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Trump Back in the Oval Office; Kushner Laying Low; Merkel Doubles Down. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:08] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A full agenda awaits President Trump and his team at the White House as the administration fights back against growing questions about ties to Russia.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And an adviser at the center of those questions, Jared Kushner, laying low. Now, the White House blaming Kushner's secret back-channel request on the Kremlin.

ROMANS: And German Chancellor Angela Merkel not backing away from her suggestion Europe must go it alone. What does it mean for the U.S. relationship with Germany and the European Union?

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Welcome back, my friend.

ROMANS: Thank you! Nice three-day little weekend. I'm ready, rearing to go.

BRIGGS: Are you?


BRIGGS: Are you fired up like the president? Back and ready to take on a full agenda?

ROMANS: I will not be having a press briefing, but other than that, it's the same --

BRIGGS: We look forward to Spicy being back.

It is Tuesday, May 30th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

President Trump back in the Oval Office today and trying to back to the country's business after a long holiday weekend and an even longer overseas trip. Some key issues on his very full agenda -- whether to pull out of the Paris climate accords and the search for a new FBI director. The president also weighing a strategy going forward for Afghanistan that could include more troops, a decision all the more significant after President Trump's first visit to Arlington National Cemetery as commander-in-chief.

ROMANS: The president also weighing whether to shake up his team. Sean Spicer is set to brief the media, as we mentioned, this afternoon, amid questions about changes to the press office. It will be the first time since the president left for his nine-day trip that any White House official has briefed in front of cameras and the first since penetrating questions began to swirl about senior adviser and first son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage from the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is back in business after the long holiday weekend and after the president's first international trip, they are still desperately trying to change the subject from the Russia investigation, trying to make a pivot, but the chances of doing that are probably fairly unlikely. The deepening Russia investigation is still consuming the White House here, at least in terms of how they're going to respond to it.

Now, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, he is telling associates he is willing to talk to the FBI, he's willing to talk to members of Congress about those back-channel communications he was trying to set up with Russian officials. They say it was simply something that they were trying to offer to do to sort of build the connection with the Russian government here, but so many questions about that because they were acting at the time as private citizens, but they were members of the transition.

Coming up, there are some key agenda items the president has on his desk he wants to act upon. First and foremost, is he going to withdraw or keep the U.S. inside that landmark climate agreement? He was lobbied last week at the G7 summit in Sicily. European leaders urged the president to stay, but most people here at the White House would be surprised if the president would decide to stay in the landmark climate agreement. But it raises the question, if the U.S. pulls out of this agreement, what does it do to its standing on the world stage? What does it do to the rest of the president's agenda?

Also, the president is facing a decision on Afghanistan. When will he act on his military commander's recommendation to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan? That certainly was made even more poignant as he visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

Those are two of many issues facing the White House, but the Russia investigation is still dominating things here inside the West Wing -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Sure is. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Part of the president's plan to push back against all the Russia suspicions and allegations could involve two former members of his campaign staff, ex-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, both spotted at the White House last night, even mentioned as possible players in an outside rapid response team working closely with the White House war room. Bossie may also be in line for a position within the Trump administration.

ROMANS: Investigators are trying to figure out exactly why Jared Kushner met in December with a Russian banker with links to Vladimir Putin, what the point of that meeting was. Now, that's according to "The New York Times." CNN has already reported Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, seeking to engage further with Russia.

Kushner was then told to meet with Sergei Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank under sanction from the U.S.

BRIGGS: Also this morning, the White House ready to push back on reporting Kushner tried to set up a secret backchannel with the Russians by blaming the Russians, claiming it was their idea. The source tells CNN's Gloria Borger the Russian ambassador asked Kushner if the Russian military could talk to Michael Flynn about Syria. A source says Kushner did not say he would arrange it and it never was arranged.

[04:05:01] ROMANS: For the time being, expect Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, to keep their heads down. Administration officials tell CNN both are laying low and focusing on their work, unfazed by all the scrutiny. The administration claims Ivanka Trump is not involved with the war room currently being established, even though she was seen at the White House with the president's personal attorney, Mark Kasowitz.

BRIGGS: CNN also learning Jared and Ivanka have told friends they will continue to evaluate whether they plan to remain in Washington, D.C., something they discussed before the news broke about Kushner's request for this private back-channel communication to Moscow.

ROMANS: And we're told they're going to re-evaluate, you know, how long they're staying in D.C., maybe every six months, maybe not exactly every six months. But, you know, their future in D.C. is something they're evaluating out the time.

BRIGGS: Understandable, given the spotlight they are under constantly.

ROMANS: But people close to her say that she wants to shepherd through this paid family leave that made it into the president's budget, that she does have some priorities that she's very focused on and keeping her head down to do those.

All right. German Chancellor Angela Merkel giving weight to her view that Europe can no longer completely rely on the U.S. the way it once did. Merkel restating her concern about U.S. reliability at a speech in Berlin, one day after saying her eyes have been opened by her experience at NATO and G7 meetings with President Trump.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We are convinced Transatlanticists, and, precisely because we are, we know that transatlantic relations are of immense importance for us all. They rest on mutual values and interests, particularly when we are in times as we are in now of intense challenges. The last few days showed me that the days where we could completely rely on others are over.


ROMANS: Transatlanticists.

BRIGGS: Transatlanticists, yes.

Germany's foreign minister taking an even harsher town, saying, quote, Trump has weakened the West, accusing the U.S. of standing against the interests of the European Union.

Helping us sort through European reaction, senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in London for us.

Good morning to you, Fred. How is this all being received in Europe? Do they agree with Merkel?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think a lot of countries agree with Merkel, Dave. There is a lot of frustration here on the side of the Atlantic, especially after President Trump's visit to Europe, both to the NATO summit in Brussels, but also then to the G7 summit in Italy as well, and some of the things that he said about trade, where he said that the Germans were, quote, bad, for exporting so many cars to America. But then especially on defense as well, as far as NATO is concerned, not really making a full commitment to other NATO partners. That certainly was something that was eye-opening.

And you heard Angela Merkel there use the word Transatlanticists, which she might use because she's a physicist, she's someone who's very intellectual, but she says she remains committed to the NATO alliance. However, the Germans are saying that they're not sure with this White House in place right now, whether they can fully rely on America to be there for them, Dave.

ROMANS: It's interesting because the biggest exporter of cars for the United States happens to be a German company. Those cars are made in the United States with, you know, American labor. So, it's one of those things that is so confusing about the criticism that president Trump has about trade with them, with Germany.

For Merkel, though, this sort of talk is pretty unprecedented from her, isn't it?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it certainly is. You know, I've covered Angela Merkel since the year 2000, since she was an opposition leader in Berlin, and she is someone who really chooses her words very, very carefully. So, she must have heard things from President Trump while he was in Europe that really were eye-opening and disillusioning to her.

So, to hear her speak that way, even though she is right now sort of in an election campaign, but she's so far in the lead that she really wouldn't need to use any inflammatory rhetoric. So, this is something she's certainly thought through and certainly something that could change the trajectory of German politics towards the United States.

BRIGGS: Yes, her proponents certainly seem to agree with her and some comments. But what will all this mean for Europe, by extension to U.S., if, in fact, Merkel's remark plays out in policy? What are the practical implications here?

PLEITGEN: Yes. You know, one of the things I could happen is there could be what many call a reorientation here in Europe, more of a partnership, for instance, with France, even deeper than before, more European politics, rather than looking towards the United States. And the other thing with the Germans especially, because they are a big exporting and trade nation, they could really try and foster even deeper ties with countries like China, with Asian countries, where they already do have an industrial partnership. They could try and deepen those if they feel that the U.S. isn't reliable anymore.

But what Christine said is absolutely correct. German carmakers created some 110,000 jobs in America, making 900,000 cars. So, this could potentially be a big deal for America as well.

ROMANS: You know, Fred, let me ask you, Dave and I -- actually, Dave forwarded me this unbelievable opinion piece from "Ders Spiegel", where the editor-in-chief basically said Donald Trump needs to go, here are the seven ways to do it, and he is hurting the world.

[04:10:03] Let me ask you. Is some of this maybe Angela Merkel reflecting what the media and what the elites in Germany think about Donald Trump?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think it's partially what the elites think. I mean, one of the things that you do notice at least in Europe is that there is some division. There are certain countries where President Trump is obviously very popular and there's other countries that are trying to make it work, like for instance Britain that has now voted for Brexit to leave the European Union. They're looking for closer ties to America.

But there are many in the elites in Europe who are downright scared of this new White House, who believes that some of the things are dangerous for free trade but also for defense especially as well. So, she might be echoing some of that, but she also is someone who's obviously very much her own person, her own thinker.


PLEITGEN: You know, one of the things, Christine, that I've learned in dealing with Angela Merkel is she's dealt with very flamboyant leaders in the past and she usually tries to find some way to make it work. She's very analytic and she certainly isn't someone who's driven by emotions. So, I'm sure she'll try to make it work, but at the same time, she will be very realistic about what she feels this White House is all about and what that means for Europe.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Fred Pleitgen. Great analysis.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Fred. ROMANS: All right. Hundreds of U.S. companies say business -- their

business will suffer if the president quits the Paris climate deal. One hundred ninety-five countries signed that landmark accord, including the U.S. The plan reduces greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020, but if America withdraws, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Nike, L'Oreal, say the U.S. will lose its competitive edge. That's because they can't cash in on the new markets for clean tech, but even major oil firms like Chevron and ExxonMobil, they back the Paris deal.

The Exxon CEO urged the president in a letter to keep a seat at the negotiating table, but energy company support is a strange move. The accord favors the cleaner natural gas they produce over coal. Experts say the natural gas boom is the primary reason for coal's decline, even though the president promised to revive coal jobs during the campaign, calling the climate treaty a bad deal.

In a CNN op-ed, Ted Cruz encouraged him to fulfill his promise to rip up the Paris treaty, writing that it drives up energy prices, devastates our industrial base and bolsters our rivals.

Every other country at the G7 summit this weekend reaffirmed the Paris agreement. The U.S. did not, stating it was reviewing its policies. Trump later tweeted he'd make his final decision this week.

But really remarkable. The president said the Paris deal will kill jobs and kill American energy. It's bad and not competitive. The very companies who stand to be affected say, no, no, no, please stay in, Mr. President.

BRIGGS: Yes. You hear that maybe he wants to rework this deal, but that's a negotiation with the entire world.

ROMANS: A hundred ninety-five.

BRIGGS: Not an easy renegotiation. An interesting couple of days ahead.

Well, what made a Texas lawmaker say this about one of his colleagues?


STATE REP. ALFONSO "PONCHO" NEVAREZ (D), TEXAS: A very stupid comment. He's a racist. He's a bad person.


BRIGGS: Why immigration nearly made lawmakers come to blows in the Texas state legislature, next.


[04:17:11] BRIGGS: Welcome back on this Tuesday.

Near brawl erupting during the final regular session of the Texas legislature.

ROMANS: It was like sports, a little.

BRIGGS: Take a look.

It was like sports, very, very heated sports. Hundreds of people packing the capitol rotunda on Monday. They were protesting a new state law that bans sanctuary cities and punishes local governments that don't comply with immigration rules and detention requested. Boy, did things get heated when Republican House Member Matt Rinaldi announced he called ICE to report protesters who were holding signs that read, I'm illegal and here to stay.

ROMANS: Rinaldi says he was then assaulted verbally and physically by fellow lawmakers, admitting he threatened to shoot one Democrat in defense.

It was all too much for this Texas lawmaker.


NEVAREZ: Yes. I mean, the guy made a comment, a very stupid comment. He's racist. He's a bad person. We're not going to allow people like that to get away with saying things like that because they think nothing's going to happen to them.


ROMANS: So, Democrats deny assaulting Rinaldi and ICE officials say they never received a phone call from him about the protesters.

BRIGGS: Turn down the temperature.

Well, you can expect suspensions, fines and a lot of helmet-throwing jokes after some Memorial Day fireworks in San Francisco. Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland, Bryce Harper of the Nationals, he gets plunged and here comes Harper. He got hit by a 98-mile-an-hour fastball, so he throws the helmet. You saw he missed by about, I don't know, six, eight feet.

Then they go at it, they charge the mound. You see the drawl ensuing, Harper landing a few blows. Both benches would clear. This was the first time Harper had faced Strickland since hitting two home runs off of him in the 2014 playoffs.

What's getting lots of attention again, the most entertaining part of the brawl, Harper's helmet toss. Whoops! It missed, again, by six, eight feet. Now, Strickland did not miss with that pitch, but boy, was Harper inaccurate with the helmet throw.

I'm telling you. I don't think he meant to hit the pitcher with the helmet throw. Strickland may have meant to hit Harper with the pitch, but do you think he meant to hit him with that helmet toss?

ROMANS: Well, I can't tell if he was trying to throw it away or he's trying to throw it at him. Whatever's going to happen, he's going to comfort him because look at -- he didn't slow down. I think the helmet is the inconsequential part of the whole thing. BRIGGS: But that is what is getting all the attention online is how

bad Harper missed with the helmet toss. I'm just safely saying he did not intend to hit Strickland.

ROMANS: I have a question. Your kids play baseball.


ROMANS: What do you say to your kids when they see something like this?

BRIGGS: Well, there's a lot of talk online that this is bad for baseball, we should clamp down on this. Eh, not really. It's not so bad.

The attention given on the sport -- Bryce Harper's great for the game. Some people hate the attention he's brought to it because he's so brash and cocky and does things like this, but that's making young kids watch.

[04:20:03] I'll take the bad with the good.

ROMANS: All right.

Officials in Manchester are still looking for a critical piece of evidence more than a week after that deadly terror attack. We're live in England with why this blue suitcase is so significant.


BRIGGS: Police in Manchester are looking for a critical piece of evidence this morning, and they are asking the public's help in tracking down this hard-sided, blue-rolling suitcase. That was the bomber was seen with the days leading up to last week's blast.

ROMANS: A counterterrorism official telling CNN investigators are still not sure whether the suicide bomber at the concert actually built the bomb himself, calling it the key question in this investigation.

[04:25:07] Meantime, this morning, Manchester is returning to its normal life step by step, little by little.

More on that -- for more on that, let's bring in CNN's Muhammad Lila is in Manchester.

So, now, we have this image of the blue rolling suitcase and the image behind you of the people still paying their respects.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine and Dave. That's right. People here are still continuing to come to the square, although we're coming off a long weekend here in the U.K., so people are now back to work. The crowds are a little bit lower than they normally would. But the biggest development in the case is police have released this image of a blue suitcase. They're calling it a distinctive suitcase, and they're hoping it might jog people's memories.

The reason why they're looking for it is because they believe the main suspect in the case, Salman Abedi, was carrying that suitcase in the days and hours leading up to the attack and he was wheeling it around here in Manchester, in fact, right here in the city center. Now, they don't believe the suitcase was used in the attack. They believe that there were explosives in a backpack and it was that backpack that detonated at the Manchester arena.

But they're looking for that suitcase because they think it might reveal more clues about what was in the suitcase and why Abedi was seen carrying it around in the city. And, of course, all of this comes as the city is slowly, and I say very slowly, starting to get back to normal.

The main train station, which is called Victoria Train Station, which was attached to Manchester Arena, had been closed for the last week. Well, this morning, it opened in a small ceremony. The mayor was there. And the idea behind that is to show the city of Manchester, the U.K. and the entire world that despite this horrible attack, Manchester is back and open for business and it's slowly returning back to normal -- Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Muhammad Lila, thank you so much for that, as Manchester gets back to work. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, can the White House escape the Russia probe as it tries to reclaim its footing after a long foreign trip but a series of untimely links to Russian officials?