to say about Putin. But we know the government pretending they're not listening. How about the people and the press?

WALSH: State TV is at times addressing this. It appears to have been less glowing about Donald Trump in the past sort of few weeks or so. Bear in mind when Donald Trump calls Vladimir Putin a tough cookie, he's kind of stating the obvious when you compare the two men. You know, Donald Trump, a real estate mogul from a wealthy family and Vladimir Putin, a man who grew up St. Petersburg after World War II, a very poverty stricken and disease ridden place at times, and then rose up to the KGB to become president of the country over a decade. So you know, very, very different men from very different backgrounds.

BRIGGS: All right. Looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow after this hearing. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

ROMANS: With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fresh off his first official visit to Asia is set to meet with President Trump later today. Tillerson spent the final leg of his trip in China paving the way for Chinese president Xi Jinping's first meeting President Trump. That visit largely overshadowed by concerns about North Korea's test of a new rocket engine. For more, let's go to CNN's get more from CNN's Will Ripley live in Beijing. Will, I think it's no surprise that the North Koreans like to try to steal headlines when there are things happening in their neighborhood they're not involved in.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly doesn't appear to be a coincidence Christine that this rocket engine test happened at the same moment that Secretary Tillerson was meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They've met for only 30 minutes and what their main focus is to set up a bigger meeting, we believe will happen

[04:25:00] nest month between President Trump and President Xi in Washington. But Tillerson was on the ground here in Beijing chatting with China's two top diplomats, both sides really trying to feel each other out. Tillerson saying that all options are on the table when it comes to North Korea including a military response which makes Beijing very nervous. Beijing wants the U.S. to stop joint military exercises, but the U.S. thinks that China is not using the economic leverage that it has over North Korea because as you know, Christine, China is North Korea's only meaningful trading partner.

ROMANS: I got to ask you, we hear in Japan held the first evacuation drills in preparation of any missile launches from North Korea. What do you know about that?

RIPLEY: Ye, this is really remarkable to see happening in a coastal village less than 200 nautical miles from where those North Korean missiles landed in the waters off the Japanese coast. You see elementary school children practicing in the event of an air raid siren with North Korean missiles raining down, and you talk to older people who live in that village, people who live through World War II.

This is bringing them right back to those days when they had to worry about aerial bombardment from the United States. And of course Japan being a country that has suffered two nuclear attacks, people are people that this could happen again considering the progress that North Korea is making. So, a lot of people fearful right now.

ROMANS: All right. OK, Will Ripley in Beijing for us this morning. Thanks Will.

BRIGGS: A very important week for President Trump. His agenda on the line as his Supreme Court pick's confirmation hearings begin. A crucial vote, the GOP's plan to replace Obamacare looms, and the head of the FBI today testifying about Russian interference in the U.S. Election. We'll attempt to cover it all, next.