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EARLY START

Trump-Russia Investigation Standoff; Trump: Health Care Is "Such An Easy One"; President: "We're Doing Very Well In Iraq. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:31:45] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A House investigation into the Trump campaign ties with Russia, that investigation on hold. How long until things get moving and will we ever hear from the former Justice Department official who could have important information?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Dave Briggs and I've never tried Russian dressing, Sean Spicer, and neither have you, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Sean Spicer's changing your palate --

BRIGGS: We have never tried it --

ROMANS: -- among other things.

BRIGGS: -- and still have not. On the schedule today for the House Intelligence Committee probing alleged ties between President Trump and Russia, nothing. No meetings, no hearings, no nothing at all. The Trump-Russia probe has completely broken down, at least for now, amid a growing divide over whether House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes should recuse himself. More on that in a moment.

ROMANS: So what will get things moving again? For one thing, the ranking Democratic on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, wants Republicans to agree to reschedule hearings that had been set for yesterday. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates was set to testify and she was expected to discuss communications between former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. "The Washington Post" reported the White House tried to block Yates from testifying. That's a claim that Press Secretary Sean Spicer flat out rejected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On the 24th, Ms. 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 "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 Ms. Yates from testifying. I hope she testifies. I look forward to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Calls for Nunes to recuse himself are coming from a growing number of Democrats and now, even, from one Republican and that's Walter Jones of North Carolina. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee says this. "The claim by Chairman Nunes that no one in the White House knew about a visit cannot be true. Chairman Nunes was not a White House fence-jumper, he was invited in."

ROMANS: Meantime, Nunes is scoffing at the suggestion he might step aside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-C), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why they're -- you know, why these things are being said.

RAJU: But can this investigation continue as you as chairman?

NUNES: Why would it not?

RAJU: Because there's --

NUNES: Aren'tI briefing you guys continuously?

RAJU: But they're saying you --

NUNES: Haven't I been keeping you up to speed?

RAJU: But they're saying that it cannot run as you -- with you as chairman.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

It looks like questions about Russia are starting to wear on Sean Spicer. Listen to the press secretary getting into a testy exchange after suggesting the media is looking for Kremlin connections that don't exist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I've said it from the day that I got here until whatever that there is no connection. You've got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight somehow that's a Russian connection. But every single person -- [05:35:00] APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: (INAUDIBLE).

SPICER: No, I -- well, no, that's -- I appreciate your agenda here but the reality is --

RYAN: (INAUDIBLE).

SPICER: Oh, no, no, no -- hold on. You know, at some point, report the facts. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion -- Republican, Democrat -- so I'm sorry that that disgusts you. You're shaking your head. I appreciate it but --

RYAN: You're not listening to what I'm trying to --

SPICER: OK, but understand this. That at some point the facts are what they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That's a reporter, April Ryan, that he's arguing with there. And to discuss, let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" digital managing editor Zach Wolf. Good morning. It feels like he's got some heartburn to continue the Russian dressing analogy there. I mean, maybe he worked that line out ahead of time. But certainly, it's a good reminder that it's the president who put Russia on the table by over and over on the campaign trail going out of his way to hold Vladimir Putin up as this ideal as a leader.

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR, CNN POLITICS: Right, and then denying there were any sort of contacts between people in his campaign and, you know, the Russian ambassador or any sort of Russian officials, which we later learned out to not be true, and all the contacts we've learned about between his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russia, so it's like there was smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke. But the questions, you know, are clearly legitimate for this White House regarding Russia.The problem for Sean Spicer is that they repeat over and over and over again and, you know, it's a hard position he has.

BRIGGS: The question no one is asking, Romans, is does the president really eat salad?

ROMANS: Does he eat salad?

WOLF: Yes.

BRIGGS: There are still questions as to that but we'll move on. The congressman, Walter Jones of North Carolina -- him calling for Nunes to step down as the head of this investigation -- how does that change the debate moving forward?

WOLF: Well, I think it's really important that there's a Republican calling for Nunes to recuse himself or step down from the investigation. I would point out that Walter Jones, as an individual congressman, is somebody who has broken with his party on a number of things, including on national security so he probably doesn't speak for most of them in that regard.

ROMANS: Let's talk about health care reform --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: -- if we can. You know, I thought this was, you know, dead ground and now we're seeing these green shoots or the president, at least, is talking about he'd be open to restarting this health care negotiation. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, what do we make of this sound bite because you have pointed out on this program before sometimes the president uses words that don't mean what we all think they mean. Do we take him at his word on this that he's going to be --

WOLF: Right.

ROMANS: -- open to starting up health care again?

WOLF: Take the work "easy" right there. It's clearly not easy.

ROMANS: Yes.

WOLF: They couldn't get a simple majority of Republicans to pass a bill that Republicans wrote. So, no, not easy. You know, I'm sure Republicans, as they move forward, are going to look at ways to either go back at repeal or chip away at the law, but you have the Senate saying they're still moving on. You have the House kind of still wondering how they can get back at this issue and meanwhile the dynamic has not changed. Nothing has markedly changed, I think, since that bill went down for defeat. So until there's some sort of, you know, shift in what the Freedom Caucus is saying or what Democrats are saying or what moderate Republicans are saying, I'm not sure how they -- how they come to a -- to an agreement.

ROMANS: And they are working on tax reform already, you know, so he's saying health care would be easy. But when they've already switched gears to tax reform --

BRIGGS: Well, whether it's tax reform, whether it's funding the government, whether it's health care or, you know, Gorsuch' confirmation, what does it reveal about future efforts to work with Democrats that it appears that no Democrats are going to set forth and say we will support Gorsuch and that so many are stepping forth to say that we will filibuster his nomination? What does that suggest to you about the two sides coming together on anything?

WOLF: I think it suggests that Chuck Schumer is going to put incredible pressure on his caucus to hold the line -- to sort of play the Mitch McConnell role. The role that Mitch McConnell played against Barack Obama, which is he is -- the top Democrat in the country right now is Chuck Schumer and he is the face of defense against this president that so many Democrats abhor, really, so I don't foresee them really trying to work together with Republicans. Number one, they're going to disagree with most of the policies and number two, they don't want to give Republicans a win politically.

ROMANS: There were those senators last night having dinner with the president and the first lady and the president, I think, was surprised that Chuck Schumer came or that some of the Democrats did come. Do you think that he's working behind the scenes trying to reach out to some of these Dems? I mean, do you -- do you think -- it just seems to intransigent right now. Is there some leadership, some personality traits of this president that could get more work done on that front?

[05:40:04] WOLF: Yes, oh certainly. I mean, you know, he's clearly shown himself to be good at one-on-one, convincing people to do things. He's the -- he's the author of "The Art of the Deal." And let's also not forget he knows Chuck Schumer. They're both from New York.

ROMANS: Yes.

WOLF: They have a relationship that predates all of this when they used to say nice things about each other before Donald Trump was in politics. So I wouldn't look past that ultimately, but out of the gate here, Democrats are going to hold the line.

ROMANS: All right, nice to see you, Zach --

WOLF: You, too.

ROMANS: -- on this Wednesday morning, bright and early --

BRIGGS: Thank you, Zach.

ROMANS: -- on day 69. All right, new details this morning about the president's budget blueprint. Documents reviewed by CNN show a long list of new cuts that could save the government $18 billion this year. Those savings help offset the big boost to defense spending, so cutting where to boost defense?

Well, the steepest reduction, $3 billion in cuts to education. That includes $1.2 billion less for teacher-oriented grants. Officials say they are unproven and poorly targeted. A $1.3 billion cut to surpluses in the Pell Grant program. Now officials tell us that would still leave it with enough funding, but I've got to tell you. The funding for Pell Grants is a constant battle every year. These are really important -- really important money for poor students.

The document shows a $1.6 billion decrease to Housing and Urban Development programs, and $1 billion in reductions to international aid, which cuts funding for the fight against HIV-AIDS and for U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Nearly $1 billion taken away from service programs that benefit disaster relief and senior citizens. On those cuts, an administration official says it is not a core function of the federal government to promote these things.Expect major backlash from special interest groups, Democrats, and even some Republicans. You know, the whole Meals on Wheels thing became a real branding right away but that just showed you --

BRIGGS: But they pushed back on those cuts -- did the White House.

ROMANS: They did and look, you heard from Mick Mulvaney -- I guess it was last week -- you know, the budget guru. He said let the states do that. That's what states should do.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: That's what -- churches, the private sector does that. It's not the role of federal government.

BRIGGS: It should be a really interesting debate up next about just funding the government. Just keeping the lights on.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. We have two weeks left for that.

BRIGGS: About 12 legislative days left. Well, ahead, our troops in Iraq are fighting like never before. That's the word from President Trump and that's not sitting well with everyone. We're live in Iraq, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:46:35] TRUMP: I just had a call -- a long call from Gen. Mattis and John, I know, is very happy to hear that but he knows better 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So a rare public comment from the president on the fight against ISIS in Iraq. Mr. Trump's upbeat assessment coming in the wake of an airstrike that killed more than 100 civilians in western Mosul. The Iraqi military blames the U.S.-led coalition. Listen to Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, acknowledging the coalition likely did play a role in that tragedy while also pointing a finger at ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, TOP U.S. COMMANDER ON MOSUL STRIKE: 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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: General Townsend said the type of munition used in the strike should not have collapsed the entire building where all those civilians perished. That's why they'll be an investigation to figure out what exactly happened there. Was it a booby trap, car bomb, too -- what happened? Let's go live to Erbil, Iraq and bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon again. She was just in Mosul just giving us a walk through some of those streets. And, Arwa, the president's assessment that things are going well, how is that sitting there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's all relative isn't it, Christine? When you look at it purely from a military perspective, when you look at it purely from are the Iraqi security forces with the U.S.-backed coalition pushing forward, gaining territory from ISIS, yes, things are going well. But that's a bit of an oversimplification of what is a very complicated situation. No one thought the battle for Mosul was going to be easy. It is one of the toughest battles in modern history because the Iraqis are up against an enemy unlike anyone that the U.S. has faced in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

ISIS is much more sophisticated, much more capable, and has many more fighters deeply entrenched inside a city that was home to 1.2 million civilians. And even in this last portion of western Mosul you still have hundreds of thousands of civilians who cannot flee even if they wanted to because everyone who we've spoken to who said that they tried to escape said that ISIS turned them back at gunpoint. We've also spoken to numerous civilians who lost loved ones or some who managed to survive the situation who said that ISIS would hold them at gunpoint in their homes while, at the same time, using their rooftops for fighting positions.

This is a tragedy of colossal proportions and while we were in Mosul yesterday we spoke to a handful of people that were in a neighborhood that had already been liberated, describing the sheer terror and horror of war. One woman we met, in fact, was staying behind because she was waiting, hoping that her husband would somehow return to her because he had been taken away by ISIS the day before this area was liberated.

So you have these stories of the nightmares that the civilians are going through. And as the Iraqis and the Americans continue to try to push forward, trying to minimize the trauma, the causalities among the civilian population, it has to be taken and factored into a much greater degree at this stage.

[05:50:10] ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon for us in Erbil, Iraq for us this morning. Some great reporting from her this week on that situation there and that investigation.

BRIGGS: It's an increasingly complex situation. Time for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota joins us. Alisyn, have you ever tried Russian dressing?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Of course, yes, of course. I was a child of the seventies.

BRIGGS: We've not.

CAMEROTA: Oh my God.

BRIGGS: Not going to do it.

CAMEROTA: Dave, you'll love it.

BRIGGS: OK.

CAMEROTA: You'll love it --

BRIGGS: We'll take your word for it.

CAMEROTA: -- on your Reuben. OK. I will get that for you for lunch. I'll tell you because we have all sorts of important guests on "NEW DAY" this morning. We have some of the central figures in the biggest news stories of the day, including -- we have Jim Jordan of the House Freedom Caucus. What are they going to do about health care moving forward, now that the first bill was killed? We have Trey Gowdy of the House Intel Committee. What are they going to do about Devin Nunes? And then we have James Inhofe, who has called climate change a hoax, so we want to get his thoughts on the president's latest executive orders.

And then I just wanted to show you this new professional photo that Izzy Povich, our new E.P., has made. This is on her CNN I.D. Isn't this --

ROMANS: I love it.

BRIGGS: Wow.

CAMEROTA: I know. Isn't that a great photo of her?

ROMANS: Welcome, Izzy, by the way.

BRIGGS: That is outstanding.

ROMANS: Welcome, Izzy.

BRIGGS: Is that the world in her hand?

CAMEROTA: It's "NEW DAY."

BRIGGS: In her hands.

CAMEROTA: She's the -- she's the wizard behind "NEW DAY" now, so that's her photo.

ROMANS: Oh. Welcome, Izzy.

BRIGGS: Welcome, Izzy. That is a nice photo.

ROMANS: It looks like -- and what a line. It looks like you're going to eat some news for breakfast --

CAMEROTA: Yes, with Russian dressing.

ROMANS: -- with Russian dressing. All right, thanks, Alisyn. The Dow snapping its eight-day losing streak, but even better, I'm going to show you two strong economic signs that are at the highest level in years.

BRIGGS: We need that.

ROMANS: Yes, we do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:45] BRIGGS: History is unfolding right now in the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggering Britain's exit from the European Union by signing a letter invoking Article 50. That letter will be delivered to the European Council in Brussels thismorning. But there's a new complication this morning. Scotland may want to secede from the U.K. before the U.K. exits the E.U. CNN's Nic Robertson tracking the latest developments live from London. Nic, good morning to you. This is a historic day.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Dave, good morning. It is, indeed. Forty-four years Britain's been tied to Europe. In a few seconds, we're expecting Theresa May to step outside the door behind me and make her way to the House of Commons. She will be there answering, as she always does on Wednesday, at prime minister's question time. In a little over an hour and one-half, she will begin to read details of what's in that letter that's been sent to the European Union today in Brussels. As she is giving details in the House of Commons it will be handed over physically to the European Council president, Donald Tusk.

But also, as you say, while she is also, Theresa May, fighting a rear- guard action against the Scottish National Party and the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who says that Theresa May is taking Britain over a cliff without a safe place to land. It is against the will of Scotland and Scotland's wishes are not being heard. Scotland, of course, voted 62 percent to remain part of the European Union.

Nicola Sturgeon is going to try to use this to hold a second independent referendum to separate Scotland from the rest of Britain. Theresa May has vowed to stand against that and says that she is going to fight Brexit to unite the people of Britain for a brighter future, whether they're from the north, the south, the east, the west, cities, villages, the countryside. She is getting a better future for all them, she says.

BRIGGS: Nic, it should be a fascinating day there. I'm sure you'll check in with "NEW DAY" as well.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a quick check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global markets holding onto gains right now. Futures here in the U.S. pretty much flat. We want to keep an eye on the stock market in London today. You heard Nic -- it's ticking higher at this moment ahead of the official start of Brexit. The Dow's losing streak is officially over. The average up 151 points after eight down days, the longest losing streak since 2011. Renewed hopes about tax reform have investors feeling better after the failure of the health care bill.

They are also two strong pieces of econ news that helped keep the positive note here. Consumer confidence, a 16-year high. Home prices up almost six percent at the start of the year. So a couple of good things going on here. A humming economy, if you will. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: We need some mojo. I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what a cover-up looks like. Our committee has lost its independence, credibility, and the progress we made.

RAJU: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

NUNES: Well, why would I not?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: This might make a good spy novel. It doesn't make a good investigation.

RYAN: You've got Russia, you've got wiretapping.

SPICER: No, we don't have that. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A respected journalist was patronized trying to ask the question.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We're going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It's going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land.

TRUMP: We're all going to make a deal on health care. It's such an easy one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, March 29th, 6:00 here in New York.

Up first, the House Intel Committee's Russia investigation grinding to a halt over political infighting. Its embattled chairman digging in and refusing those calls to step down.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A really troubling allegation has come up. Did Nunes coordinate with the White House to block the former deputy attorney general Sally Yates from testifying? Now, there's a much different story going on in the Senate Intel Committee. They're going to begin their first open hearing on Russia tomorrow.

The president also raising eyebrows, saying it's going to be easy to get a deal on health care and that we're doing really well in Iraq, forgetting that the U.S. just killed over 100 civilians. What will day 69 of the Trump presidency hold? Let's begin our coverage with Sara Murray, live at the White House -- Sara.