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Senate Intel Committee's Bipartisan Plan; Ivanka Trump to Become Federal Employee; Russia Reacts to Senate Probe; Gorsuch Filibuster Debate Rages in Senate; Secretary of State Tillerson in Turkey; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate Intelligence Committee holding its first public hearing on Russia today as questions linger about the House Intelligence's investigation on whether Chairman Nunes should step down.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's revised travel ban dealt another blow. A Hawaiian federal judge imposing an indefinite suspension of the ban.

ROMANS: Ivanka Trump officially joining the White House as an assistant to the president, as big questions about conflicts of interests continue to haunt the young Trump administration.

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. A rare show of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.


BRIGGS: At least a glimmer of hope. It is Thursday, March 30th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

This morning the Senate Intelligence Committee holds its first public hearing on Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Republican Intel chairman Burr and the top Democrat on the committee, Mark Warner, vowing an impartial bipartisan investigation. Burr and Warner laying out their plans side by side at a news conference. They say there are 20 witnesses on their list starting today with cybersecurity experts focusing on alleged Russian efforts to spread disinformation and fake news during the campaign.

ROMANS: They said its plans stand in stark contrast to the deepening stalemate, a stalemate, on the House side. Ranking Intel Committee's Democrat Adam Schiff says he'll meet today with the chairman Devin Nunes, this after just days after Schiff called on Nunes to recuse himself amid growing accusations of possible collusion between Nunes and the White House.

Here's Congressman Schiff on CNN yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The chairman is going to have to find a way to lift this cloud, otherwise we're going to need someone else to preside over this. I think we really do need someone else to preside over this if we're going to do this credibly.


ROMANS: All right. A lot of fascinating developments. For the very latest, we want to bring in CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.


Really a study in contrast between the House Intelligence investigation and the Senate Intelligence investigation, at least at this point. There's gridlock on the House side amid a partisan fight over Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, and whether he should go forward as leading that investigation.

Democrats are accusing him of being too close to the White House. They do not like the way he briefed the president last week on surveillance information that he obtained through a secret source. Nunes saying he's not going anywhere. He's going to continue moving forward. The question is, how?

On the Senate side, leaders are saying they are moving forward in a bipartisan manner. And I asked them this yesterday. Will you actually look into this issue of Russia collusion with the Trump campaign and do you believe that there's nothing there as the White House has suggested over and over again? Here's what they said.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation. I think Mark and I have committed to let this process go through before we form any opinions. And I would hope that that's what you would like us to do. As much as we'd like to share minute-by-minute even the snapshots we get as a team going through it are not always accurate when we find the next piece of intelligence.


RAJU: So really leaving open the possibility that there could be some collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Of course, the White House has said it's a hoax, there's nothing there. They said this is nothing but made-up fake news. But the Senate Intelligence Committee taking it seriously enough that they want to make that as part of their investigation, where they're also going to interview Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, potentially Michael Flynn, the former National Security adviser, as well as Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, as well as 20 people total that they are planning on interviewing right now.

We'll see which one of those becomes public because there's a lot of interest right now about those possible ties that may exist -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: There is indeed, Manu.

New information this morning on Jared Kushner's upcoming voluntary appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Kushner plans to describe his role in meeting with the Russians during the transition as that of a point man looking for a back channel into Russian president, Vladimir Putin. A source familiar with what went on tells CNN neither Kushner's meetings with the Russian ambassador or the chairman of a state-owned bank concerned sanctions nor Kushner's real estate business.

ROMANS: Boy, another big step back overnight for the 2.0 version of President Trump's travel ban. A federal judge in Hawaii granting the state's request for an indefinite suspension of the ban. Judge Derrick Watson converting a temporary restraining order issued two weeks ago into a preliminary injunction, blocking the travel ban executive order. Watson ruling the ban likely violates the Constitution by targeting Muslims.

Hawaii's attorney general praised the decision, calling it, "an important affirmation of the values of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment." The Justice Department can now appeal Watson's ruling to the Ninth Circuit.

BRIGGS: Ivanka Trump is about to become an official employee of the federal government.

[04:05:02] The president's oldest daughter will serve as an unpaid assistant to her father with an office in the White House and top security clearance. The new job means she is required to file financial disclosure forms and is also bound by ethics rules.

The White House releasing a statement saying, quote, "We are pleased that Ivanka Trump is chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as first daughter and in support of a president.

More now from CNN's Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the White House confirmed that the president's daughter Ivanka Trump will be serving as an unpaid employee here with the title of assistant to the president. Ivanka Trump for her part released a statement saying she decided to take on the official government role to avoid any questions about conflicts of interest, adding, quote, "I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president on my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules. And I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.

"Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role."

This may raise question of whether Ivanka Trump will be violating federal nepotism rules as her father is a president and her husband is also a White House adviser. The president's lawyers maintain the law gives him broad discretion to name his own team of advisers -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House. Thanks, Jim.

FBI director James Comey staunchly defending his agency as always nonpartisan. Comey is speaking out at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership dinner. He's been the target of criticism for his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and over the FBI's probe of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But Comey says he is not afraid of political backlash.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I've never been prouder of the FBI. What makes it easy is we're not on anybody's side ever. We're not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes would be helped by this or not. We just don't care and we can't care. We only ask, so what are the facts? What's the law? What's the right thing to do here?


BRIGGS: Meanwhile a former Trump University student from Florida wants her day in court even though the president has agreed to settle fraud lawsuits against Trump University for $25 million. Florida attorney Sherry Simpson is still not satisfied. She says she paid $19,000 for the program in 2010 and wants to continue litigation to expose Mr. Trump's alleged fraud. Judge Gonzalo Curiel will be ruling Simpson's request today. The president once called Curiel a so-called judge who is unfair to him because of Curiel's Mexican heritage.

ROMANS: President Trump's 100 day in office will be Saturday, April 29th. On that same day, the government could shut down if Congress does not pass a spending bill. It's the next big money fight ahead on Capitol Hill. There are four things that could stymie efforts to avert a government shutdown. First, funding for the border wall. Republicans include it, Democrats will oppose the bill.

Second, the proposed boost to Defense spending, funded by cutting other programs, this tinkers with the smallest part of the federal government so look for a fight there. Third, Planned Parenthood. The health care bill would have stripped funding but that failed. If Republicans reintroduce the idea it could be a non-starter for Democrats. Finally the Gorsuch confirmation. If Republicans are forced to change the rules to push him through, one budget expert says that's a leading indicator for a government shutdown.

The most recent government shutdowns were 2013 and 1995. One thing is clear from those experiences a shutdown is a waste of time and money. It can also can hurt the economy. We've saw that firsthand twice. Plus it will stall the president's already shaky agenda.

You know, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has said he would like to raise that debt ceiling. BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: He is also -- many people who have dealt with this have said there shouldn't even be a debt ceiling. That's the stuff that the government has already paid for, plus you have to have a spending bill that goes through here.

BRIGGS: But there are some that are concerned that it kind of fits the world view of Steve Bannon that deconstruction of the administrative state if there is a government shutdown.

ROMANS: Yes. Disrupt.

BRIGGS: A disrupter.

ROMANS: He wants to disrupt the status quo. Right.

BRIGGS: And that would certainly do that. We hope not.

Breaking overnight. An agreement in North Carolina to repeal House Bill 2. A measure widely criticized as anti-LGBT. The bill leaves bathroom regulation up to the state and goes before the North Carolina legislature in a matter of hours. If HB2 is not repealed today the NCAA is prepared to pull all of its events out of the state through 2020.

LGBT groups already slamming the repeal compromise as a bad deal that leaves discrimination in place. But Governor Roy Cooper says the agreement though not perfect begins the process of repairing North Carolina's reputation, which really the economic damages to North Carolina have been front and center and they have been in the billions of dollars.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. 10 minutes past the hour, this morning as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares for its first public hearing today into Russia's election meddling, how is the Kremlin reacting?

[04:10:09] We are going to take a trip to Moscow next.


BRIGGS: Accusations of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia reaching a fever pitch this morning as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to launch a public hearing into the Kremlin's election meddling. In a matter of hours, just so how are the Russians reacting to all of this? Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Matthew Chance.

Good morning to you, Matthew. What is the reaction in Moscow?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it may be familiar to you. They're saying it's about the dishonest media, it's about -- it's about fake news and it's a witch hunt, so exactly the same kinds of terminology being used by the Trump White House. That's how they see what they described as this poisonous and toxic issue of Russia playing out in U.S. politics at the moment. Certainly they don't believe there's any credibility in any of these investigations into Russian collusion.

[04:15:07] There is, though, a lot of interest in them. And I think from our point of view here in Moscow watching these hearings unfold, this recent issue of the meeting between Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, of course, meeting with the head of the Russian development bank is a really interesting one because there's a discrepancy between what the White House says the meeting was about and what the bank says.

The White House says this was just part of Kushner's role as a member of the Trump transition team. He was reaching out to foreign leaders, et cetera. The bank says that the meeting was about business dealings. They met with Kushner, they say, as the head of Kushner companies, as part of their global road show that they've been staging about their future investments and future development. And so it's going to hear if we do finally hear it what exactly was discussed between these two key figures -- Dave.

BRIGGS: That certainly is probably the most intriguing angle to watch and what he says during that hearing.

Matthew, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Democrats and Republicans reaching a critical crossroads in the battle to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Democrats are threatening to filibuster Judge Gorsuch and appear to have the path to 60 votes blocked. Republican leaders vowing to push the nominee through even if it means changing the rules.

We get more from CNN's Ariane de Vogue.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we are at a crossroad now with the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch. It will all come down to the math. He needs 60 votes for confirmation.

Yesterday featured dueling press conferences. Senate Republicans came to the Supreme Court steps to praise the nominee, but two hours later in the capital Chuck Schumer, leading the effort for a filibuster, called Gorsuch an out-of-the-mainstream candidate.

Already more than 27 Democrats have suggested they would vote for the filibuster. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has said he doesn't think he will. Behind closed doors yesterday, he took another meeting with Gorsuch.

As for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he says that if Democrats do filibuster, he will call for a vote to change the rules and make it easier for Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed.

As things stand now a committee vote is expected next Monday and a Senate confirmation vote is scheduled next Friday the 7th. As for Gorsuch he's expected as early as today to produce more answers to questions that have been submitted by senators -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: That is a real battle to watch on Capitol Hill. Thank you.

A Texas city, meanwhile, in mourning following a devastating bus crash that killed 13 people traveling home to New Braunfels from a senior churchgoers retreat. The head-on collision occurred when a northbound pickup truck veered into the bus's southbound lane. Governor Greg Abbot sent his condolences to the victims' families, saying, quote, "We are saddened by the loss of life and our hearts go out to all those affected." Authorities say the cause of the incident is still under investigation.

Just a terrible story this morning.

ROMANS: Terrible. All right. 18 minutes past the hour --

BRIGGS: Coming up, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Turkey this morning as the fight against ISIS reaches a critical point. We'll go to Istanbul next.


[04:22:47] ROMANS: Welcome back. This morning Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Turkey. He has meetings and events all day long. Some of them touching at some very delicate subjects. Just a short time ago he sat down with the Turkish President Erdogan. This comes at a critical juncture in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a fight in which Turkey plays a crucial role.

For the very latest let's turn to CNN's Muhammad Lila in Istanbul.

And clearly it is -- you know, it is an example of just how important Turkey is to the United States and what's happening in the Middle East, no question that Rex Tillerson is there so early in his administration.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine. You're absolutely right. And this is actually going to be a crucial test for Rex Tillerson coming in to such a quagmire here in Turkey, and I'll explain why that's the case.

The United States is working with Kurdish groups on the ground in Syria to isolate and eventually dislodge ISIS from its de facto capital in the city of Raqqa. Now that's actually progressing and it's going well. The United States and its backed forces just retook an airstrip that's outside the city of Raqqa.

The problem is, they need Turkey's cooperation in order to finally put an end to ISIS in Syria. And Turkey objects very strongly to the United States partnering with those Kurdish groups on the ground. Turkey blames those Kurdish groups for some of the terror attacks that we've seen here in Turkey and blames them for a separatist movement.

So Rex Tillerson effectively has to go into this meeting today with Turkey's President Erdogan as well as Turkey's Foreign minister and explain to them why having that Kurdish presence on the ground partnered with American forces is so important in the fight against ISIS. And you know Rex Tillerson has had a number of trips overseas already. But many are saying that this is by far his most important trip to date simply because the relationship between the United States and Turkey has been strained over the last year, not just by ISIS but accusations that the United States is harboring a person that Turkey believes was responsible for a failed coup attempt last year. So there's been a lot of jarring back and forth that's going to be very interesting to see if Secretary of State Tillerson can diffuse some of that tension by his visit here today.

ROMANS: Muhammad, we're glad you're there. Keep us posted for any developments out of that meeting. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Good to see they are traveling with pool of reporters, both television and print.

Breaking news out of Baghdad overnight a suicide truck bomber kills at least 13 people.

[04:25:04] Iraqi officials say more than 24 others were wounded late Wednesday when the bomber detonated an oil tanker loaded with explosives. ISIS is claiming responsibility for the attack at the main security checkpoint just south of the city.

The Senate Intelligence Committee preparing for its first public hearing today into Russia's election meddling. Will the bipartisan investigation reveal any new intelligence? That's next.


BRIGGS: The Senate Intelligence Committee holding its first public hearing on Russia today as questions linger about the House Intelligence investigation on whether Chairman Nunes should step down.

ROMANS: President Trump's revised travel ban dealt another blow. A Hawaiian federal judge imposing now an indefinite suspension of the ban.

BRIGGS: And Ivanka Trump officially joining the White House as an assistant to the president as big questions about conflicts of interest continue to haunt the Trump administration.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you all this morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: It's 30 minutes past the hour.