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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; Outrage Grows Over GOP Internet Privacy Move; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: As questions about conflicts of interest continue to haunt the Trump administration.

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

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

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: It's 30 minutes past the hour.

This morning the Senate Intelligence Committee holds its first public hearing on Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Republican Intel chairman Richard Burr and the top Democrats 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 and focusing on alleged Russian efforts to spread disinformation and fake news during the campaign.

BRIGGS: They said its plans stand in stark contrast to the deepening stalemate on the House side. Ranking Intel Committee Democrat Adam Schiff says he'll meet today with Chairman Devin Nunes. This 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.


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.


BRIGGS: For the latest now let's 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.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that, Manu Raju.

We're learning that when Jared Kushner appears voluntarily before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he plans to describe his role in meeting with Russians during the transition as that of a point man looking for a back channel to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. A source familiar with what went on tells CNN neither of Kushner's meetings with the Russian ambassador or the chairman of a state-owned bank were about sanctions or about Kushner's real estate business. BRIGGS: Another big setback overnight for the 2.0 version of the

president'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 disadvantaging Muslims.

Hawaii's attorney general praised the decision, calling it, quote, "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.

ROMANS: All right. Ivanka Trump is about to become an official employee of the federal government. The president's oldest daughter will serve as an unpaid assistant to her father with an office in the White House and top security -- top secret security clearance. This new job means she is required to file financial disclosure forms and she will be bound by ethics rules. The White House releasing a statement saying, "We are pleased that Ivanka Trump is chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as first daughter and in support of the president.

We get more this morning 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.

[04:35:07] "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.

BRIGGS: Jim, thank you.

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?


ROMANS: James Comey there.

A rare sight in D.C., Dave. A prominent speech from Melania Trump yesterday.

BRIGGS: Yes, of course.

ROMANS: She usually stays in New York, her son Barron still in school in New York for the rest of the school year, but she made these remarks to the State Department. The first lady calling for women's empowerment and for celebrating diversity. Her remarks are often a stark break from some of the campaign rhetoric we heard from her husband.


MELANIE TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race, the human race.


ROMANS: So Melania Trump has been seldom seen in and around D.C. since the inauguration and taxpayers are taking notice. A new petition on that's called "Make Melania Trump's Stay in the White House or Pay for the Expenses Herself" has more than 246,000 signatures this morning. The New York City police commissioner says it costs about $150,000 a day to protect Melania Trump and her son Barron, and that's on top of Secret Service costs.

I think a lot of people who watched that speech yesterday, and she has to host with the president, the senators who came the night before so she was -- it was kind of a rare midweek appearance by the first lady in the White House.

BRIGGS: Yes. Seems a bit reluctant to really embrace the role, but on that petition, I think at the heart of it is Donald Trump's criticism when just a private citizen of President Obama.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: And how much they spent on vacationing and even when they traveled separately, he and Michelle. There was a lot of critical tweets about that, about how much that's costing taxpayers. So a bit hypocritical there. ROMANS: All right. 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 is the next big money fight ahead on Capitol Hill. And there are four things that could stymie efforts to avert a government shutdown.

First, funding for the border wall. If Republicans include that, Democrats will oppose the bill. Second, the proposed boost to Defense spending, funded by cutting other programs. This tinkers with the very smallest part of the federal budget 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. And finally the Gorsuch confirmation. If Republicans are forced to change the rules to push him through, one budget expert tells us it's a leading indicator for a government shutdown.

The most recent government shutdowns were painful. They were in 2013 and 1995. One thing is clear from those experiences a shutdown is a waste of time, it was a waste of money. It can also hurt the economy. Plus it will stall this president's already shaky agenda.

BRIGGS: Yes, that Gorsuch confirmation I think is the real story to watch as we see, can anything be bipartisan? Because there's been agreement on Supreme Court justices the last, what, four or five.


BRIGGS: It's done pretty smoothly.


BRIGGS: And this one might show the gridlock that is over there.

ROMANS: Merrick Garland are the two words that Democrats are --

BRIGGS: You're right about that. That is the name who they keep bringing up.

Breaking overnight. An agreement in North Carolina to repeal House Bill 2. That's the widely -- 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. That deadline at noon today.

LGBT groups already slamming the repeal compromise, though, as a bad deal that leaves discrimination in place.

[04:40:03] Governor Roy Cooper says the agreement is not perfect but does begin the process of repairing North Carolina's reputation. Billions of dollars in economic damage because of this bill and the NCAA is a big one. They've hosted more NCAA games than any state in the country.

ROMANS: Yes. All kinds of companies have been our saying this is a bad idea.

BRIGGS: The NFL, the NCAA. Sports at the center of that story.

ROMANS: All right. 40 minutes pas the hour. As the intelligence community -- intelligence committee, rather, prepares for its first public hearing today into Russian meddling, how is the Kremlin reacting? We are going to go to Moscow next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Accusations -- accusations, rather, of collusion. Say that three times fast. Accusations of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia are reaching a fever pitch this morning as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to launch a public hearing into the Kremlin's election meddling in just a matter of hours.

[04:45:04] So how are the Russians reacting to all of this? Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Matthew Chance.

And I can just -- I can imagine the reaction. Let me guess. Fake news, fake news. America overreacting and afraid of its shadow.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, fake news, witch hunt, dishonest media, all of those phrases that have become so familiar to you over there have become, you know, par for the course over here as well. That's what they -- that's what they characterize this. Look, there's a lot of frustration here in Russia about what they call the poisonous and toxic political atmosphere when it comes to the Russia issue in the United States. They see these Senate and House hearings into conclusion as being part of that toxic, toxic.

And Russians are very disappointed and quite angry but particularly galled by the fact that they believed that the Trump administration was going to be positive for the relationship between Washington and Moscow. Trump campaigned on a platform of building a better relationship with Moscow, Russia, of recognizing potentially Crimea as being part of Russia, which of course Russia annexed from Ukraine back in 2014. Of even cooperating in Syria with Russia and on the issue of international terrorism.

But none of that, none of it has come to pass. In fact when the Russians look at the relationship now, and look what's going on in Washington, they see a much worse situation than they had previously. It's unpredictable, they don't know where it's going, and they don't like it at all.

ROMANS: It's a little ironic actually. You know, when you know how the Russians like to use information or disinformation to change relationships, to change the topic. Many of those critics on Capitol Hill would say undermining democratic institutions. It looked like they were going to have, you know, more of a say, or at least a different kind of relationship with the United States and in fact this sort of, you know, hit them back in the face. CHANCE: Yes. I mean, look -- I mean, we don't know whether for sure

that the Americans -- sorry, the Russians orchestrated this, but if they did they certainly didn't get what they bargained for.

ROMANS: Right.

CHANCE: I mean, look, there's a certain amount of evidence circumstantial that points to the fact that the Russians were against Hillary Clinton winning. They didn't want her in power, but, you know, and perhaps they supported Trump because he was an alternative to her, but the fact that he's so unpredictable --

ROMANS: Right.

CHANCE: I think is something that the Russians are really having a hard time dealing with.

ROMANS: It's just fascinating. We're so glad you're there in Moscow for us, Matthew Chance, to keep an eye of it all for us. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans reaching a critical cross roads 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.

Here we get more now 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.

ROMANS: All right. Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much for that.

To Texas now. A Texas city in mourning following just a devastating bus crash that killed 13 people traveling home to New Braunfels from a senior churchgoers retreat. This is a head-on collision that occurred when a northbound pickup truck veered into the bus's southbound lane. Governor Greg Abbot sent his condolences to the victims' families, saying, "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 tragic story there.

BRIGGS: Yes, it is awful.

And American Airlines safe on the ground after its copilot become incapacitated and died during landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It happened when the aircraft was two miles from the airport. The captain declared an emergency and the aircraft landed safely. Paramedics were standing by and performed CPR on Mike William Grubs. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

[04:50:04] ROMANS: All right. 50 minutes past the hour. There is some growing backlash this morning over the move by congressional Republicans to block Internet privacy rules. Wow, there is outrage on this from the left to the right. Civil libertarians are mad, liberals are mad, privacy experts are mad, everyone is mad. We'll discuss that next.


ROMANS: All right. There is bipartisan anger and frustration this morning over the move by congressional Republicans to block implementation of new Internet privacy rules. Now these rules would have required service providers to get your permission to collect and share your important data about your browsing habits. The president is said to support this move despite widespread anger ranging from the "New York Times" editorial board to commentators on the conservative site Breitbart.

CNN business and technology correspondent Samuel Burke joins us and Samuel, good morning.

[04:55:03] What is the tech industry saying about this? Because I know we're hearing from consumer groups -- you know, this is one of our most widely read stories on yesterday and this morning. People are

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. When you mess with people's privacy they get upset. And in fact this is fascinating because it has "The New York Times" editorial board as well as Breitbart News, as you just mentioned on the same page. I don't remember the last time we said that. They're both against this.

Let me just put up on the screen what's at stake here because this is all about rules that were approved under the Obama administration that would have prevented your Internet service provider, the people who give you your Internet at home, on your phone from collecting and sharing your Web browsing history. Christine, I know you have nothing to hide but Dave and I, well, app

usage, what apps you use and when -- as well as your geo-location. So on your phone that means your location everywhere that you go. So why the change? Well, there's a new president in town in case you didn't hear. And Republicans have argued, and this is factual, the fact that these rules only would have applied. This never went into practice so there wouldn't -- there hasn't been any changes.

These rules only would have applied to the Internet service providers not to the Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google, so to answer your question, I think the tech companies are happy for now because nothing has or would have affected them.

ROMANS: And as far as we know, the president supports this. He supports rolling back almost anything that President Obama did.

BURKE: Well, and I think what's interesting here is a lot of privacy advocacy groups are saying maybe what they should have done is make these rules apply to all of these companies. Right now the telecom industries, they're celebrating. Silicon Valley is happy about it. So maybe what they should have done is made it apply to everybody protecting all of our privacy and then the Republicans who pushed this vote wouldn't have had the argument that this bill was unfair because it's true, it only applied to one industry not to the Silicon Valley groups.

BRIGGS: Generally thinking you just -- you would think our legislation would move toward more online privacy protection, not less.

Samuel, thank you. Stay on this for us.

Meanwhile, nearly 48 million people threatened by severe weather today from the deep south up to the Ohio Valley. Let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Check this out, Dave and Christine.


VAN DAM: Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that. That's your weather, here's your money this morning.

Stock futures basically flat following a mixed day yesterday. The Nasdaq is quietly riding a four-day win streak. Tech stock shining. Stock markets in Europe are edging higher right now and shares in Asia are closed. They dropped overnight.

Move over Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos is now the second richest person on earth. The Amazon founder and CEO jumping over Buffett during the trading session yesterday, according to Bloomberg. I like that visual image of him jumping over. He's now worth $75.6 billion. He's got a long way to go to catch Microsoft founder Bill Gates who's worth $86 billion. The big jump in net worth for Bezos is due to this. Amazon stock --

have you seen this? Shares are at an all-time high right now. Now about 870 bucks a share. Over the past 12 months, the stock has surged 47 percent.


ROMANS: Amazon stock isn't the only thing Bezos has to brag about. Check out these pictures. A first look inside Blue Origins space capsule. Now the company says it has the biggest windows to ever go into space. Human test flights are set to begin at the end of the year. If that goes well, the first space tours are set to go into orbit next year.

BRIGGS: Are you in?

ROMANS: I am not in. I am afraid of heights. I am afraid of going into space.

News about leggings making more headlines this morning. Shares of Lululemon set to tank 18 percent at the open after climbing a little bit yesterday. Despite several big purchases by Dave Briggs, Lululemon warns that overall sales this quarter will drop.

The new lineup of leggings are too boring for consumers. The CEO says their styles are lacking depth and color for spring, and that visual merchandising wasn't strong enough, so it's rushing more colorful options to its Web site. But Lululemon is also facing tough competition from companies like Nike and cheaper options from stores like Old Navy.

BRIGGS: I can't prop so much.

ROMANS: You can't prop. Are you on leggings?