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A Crucial Week for President Trump; Russia-Trump Controversy; Jared Kushner in Iraq; Trump Warns China on North Korea; Supreme Court Nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch; Trump on Obamacare Repeal Again; U.S.-Russia Relations. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A critical week for President Trump starts today and the president is already putting China on notice to stop North Korea or the U.S. will.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And breaking overnight, Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisors made a surprise trip to Iraq.

ROMANS: And today a crucial vote in the Senate on advancing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Happy Monday everybody, a lot going on.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. How was your weekend?

ROMANS: It was good. It was beautiful weather.

BRIGGS: And it is a busy, busy week ahead. It's April 3rd. It's Monday, 4:00 a.m. in the east. It's also National Championship day in college basketball. We start with major world news. President Trump this morning hoping for a reset after weeks of looming questions about Russia's alleged influence over his campaign. Today, the president kicks off a crucial week dominated by diplomatic meetings with three world leaders and the fate of his Supreme Court nominations. That's all.

ROMANS: That's all. The White House hoping to turn the narrative way from last weeks' big story, the Russia connection and former national security adviser Michael Flynn's offer to "tell his story in exchange for immunity."

Let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles for the latest.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine and Dave, and we've said this a lot during the Trump administration but this could be one of the biggest weeks' of Donald Trump's presidency. He has a lot on the table this week including a whole host of meetings with important foreign leaders that's going to be capped with a summit with the President of China, Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Among the big topics, North Korea -- this after an interview with "The

Financial Times" where Donald Trump really lays it on the line for China telling them that they need to get involved in coming up with a solution to deal with the problems in the Korean Peninsula. It's also the opportunity this week for a big win for the Trump administration as Neil Gorscuh, their nominee for the Supreme Court is expected to get a vote sometime this week.

Republicans confident that they're going to be able to get him confirmed. The question is will they do it with the 60 votes that is customary for a vote like this. All this though as the cloud of Russia continues to over shadow this administration. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intel Committee reacted to the news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is willing to take an immunity deal. Schiff said his committee may not be interested. Take a listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We don't want to do anything that will interfere in any case that the Justice Department may decide to bring. We also have to determine whether he really can add value to our investigation, whether we need him to learn information we can't learn from other sources. So it's very early I think even to be considering this.


NOBLES: Meanwhile, even though Russia continues to be a big issue for the Trump administration, the president himself is not backing down tweeting on Sunday morning, "The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking. Find the leakers." All this as the president has a very busy week in front of him starting this morning, Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: No doubt about that. Thank you, Ryan. Breaking overnight, senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner has popped up in Iraq. A top administration official telling CNN the first son-in-law flew to Iraq with chairman of the Joint of Chiefs, Joseph Dunford at Dunford's invitation.

The administration source declined to provide details about Kushner's mission or plans in Iraq or when he'll return to Washington. Kushner is also expected to have a major role in those meetings this week between President Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

ROMANS: And this morning just days ahead of those meetings, President Trump is putting China on notice. The president warning that the U.S. will take unilateral action against North Korea unless China increases pressure on the regime. Speaking to "The Financial Times," the president said this, "China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won't. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don't, it won't be good for anyone. If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you."

BRIGGS: Head scratching interview in The Financial Times." And here is U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley brandishing an equally tough message for China.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: No longer take the excuses from China that they're concerned too. They need to show us how concerned they are. They need to pressure on North Korea. The only country that can stop North Korea is China. China has to cooperate. This is now down to do we want to continue to see these ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or does China want to do something about it.


BRIGGS: The reaction from China, let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley live in Beijing. Good morning to you, Will. The president keeps saying China can stop North Korea's program but how much influence do they really have over their nuclear program?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, did you notice by the way just the difference in messaging between President Trump saying that the U.S. will take action against North Korea and then

[04:05:00] Ambassador Haley saying only China can stop North Korea. And the reality is, there is that the United States can do without China. When you talk about sanctions, China has to enforce the sanctions because China is North Korea's only meaningful trading partner. You talk about diplomacy, of course China would be involved in that because they're the regional power in this area.

Preemptive military strike, very unlikely although Secretary Tillerson didn't take it off the table when he was here visiting in Asia, but would really create such a destabilizing scenario on the Korean Peninsula and North Korea would consider an act of war. And given the size and growing capacity of their nuclear arsenal and their missiles, that is something that the United States would probably do according to most analysts.

So what could the United States do without China? Then United States could punish Chinese companies that do business with China in defiance of U.N. resolutions. These unilateral sanctions, the U.S. has tried this strategy before to actually sanction some of these smaller Chinese banks that continue to deal with North Korea because it's very lucrative and profitable for them.

And there was a U.N. report that showed that North Korea has been able to get around these sanctions, has been able to sell weapons technology and other things by doing business with small Chinese banks, and banks in other countries as well. So perhaps that's what President Trump was alluding to when he says the U.S. will do it with or without China, but the bottom line is, Dave, the United States needs China's help on this.

And of course, this is just one thing they have to discuss later this week because he talked last week about President Trump's tweets about trade, which is also going to be a major issue. BRIGGS: Yes, and the president did not want talk terrorist when

discussing China with "The Financial Times," but what a pivotal week it is for the president. Thank you, Will.

ROMANS: You know, there is something that always strikes me to Will's reporting from Beijing, is still excellent, but the Chinese central planners plan and think in 100 year increments, in the United States we think in election years, and so there's a just a really different world view at play here and strategy. It's fascinating to see how president --

BRIGGS: How do you reconcile those this week?

ROMANS: Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, that would be just critical. Critically ahead for the president is Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch and the Senate Judiciary Committee expected to vote today to advance his nomination to the poll Senate. Three days of formal debate begins Tuesday with Republicans hoping to confirm him by Friday.

He needs 60 votes, that means all 52 Republicans and eight Democrats are needed for a confirmation. So far only three Democrats are supporting Gorsuch with Indiana senator Joe Donnelly, the latest to get on board. Dozens of Democrats backing a filibuster.

BRIGS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing to get Gorsuch confirmed even if it means changing the rules where only 51 votes are needed.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week. How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends. How many of them are willing to oppose closure on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee. Never happened before in history.


BRIGGS: Now if Republicans are able to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed by Friday, he would be able to join the Supreme Court this month in time to participate in the final cases of the year's term. We get more now from CNN's Ariane de Vogue.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Christine and Dave, today is a big day for Neil Gorsuch. The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on his nomination. He's expected to advance on party lines but we will also get a glimpse of how Democrats, who have so far been on the fence, will vote when he reaches the full senate.

It all comes down to the math. As things stand, it takes 60 votes to confirm him and more than 30 Democrats led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say they plan to filibuster the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It looks like Gorsuch will not reach the 60-vote margin. So instead of changing the rules, which is up to Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority, why doesn't President Trump, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate sit down and try to come up with a mainstream nominee.


DE VOGUE: Three Democrats from states that voted for President Trump however say they will support Gorsuch. They're furious that Merrick Garland never got a vote but say Gorsuch is well qualified. Republicans on the other hand say that if the Democrats vote to filibuster, then they'll do something historic. They will change the rules of the Senate to make it easier for Supreme Court nominees to get through.

As thing stand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Gorsuch is expected to be confirmed by Friday. Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: Arian de Vogue, thank you for that. President Trump were resurrecting the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare. He's been blaming the House Freedom Caucus for his initial failure to get health care reform passed. Now he seems ready to re-fight the battle telling "the Financial Times" in that interview this weekend, "I don't lose. I don't like to lose. They are negotiating as we speak. If we don't get what we want we will make a deal with the Democrats and we will have in my opinion not as good a form of health care."

President Trump spent Sunday on the links in Virginia golfing with Senator Rand Paul. Paul was an outspoken critic of the first Republican plan and says he remains hopeful a better bill will be passed.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We had a great day with the president today. We did talk about some health care reform.

[04:10:00] I think the sides are getting closer and closer together and I remain very optimistic that we will get Obamacare repealed.


ROMANS: After his round of golf, President Trump tweeted that he promised the American people great health care and one way or another he's going to deliver. It looks like his team --


BRIGGS: That's 14golf outings in 10 weeks for the POTUS.

ROMANS: Oh, wow.

BRIGGS: It's good to be POTUS. But look, it's interesting. Also in that "Financial Times" article talking about health care, he was asked about will he get tax reform this year and he pushed it off saying I don't want to talk about when. I want to talk about health care.

ROMANS: Fascinating.

BRIGGS: Steve Mnuchin felt surprised that.

ROMANS: I know -- you would think "The Financial Times" all they want to know about is tax reform.

BRIGSS: Promises this year -- they can't get it through this year. Anyway, President Trump will host Egypt's president at the White House today. The fight against ISIS and Iraq and Syria expected to be at the top of their agenda. It's the first official visit to Washington for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The Egyptian leader was denied a White House invite under the Obama administration which viewed him as a dictator. It's just the first of several major diplomatic encounters for the president this week. On Wednesday, he meets with Jordan's King Abdullah, then on Thursday he travels to Mar-a-Lago to sit down with President Xi of China.

ROMANS: The White House releasing financial disclosures of 180 staff members. It details employee holdings as they entered the White House. One big discovery, former national security adviser Michael Flynn initially did not include thousands of dollars in speaking fees from three Russian companies. They were absent from forms he filed in February just before he resigned. He did include them in the second filing.

Flynn was paid to speak by Russia's state funded television network for a speech in Moscow. Something intelligence officials consider a propaganda arm of Vladimir Putin. And by two other Russian companies for speaking engagements in the U.S. Flynn's lawyer says the first filing was a draft and that he has filed extra paperwork since being let go.

The disclosures also show Ivanka Trump owns a large piece of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Her stake is valued between $5 and $25 million. It earned her up to $5 million in income last year. These details came from her husband's disclosure. Lawyers say Ivanka will submit her own paperwork later this month now that she's a White House employee.

It's unclear if the Office of Government Ethics will require that she divest her interest in the hotel. Those Kushner documents show that they are worth an awful a lot of money, like $700 million.

BRIGGS: $740 million. Do you think that she may divest that part in the Washington hotel? That seems like a massive conflict of interest.

ROMANS: This is entirely --

BRIGGS: Different times in which we live. All right, Jared Kushner's surprise visit to Iraq this morning, certainly raising some eyebrows. Why is he there? We'll discuss, next.

[04:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRIGGS: I love it.

ROMANS: Jared Kushner's surprise visit to Iraq this morning comes amid growing concern about civilian casualties in the fight against ISIS. Meantime, Syrians fighters backed by U.S. forces are closing in on the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital.

CNN's Muhammad Lila monitoring developments for us this morning from Istanbul, Turkey. He joins us live. Mohammed, Jared Kushner's trip is really surprising here for someone with little diplomatic and foreign policy experience, no military experience. Why was Jared Kushner in Iraq? What's the point of that trip?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, I think that's the million dollars question if people are looking for answers to. Here's what we know, this was an unannounced visit. It came at the invitation of the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. We know Dunford of course he's been charged with defeating ISIS in Iraq. We know the two were traveling together while they were in Iraq.

What we don't know of course are some of the key details and look, anytime a senior official visits Iraq, sometimes the details are kept secret so we don't know for example, where they visited. We don't who they met with. But of course the bigger question in all this is that even when there are visits like this and some details kept secret, usually we know why the visits took place in the first place. In this case, we don't know why Jared Kushner was in Iraq other than accepting that invitation.

What this does show however Christine is the continuing ascendancy of Trump's family members in the U.S. administration. As you said, Jared Kushner has no diplomatic experience, no foreign policy experience and certainly no military experience. What we see on the ground in Iraq right now is a convergence of all of those three things, and of course it's primarily military operations, their decisions being made by American generals every day in terms of how the fight is going. So what could Jared Kushner possibly contribute to that given that he has no military experience? I think that's the question a lot of the people are looking for answers for this morning here.

ROMANS: Muhammad Lila for us (INAUDIBLE) everything from Istanbul. Thank you so much for that. You know the president just last week he said they were fighting better than ever before, you know, fighting harder than ever before in Iraq. It may very well be Jared Kushner has the ear of the president. It might be that the chairman of Joint of Chiefs wants to make sure that he can get his perspective and point of view even more directly.

BRIGGS: So maybe he wants -- that makes more sense of what we're seeing because to go from the American office of innovation to a surprise trip to Iraq, it's hard to find a commonality there. All right, ahead, Russia stepping up criticism of the U.S. What's behind the tough talk? We're live to Moscow, next.

[04:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BRIGGS: In just a few hours, the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin hearing testimony behind closed doors about Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election. This comes as the Kremlin steps up criticism of the United States condemning coalition airstrikes that killed scores of Iraqi civilians in Mosul last month.

Let's go to CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow this morning. Matthew, good morning. On Friday, a Kremlin spokesman told ABC News the U.S. relationship with Russia is, "worse than the Cold War." What's behind that?

MATTHW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what's behind it is the fact that there was such a lot of hope and expectation in Russia that the Trump administration was going to come into office and it was going to turn around the relationship with Moscow.

Trump as a candidate promised to recognize Crimea for instance as being a part of Russia, that was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. He promised to work with Russia on the issue of international terrorism, to cooperate on the war in Syria. But none of that has come pass, instead there's this political process underway in the United States,

[04:25:00] which the Russians described as poisonous and toxic when it comes to the Russia issue -- the Senate and the House investigations into collusion being just one aspect of that.

Out of that comes the latest criticism coming from the Russian Defense Ministry about U.S. military action in Iraq and Mosul. Just a couple of months ago, the U.S. was accusing Russia of committing war crimes. Now the Russians are essentially doing the same with the announcement last week by U.S. officials that ISIS in Mosul are using buildings full of civilians as cover and then baiting the U.S.-led coalition to attack.

This is what the Russian Defense Ministry says and if the U.S. coalition has this information what makes them strike with their smart bombs dooming civilians to a terrible death. So they're answering that U.S. allegation back, Dave.

BRIGGS: Hardly defying of U.S.-Russia relation some predicted. Matthew, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, President Trump entering one of those crucial weeks of his presidency. This is day 74. A Supreme Court confirmation vote and meeting with three world leaders this week. (INAUDIBLE) job support on Friday too.

BRIGGS: Oh, wow.

ROMANS: More on what this takes, next.