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Flake And Corker Tee Off; Clinton Camp & DNC Helped Fund Dossier; Ambush in Niger: U.S. Soldiers Were Gathering Intel on Terror Leader; Dodgers Take Game One of World Series. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And one analysis I saw, was it two- thirds of the issues that the Russian ads focused on were race, zeroing right in on race in America, stirring the pot on race in America.

[05:00:05] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now at 5:00 Eastern Time.


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.


ROMANS: Devastating, untruthful, debasing this country -- just some of the withering criticism leveled at the president from two senators in his party. What does it mean for the future of conservatism and for the GOP?

BRIGGS: Plus, the Clinton campaign and the DNC had a hand in that dossier of allegations about President Trump and Russia. What role did they play? We'll take a look at that and also this extraordinary day on Capitol Hill.

Have we ever seen anything like it?

ROMANS: Every day is extraordinary, I will say, but yesterday was something.

BRIGGS: We'll ask Zach Wolf about that in a moment.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, October 25th. It's exactly 5:00 a.m., 5:01 in the East.

Up first, a rare scathing attack on a sitting president from members of his own party. Republican Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, both free now from the constraints of a re- election bid, both unloading on President Trump. Flake, blunt and emotional 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.


BRIGGS: Astounding really.

Senator Flake making the 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.

The president's tweets drawing this response from Corker. Quote: same untruths from an utterly untruthful president, #alertthedaycarestaff.

ROMANS: 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?

CORKER: No, absolutely not.



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


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I certainly think history is going to 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.


ROMANS: President Trump was able to sidestep this feud with fellow Republicans during a lunch with party senators on Tuesday. In fact, he tweeted his satisfaction with his, quote, multiple standing ovations, in case you were wondering, let the world know about that. That lunch was before Flake's speech on the Senate floor.

BRIGGS: Standing ovations.

Let's go live to Washington and bring in Zach Wolf, digital director of CNN Politics.

Zach, great to see you. This is stunning n a year that has been day after day of extraordinary revelations. Have we ever seen anything like we saw what happened on Tuesday?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: You know, not me, I haven't. I was kind of stunned sitting at my desk yesterday watching that Jeff Flake speech, in particular when he went to the Senate floor, and he was really giving a message not only to people but to his colleagues, to his Republican colleagues saying, you guys, it's time to really stop and look at what's going on here.

Now, of course, the thing we have to remember about both Flake and Corker is that they're now both retiring, so they essentially don't have anything to lose. Flake himself might have essentially been retired. He wanted to seek re-election. So, that's kind of an asterisk to take with these bombs they're throwing on the way out the door.

But it will be interesting to see what they do over the coming months.

[05:05:03] Are they going to start rejecting his policies? That's something that neither of these men has done. They've both been pretty -- voted with him in pretty much lock step.

ROMANS: They're on the way out the door but there's 14 months here. And they've got tax reform that the president is saying, he wants major tax cuts. What is the strategy or what is the wisdom of feuding -- the president, particularly with Corker with all these tweets and everything, feuding with people you got to work with if you want to get the Republican agenda through? WOLF: I -- I mean, we talked about this a couple times on this

program. I'm not going to be the guy who looks for strategy in what they do with Donald Trump's tweets. I don't think it's there and I don't think we can identify it. But, you know, they certainly need friends on Capitol Hill if they're going to get any of this stuff done.

They can only kind of work on one thing at a time essentially and right now, it's tax reform which is something that most Republicans want. They might be able to pick up a few Democrats.

I didn't hear in any of those speeches, Flake or Corker say they were definitely going to oppose tax reform. So, that's a different story line. But certainly talking about the rhetoric and saying we're not going to be silent about this anymore. That's an important thing. And it's kind of a remarkable one.

BRIGGS: What does it say that the president got standing ovations, according to his tweet, and that Jeff Flake got a tepid, mild, a few applause in the Senate? What does it say about the path forward and how many may speak out in the future?

WOLF: Well, I mean, you know, Jeff Flake gave a great speech and he has 14 months to kind of distinguished himself in this new role that, you know, he wrote a book opposing Trump. He's been on the vanguard of being somebody who says, I'm not going to lay down for this rhetoric and for this president.

You know, that said, there's a lot of Republicans up there who are going to seek re-election in the coming years under this president. So, you know, again, his message yesterday, I think, was to his colleagues and they still have an agenda. Mitch McConnell is going to work with president Trump every day, you know, trying to enact tax reform.

ROMANS: All right. Zach, stick with us because we to want talk about this story, too.

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

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

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

ROMANS: That tweet based on reporting from "The Washington Post", of course, even though Sanders said this about the paper just hours earlier.


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


ROMANS: Having it both ways from the podium. Zach, I wanted to get your thoughts on this development yesterday.

WOLF: You know, there are no angels in this political business, clearly. The Clinton campaign, I think, would have done anything it could to defeat Trump, you know, as most campaigns would. We know Republican firms paid, you know, this firm, and now it turns out the Clinton campaign or at least their law firm contributed some money to it.

It's hard to keep this Russia thing untangled in my mind, and I spend every day thinking about it. You got to go back all the way to the beginning. This dossier and what was one of the things that really fueled that started everyone peeling back the onion of the Russia investigation. So, this is a really important thing.

That said, I think there's a distinction between potentially colluding with the foreign government and searching for dirt on somebody. That's something we need to remember.

ROMANS: Yes, opposition research --

BRIGGS: Yes, opposition research.

ROMANS: It's dirty business.

BRIGGS: It is a filthy business.

All right. More to talk with you in about 20 minutes. Zach Wolf, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: All right. A big win for the financial industry. The Senate killing a rule making it easier for consumers to sue banks. This is a major development really under President Trump here.

The Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote last night. Gone now are Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule banning forced arbitration clauses.

This is like the fine print, right? Banks, financial institutions tuck these clauses, this language into their contracts and basically, it gives them the power, not consumers. It forces customers to resolve any disputes they have outside the court system. It blocks them from banning together in class-action lawsuits.

Republicans call the rule an overstep by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray. [05:10:00] He is a President Obama appointee. The financial lobby

claims that class actions benefit trial lawyers, not consumers. Consumer advocates disagree, they say arbitration favors companies. Leverage is with the companies.

For example, victims of Wells Fargo, they have had trouble suing because of the arbitration clauses there. Trump has vowed to loosen regulations on Wall Street. And this is the administration's most significant victory in, you know, loosening regulations for Wall Street yet.

The White House cheering the move. Pence calling it a win for everyday consumers. The CFPB issued this back in July. It found customers struggled to open arbitration cases against their banks.

And again, the banks and the financial industry has all the power and leverage.

BRIGGS: Interesting to pose this as a good news for the everyday consumer.

ROMANS: Yes, I mean, it's not populist --

BRIGGS: Great news for the bank.

ROMANS: It's not siding with the banks is not the normal populism you'd expect from a Trump administration that is populist.

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


[05:15:27] BRIGGS: All right. New details about the 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 has also learned the Green Beret-led troop was conducting one of its first patrols after arriving in West Africa just a few weeks earlier.

We get more now from CNN's Jim Sciutto.


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.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you for that, Jim.

President Trump is 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.

BRIGGS: In Puerto Rico, more than half of the cell towers are now operational and one-quarter of the island has power. But new questions are raised about the utility firm with ties to the Trump administration winning a $300 million contract to restore Puerto Rico's crippled electrical grid.

ROMANS: The CEO of Whitefish Energy, a 2 year old firm, is friends with the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. A spokesman for Whitefish Energy says the secretary had nothing to do with the firm winning the contract. House and Senate committees are both now calling for a review of this deal.

BRIGGS: All right. Game one of the World Series is in the books and the Dodgers are three wins away from their first title in nearly three decades.

Andy Scholes, bumming out. He'll tell us why in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:25] BRIGGS: All right. Hottest World Series game ever. Dodgers beat the Astros, taking an early lead in the series.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

BRIGGS: Hey, man.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: And good morning, guys. Yes, you know, it was a long night. Astros only getting one run. But, hey, at least the game was also one of the fastest World Series games ever, took under 2 1/2 hours. So, I did get some sleep. That was the fastest game since 1992.

Already said, it was the hottest, 103 degrees at first pitch. Now, the game moved so quickly because both pitchers -- they were on their game. Clayton Kershaw striking 11, while walking nine. Dallas Keuchel wasn't nearly as good but made a mistake here to Justin Turner in the sixth inning and that two-run home run turned out to be the difference as Dodgers win game one, 3-1, to take the early lead in the series.


JUSTIN TURNER, DODGERS: I didn't know if it would be a home run but I knew I back spun it pretty good, hit it really high and I knew it was about 98 degrees. So, when it's that hot here, the ball does travel a lot better.

CLAYTON KERSHAW, DODGERS PITCHER: It was hot tonight. So, warming up didn't take long to get loose, but try to get that first inning under your belt, definitely as good a start as we could have hoped for.


SCHOLES: All right. Justin Verlander going to be on the mound for the Astros tonight, taking on Rich Hill for the Dodgers. Verlander, 9-0 as an Astro. First pitch for game two, after 8:00 Eastern tonight.

All right. Just hours after their win on Monday night football, Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Torrey Smith took a trip to the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg to meet with lawmakers. They're lobbying for a bill that would seal a person's criminal record after ten years of good behavior. That hits home to home for Smith whose mother served time behind bars for domestic violence.


TORREY SMITH, EAGLES WIDE RECEIVER: Whether you're young or old, it shouldn't be tied to you forever, if you're doing the right things.

MALCOLM JENKINS, EAGLES SAFETY: We honor our country, we love this country, it's given us all the opportunities we have. But we also have a responsibility to use our platform in a way that can affect real change and touch real people.


SCHOLES: Finally, Cavs beating the Bulls last night. Check out the postgame handshake between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. They played together for years. They have it done. They're new teammates so clearly working on their synchronized handshake.

What about you guys? You have a secret handshake?

ROMANS: We got nothing.

BRIGGS: We just got knuckles.

SCHOLES: Pound it. ROMANS: Every now and then there's a little of this but -- no, just


BRIGGS: It happens. It's early. We don't sleep much, like you.

[05:25:00] Thank you, buddy. Good luck in game two.

ROMANS: We have to do better. A handshake or something.

BRIGGS: We'll work on it. Commercial break.

ROMANS: Freed 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: Two men who will not be shaking hands any time soon. That's not all Bob Corker had to say. Jeff Flake, he went even further.



FLAKE: Politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity. I will not be complicit or silent.


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

ROMANS: And the Clinton campaign and the DNC had a hand in that dossier of allegations about President Trump and Russia.