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House Investigation Frozen; Health Care Back on the Table; GOP Going Nuclear; Trump: "We're Doing Very Well in Iraq"; U.S. Women's Hockey Team Deal Avoids Boycott. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Separately, a top banking regulator severely downgraded Wells Fargo community lender rating. It says the egregious nature of discriminatory and illegal credit practices at that bank need to improve. It marks the first time Wells Fargo did not score an outstanding label in the review.

[05:00:04] Just a horrific year for the reputation of Wells Fargo and it was truly deserved.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Took a beating, right?

EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: The House investigation into the Trump campaign ties to Russia on hold. How long until things get moving and will we ever hear from the former Justice Department official who could have damaging evidence?

ROMANS: New signs of life. Some green shoots on health care from the Republicans? After declaring he was moving on, is the president is ready to re-engage with lawmakers who spurned him?

BRIGGS: And Republicans are going all in on Neil Gorsuch. A vote expected for next week despite a growing number of Democrats ready to filibuster the Supreme Court nominee. That should tell the tale about how Democrats are willing to work with Republicans or not.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, March 29th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Nice to see you all this morning.

So, what's on the schedule today? Well, for the House Intelligence Committee investigating alleged ties between President Trump and Russia, there's nothing on the agenda. Nothing. No meetings. No hearings. No nothing.

The Trump-Russia probe has broken down at least for now amid a growing divide over whether House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes should recuse himself. BRIGGS: So, what will get things moving again? For one thing, the

ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, wants Republicans to agree to reschedule hearings that had been set for yesterday. Among them one of which former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was expected to testify about communications between former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

"The Washington Post" reported the White House sought to block Yates from testifying. That claim Press Secretary Sean Spicer adamantly rejected.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The 24th, Miss Yates' attorney sent a letter to the White House counsel requesting that consent specifically stating that if they did not receive a response by March 27th at 10:00 a.m. They would, quote, "conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over these matters. The White House did not respond and took no action that prevented Miss Yates from testifying."

I hope she testifies. I look forward to it.


ROMANS: Calls for Nunes to recuse himself is coming from a growing number of Democrats and now even from the ranks of Nunes own party. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee points to a claim made by Nunes that he was on the White House grounds to read classified material but no one in the West Wing was aware.

Elijah Cummings says, "The claim by Chairman Nunes no one knew in the White House knew about his visit cannot be true. Chairman Nunes was not a White House fence jumper. He was invited in."

BRIGGS: Glad that he clarified that.

Now, there's a Republican House member saying Nunes should recuse himself. Walter Jones of North Carolina.

Meantime, Nunes is scoffing at the suggestion he should step aside.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, why would I not? You guys need go ask them why these things are being said.

RAJU: Can this investigation continue as you as chairman?

NUNES: Why would it not? Am I not briefing you guys continuously and keeping you up to speed? RAJU: But they're saying that it cannot run with you as chairman.

NUNES: You got to talk to them. That sounds like their problem.


BRIGGS: There's at least one investigation is moving forward in a bipartisan spirit. The chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee will offer an update on their Russian investigation. That's today at 2:30 in the news conference.

To discuss, let's bring in CNN politics digital managing editor, Zach Wolf.

Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning, Zach.


BRIGGS: All right. Democrats are piling on and piling on. But Representative Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, how significant is his calling for Nunes to step down as the head of this investigation?

WOLF: Well, it clearly is a big deal to have a Republican, somebody with an R next to their name calling for this, but Walter Jones is somebody in the past who has shown an independent streak from his party. He was one of the few if not the only Republican to oppose, you know, elements of the Iraq War, the surge, sort of after it started.

So, I wouldn't necessarily predict, you know, a wave of Republicans to follow him. But it is significant.

ROMANS: Let me ask you a little bit about some of the changing landscape over the last 24 hours in Washington. Suddenly, maybe green shoots in health care debate. We're getting word from people close to the White House of that tax reform, they might do it. It might be easier than health care reform. Feels there's legislative progress or at least that's what the White House is trying to put out there.

Here's something the president said last night about health care in particular.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one.

[05:05:00] So, I have no doubt that that's going to happen very quickly. I think it will actually. I think it's going to happen, because we've all been promising, Democrat, Republican, we've all been promising that to the American people. So, I think a lot of good things are going to happen there.


ROMANS: So, is that wishful thinking? Is this president over promising? Everyone is watching what happened with health care and translating that into what could happen with tax reform.

WOLF: Christine, I was listening to that sound and I couldn't help feeling that I heard that before, a couple of months ago, the last time that he promised they would come to some sort of deal.

So, I think we just need to see the proof. It's going to be in the pudding so they say. Here, you know, we need to see some sort of movement on health care for me to think that there are actual green shoots. We need to see members of the freedom caucus besides the one who say we made a mistake. Or on the other hand, you need to see Democrats need to come on board and say, we'll work with Republicans and Republicans say they'll work with Democrats.


WOLF: None of those three things are happening. So, you know, I think we reached a point where people promising there will be progress is essentially meaningless at this point.

BRIGGS: Yes. Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus, yesterday suggested they delay the Easter recess until they get something done on health care. But there appears to be two different stances, because the White House seems to be opening the door to Democrats while Paul Ryan in a press conference yesterday talked about having to use budget reconciliation which implies no Democrats will come on board.

Is there any inkling of a single Democrat who's willing to work with the administration on health care in any regard?

WOLF: Democrats are going to guard this legislation, I think, with their lives, with their political lives. And, you know, there's a lot of red state Democratic senators that will ultimately come under pressure I think to work with Republicans on this. But it's going to be -- saving this is going to be something that they really circled the wagons about.

ROMANS: All right. We now have a date, Friday is when we're told that Neil Gorsuch is going to get confirmed next week. At least that's what --

BRIGGS: One way or another, right?

ROMANS: He's going to get confirmed. That's what Mitch McConnell says.

I want you to listen to senators back and forth on the Gorsuch nomination.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We're going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed. It will be an opportunity for Democrats to invoke cloture. We'll see where that ends, but it will really up to them how the process to confirm Judge Gorsuch goes forward.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: It's going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes. It's such an important position. It should have bipartisan buy in. If a judge can't meet, if a nominee can't meet the 60-vote standard, you don't change the rules.


ROMANS: Now, I can remember in the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, when Lindsey Graham said, look, this is the president's prerogative. When you win the White House, you get to put the person you want in the Supreme Court, if there's -- if there's a vacancy. And nine Republicans voted for her. Over this proceeding, Merrick Garland's name is hanging.

WOLF: That's right. And, you know, this is another one where Democrats, they are really going to want to hold the line and send a message about Merrick Garland. We haven't seen that many Democrats say that they would -- I think two have said they would support at least cutting off debate on Gorsuch and they will need eight.

Now, the interesting thing here is if Democrats can hold the line and keep Republicans from getting to that 60 threshold, the new magic number becomes 50 at that point because then there will be a bunch of pressure amongst Republicans about changing the Senate rules and they call that the nuclear option because it would change Washington forever a lot of people say.

BRIGGS: Now, Republicans say look the Democrats did it first with using the nuclear option for judges. Now, they didn't allow for Supreme Court judges. But Mike Lee went on with John Berman yesterday on "THE LEAD" refused to acknowledge they would use this nuclear option.

Do they have the votes or any opposition to using that technique?

WOLF: Yes, I think there will be a lot of opposition to it. We saw Lindsey Graham, I think, said that he would be top it. I thought that was kind of surprising. He had been someone that sort of counseled against that stuff in the past.

But you had a couple of Republicans say that they wouldn't want to change Senate rules. So, that's a whole new lobbying campaign coming forth. I haven't seen I think the number of votes that Gorsuch would need to get past 60. So, that will be the next debate here next week.

ROMANS: Zach, I got to say. Every morning, this is the 69th day of this Trump presidency, every morning I wake up, and you have no idea what the headline will be by the evening. It's just been such an interesting ride and even hasn't been 100 days of this presidency. I can't imagine what it's like for Zach, I mean, he runs so much of our coverage.

BRIGGS: And they're still going to fund the government which we'll ask you about in 30 minutes.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: They have 12 days to get that done, Zach. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Come back in a couple of minutes. Thanks, Zach.

All right. The future of online privacy now in President Trump's hands. The House of Representatives and the Senate voted to repeal Internet protections that were approved in the final days of the Obama administration. Now, these rules haven't gone into effect but they would have required Internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing your personal data, your web browsing history, your app usage, your geolocation.

[05:10:11] Providers would also have to notify customers about the data they collect. The goal was to give consumers more control over the privacy of their personal information online at a time when everything from smartphones to refrigerators can be connected to the Internet. Lawmakers who backed the repeal, well, they say this is a duplicate regulation, getting rid of it will increase competition among Internet companies. But Democrats and privacy experts argue this effectively hands over your personal information to the highest bidder.

BRIGGS: President Trump says American soldiers are fighting in Iraq, quote, "like never before." How is that going over? We're live in Iraq, next.



[05:15:07] TRUMP: Just had a call, long call from General Mattis and John I know is very happy to know that, but he knows very well than anybody, we're doing very well in Iraq. Our soldiers are fighting and fighting like never before and the results are very, very good. So, I just wanted to let everyone know.


ROMANS: Our soldiers are fighting like never before in Iraq. A rare public comment from the president on fight against ISIS in Iraq. Mr. Trump's upbeat assessment coming in the wake of an airstrike that killed over more than 100 civilians in Western Mosul. The Iraqi military blames the U.S.-led coalition, pictures are just devastating.

Listen to General Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, acknowledging the U.S.-led coalition likely did play a role in that tragedy while also pointing a finger at ISIS.


LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, COMMANDER OF COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE: If we didn't strike in that area, I'd be telling you right now, it's unlikely. But because we struck in that area, I think there's a fair chance that we did it. My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties. Now, here's what I don't know -- what I don't know is: were they gathered there by the enemy?


ROMANS: General Townsend said the type of munition used in the strike should not have collapsed the entire building where all those civilians perished. Investigating to see if there were booby traps, car bombs, what else was there.

I want to go live to Irbil, Iraq, and bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon who is just in Mosul.

And there are a lot of concerns. I'll tell you here in this country, a lot of concerns about the civilian casualties and investigation that is ongoing there. But first to the president's comments last night that the U.S. military is fighting like never before in Iraq and doing really, really well. What is the characterization or assessment of that where you are?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, when you speak to the Iraqi military, they most certainly want U.S. support and if they could get it they would want more of it, because the air assets that America brings to table, those are really one of the key factors that allowed the Iraqi security forces to push forward.

But, of course, with that -- with that kind of fire power and air power do come civilian casualties. This is a reality that America itself is very well aware of given the duration of its own occupation of Iraq.

But here's one of the key points, Christine -- America and Iraq both cannot risk over simplifying the situation here because it was arguably America's oversimplification of the fight in Iraq going back to its occupation here, going back to its own battles of ISIS previous incarnations, that were one of the reasons we saw ISIS reemerge to be an entity that is much more sophisticated and capable than anything America has ever faced and now, it's actually putting Iraqi forces in a fight for their lives, because they have to dislodge this enemy from a city that had 1.2 million in it and today in areas in western Mosul, there are still hundreds of thousands of civilians who ISIS is yes, holding its human shields.

We have heard numerous stories from families that managed to get out saying that ISIS held their loved ones at gunpoint while using their rooftops for fighting positions. So, this is another reality that both the U.S. and the Iraqis have to deal with moving forward to avoid these types of civilian casualties.

ROMANS: And, Arwa, quickly, the U.S. role, U.S. boots on the ground, I know it's mostly an advisory role, you know? But what -- about the president's comment that U.S. soldiers are fighting like never before there?

DAMON: I think it might be a bit of a mischaracterization of exactly what kind of fight America is in in Iraq. They are in an air fight. They have intelligence assets. They have their drones. They have their advice and assist units that are forward but they still remain away from the actual front lines.

We don't have Americans themselves going through clearing these houses and narrow streets themselves. That's all being undertaken by the Iraqis. You do also, of course, have U.S. Special Forces teams, but they too are not on the front line. They're not kicking the doors down at this stage.

So, it's a very different kind of fight that America is engaged in today in Iraq as opposed to, for example, when the troop levels were at their highest back in 2007 and 2008.

ROMANS: It's certainly a long journey. No question. Arwa Damon, we appreciate you walking us through it in Irbil, Iraq, this morning -- thanks, Arwa.

BRIGGS: Perhaps the president's intention was to encourage, was to support of our troops which we should apply.


BRIGGS: More equal pay issues in sports. The top ranked women's hockey team striking a deal for higher pay and better benefits.

Coy Wire up this morning early.

[05:20:00] He has this morning's "Bleacher Report" for us, next.

Good morning, Coy.


BRIGGS: Equal pay issues in sports. U.S. women's hockey team picked up a major win yesterday off the ice.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine, Dave. It's a good day.

Number one ranked U.S. women's national team came to terms with USA Hockey, ending their boycott at the upcoming world championships. They agreed to a four-year labor and they were looking to be treated more favorably and comparably to the men. Financial terms weren't' released, but we know they were asking for $68,000 in annual salary and benefits that the men receive, like child care, the ability to get disability insurance and maternity leave, too.

[05:25:08] The women will now be able to defend their gold medal on home ice Friday night as the team takes on Canada outside of Detroit in the first-round of the IIHF World Championship Games. Good job, USA. All right. U.S. men's soccer team playing in front of a rowdy crowd

in Panama City in World Cup qualifying action. After a hat trick on Friday against Honduras, Clint Dempsey was moved within one goal of Landon Donovan's all-time men's national team goal scoring record. That strike there put the Americans up 1-0. Panama scored a few minutes later ending the match at one goal apiece. But Americans pick up a point and are now one step closer to qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia. They have six matches remaining. Next up Trinidad and Tobago.

South Carolina men's basketball in the Final Four. South Carolina men's basketball is in the final four for the first time ever. And the man who has led them there, coach Frank Martin just maybe one of the most interesting men in the world.

Francisco Jose Martin, born in Miami to Cuban exile parents, raised by a mom, he worked as Dairy Queen at age 12 to help her out, and then worked as a bouncer as a nightclub while attending FY until he was shot at. Then he decided to focus on hoops and coach high school ball.

But the coach never forgot some of the lessons he learned from his old gig like always know your surroundings.


FRANK MARTIN, SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH: I don't know who you are. OK, some of you guys are like brand new to the party here. Back in my bouncing days, I knew exactly who you were because I wouldn't let you through the door if I hadn't seen you before. But --


WIRE: Don't want to mess with coach. I'm going to be flying to Phoenix tonight. I'll be interviewing coach tomorrow.

I'm already prepared. I'm not going to mess with that guy. He's going to know exactly who I am.

BRIGGS: It's huge. Where did you get the giant name tag?

WIRE: Producing. We've got producing going on over here. And the Gamecocks go against Gonzaga Saturday night. I'll be reporting live starting Saturday for us on CNN.

ROMANS: Awesome.

WIRE: Going to have some fun.

BRIGGS: A great moment over the weekend when he was asked a question by a kid reporter and he gave a fantastic long thoughtful answer to the kid. This guy is great.

ROMANS: Awesome.

Look forward to that. Thanks, Coy. Safe travels. BRIGGS: Have fun, man.

ROMANS: The House Intel Committee probe into Trump-Russia connections at standstill over partisan bickering. What do Democrats say it will take to get things moving again after the actions of the Republican chairman?