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What's Next in Russia Probe?; Future of Travel Ban; Iraqi Forces Make final Push for Mosul; South Korean Presidential Election. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:08]CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump lashing out after two officials from the Obama administration give crucial details about that investigation into Russian links to the 2016 election.

DAVID BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And the president's travel ban once again in the hand of an appeals court with tough questions about Trump's statements concerning Muslims. Will the ban survive the latest legal test?

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

How are you, my friend?

ROMANS: I'm well. I'm well, for just a Tuesday morning.

I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: That's it?

ROMANS: That's it. There is a lot going on this morning, too. It is May 9th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: You always surprise me with what day it is.

ROMANS: It is Tuesday.

BRIGGS: Because it feels like Thursday.

ROMANS: It is only Tuesday, but it is a Thursday full of news.

Fierce push back by the president to that forceful testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Testifying to a Senate committee, Yates made it clear the Justice Department was seriously concerned about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Yates says she told the White House that Flynn's talks with the Russian ambassador and his lies to the vice president about those conversations made Flynn vulnerable to blackmail.

BRIGGS: Yates says she gave those warnings in meetings with the president's lawyer, expecting some action. Nothing happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, because -- in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public, and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.


BRIGGS: The Senate hearing came moments after we learned that last November, President Obama himself personally warned President-elect Trump against hiring Flynn as national security adviser. With Yates now on the record and persistent leaks about Flynn, it makes sense to wonder what might emerge next.

We begin our coverage with chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto in Washington.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, it was a hearing full of headlines, really. The former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, sharply contradicting the White House version of events regarding fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. In fact, Yates said before the hearing that she made clear that the president's closest national security adviser was in danger of being blackmailed by Russia.

YATES: The underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself. The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. That created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

SCIUTTO: Now, the hearing was intended to focus on Russian interference in the U.S. election. On the key question of whether Trump advisers colluded with Russia in that interference, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that he had not seen evidence. Yates, however, was less definitive. CNN's own reporting is that the FBI continues to investigate both communications between Trump advisers and Russian officials as well as possible collusion.

Clapper confirmed that Russia collected on Democratic and GOP targets but only leaked on the Democrats. He and Yates both expect Russia to continue to attack U.S. elections and both parties in U.S. elections going forward -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Thanks a lot, Jim. Yates and Clapper's testimony forming the back drop for a meeting tomorrow between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. The official agenda is Ukraine, Syria, and other bilateral issues with Russia's hack of the U.S. election likely looming over these talks. For more, we turn to CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow, where President

Putin spoke this morning at a parade marking Russia's victory over the Nazis in World War II.

Matthew, is this the typical show of force by Vladimir Putin?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is. It's sort of an annual event, and its primary reason is to, you know, commemorate the millions of Soviet citizens who died fighting the Nazis during World War II, what the Russians called the Great Patriotic War.

But it's more than that as well. It's about modern Russia. It's about underling how strong Russia is militarily. You see a display of Russia's most modern weapons, its battle tanks, its nuclear missiles, and all sorts of things.

So, it really is underlining that Russia still regards itself as a military superpower. And you can see some of the military hardware is still moving off Red Square behind me.

So, yes, it's a really kind of important day in Russia because of its memories to the past, but also because it shows Russia regards itself still very much as a player, still very much as an equal in many ways with the United States, Dave.

BRIGGS: Also some interesting images showing the female soldiers of the Russian military.

Matthew Chance, we'll check back with you in just a bit -- thank you.

[04:05:03] ROMANS: So, let's now talk about the White House reaction to that Senate testimony, that forceful Senate yesterday today. The White House reaction was swift and fierce. President Trump tweeting this: The Russian/Trump collusion story is a total hoax. When will this taxpayer funded charade end?

He added: Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media, already knows, there is no evidence of collusion with Russia and Trump.

BRIGGS: Now, there are some factual issues there. FBI Director James Comey has publicly confirmed that the bureau is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The president was apparently so pleased, though, with his comment about James clapper, he pinned the tweet to his own Twitter banner, Christine.

ROMANS: To a wave of sworn, of course, on social media. The banner was pulled around midnight Eastern Time. The White House tried to blame the Obama administration, of course, for this Michael Flynn mess. The White House questioning why Flynn's security clearance wasn't pulled when he headed up the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn, of course, was forced out of that post over policy and management disagreements.

BRIGGS: President Trump's travel ban now hanging in the balance after a critical federal appeals court hearing. Both sides under intense questioning from judges on the fourth circuit. Administration lawyers were repeatedly pressed on statements the president made during the campaign about a Muslim ban.

CNN's Laura Jarrett was at the hearing. She joins us this morning from Washington.

Good morning to you, Laura. What do we hear?


You know, the judges grilled the parties for nearly two hours on a host of issues, but for me, what really stood out is the way that this case highlights a tension between courts trying to defer to the president's national security judgment on the one hand, while also safeguarding constitutional rights on the other. And the judges challenged the plaintiff's lawyer on this to really explain, how is the president ever supposed to protect the country if any of his campaign statements about Muslims forever taint this executive order or any other policy goals, Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. Did the judges seem persuaded by the government's argument that those campaign statements don't matter?

JARRETT: So, DOJ's position on this is that the campaign statements are different than when you've taken office. So, what the president said on the campaign is different than what he would say today. But most of the judges were skeptical at best on this, because it seems to fly in the face of common sense.

The president hasn't changed. And one judge said, look, this is the most important issue in the case. Another remark that it would be almost willful blindness to ignore Trump's statements, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. And just yesterday, the White House taking down a statement about a Muslim ban from the president's actual campaign website after a reporter asked Sean Spicer about it. Could that play into this case?

JARRETT: Yes, this is fascinating. So, up until yesterday, there's a statement on his campaign website entitled "Preventing Muslim Immigration," calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, and the judges latched on to this website several times in the hearing yesterday, saying -- look, Trump never repudiated his call for a Muslim ban. It's still on the website, except now it's not anymore.

Now, the fact that it was taken down yesterday after reporters raised it probably isn't helpful to their case, and the timing looks pretty convenient there.

BRIGGS: Yes, still a long way to go for this travel ban. Laura Jarrett, great to have you on this morning. We appreciate it.

JARRETT: Thanks, Dave. BRIGGS: All right. Also new word this morning that the Interior

Department has frozen the work of about 60 of its science advisory boards. A memo obtained by CNN says the department is suspending all board meetings until at least September so it can review what it calls the charter and charge of each panel.

An interior official confirmed to CNN that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is going to assess whether the advisory boards are achieving their purpose. News of the memo written last week came as CNN learned that the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has dismissed half the scientists serving on a review board that provides guidance to his agency.

ROMANS: President Trump wants to shut down borders, but his son-in- law's family is touting a visa program critics say allows wealthy foreigners to in effect buy U.S. green cards. Many criticize Kushner companies for name-dropping Jared Kushner at an event to drum up Chinese investment for the so-called golden ticket visa program. It isn't new to controversy.

How does it work? This is called the EB-5 program. It allows people to apply for green cards if they invest in the U.S. at least $500,000 in projects that create jobs. It attracts tens of thousands of applicants, particularly from China.

In fact, Chinese citizens have snapped up more than 80 percent of these visas since 2011. That translate into billions of dollars for developers like Kushner companies, and frankly, hotels and resorts are a really good target for this kind of investment because you can instantly create a bunch of jobs.

[04:10:01] That's one of the requirements here. It's also why both sides of the aisle want reform. Critics say it's mainly used for high-end, luxury projects, instead of bringing jobs to rural or distressed urban areas, the original intention. Reformers want stricter requirements for the areas targeted.

The Department of Homeland Security says it's reviewing the rules, but will president Trump's vow to tighten work visas include the EB-5?

A White House spokesman said the administration is reviewing the program to ensure, quote, that investment is being spread to all areas of the country.

Again, it's been criticized as being the golden ticket. If you have enough money --


ROMANS: -- you can buy an American green card. And a green card -- remember, a green card is a pathway to citizenship, essentially. It puts you on a citizenship pathway if you meet all the requirements and stay here long enough.

BRIGGS: The original motivation seems to make sense, right? Encourage foreign investment, was that the idea? Or create jobs? ROMANS: The idea was to encourage foreign investment that create

jobs, right. So, one of the criticisms is a real estate investor, for example, could buy a failing property that already has workers, right? You get the investor from overseas who will invest $500,000 into this property, and then you can say that that person is helping create jobs and then the person gets the visa.

BRIGGS: But it's how many jobs do they have create? I think it's ten.

ROMANS: I'm not sure exactly. Yes.

BRIGGS: Let's check that out.

All right, ahead, South Korea heads to the polls in an election that could change how the world deals with North Korea. We're live from Seoul, next.


[04:15:28] ROMANS: All right. The battle to drive ISIS from Mosul may be nearing an end. It's been seven bloody months since Iraqi forces with coalition support launched a multipronged offensive against the terrorists. Some civilians have been able to flee the region, but for hundreds of thousands more, these are still desperate times indeed.

I want to go live to Irbil, Iraq, bring in CNN's Ben Wedeman for us this morning.

Ben, the fighting has been intense in Mosul in recent days. Where do things stand this morning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, basically, last Thursday, Christine, this operation began. The Iraqi chief of staff, army chief of staff, had said that he hoped that this operation will be done, that Mosul will be completely rid of ISIS by essentially the end of this month when Ramadan, the holy month of Ramadan begins.

Now, we were up there for two days, and what we saw was intense air bombardment and also bombardment from tanks, artillery, rockets and mortars on to the northwest part of the city, but ISIS is really putting up stiff resistance. We saw two car bombs blow up very near to us.

Fortunately, they were hit by Iraqi or coalition aircraft. Now, another thing we saw that is interesting, it is American advisers who are very, very close to the action, working very closely with their Iraqi counterparts. And what they told us is that unlike in the past, and I'm talking about essentially until the end of 2016, when they wanted to call in air strikes, they had to get approval or permission from very high up in the command structure.

Now, essentially, U.S. advisers with their Iraqi counterparts on the ground can call in an air strike when they see, for instance, a car bomb coming, and that's what they saw when we were with them the other day. Both of those car bombs we saw go up in huge plumes of smoke and flames were actually hit by aircraft. So, it does appear that the Iraqis with U.S. help are effectively stopping these car bombs and are making progress in this final push to drive ISIS out of Mosul -- Christine.

ROMANS: A seven-month ordeal.

All right, thank you so much for that, Ben Wedeman for us in Irbil this morning.

BRIGGS: South Koreans, meanwhile, going to the polls to elect a new leader after a corruption scandal led to the impeachment of the former president back in March. The vote coming at a time when tensions with North Korea are high. The two leading candidates have vastly different approaches to dealing with Pyongyang. The polls closing in less than three hours.

CNN's Paula Hancocks following the developments. She joins us live from Seoul.

Great to see you this morning, Paula.

Now, the U.S. arguably, in our involvement with North Korea, on the ballot as well. How pivotal is the involvement with North Korea regarding these elections?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, certainly, if you're outside of South Korea, you assume that it has to be the number one consideration for South Koreans when they're voting, the fact of national security, but it's not. According to recent polls, it's number three.

People here are more concerned with corruption and reform considering these elections have had to be called forward because the former president has been impeached, indicted, and is currently on trial for corruption. That is the number one issue for people. Then it goes to the economy and jobs, but then it does go to North Korea.

Now, as you say, the one front-runner, Moon Jae-in, who recent polls put him at 40 percent of the vote, he has a very differing opinion to the previous government. He is pro-engagement with North Korea. He's pro-dialogue, which could potentially put him at loggerheads with the administration. Certainly when Donald Trump said he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un in that Bloomberg interview, the Moon camp here was delighted. They said that shows they could potentially have common ground -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right, good stuff. Keep us posted, Paula. Thank you.

Meanwhile, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, Christine, back on the air.

ROMANS: Emotional.

BRIGGS: And he's bringing some tough words for critics who slammed his emotional monologue about health care, and a Republican senator also joined Jimmy. We're talking about this story when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:24:15] ROMANS: All right. Jimmy Kimmel returning to late night from paternity leave and taking on critics who blasted him for that emotional monologue after his newborn son's heart condition health scare.

Kimmel invited on Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who is a doctor, and last week suggested a, quote, Jimmy Kimmel test, where a child born with defects like Kimmel's son could get the care they need in their first year.


JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: Since I am Jimmy Kimmel, I would like to make a suggestion as to what the Jimmy Kimmel test should be. I'll keep it simple.

The Jimmy Kimmel test I think should be no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it. Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test, as simple as that? Is that oversimplifying it?


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Hey, man, you're on the right track.

[04:25:01] And if that's as close as we get, that works great in government. Now, we've got to be able to pay for it, and that's the challenge.

So, all those middle class families now paying $20,000 to $30,000 to $40,000 a year for their coverage, we have to make it affordable for them, too, and that's what I'm hearing. It's just that that is not --

KIMMEL: Well, I can think of a way to pay for it -- don't give a huge tax cut to millionaires like me and instead leave it how it is. That would be one way. That's my rule.

CASSIDY: Tell the American people to call their senator and endorse that concept.

KIMMEL: I think -- well, that's a good plan.


ROMANS: I think it's pretty brave, actually, to go on "Jimmy Kimmel."

BRIGGS: No question.

ROMANS: He got a lot of outpouring after that.

BRIGGS: No question.

ROMANS: And he pointed out he got a lot of negative waves from some people, too, who called him an L.A. elitist.

BRIGG: Jimmy, yes.

ROMANS: Yes. Why would he have a say on health care? Kimmel says his son, Billy, is doing well, that he is eating, sleeping, that he's gaining weight. Anybody who's had a newborn knows that those are the milestones that matter so much.

He thanks fans for the humbling outpouring of support.

BRIGGS: But you're right, Cassidy, Senator Cassidy deserves a lot of credit for going on, a situation where he knew that the audience was against him and thought Jimmy would be against him, but it was a nice conversation.

ROMANS: But almost a straight news interview on a comedy show, you know? It was a straight news interview.

BRIGGS: Extraordinary times in which we live.

ROMANS: Yes, they really are.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump dismissing capitol hearings as a total hoax after former officials revealed new details about the investigation into Russian hacking. What the White House knew about Michael Flynn, next.