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Trump Meets Pope Francis; Former CIA Chief Speaks Out; New Details About Manchester Attacker. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, President Trump meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, the start of a busy day for the president overseas. We are live in Rome with more.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And a stunner from the former head of the CIA, John Brennan goes public, saying the Russians did, in fact, make contact with the Trump campaign.

ROMANS: And Manchester remembering the 22 victims who lost their lives at a concert bombing. We're also learning more about the attacker and what police are looking for now.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, May 24. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And it was a historic moment at the Vatican. Not so long ago, President Trump and Pope Francis face to face, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries at the Apostolic Palace right now. President Trump preparing to meet with the president of Italy.

But when Mr. Trump sat down with the pope in private earlier, the two leaders seemed to put their differences aside after disagreeing on several issues during the campaign.

[05:00:04] ROMANS: It is the latest stop for this president on his foreign trip that will take him to Brussels later today.

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray live in Rome with more on Trump's visit and the rest of today's agenda.

Good morning, again. It is 11:00 a.m. there in the Rome and the president not too long ago finished up that face to face meeting, 28, 29 minutes with the pope, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. More we're hearing about what happened in this meeting, and sort of in the expanded audience with the pope, but more sort of light-hearted it sounds.

Remember, President Trump and Pope Francis have not always exchanged the kindest of words with one another. But after they met privately, President Trump said he would never forget what the pope told him when they had the expanded audience. Apparently, the pope was making some jokes with First Lady Melania Trump, asking her what she feeds the president if its pizza. Melania responded, yes, pizza. So, a little bit more of a light hearted meeting.

Remember, this is after President Trump then candidate Trump had some sharp words for the pope. The pope suggested that if you're talking about building barriers and not bridges, you're not Christian. President Trump said that was a disgraceful comment to make. So, obviously, a very different tone, different images coming out of their brief meeting together today.

After that, President Trump toured Saint Peter's Basilica, as well as the Sistine Chapel. This is the part of the day where President Trump and Melania Trump, the first lady, will go their separate ways. The president is headed to meet with the Italian prime minister, as well as the Italian president. Whereas, Melania Trump will be touring a children's hospital that's owned by the Vatican. Then they will reunite later today and hop back on to Air Force One and headed to Brussels, that is ahead of tomorrow's day of meetings with NATO leaders.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much, Sara.

BRIGGS: All right. For the first time, a U.S. official publicly citing direct knowledge of communication between the Trump campaign and Russia. Former CIA Director John Brennan telling a House panel, Russia, quote, brazenly interfered in U.S. elections going so far as took negatively contact members of the Trump campaign. Brennan stopped short of calling that collusion, saying it only raised questions the FBI should pursue.

ROMANS: Meantime, President Trump is now expected to hire a private attorney to handle matters related to the Russian probe. Mark Kasowitz has represented Trump for more than 15 years. And also worth nothing, also represents a Russian billionaire well-known to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BRIGGS: This comes as House investigators vow to keep pushing for critical documents from former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The committee even issuing two new subpoenas, documents from Flynn's businesses which investigators say does not have the ability to plead the Fifth as Flynn says he will do.

ROMANS: All right. So, let's bring in CNN politics digital managing editor, Zach Wolf, live in Washington this morning for us.

Good morning. You know, a big day for the president on his overseas trip but the Russia investigation just continues to make news.

BRIGGS: Front page of "The Times," "The Journal" and "The Post."

ROMANS: You know, every few hours here. Let's listen to what Brennan said at the hearing yesterday.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. It should be clear to everyone Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 election process and they undertook these activities despite our strong protests and explicit warning that they not do so.


ROMANS: That's the former CIA director and that testimony, those remarks there change the direction of the story now?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: I don't know. Absolutely. I think they kind of amplify where it was going. We'd already heard from the Department of Justice with Sally Yates. We heard from the now former FBI Director James Comey, you know, that this investigation was going on.

But, so, now, we have the intelligence community weighing in publicly. That's not something you see every day. John Brennan is not exactly viewed as a partisan hack, even though he did spend a lot of years in the Obama administration.

For him to come out and say this in public testimony yesterday kind of amplifies and moves forward, you know, this whole cloud that's been hanging over Trump, President Trump and his administration since day one. It does not get any better from here.

BRIGGS: Zach, do you get a sense Republicans on the Hill are shifting a little bit in their narrative, in their support of the president? Paul Ryan last night on FOX seemed to say, you know, we're going sit back, we're going to let these investigations play out. What are you hearing on the Hill about their support of the president and his innocence?

WOLF: Well, you got to remember that two of the main, you know, investigations here are being run essentially by Republicans who control the House and Senate Intelligence Committee.

[05:05:05] So, you know, they will have some say for those. Obviously, the special counsel one that's probably going to get more scrutiny. But Republicans, you get the feeling that they are keeping their powder a little bit more dry right now. They are not leaping to the defense of the White House in quite the same way as they were a couple of weeks ago. That's for sure.

ROMANS: Let me ask you quickly about the budget. This is something that we've been talking about a lot today. It almost overshadowed honestly by the Russian developments, Russian testimony, by president's trip overseas and, of course, by the tragic news out of Manchester. But the president drops this budget that some are calling reverse Robin Hood.

You know, Mick Mulvaney is saying, no, we're getting people out of the business of needing social safety nets because we're going to grow jobs and grow the economy so much. What's the perception of the budget on the Hill?

WOLF: Well, you know, essentially dead on arrival. I think you heard John McCain say that. The first rule number one with budget that come from the House or Senate or White House is that they aren't actually ever going to become law. It's not like you could, President Trump can go and just simply cut all of these programs.

ROMANS: But it shows his priorities, right? And it shows, what's interesting to me is that, you know, David was putting out seven of the ten biggest states for food stamps are Trump states, states that voted for Trump.

WOLF: Absolutely. And if nothing else, it shows you are willing to cut these programs. So, as a political tool, they can be very devastating for, I think, people on Capitol Hill, they face the next election. Republicans are certainly distancing themselves from this. Nobody is saying oh, you know, let's go pass this budget. They are going to do their own thing.

So, it's another rift. I would look at it, it's another place where the White House and congressional Republicans are not on the same page.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, in just a couple of hours, the biggest story where you are could be the CBO score of the House Republican health care bill. How crucial is that in terms of where the narrative goes on this health care reform.

WOLF: Well, I mean, they had that big celebration at the White House when they passed it through the House. It took a lot of political capital for them to get there. It was one-third of the way there when they did it. So, they still have to pass this thing through the Senate.

There are a lot of people are very concerned about it. They did it without getting a CBO score, which is one thing Republicans said they would do. They would find out how much something would cost.

So, they passed something without knowing how much it costs. If they come back and it costs more than Republicans thought it would, I think that will be a real political problem especially considering that a lot of people are frustrated at the idea of losing their health insurance on the exchanges. And also, the repercussions of this bill and how it will ripple out into the rest of the market where most of the people get their health insurance are just becoming clear.

So, it's going to be yet another thing that they have to deal with.

ROMANS: All right. Zach Wolf this morning, bright and early, 5:07 in the East this Wednesday. Get a cup of coffee, come back in a few minutes. Got a lot of talk about. Thanks. BRIGGS: The agenda for Zach.

WOLF: Sounds good.

BRIGGS: All right. Friends and family of 22 victims remembering their loved ones after the Manchester terror attack. Now, new details emerging about the attacker and what officials knew about him before the attack.


[05:12:28] ROMANS: Twelve minutes past the hour.

The United Kingdom is on high alert this morning, raising its terror threat level from severe to critical. That's the nation's highest for the first time in ten years, suggesting another attack may be imminent. This comes a day after the Manchester concert attack that killed 22 people. And now, the British home secretary with some surprises comments about what intelligence knew about this bomber before this attack.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin live for us in Manchester, England, this morning.

Good morning.


That's right. We are learning more about the suicide bomber who carried out this attack. He's 22 years old. Born in the U.K. But he was known to intelligence also according to authorities recently returned from Libya. Right now, authorities seemingly trying to determine whether or not he had any links to a wire terror network that potentially is planning secondary attacks, because there's a big question mark hanging over that they took the decision to raise the threat level here in the United Kingdom to critical, which is the highest level in some ten years, some 3,800 military personnel are being deployed to key sites across the United Kingdom, including Buckingham Palace as well as Downing Street.

Earlier this morning, the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd giving an interview to BBC, essentially calling out U.S. officials for leaking key information about the investigation in the hours immediately following the explosion. She said that the leaks were quote irritating and should not happen again. Again, this is in reference to those immediate hours afterwards emerged in the U.S. press, that this was the work of a suicide bomber prior to U.K. officials formally making that declaration.

We're also hearing more about the victims of these attacks, some 22 killed. The victims, many of them very young, including 8-year-old Saffie Roussos, 18-year-old Georgina Callander, 15-year-old Olivia Campbell, and John Atkinson. Earlier this morning, the chief of hospitals was here briefing the media, saying that the number of injured being treated by the hospitals has risen from 59 to 64. Twenty of those in urgent critical care. There is, of course, the tragic possibility that the death toll could rise.

ROMANS: We wish all of those doctors and nurses well as they try to help those who are still injured here.

Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much for that this morning in Manchester.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's discuss now with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, also live in Manchester with us this morning.

[05:15:04] Christiane Amanpour, good morning to you.

As we sit back and we let this all soak in, we look at the tour for Ariana Grande which was the Dangerous Woman Tour, her fans, teenage girls, some say this was a female empowerment concert and tour. Can you escape the notion that this may have been singly targeting women and empowerment?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's really hard, Dave, to make that conclusion right now, but certainly a lot of young girls and women were targets because those were Ariana Grande's fan base.

And today here in Albert Square, in the center of town, where there was a massive vigil last night, thousands and thousands of people packed this square last night to come and pay tribute and today, and I'm going to show you we've been watching as people have been coming on their way to work, on their way to school, mothers mostly with young girls. I talked to one who brought her teenage daughter and her 8-year-old daughter, and they have been putting things like these, the flowers, you can see the inflatable heart balloons.

You can see all this memorabilia which is here. Other parts of the town as well, statues and elsewhere with little notes has become so emblematic sadly of the aftermath of these terrorist attacks. But I talked to a mother who said, can you imagine what we feel as parents? It could have been our children. And she stroked gently the cheek of her daughter.

Look, for instance, we have people who are just coming as I say on their way to work, in whatever way they can and however they can, to show that they are paying tribute and that this is a city united. And that's certainly the message we have been receiving from here in Manchester.

Despite, obviously, what the authorities are saying that this threat level has been bumped up to critical for the first time in 12 years, they are urging the public not to be unduly alarmed. It's easier said than done. To be alert and to watch out for anything that may be suspicious and to just keep calm and, obviously, they put out the police and other hot lines.

Because as we've been reporting, this man, Salman Abedi is known to have been in Libya recently. Libya is where ISIS has fallen back to as ISIS has been pursued by the international coalition in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere and that's a big part. And we have no idea whether there's any formal connection.

But Amber Rudd, the homeland secretary who is in the United States, the secretary of homeland security, she has said that this bomb, this device was much more sophisticated than the likes of which we've seen in recent terror attacks in Europe and, therefore, they are still working under the possibility that there may have been a set of accomplices. So, that's the situation right here.

As for the police as you heard, they are going to be having about 3,000 or more military personnel under their command, and those we've been told are going to be patrolling events, arenas, perhaps football arenas here this weekend. Imagine this. And they are hoping it will still go on.

On Friday here in Manchester, they have the great city games as they call it, which is a citywide and regional athletics and running competition. So, that still waiting to see whether that can go ahead. But, presumably, that extra security might be deployed to guard events like this -- Dave.

ROMANS: Christiane, in these sorts of cases, you know, one wants to really keep the focus on the victims and, you know, just the tragedy of their lives cut short. But you also look at the perpetrator of this, someone who is British born. You know, I don't want to spend too much time talking about the bomber but I'm curious about the person who was born in Britain and that's a problem they have in the U.K. that's pretty unique.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, it's a problem not necessarily just to the U.K. In many of the other terrorist attacks, they were locally born.


AMANPOUR: Locally home bred, if you like. But after all these years of this kind of terrorism, basically, you know, the post-9/11 terrorism, the ISIS kind of terrorism which is much more individualistic, which is much more random, if you like, and which is, you know, deliberately targeting just individuals. This is the kind of thing people have talked about as ISIS is unable to mount.

And this is the good news, actually. The terrorists are unable to mount because of the immense amount of work that's been done by the intelligence and security community, there has not been another 9/11. There's not been another 7/7, which happened here in 2005 when the tubes and the trains were targeted.

What we've seen are these isolated attacks. And so, that's what is at one point better than massive coordinated attacks, but the other point stretches the security services a great deal because they have to be alert to all sorts of community activities and that is one thing that's very, you know, taking up a lot of their time and resources.

[05:20:08] But that is what intelligence has been redefining their focus to.

As for the victims it's really important to focus on them. We know that this poor young girl the 15-year-old, Olivia Campbell is one of those now confirmed dead. And, you know, we had the interview of her parents desperately seeking her, desperately talking to the press, putting her picture out, hoping to be able to find her and now, she is officially confirmed amongst the 22-plus who had been confirmed dead.

BRIGGS: Christiane Amanpour, continuing to remember the 22 victims of this terror attack in Manchester. Thank you so much for your reporting.

The more we learn the more it is heartbreaking. I did start with this Dangerous Woman Tour, we can confirm, Ariana Grande has cancelled remaining dates on this tour. Was supposed to play in London on Thursday in the O2 Arena. She's come back the home to be with her family.

ROMANS: Yes. She said yesterday she's broken. Just very difficult.

All right. Twenty-one minutes past the hour. The Trump administration defending those cuts to safety net programs in its 2018 budget.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: We're not going to measure compassion by the amount of money we spend, but by the number of people we help.


ROMANS: We got the details of the proposal, what's getting cut, next.


[05:25:47] ROMANS: All right. The White House says this is the first taxpayer first budget ever. The administration defending its 2018 budget that cuts programs for low-income Americans saying they are putting the taxpayer first.

Critics say it's reverse Robin Hood. The $4.1 trillion boost money for defense, border security, infrastructure, and makes significant cuts to food stamps, disability benefits and health care. At least $600 billion gone from Medicaid; 70 million low-income adults, children and disabled adults rely on that program.

But the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney calls the cuts compassionate because he says these programs are inefficient.


MULVANEY: We're no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs. But by the numbers of people we help get off of those programs.


ROMANS: Mulvaney also said the proposal will balance the budget in ten years. That's based on assumptions, though, that many experts are telling CNN Money are simply unrealistic.

For example, it expects a 3 percent growth rate over the next ten years. Most analysts expect it at 1.8 percent. It also assumes the current controversial GOP health care bill becomes law. Many expect that bill to change.

And finally, the White House has proposed tax cuts won't add to the deficit. Of course, the president's budget has never adopted wholesale. We expect big changes. It also does show where the president's priorities lie and where they don't.

I would say these are budget numbers that really show where the heart is, the world view of the president.

BRIGGS: The priorities.

ROMANS: The priorities of a presidency.

BRIGGS: Yes, the politics of it are the Trump states will hurt most by those cuts in Medicaid and food stamps but 3 percent growth the "Wall Street Journal" says is out of reach.

But a trio of big stories this morning. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on the president's visit to the Vatican, meeting with the pope.

ROMANS: And the former head of he CIA sharing direct knowledge of Russian involvement in the election.

BRIGGS: Also new details suggesting the Manchester attacker was known to intelligence.

All of that and more when EARLY START returns after this.