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Can Trump Get Back on Track?; Kushner Laying Low; Merkel Doubles Down; Tiger Woods: Alcohol Not Involved in DUI. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: It's a full agenda awaiting President Trump and his team at the White House as the administration fights back against growing questions about ties to Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The adviser at the center of those questions, Jared Kushner, laying low. Now the White House is blaming Kushner's secret back-channel request with the Kremlin.

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

ROMANS: I've listened to that sound bite three or four times, trying to just kind of grasp what that could mean for policy.

BRIGGS: Yes, she's careful with words, but she certainly meant to send a message indeed.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, May 30th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

President Trump back in the Oval Office today, trying to get back to the country's business after a long holiday weekend and an even longer overseas trip. Key issues on his very full agenda: whether to pull out of the Paris climate accords, and a search for the new director of the FBI.

[05:00:06] The president is also weighing a strategy going forward for Afghanistan that could include more troops. A decision all too significant after president's first visit to Arlington cemetery as commander-in-chief.

BRIGGS: The president also weighing whether to shake up his team. Sean Spicer set to brief the media 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 around 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: Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Investigators are trying to figure out exactly why Jared Kushner met in December with a Russian banker who has linked to Vladimir Putin. What the point of the meeting was, that's according to "The New York Times." CNN 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 United States.

ROMANS: Also this morning, the White House is ready to push back on new reporting Kushner tried to set up a secret back-channel with the Russians, pushing back by claiming it was their idea. A source tells CNN's Gloria Borger the Russian ambassador asked

Kushner if the Russian military could talk to Michael Flynn about Syria. The source says Kushner did not say he would arrange it and it was never arranged.

BRIGGS: For the time being, expect Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, to keep their heads down. Administration official tells CNN both are laying low and focusing on work, unfazed by all the scrutiny. The administration claims Ivanka Trump is not involved with this war room you're hearing about currently being established, even though she was seen at the White House with the president's personal attorney Mark Kasowitz. They certainly have a long personal history.

ROMANS: CNN has also learned 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 a back channel to Moscow.

BRIGGS: All right. So, let's talk politics with a new guest on the program, Chris Deaton, deputy online editor of "The Weekly Standard".

Good morning to you.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Great to have you on the show.

CHRIS DEATON, DEPUTY ONLINE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Hey, thanks, guys. Good morning to you, two.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: All right. So, let's try to put a ribbon, a bow on this Jared Kushner story. And let's -- if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. So, he's the un-appointed son-in-law, adviser to the president who wants a back channel communication with our greatest adversary on the planet who just interfered in our election. Is it a reasonable to say that they wanted private communications regarding Syrian strategy?

DEATON: Well, thus, the investigation. I mean, you know, you can get one claim from the person who is a person of interest, I suppose and then you check that against the facts, that's a pretty typical journalistic axiom that we try to stick. And from an investigatory standpoint, you can certainly say the same.

But there are a lot of things, guys, about this that piqued interests here. I mean, for example, to say that Jared Kushner initially was a person of interesting. It's a legally ambiguous term.

[05:05:01] It could mean anything that doesn't necessarily raise alarm. But then you get into some of more granular details that we are beginning to learn, the fact that the backchannel was tried to be set up, the fact that he met with Gorkov, the Russian banker. This was a person who is trained by one of Russia's spy services. And you can have American officials say that look, this Gorkov fellow wasn't necessarily somebody who was engaging in spy activity but it does raise questions and necessitates the type of dispassionate fact finding that we're beginning to see right now.

BRIGGS: You know, one thing interesting about it, if the White House is going to push back and say that this was the Russians, they're going to blame the Russians for this, this was somehow a Russian maneuver, doesn't that make it look like the White House is being played by the Russians? I mean, they have to be careful how they push back here.

DEATON: Oh, certainly. I mean, there's already a terrible amount of imagery in the public right now that, you know, the United States not only has gotten too cozy with Russian but they are dictating terms. I mean, I already think at the "TIME" magazine cover of St. Basil's Cathedral kind of encroaching upon the White House. That kind of imagery really does stand out. So, they need to be careful about how they explain this type of stuff.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's talk about what Angela Merkel said over the weekend that has raised a lot of eyebrows, that essentially Europe must go at it alone and be less reliant on the United States. She doubled down on that sentiment yesterday. Here's what she had to say.


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.


BRIGGS: All right. So, what are the implications here. "The Wall Street Journal" had a lot to say about this, in part writing, the Atlantic Alliance might even benefit from more such candid talk on both sides.

Is this a message to President Trump? Is it positive? Maybe some self reliance is in order for Europe and Germany?

DEATON: Well, first of all, I'm looking forward to the term convinced Transatlanticists and the trivial pursuit addition somebody --

ROMANS: Hashtag t-shirt, convinced Transatlanticists.

DEATON: Holly molly, man, that's quite the translation. But yes, that is definitely sending a message to the United States. It's sending a message to Britain. I mean, we have to consider Brexit in the broader context of this.

So, accepting the status quo of the way that the United States has behaved with Russia in recent decades probably just wasn't sustainable with President Trump coming into the office. I mean, what was all of this America first rhetoric about? It wasn't just necessarily about new industrial policy or new manufacturing and infrastructure policy at home. It was always about reorienting America's approach to world as well.

And for all the we heard President Trump then-candidate Trump talk about NATO, our relationship there, praising the type of Brexit strategy that Britain pursued. All of this stuff is not necessarily surprising. And I think it's somewhat and Merkel has been the person who I think was at the forefront of people trying to preserve the new status quo of the European Union for quite some time.

ROMANS: Gaming it out. I mean, you can see a stronger reliance between France and Germany. You can see all kinds of sort of policy implications as we go forward here.

Speaking of policy, is all of this distracting from tax reform? Remember, the president had both houses of Congress and the presidency and there was this wave of optimism that there would be quick repeal or replace of Obamacare and then you get right to tax reform. Front page of "The Wall Street Journal" today saying tax reform has faltered, which is not anything that anybody in Wall Street wants to here.

And those of us who think that we do need real tax reform, what's your sense that the president can get back to business this week?

DEATON: Well, who knew legislating could be so hard, guys. I mean, this is the reality no matter who is in the White House, no matter who controls Congress. We are in a polarized environment right now. And for the White House to try to shift the conversation back to anything policy-related with all of the Russian stuff hanging over its head.

And the difficulties we had to remember that it's already had legislating on health care, the Senate is beginning to I think move a pace a little bit on that. Mike Enzi, the budget chair from the Senate, kind of gave a preview that we would be maybe seeing something after the Memorial Day recess from the Republican senators. And we'll have to see what develops on that front.

But you wouldn't be able to get to tax reform until months after that, the next fiscal year to begin with. So, White House can try to message on this, the reality of it is it's a slog.

ROMANS: Turns out nobody wants to give up their goodies and tax reform are going to require a lot of people, including the middle class, to give up their goodies.

BRIGGS: Yes. They say that's collided with interest groups, lobbying, and a tax system's reality. More on that in about 30 minutes.

Chris Deaton, thank you sir.

ROMANS: Nice to meet you, sir.

DEATON: All right. Thanks, guys. ROMANS: All right. 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.


ROMANS: How an immigration fight led one lawmaker to threaten to shoot another.


[05:14:05] ROMANS: A near brawl erupting during the final session of the text legislature. Take a look here. You can see hundreds of people packed into the capital rotunda on Monday. They were protesting a new state law that bans sanctuary cities in Texas and punishes local governments that do not comply with immigration rules and detention requests.

Things got really heated when Republican House member Matt Rinaldi announced he called ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to report protesters who were holding signs that read, "I am illegal and here to stay."

BRIGGS: Rinaldi says he was assaulted verbally and physically by fellow lawmakers, admitting that he threatened to shoot one Democrat in self-defense. This 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.


[05:15:01] BRIGGS: Democrats deny assaulting Rinaldi and ICE officials say they never received a phone call from him about the protesters.

ROMANS: All right. Hundreds of U.S. companies, hundreds, say business will suffer if the president quits the Paris climate deal. One hundred ninety-five countries signed this landmark accord, according to the U.S. The plan reduces greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.

But if America withdraws, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Nike, L'Oreal, many others say the U.S. will lose its competitive edge 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 climate deal. The Exxon CEO urged the president in a letter to keep a seat at the negotiating table. But energy companies' support isn't a strange move. The accord favors the cleaner natural gas that they produce over coal. Experts say the natural gas boom is a primary reason for coal's decline. Now, even though the president promised to revive coal jobs during his campaign, calling the treaty a bad deal.

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

But every other country at the G7 summit this weekend reaffirmed the Paris agreement. The U.S. did not join that consensus stating it's reviewing its policies. The president later tweeted he would make a final decision this week.

BRIGGS: Where do you think he's leaning?

ROMANS: I mean, to me, it sounds like he's leaning against because he wants his -- America first is his policy and he thinks this will send a message to the world that America will be first.

But does it -- does it knock the U.S. on the global stage if the U.S. doesn't honor its commitments and the capriciousness of the American politics can take the U.S. out of something that 190 -- a lot of these countries have agreed to some hurtful concessions to get this done, right? For the U.S. to back out in favor of some coal jobs with some of these other industries are saying, no, we need to stay?

BRIGGS: Of course, Gary Cohn says coal doesn't make much sense anymore.

ROMANS: And then the president's top economic adviser seems to support the Paris deal. So, we'll know --

BRIGGS: Fascinating week.

All right. Breaking overnight, Panama's government announcing the death of former dictator Manuel Noriega. Noriega had been in intensive care for two months after suffering a hemorrhage during surgery to remove a brain tumor. The former general ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989 before he was ousted by a U.S. invasion. He was in prison for corruption and murdering his political opponents before he was hospitalized earlier this year. Noriega was 83 years old.

ROMANS: All right. On the heels of a new missile test, another direct threat from Kim Jong-un against the United States. North Korean state media reports the dictator is planning to develop more powerful weapons to send what they call a bigger gift package to the U.S. The state news agency says Kim supervised the latest testing of the new missile system on Monday.

Pyongyang launched a short range ballistic missile that land some 200 miles from Japan. We are told it splashed down in the ocean near an area where, you know, ships travel, an area that, you know, could have been dangerous there.

BRIGGS: All right. Sports, one of baseball's top sluggers, Bryce Harper, drilled by a pitch. And look out. Punches thrown, benches cleared.

Coy Wire here with an explanation in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:48] ROMANS: All right. Pretty ugly scene yesterday as one of baseball's biggest stars throws punches after he was hit by a baseball.

BRIGGS: I know I'm not supposed to be smiling, Coy Wire, but it's sports. It's kind of entertaining. This morning's "Bleacher Report". Hey, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

It turned into a bit of UFC, didn't it, Dave? There's been bad blood flu nationals slugger Bryce Harper and Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland. Strickland seemingly holding a grudge for three years after Harper hit two home runs off of him in the playoffs, and then glared at him.

So, yesterday, when Strickland hits Harper with its 98-mile-an-hour fastball, Harper points the bat, grabs the helmet, throws the helmet and it was on. Both benches end up clearing.

You see good shots being landed there. Both players would eventually be ejected. Nationals would win the game in the end, 3-0. But both teams more than likely and both players both hefty suspicions and fines coming their way.

Game one of the Stanley Cup Finals, puck drop in Pittsburgh last night, Big Ben Roethlisberger getting the crowd hyped. Predators would storm back in this one after being down 3-zip early, but Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel would step up in the moment, scoring the go ahead goal late in the third.

When Jake was 10 or 11 years old, now teammates Sid Crosby and Phil Kessel were his heroes. Well, now, Jake playing hero for them and for Pittsburgh. They find a way to survive in game one and win 5-3. Game two is Wednesday.

The NBA finals start on Thursday with the Warriors and Cavs meeting up for the third straight year. But Warriors likely would be without head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr is saying he's still not well enough to coach after back surgery. He will travel to Cleveland but he said, as of now, he's not going to be on the sidelines.

Tiger Woods is apologizing to his family, friends and fans following his arrest Monday of driving under the influence. Woods arrested early Memorial Day near his home in Florida.

He released this statement saying, quote: I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions. I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. [05:25:03] I didn't realize the mix of medications had affected me so

strongly, unquote.

Woods adds that he expects more from himself and will do everything in his power to make sure it doesn't happen again. Police in Jupiter, Florida, say he was arrested 3:00 a.m. on Monday, some ten miles from his home. He spent several hours in jail before being released without bail. He's 41 years old and he's been off the tour rehabbing from a fourth back surgery that he had last month.

Not a good image coming out for Tiger Woods --


ROMANS: Thank God he did not hurt somebody, you know?

BRIGGS: And "The New York Times" tabloids dueling covers here this morning, the exact same DUI of the Tiger, Coy Wire. This could -- you know, this could be the end sadly of a brilliant career. You know hope that's not the last image.

Coy Wire, thank you sir.

I want to say we also -- the sports world mourning the loss of Frank Deford, one of the legendary writers. NPR, "Sports Illustrated", HBO, just an icon. President Obama presented him the Medal of Humanities in 2013.

Died at 78 yesterday. He will be missed. What a legend.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

Can the White House escape the Russia probe as it tries to reclaim its footing after that long foreign trip and a series of untimely links to Russian officials?