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Susan Rice Denies Improperly Seeking Americans' Names; Trump Meets Egyptian President El-Sisi; St. Petersburg Bomber Identified; Jared Kushner Travels to Iraq. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Reports about a top Obama official unmasking associates of President Trump drawing a Twitter storm from the commander-in-chief. But are differences between unmasking and leaking, and what's illegal and what's not getting lost in translation?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Will the Republicans change the Senate rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court? It's their only option now that the Democrats have enough support to sustain a filibuster.

BRIGGS: And the attorney general ordering a review of all police reforms nationwide. What does this will mean for changes enacted under the previous administration?

Good morning, everybody. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, April 4th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Amid the constant drip, drip, drip of connections between the president's associates and Russia one topic that's gotten some attention but not much is unmasking. Now the president is taking a leap, doing his best to make unmasking sound illegal, firing off a barrage of tweets that seemed aimed to cooking up a scandal to distract from potentially another one.

BRIGGS: Now let's begin with a FOX News report that a high-ranking Obama official have requested the unmasking of the names of Trump officials caught up in surveillance. That was followed by a Bloomberg report naming President Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice as the official who requested the unmasking, citing a leak from U.S. officials.

Unmasking is where a U.S. official requests the identity of otherwise unnamed American caught up in surveillance of foreigners, but unmasking is certainly not the same as leaking because an unmasked identity is only revealed to officials who are authorized to know.

ROMANS: So after months of Trump supporters complaining about the source of leaks rather than the substance of the leaks, the leak of the Susan Rice information has the president stirring the pot.

For more on unmasking and the response from Susan Rice, I want to bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto in Washington.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, a source close to Ambassador Susan Rice tells me that the claims that she improperly unmasked the names of U.S. citizens caught up in surveillance is, in a word, false. That's coming from Ambassador Rice. But I've also spoken to former senior intelligence officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations to ask them about the process of unmasking. Is it unusual? Is it illegal? And their answer is unanimously no, not unusual, not illegal.

They say a couple of things. One, the law allows this. Two, for it to happen, the official requests it, but the U.S. intelligence community has to approve that request. Oftentimes, it is approved because that intelligence official wants to provide more information to the senior National Security official. As they're reading intelligence reports, they want to know more about what they mean, the significance.

That information is shared only between the briefer from the intelligence community and that official. It's not more widely disseminated. Now it's possible that the official could do that him or herself, but by the nature of it, it is only exchanged one to one.

There are open questions here how extensive was the unmasking, what was the justification for it. But this we know, this I know from speaking to multiple intelligence officials that this practice is not unusual, it happens, and two, it's certainly not illegal. There are protocols for this specifically established after 9/11 to allow for this unmasking under certain rules -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Sciutto. We have to thank Jim for all the hard work he's putting on that story.

BRIGGS: We do.

ROMANS: I also have to apologize we used some video that was Condoleezza Rice at the top of this program. Not Susan Rice. Obviously we know the difference. That was just a filed clip.

BRIGGS: She has nothing to do with the story. He met with President Trump a few days ago and had a wonderful meeting.

ROMANS: That was just a taped snafu. So sorry about, everybody. Sorry to Condoleezza Rice. But for her part, Susan Rice was asked last month about the allegations that Trump officials were incidentally surveilled during the transition. Listen.


SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.


BRIGGS: OK. So a lot about the credibility here of Susan Rice said there on PBS "News Hour" she knew nothing of this, was surprised about it, in the context that she also misled the American public following the Benghazi attack that that was related to an Internet video, so look, we just have to -- we have to be clear about everything involved here.

ROMANS: Of course. Of course.

BRIGGS: And there is some questions about her credibility related to truth with the American people.

But let us know what you think about that, @EarlyStart on Twitter. The web of connections, though, between this president, his associates and Russia seems to be spreading further this morning. The "Washington Post" reporting on a secret meeting in early January between a Russian connected to President Vladimir Putin and the founder of Blackwater Security firm, Erik Prince.

ROMANS: The meeting took place on the isolated Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean.

[04:05:05] The "Post'" sources saying the meeting was an attempt to set up a backchannel line of communication between the Kremlin and President-elect Trump.

Erik Prince was not a part of the Trump campaign or the transition, but he does have ties to Trump's inner circle, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, Prince's sister Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. The White House says it was not aware of any meetings he had and a spokesman for Prince called the connection, quote, "a complete fabrication."

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee plans to meet at noon today with the future of its Russia investigation hanging in the balance. The full committee convened last night for the first time since its top Democrat Adam Schiff called on Republican chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself. The topic of Russia and its alleged ties to the Trump administration will be on the table this afternoon. A clandestine trip to the White House by Nunes two weeks ago idled the committee and called into question its ability to proceed with a credible investigation.

ROMANS: That's right. And Trump kicking off a big week for White House diplomacy ahead of upcoming meetings with the Chinese president Xi Jinping and Jordan's King Abdullah. President Trump sat down with the Egyptian president el-Sisi. Now that meeting producing a very sharp change -- it was a very sharp change.


ROMANS: From the administration's tone toward the Egyptian regime. I mean, President Trump sat down I think four or five separate photo ops yesterday with the Egyptian president. He was never invited to the White House under the Obama administration because of human rights violations and frankly the United States didn't recognize him as the democratic leader of that country.

More now from White House correspondent Sara Murray.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine. Donald Trump kicking off a very high stakes week of diplomacy with a meeting with the Egyptian president and making clear this is going to be a very different relationship from the one of his predecessor.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sisi, he's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt. We will fight terrorism and other things, and we're going to be friends for a long, long period of time.


MURRAY: Now while the Obama administration may have put more focus on human rights abuses, President Trump's administration has made it clear anyone who is willing to fight terrorism alongside the president is likely to be an ally.

The most high stakes meeting is sure to take place later this week in Mar-a-Lago. A two-day affair with China's President Xi. Now over the course of the campaign President Trump offered sharp rhetoric about China's trade policy. But he made it clear in interviews leading up to this meeting that his main focus will be pressing China on North Korea's nuclear program, even saying that if China will not pair with the U.S. to combat this, the U.S. is prepared to take North Korea on unilaterally. A threat that is sure to cause some allies a little bit of consternation.

Back to you, guys.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Thank you, Sara.

Meanwhile, a showdown of historic proportions unfolding in the Senate this week over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. By CNN's count, at least 43 Democrats now opposed the president's pick. It's enough to sustain a filibuster and block confirmation unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell follows through on his threat to invoke the nuclear option.

ROMANS: All right. That means changing the rules so only a simple majority of 51 votes would be needed to push through Gorsuch, and likely all future Supreme Court nominees. It's not certain whether all 52 Republican senators will back McConnell is he decides to deploy this so-called nuclear option. If just three members of his party, just three, balk at the idea, the rule change would not have enough support to pass and the Gorsuch nomination could be blocked.

BRIGGS: This is a fascinating one. Stand by because this will tell us everything we need to know about how this Congress can work together moving forward. Police reforms enacted by the Obama administration could be in

jeopardy. Attorney Jeff Sessions ordering a review of all agreements made with troubled departments. He wants to make sure they don't conflict with the president's goal of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. Since 2009 the Justice Department has conducted 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and is currently enforcing 14 consent decrees and agreements.

ROMANS: All right. The future of Internet privacy in question this morning after the White House kills off a series of Obama-era privacy rules. President Trump did it. He signed into law a repeal of protections that would have required Internet service providers get your permission before collecting and sharing your data.

Why block the rules? Well, Trump appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai says, quote, "Those flawed privacy rules which never went into effect were designed to benefit one group of favored companies not online consumers."

[04:10:01] So here are the three buckets of data that Internet service providers are collecting. They've got your browsing history, your app usage and your geo-location. Most online programs will not block ISPs from collecting this data. You will have to get a VPN, a virtual private network, or a Tor to do that. Bottom line, Republicans feel that the rule should have put service providers at a disadvantage to other tech companies like -- it would have put them at a disadvantage to other tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Democrats and privacy advocates argue this approach effectively hands over your personal information to the highest bidder.

BRIGGS: Since taking office, President Trump has earned $78,332 in salary as the commander-in-chief. And he just donated all of it to the National Parks Service, turning over a check to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The money will be used for improvements to the nation's historic battlefields which are $229 million behind in deferred maintenance.

The Sierra Club calls the donation a publicity stunt, pointing out the president is currently trying to slash the budget for national parks to historic lows.

ROMANS: So the historic battleground maintenance. I was just talking to the kids about trying to go to Gettysburg this summer.

BRIGGS: That's a great idea. I got to do that, too. I have not been.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes. Gettysburg trip. All right. 11 minutes past the hour. Breaking overnight officials revealed the identity of that bomber behind the deadly on the metro at St. Petersburg. We're going to take you there next.


[04:15:31] BRIGGS: Breaking news. Authorities in Russia identifying the suspect behind the deadly bombing of a metro station in St. Petersburg. The blast killed 11 people, left 51 others injured. The Kremlin describing the incident as a terrorist attack.

Let's go live to St. Petersburg, Russia and bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann with the very latest.

Good morning to you, Oren. What are we learning this morning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Suddenly a flurry of activity here behind me in Sennaya Square. Some six fire trucks have just pulled into the square. Some two dozen firefighters have stretched a number of fire hoses inside, moving with a sense of urgency as well as a paramedic here, and police officers.

We're not quite sure what's going on but all of this happening just within the last few moments. So I want to bring your attention here. It is from this station to the next station that the explosion happened last night, between those two stations, and this has become the site of memorial.

The breaking news right now is that we've just learned from Kyrgyzstan security authorities that they have identified the main suspect here identified as Akbarzhon Jalilov born in 1995, that makes him 21 or 22 years old. He is a Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan. Again Kyrgyzstan security authorities have identified Akbarzhon Jalilov as the main suspect, which means the investigation moves from the who to the how and the why and that is where investigators will focus to try to find out if Jalilov acted on his own.

You hear that siren behind me, that is another fire truck pulling up here to the scene in Sennaya Square. Meanwhile, the people who are now standing and looking at what's unfolding here were just a moment ago standing by this memorial here that has grown in size since less than 24 hours ago when this attack happened. Thousands of flowers now as well as dozens if not hundreds of candles, to pay their respects to the 11 killed here as well as dozens wounded in this attack. That as Russian has declared three days of mourning starting with today.

There's another one like this at the next station down the line. The explosion happened between these two statements. That memorial grown as well. President Vladimir Putin paid his respects last night. A number of others, world leaders also paying their condolences as well as President Trump who offered the U.S. help to find out who is responsible for this and bring them to justice.

BRIGGS: Certainly could have been a lot worse. Oren, thank you.

ROMANS: Yes. A larger device disabled between the two stations. The driver of the train apparently kept going so that they knew -- he knew that they'd be able to help the injured people better if he was at the station. Unbelievable.

Eighteen minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning. Is President Trump's son-in-law the secretary of everything? It's what some are calling him. Expanding his ever expanding portfolio to Iraq. We're live with more on that trip, the agenda and what else is on his plate. That's next.


[04:22:40] ROMANS: He may be the person that President Trump trusts the most. Son-in-law Jared Kushner's White House portfolio already includes advising the president, brokering Middle East peace, leading the Office of American Innovation to overhaul bureaucracy, restore the Department of Veterans Affairs and to help end drug addiction, and shadowing the secretary of State at maintaining relations with Mexico, and Canada and China.

BRIGGS: Is that all?

ROMANS: And now you could add Iraq to the list. Kushner is there traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, meeting with Iraq's prime minister on the U.S.-led coalition and the fight against ISIS.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Irbil with more.

And, you know, Sean Spicer, Ben, yesterday said he was there at the invitation of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and that he wanted to see what's going on in Iraq for himself.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As if he didn't have enough to do already, why not add Iraq to your long portfolio of responsibilities. He was taking part, the 36-year-old Mr. Kushner, in meetings with the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff general, in addition to Steven Townsend who leads the International Coalition Against ISIS. They were meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, discussing the battle for Mosul which at the moment has really reached a difficult point where there is street- to-street, house-to-house fighting, mounting civilian casualties.

They also talked about the future of the United States' involvement in Iraq, whether the United States after ISIS is destroyed, whether it's going to maintain some sort of presence here. Obviously there are some ruffled feathers that need to be smoothed here in Iraq keeping in mind that Mr. Trump as candidate and as president did suggest that perhaps the United States might have a future opportunity to take Iraq's oil.

Iraq, of course, was included in the first travel ban imposed by President Trump and the second version that was issued that's now on hold because of the courts Iraq was removed. And many Iraqis, despite all of that, seem to admire Mr. Trump, they see him as a strong man. Here in the northern part of the country we've reported on Iraqis who named their babies after Mr. Trump, who named restaurants after Trump, so Mr. Kushner, even though he's new territory, not necessarily hostile territory.

[04:25:04] ROMANS: And let's be honest, many parts of the world, Ben Wedeman, someone -- an important person's son-in-law is treated with respect and listened to, so, I mean, that's just the way it is in some places.

All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much. Nice to see you. BRIGGS: The National Hockey League at odds with its players

association over the decision not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The NHL typically pauses its season for a couple of weeks while players compete for their national teams. But the league in a statement says a majority of owners were adamantly opposed to sending players to the Korea games. It comes after the International Olympic Committee said it would no longer reimburse the cost of player travel and insurance. Players association calling the decision shortsighted.

Exactly. I would share that sentiment. Shortsighted.

ROMANS: Wow. Wow. All right, redemption --

BRIGGS: Close the game.

ROMANS: Redemption for North Carolina winning the national championship a year after losing the title on a buzzer-beater beating. The Tar Heels beating Gonzaga 71-65 in Phoenix Monday night's game. It was close throughout. They tell me.

UNC trailed at half time but scored the first eight points in the second half and the last eight points of the game to close out the victory. This is the sixth national championship in North Carolina's storied history. The win setting off a wild celebration. The school created this timelapse video.


ROMANS: Of Carolina students and fans swarming the streets in Chapel Hill to celebrate.

BRIGGS: Peacefully.

ROMANS: And I would just like to say congratulations to all of the CNN Tar Heels. And there are many of you apparently. Eugene Scott was there. I think Kate Bolduan was a Tar Heel, isn't she?

BRIGGS: Brooke Baldwin did well, yes. Kate Bolduan, though, wins the CNN brackets.

ROMANS: Does she? Good for her.

BRIGGS: She came out on top. So --


BRIGGS: Although the refs took a lot of heat in this game. We'll check in with Coy Wire later from Phoenix to talk about it. They kind of stole the story.

All right. Real story or fake scandal. The president lashing out after his news outlet of choice for the top Obama official wanted Trump associates unmasked, but is that even a problem? We'll discuss.