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FBI Director Testifies on Capitol Hill; Changes to Health Care Bill; Gorsuch Set for Senate Grilling; Brady's Super Bowl Jerseys Found. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2017 - 05:00   ET



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn't exist, doesn't matter.


[05:00:07] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House standing firm after the FBI acknowledged an investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. But will the administration ever be able to escape the clouds of this political storm?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And overnight, Republican leaders with critical changes to the health care bill. In an effort to appeal to lawmakers, is this enough to help the bill pass with just two days away from the vote?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is fascinating week already in politics and it's Tuesday. It is 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

President Trump back in Washington this morning after one of his trademark campaign style rallies in Kentucky. He talked about health care, tax reform, college football and Colin Kaepernick. But did not touch on Monday extraordinary testimony by FBI Director James Comey. This despite tweeting all day long about the dramatic Capitol Hill hearing, a hearing that features some fireworks, but not smoking gun connecting Russia to the Trump campaign.

The FBI director confirmed for the first time there actually is an FBI investigation into whether Trump allies colluded with Russia in its election meddling.

ROMANS: Comey told senators the FBI probe began in late July and that by a month after the election, the intelligence community had come to a clear conclusion about Russian interference, an effort Comey says was driven by President Putin's disdain for Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They wanted to hurt our democracy. Hurt her. Help him.

Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was, he had a clear preference to the person running against the person he hated so much. As the summer went on and the polls appeared to show that Secretary Clinton was going to win, the Russians sort of gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her.


BRIGGS: The Republicans focused during their part of the hearing on leaks that led to the forced resignation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked later about surveillance of Russian officials who Flynn secretly talked to, Spicer raised question who knew it was Flynn on the other end of those conversations and why did they leak?


SPICER: Why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain put out there? What were the motives behind that? What else do we need to know? Who was behind that kind of unmasking?

There is a ways to go and I get that you guys want to know the end of the book right now. But we are in the first chapter of this process.


ROMANS: The other big news from the hearing, the FBI director's confirmation -- there is no evidence to back President Trump's claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped and President Obama ordered it. Even so, President Trump still standing by the unfounded allegation. His press secretary saying Mr. Trump will not apologize to his predecessor. Sean Spicer adding that questions remain about surveillance that may or may not have taken place during the campaign.

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight: Up against mounting odds and a ticking clock, Republicans unveil changes to the plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare. With the vote planned for Thursday, house Republican leaders rolled out a package of amendments to the health care act. The changes include work requirements and block grants for Medicaid and more money to insure older Americans. More details on that in a moment.

ROMANS: Republican leaders making the changes to appease both GOP conservatives and moderates. It may not be enough. The ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus announced last night it still has enough votes to block the bill. The president is expected to ratchet up the pressure on resistant lawmakers when he huddles with House Republicans at 9:00 on Capitol Hill.

BRIGGS: So, what exactly are the changes that Republican leaders making to get the bill through the House? They include giving states the option of taking their Medicaid money as one big block grant instead of per enrollee, as the bill says now. States could also require able bodied Medicaid recipients to work, something conservatives want. And states would be barred from expanding their Medicaid role now ahead of the planned phase out of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in 2020.

The Obamacare taxes would also be repealed this year instead of next. Also, $75 billion would be set aside to increase the health insurance tax credits for consumers in their 50s and 60s. That is key to getting anything done.

ROMANS: That's right. Republican leaders face a steep climb just getting the bill through the House. But Speaker Paul Ryan says he's planned the long game with an eye to passing a bill that can also make it to the Senate.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We always had to make sure that every change we make conforms to the Senate rules which we have to play by to make sure that it can't get filibustered. And so, that's what we've been doing. So, all these changes that have been added, we're doing to make sure they're done in such a way that they can't get filibustered and we feel really good where we are.


[05:05:00] ROMANS: Now, after a frenzy of political horse trading, conservative lawmakers say they've been told no more changes. Negotiations are over. Conservative senators hoping to make more changes, they emerge from the White House meeting Monday afternoon disappointed. Senator Mike Lee described the meeting as, quote, "terribly frustrating".

BRIGGS: Yes, that's a whole different animal where you can lose two senators and you got to worry about both sides of the Republican Party.

Let's bring in political analyst Ellis Henican. He's the author of "The Trump's America" column for the Metro papers.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: The Senate again, an entirely different animal. Good morning to you.


BRIGGS: This week in the House, that is where it has to get through a vote on Thursday. And Mark Meadows, House Freedom Caucus, says they don't have the votes. How do they get them?

HENICAN: Well, one at a time, right? By going to each of these congressmen who are holding out and saying, what do you need? What do you need? We'll take care of this little thing. BRIGGS: Carve out.

HENICAN: And be careful, we may say there are no changes in the bill. You watch these often little crumbs that will just enough to boost them across the outline.

BRIGGS: We have seen some from moderate New York Congressmen, we hear may be floated.

ROMANS: Let's listen to what the president said, he was in Louisville, at this rally last night in Louisville. He talked about health care.

BRIGGS: Sort of.


TRUMP: As we move toward the crucial House vote on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of Obamacare's very painful passage, this is our long awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare.

It's a long awaited chance. We're going to do it. We're going to do it.

What's the alternative? The alternative is what you have. What you have is nothing. The worse, it's the big lie.


ROMANS: The president gets the big applause lines when he says we're going to get rid of Obamacare. But getting rid of Obamacare and replacing it with something that they're going to own is the issue here.

HENICAN: It is very, very dicey territory. Think about how narrow this path is, Christine. You try to take care of the conservatives and give them stuff they want like work requirements on Medicaid, that alienates folks, the more moderate people.

And as you sweeten the benefits to take care of the people between 50 and 64. Then you alienate the conservatives. So, it's pretty dicey.

BRIGGS: He is also speaking to an audience in Kentucky where 1.3 million people are on Medicaid.

HENICAN: That's right.

BRIGGS: That is almost a third of the population and more than 400,000 got coverage under Obamacare. So, it's an interesting argument he's trying to sell in Kentucky.

ROMANS: How many times have you said get the government out of my health care, but don't touch my Medicaid, you know?

HENICAN: Right, exactly. And listen, this is real life stuff, right? This isn't some philosophical argument that somebody has heard on talk radio. You are talking about my family's health care. People take that seriously.

BRIGGS: Of course, the truly fascinating moment in politics came from James Comey, the head of the FBI, in a sense said the president lied about the wiretapping allegations, also refused to say there is evidence suggesting collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But here is how Sean Spicer pushed back on all of this yesterday.


SPICER: You look at the acting Obama CIA director. There is smoke, but no fire. Senator Tom Cotton, not that I've seen and not that I'm aware. You look at Director Clapper. Not to my knowledge. Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, I have no evidence of collusion.

I mean, there's a point at which you continue to search for something that everybody has been briefed hasn't seen or found. I think it is fine to look into it. At the end of the day, they're going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else had. So, you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn't exist, doesn't matter.


BRIGGS: Look, it's clear we're going to get an apology when we get the president's taxes. Don't hold your breath.

HENICAN: Good line.

BRIGGS: How has this debate changed? How has the story changed?

HENICAN: Well, it has gotten nail down a little bit. When you have the FBI director sitting in front of an open hearing in Congress saying that we have been investigating this since July. There is obviously enough stuff here that we believe this is likely to continue for a while.

I mean, we were talking earlier about the scary words in the English language. The investigation is continuing.

ROMANS: The investigation is continuing.

BRIGGS: You don't want that.

HENICAN: You do not want that when your name is attached to it.

ROMANS: Let's just reflect for a moment on the history. I mean, we are in the amazing moment, 60 days into a president's tenure.

HENICAN: Whirlwind, I think we call this.

BRIGGS: An FBI director rebuked a sitting president.

ROMANS: It is unbelievable.

(CROSSTALK) HENICAN: Right, and the Justice Department backing him up. This is not just some runaway FBI guy. He said, you know what, the FBI is exactly -- the Justice Department is saying exactly the same stuff.

ROMANS: OK. When you come back, we're going to talk about how the president was tweeting. And we'll talk about --

BRIGGS: Live tweeting.

HENICAN: Why not.

BRIGGS: Live fact checking.

ROMANS: Tweeting and then the fact checking on the fly from the hearing, it's just remarkable.

[05:10:01] So, come back in a few minutes. Get some coffee.

That's all tweeting yesterday. Play-by-play.

BRIGGS: We'll also talk Neil Gorsuch. Is there 60 votes for him?

ROMANS: All right. James Comey not only one on the hot seat. The president's Supreme Court nominee getting ready for ten hours of questioning from senators. Very good segue, Dave Briggs.

A preview of day two of his confirmation, next.


ROMANS: President Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch getting set for a grueling day on the Senate hot seat. Day two of his confirmation hearing begins in just hours. Tension filled the air during day one of the hearing as Democrats making it clear they believe the vacant Supreme Court seat was stolen from them and Judge Merrick Garland.

Judge Gorsuch doing his best to keep politics out of the process.


NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: These days, we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially. If I thought that were true, I'd hang up the robe.


[05:15:01] BRIGGS: Each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee gets 30 minutes to grill Judge Gorsuch today.

We get more this morning from CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.



Today is day two of Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings, very likely we will see a lot more fireworks coming from the committee today. On Monday, members of the committee, especially Democrats, really signaling they are gearing up for a fight here, that they will grill Neil Gorsuch Not only about his judicial philosophy, his independence from President Trump, but they clearly are intending to make this confirmation as much about President Trump as they can.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: You're going to have your hands full with this president. He's going to keep you busy. It's incumbent on any nominee to demonstrate that he or she will serve as an independent check or balance on the presidency.

SERFATY: The questioning will start later this morning and is anticipated to go for at least a few days. The chairman of that committee, Senator Grassley, he expects the committee to vote in the next couple weeks, likely the first week in April, and if confirmed through committee, he will then go to a full Senate vote -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Sunlen Serfaty.

Attention here, international travelers. Some passengers flying into the U.S. will now be required to check almost all of their electronic devices. Officials say the move is being now made due to fears that al Qaeda is trying to bomb U.S. bound airlines. Those fear is more serious now after information from a recent U.S. special forces raid in Yemen.

More about the ban here. It's going to cover nonstop flights into the U.S. No specific airlines or airports yet, but it will cover the Middle East and Africa. Devices larger than a cell phone will have to be checked.

A State Department official says embassies have been notifying relevant countries and notifying airlines. Now, officials say the directive is to ensure security measures at select airports. It will cover a limited period of time. If a passenger transfers through a secondary city with more trusting procedures, the threat would be negated according to an official.

BRIGGS: Scary stuff. All right. Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey has been found. Apparently, snuck it out of the locker room to Mexico. Coy Wire has the answers in this morning's "Bleacher Report". Detective Coy is on it.


[05:21:43] BRIGGS: Mystery solved. Not one, but two of Tom Brady's Super Bowl jerseys headed back to New England after being found in Mexico, of course, Romans.

ROMANS: An international incident. The FBI on the case. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.


This is a wild story, because we're hearing not one but two jerseys. Didn't know that one was missing in the first place. Both as Dave mentioned found in Mexico. Both this year's jersey that went missing from his locker in Houston and the one he wore two years ago. Both in the possession of a credentialed member of international media.

This is the video the NFL says was instrumental in the investigation. NFL network identifying Mauricio Ortega as the suspect. The former exec with the Mexican newspaper. Houston police say an informant led them to the jerseys, both the FBI and Mexico federal police conducted the raid at Ortega's home.

Charges against Ortega expected to be filed by Houston authorities. But get this, the NFL will return to Mexico City this season. The Oakland Raiders hosting, you guessed it, the New England Patriots.

The collision of sports and politicians. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick still without a job after becoming a free agent three weeks ago. Some wondering if the decision to not stand last season is keeping a team from signing him. Well, President Trump at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky seemed to take credit for Kaepernick's unemployment.


TRUMP: Your San Francisco quarterback, I'm sure nobody ever heard of him. There was an article today reported that NFL owners don't want to pick him up because they don't want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?


WIRE: Colin Kaepernick has said he will no longer protest during the anthem and that he will stand for it moving forward.

Kevin Durant out with injury. His Warriors visiting Oklahoma City. And the OKC crowd trolled their former sweetheart heart. A cupcake on crutches wearing Durant's jersey number.

Check this out. Action in the second quarter. Steph Curry and Semaj Christon get into a scuffle. Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green getting it on on it. Four technical fouls handed out. The game would go on and immediately Steph Curry put the icing on the cupcake, ending the half with a buzzer beating three. He goes into sprint into the locker room. I'm done with all these. Warriors go on to crush OKC, 111-95.

Tim Tebow is headed to the minor leagues. The Mets designating the former quarterback to their class A affiliate the Columbia Fireflies. He will play in the outfield and work on his game. Check this out. A month before Tebow signed with the Mets, the

fireflies tweeted a picture of Tebow photo shopped in the uniform, saying, so I heard Tebow is considering baseball. A little self- fulfilling prophecy there. I do believe they did a good job of courting him. You know, a long while before he ended up playing.

So, it's pretty cool, little new romance going on.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: Nice job there.

And so, look, President Trump can be happy with the FBI sort of, right? Because they got -- he is a Tom Brady fan. He might not be happy with what happened earlier in the day.

[05:25:01] But in the end, you win some, you lose some, right?

ROMANS: There you go.

SCHOLES: Good friends with Robert Kraft. We may see him go down to Mexico and try to catch that game.

BRIGGS: There you go. Little makeup call there by the FBI.

Thanks, Guy.

ROMANS: President Trump spent much of Monday tweeting about the House intelligence hearing where the FBI director said his campaign is being investigated from possible ties to Russia. So, why did the president go conspicuously quiet on the subject at a rally in Kentucky?



SPICER: You can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn't exist, doesn't matter.


ROMANS: The White House not backing down on questions about coordination with the Trump campaign and Russia. It came hours after the familiar sight. The FBI director weighing publicly in on the 2016 election.

BRIGGS: And overnight, Republican leaders making critical changes to their health care plan, trying to appease lawmakers who remain on the fence. The vote just two days away. Is it enough to help pass this bill?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.