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GOP Senators Unload on Trump; Clinton Camp & DNC Helped Fund Dossier; Ambush in Niger: U.S. Soldiers Were Gathering Intel on Terror Leader. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:12] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity. I will not be complicit or silent.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Devastating, untruthful, debasing the country -- withering criticism leveled at the president from two senators of his own party. What does it mean for the future of conservatism and Republican Party?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the Clinton campaign and the DNC had a role in that dossier of allegations about President Trump and Russia. How expansive is that role? What role do they actually play?

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, October 25th, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

One a.m. in L.A., Romans, where the Dodgers are off to a good start in the World Series.

But it was an astounding day on Capitol Hill, and that's where we start, an unprecedented attack on a sitting president from members of his own party. Republican Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, both free from the constraints of a reelection bid, unloading on President Trump.

Flake -- blunt, unemotional on the Senate floor saying he regrets the compromised state of America's moral authority and his own complicity in what he calls an alarming and dangerous state of affairs.


FLAKE: The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senator Flake making a stunning announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2018. That development coming after the president reignited his Twitter war with Senator Corker, belittling the Tennessee lawmaker, while falsely claiming he supported the Iran nuclear deal. President's tweets drawing this response from Corker, saying: untruths from an utterly untruthful president, #alertthedaycarestaff.

BRIGGS: Corker spoke to our Manu Raju on Tuesday and did not hold back.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let's just put it this way, I would not do that again. So --

RAJU: You wouldn't support him again?

CORKER: No way. He's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.

RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?


RAJU: You don't?

RAJU: No, absolutely not.


ROMANS: An astonishing six minutes of just raw criticism of the commander-in-chief. More now from Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.


RAJU: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

A bombshell announcement in the Senate with the retirement of Jeff Flake, the Republican senator from Arizona who was actually going to have a very difficult path to re-election because of the pushback he had been getting for his criticism of President Trump, some Trump- aligned forces trying to push him out in the primary as Flake has spoken out against the president.

But yesterday, Jeff Flake went to the Senate floor and really went after, not just the president but also others in his party for staying quiet. FLAKE: The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values

that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters, the notion we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and I believe profoundly misguided.

RAJU: Now, Flake's decision to retire really shocked a number of senators. Democratic senators like Chris Coons of Delaware and Tim Kaine of Virginia emerged almost in tears because they were upset to see Flake, someone who they revered on the other side of the aisle, someone who cut deals, leaving the institution.

Now, this comes as other senators who are retiring are also speaking out, including Bob Corker of Tennessee who told me in no uncertain terms that the president speaks many, many untruths on a daily basis. He said he could not, did not trust the president with the nuclear codes, also, saying that the president is no role model for children.

The question for some is whether senators who are not retiring, whether they will start to speak out, because right now, Flake and Corker, two of the most outspoken senators, but both announced they are not running for reelection anymore -- Christine and Dave.


[04:05:01] ROMANS: Oh, yes, this president will have to work with him for the next 14 months.

The White House is dismissing the scathing criticism from Senators Corker and Flake. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders calling their comments petty and even applauding Flake's decision not to seek re- election.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I certainly think history will look at this president as somebody who helped defeat ISIS who built an economy that was stronger than it's been in several decades, who brought unemployment to a 16-year low who has created over 1.7 million jobs since being elected. I think those are the things that people actually care about, not some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake. And I think they're a lot more concerned about the big policy initiatives that this president is driving.


BRIGGS: President Trump was able to sidestep his feud during a lunch with party senators on Tuesday. In fact, he tweeted his satisfaction with his quote multiple standing ovations, but that was before Flake's speech on the Senate floor.

ROMANS: Sources tell CNN a law firm representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped fund opposition research that led to the infamous dossier on then candidate Donald Trump. The firm retained Fusion GPS for research services. "The Washington Post" which first broke this story says Fusion in turn hired former intel British officer Christopher Steele whose research makes up that dossier.

BRIGGS: CNN previously reported the research was initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans during the primaries and Democrats began paying the research firm later on.

The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responding to the news with this tweet: The real Russia scandal? Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier then lied about it and covered it up.

ROMANS: Again, that tweet based reporting from "The Washington Post", even though Sanders says this about "The Post", just hours earlier.


SANDERS: I've said many times before I would use "The Washington Post" as my source, Jeff, you would know better than that.


ROMANS: Wait a minute.

BRIGGS: You can't have it both ways. You just can't.

ROMANS: She just did.

BRIGGS: Meantime, Brian Fallon, who served as Clinton's campaign spokesman said he was not aware of any connection between the campaign and the Trump-Russia dossier, but tweeted that if he did know, he would have volunteered to go to Europe and help Steele. Fallon also says if anything in the dossier helped special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation, it is money well spent.

A DNC spokesperson says the new leadership including Chairman Tom Perez was not involved in the decision-making process that led to the retention of Fusion GPS.

ROMANS: The dossier revelations come after the leaders launched two new investigations involving Hillary Clinton. The House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee both are looking into how the DOJ handled several issues related to the 2016 election, including Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.

Did you know that Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail server?

BRIGGS: I had not heard that. That is revealing.

ROMANS: Breaking news.

BRIGGS: Meantime, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devon Nunes announcing a new investigation into a U.S.-Russia uranium deal hammered out under the Obama administration while Clinton was secretary of state.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more from Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, House Republicans are now launching a probe into the Russian purchase of a uranium mining company approved by the Obama administration seven years ago when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Now, it's gaining steam now because of new reports that the Russian entity approved for the purchase was simultaneously under investigation by the FBI for bribery and racketeering. In fact, an executive eventually pled guilty and was sentenced.

So that coupled with the fact that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she was involved in the approval of the deal, at the same time the Clinton Foundation was allegedly accepting donations from business entities with an interest in the uranium deal. Well, that has made this a rallying point for Republicans, amid their call for an all out congressional investigation.

Here's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devon Nunes.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: One of the things as you know we're concerned about is whether or not this was an FBI investigation, was there a DOJ investigation? And, if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter? This is basically base off of our conversations with informants over the last several months.

SCHNEIDER: Chairman Nunes referencing there an informant who worked with the FBI in a probe into the nuclear company. That informant says he is being prevented because of a non-disclosure agreement by the FBI from disclosing what he knows. The informant claims he has more information about corruption.

But Hillary Clinton says the claims that donations to the Clinton Foundation somehow influenced her decision to support the uranium deal, well, she says, that's ridiculous.

Now, we've talked to Clinton's spokespeople and they do say that Hillary Clinton, herself, she was not intimately involved in approving that uranium deal when she was secretary of state.

[04:10:04] They say that that was left to her staff, for the most part -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you so much.

The Senate killing a rule, making it easier for consumers to sue banks, handing Wall Street a major win under President Trump. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote last night, wipes out a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule banning forced arbitration clauses.

That's the fine print, folks, for almost all of us consumers, banks, credit cards, financial companies, tuck these clauses into their contracts, they force customer to resolve disputes outside the court system, blocking them from banding together in class action lawsuits. Republicans call the rule an overstep by the CFPB head Richard Cordray. He is, of course, a President Obama appointee.

Industry groups say class action benefits trial lawyers. But consumer advocates argue that arbitration favors companies. For example, victims of Wells Fargo have had trouble suing because of these arbitration clauses, Wells Fargo where the consumer was just screwed.

This is the Trump administration's most significant rollback yet of Obama era financial policy and the White House cheered the move. But Pence calling a win for every day consumers. The CFPB issued the rule just in July. It found that customers people struggled to open arbitration against their banks, and from the point of the financial police, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, American consumers just did not -- did not have a standing with these big banks when they would try to dissolve disputes.

BRIGGS: It's interesting. This may fit traditional Mike Pence Republican values. But does this type of move fit populist? Right. That's what --

ROMANS: It's not populist. No, it's not populist. So interesting.

BRIGGS: It seems counter to draining the swamp.

ROMANS: And this -- you know, the talking point like, oh this favors, you don't want to hand to -- on these litigious lawyers, you know?

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: But when you look at what happening in the headlines with American consumers in some of these big financial companies. It's interesting stance for

the right of state.

BRIGGS: It's hard to keep up with what's happening in D.C. these days.


BRIGGS: All right. The Senate passes new funding to help hurricane victims, including those in Puerto Rico. But there are new questions this morning about a big contract handed out to a very small company with ties to the administration.


[04:16:30] ROMANS: All right. New details about that ambush in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead. According to three military officials, the U.S. Army team was gathering intelligence on a terrorist leader in the area when the attack took place. CNN also learned the Green Beret-led group arrived in Africa just a few weeks earlier.

We get more from Jim Sciutto. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we are learning that this U.S. Army team was on a mission to collect intelligence on a known ISIS leader that was operating in the same area. To be clear, they were not on a mission to kill or capture this leader but to gather intelligence on him.

After they completed that mission, they went to another village and it was in that village that they believe someone tipped off ISIS in the area that U.S. forces were there. As they left the village, they were attacked in an elaborate ambush that included mortars, heavy machine guns, RPGs as well, and those four soldiers died.

Now, we are also learning that that team was new to the area. It was perhaps their first or second mission, though the larger unit had done dozens of missions to that area without incident. This one of the many issues that they continue to investigate, along with why Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found some mile away from where that first ambush took place, but a military official that I spoke with today said that this was a vicious battle. Sometimes in battle, troops get separated from their unit -- Dave, Christine.


BRIGGS: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks.

President Trump expected to sign a Senate approved $36.5 billion aid package for hurricane and wildfire relief. Most of the funding goes to FEMA's disaster relief program and the National Flood Insurance Program.

ROMANS: In Puerto Rico, more than half the cell towers are now operational. A quarter of the island has power, 25 percent of the island has power. New questions, though, are being raised about a small Montana utility firm with ties to the Trump administration, winning a $300 million contract to restore Puerto Rico's crippled electrical grid.

BRIGGS: The CEO of Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old firm, is friends with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And one of Zinke's sons spent the summer at a Whitefish construction site. A spokesman for Whitefish Energy claims the secretary had nothing to do with the firm winning the contract. House and Senate committees are both calling for a review of the deal.

Ahead, a balmy 103 degrees for game one of the World Series out there in L.A. and nothing seems like it can cool off the Dodgers. We'll tell you what happened in game one in the Fall Classic, next.


[04:23:35] ROMANS: All right. The FBI releasing hundreds of pages from its investigation of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. They paint a dark picture of the young man who carried out those killings. The FBI's interview with a woman who befriended the shooter online revealed he had an obsession with mass murders.

BRIGGS: She describes them as quote the weirdest person online, someone with a very negative worldview. A behavioral analysis of the gunman shows he had an interest in children that could be characterized as pedophilia and also had a deteriorating relationship with his mother in the months before the attack.

ROMANS: The landmark legislation taking effect in Honolulu, Hawaii, today. Police can now fine distracted pedestrians up to $35 for looking at electronic devices as they cross the street in the city and surrounding county. Honolulu is believed to be the first major city to enact such a ban.

BRIGGS: Federal stats who pedestrian deaths jumped 9 percent in 2016, and nearly 6,000, the highest since 1990. A report by the government's Highway Safety Association cites sharp rise in smartphone use's a source of mental and visual distraction for drivers and walkers.

ROMANS: The Mega Millions lottery about to get harder to win and more expensive to play. After Friday night, the price of a ticket doubles to $2 and a new range of numbers make the odds of winning the jackpot even longer, 302.6 million to 1.

I want you think about those odds for a minute.

The Mega Millions game faced tough competition from Powerball which raised its ticket prices and lengthen its ads two years ago and it's since featured jackpots topping $200 million nine times.

[04:25:10] You know what I think.

BRIGGS: I know what you're doing. I know what you are doing, Romans.

ROMANS: I'm going to tell you right now, you have no business buying those unless you are fully funded in your 401k.

BRIGGS: I'm still playing, girl. I'm still playing. Still visualizing my yacht.

ROMANS: OK, give me your $2, and I will burn them right here, same return.

BRIGGS: I love it.

All right. The Dodgers striking first, betting the Astros in game one of the World Series, score at 1 at the sixth, Dodgers star Justin Turner once again coming through the game-winning two-run homer.

That put L.A. ahead 3-1. Dodgers got a brilliant performance from their ace Clayton Kershaw, striking out 11 over seven innings.

Fall Classic feeling very much like summer. The temp, 103 degrees.


BRIGGS: Hottest World Series game ever. Game two of the series tonight at Dodgers Stadium.

Brutal heat out there in L.A. Warm beer yum.

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

Three from the constraints of re-election, two Republican senators go directly after the commander-in-chief.


CORKER: He's obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.

RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?


RAJU: You don't?

CORKER: No, absolutely not.


ROMANS: Yes, that was like six minutes of. That that's not all Bob Corker had to say. And then, Jeff Flake, he went even further.