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Trump Ordered Robert Mueller Fired Last June; Trump to Deliver Populist Message at Davos; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth just got a lot more interesting. President Trump ordered Robert Mueller fired as special counsel last year, but he backed down. Why?

DAVID BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House immigration plan is now on the table and includes a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million. It toughens up many legal immigration policies. One Democrat calls the deal ransom for Dreamers.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "GOOD MORNING, BRITAIN": Can I get an apology out of you just for the re-tweets?


MORGAN: It could go a long way.

TRUMP: Here's what's fair.


ROMANS: All right. Wait until you hear how the president answer that question. He is set to take his America First message to a global audience at the World Economic Forum this morning. In about four hours he will have the floor.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. But overshadowed once again no matter what he says. It's Friday, January 26th. 4:00 a.m. in the East. It is 10:00 a.m. in Davos, Switzerland. We'll go there live shortly.

We start with the president and the latest revelations. If and when President Trump does speak with Russia special counsel Robert Mueller, expect at least one provocative question. Did you attempt to have me fired?

We now have learned President Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller last June. One person familiar with the matter tells CNN the president backed off when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. ROMANS: This story first reported by the "New York Times" threatening

to overshadow the president's speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. That address is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Jeff Zeleny is there. He is traveling with the president.

And clearly, I know the administration officials have been there talking to people in the hallways, doing interviews. The United States trying to say we are open for business.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. You're right. That's exactly what the administration is doing, even this morning, trying to talk about -- exactly previewing what the president's message is going to be.

I'm told by a senior administration official the president is not going to be lecturing as much as he has in previous addresses when he travels around the world, but will be essentially wearing his salesman hat, saying America is open for business, talking about all of the -- you know, the strong economic growth , the low unemployment and the benefits from that tax law he signed late last year.

But the reality here is the White House knows this very well. All of this speech, all of this moment is indeed overshadowed by that investigation, is indeed overshadowed by the overnight bombshell that the president last June ordered the firing, wanted Bob Mueller to be fired here. So that is something that this White House cannot get over, cannot move beyond here even as he tries to address business matters here at Davos because the reality here, for the last six or seven months, the White House has said it is not true. The president did not want to get rid of Robert Mueller.

Now this, of course, is not the case. So the White House lawyers are not commenting on this. They are saying they are cooperating with this -- with the Office of Special Counsel. But the reality here now is this potential obstruction of justice investigation still going on here now is centering more on that moment last June when the president, we are now reporting and are told, wanted the firing of Robert Mueller -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. Bombshell. You are absolutely right. And the Russia investigation -- every development casting a shadow, a long shadow all the way to Davos, Switzerland.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us now on Skype from Los Angeles, CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin.

In your case, thank you for staying up late, Areva. A lot to discuss regarding the president's desire to fire the special counsel Bob Mueller but his counsel, McGahn, Don McGahn, said no, I will resign if you, in fact, go through with that order. So legally speaking what has changed? AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, legally, Dave, we now know

that the president had a specific intent to get rid of the special counsel. That in and of itself is not evidence of obstruction. But it's clearly a part of a larger pattern that's developing. We know that he fired James Comey and he went on to NBC and said he did it because of the Russia investigation. We know that he was outraged with the recusal of Jeff Sessions from the investigation and that he also contemplated firing Rod Rosenstein.

So when you put all of this together, this starts to look like a president who was intent upon getting rid of Mueller not because there was any cause for him being fired, but because he wanted to cover up his own wrongdoing.

ROMANS: Now in this reporting, Areva, the president naming three conflicts of interest for Robert Mueller.

[04:05:07] One of them a dispute over his membership fees at a Trump golf club. Mueller had worked for a law firm that had also represented the Kushner family and, you know, the day before, the day before he was appointed special counsel, he actually interviewed for the job of FBI director.

Any of those valid conflicts of interest are reasons why Mueller shouldn't be able to do the -- the investigation, the Russia investigation?

MARTIN: All of those are completely baseless and obviously White House counsel McGahn found them to be baseless or otherwise he would not have pushed back on the president when he ordered him to fire the special counsel.

I think we have to look at what was going on in the summer, June of last year, when the president ordered the firing. We know that it had been reported that Mueller was expanding his investigation to include obstruction of justice. We know that Mueller was expanding the investigation to look into the financial transactions of Jared Kushner.

He had brought on 13 of the nation's top lawyers, lawyers who've had experience from everything from Watergate to Enron. And that Mueller's team was really gearing up to launch a full-scale investigation beyond just the collusion allegations. So I think all of those things that were happening in the summer are far more important than the alleged conflict of interest related to golf fees or the notion that Mueller couldn't be objective because he had worked at a firm that also had represented Jared Kushner.

BRIGGS: Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Chris Cuomo last night this is irrelevant because in fact the president did not go through with it, did not fire Bob Mueller.

When it comes to obstruction, a lot of it, to your point, is about intent. If there's no crime, though, if here's no crime that they were trying to cover up, if we learned that in the end, can you have obstruction without a crime? MARTIN: Absolutely. Obstruction in and of itself is a crime. If

there is a federal investigation which there is being conducted by the special counsel and the president is engaged in conduct to prevent that investigator from uncovering any kind of wrongdoing that he may or may not have done, that is obstruction and that is a crime.

Whether there is ultimately a finding of collusion with respect to Russia is not the point here. And I watched that interview and I have to tell you, Scaramucci is a Harvard Law grad as I am and I was perplexed by some of his comments, some of his responses. And he really seemed more intent upon trying to promote the president's trip and his economic speech than deal with the reality of how shocking it is that the president would make an order to fire the special counsel at the -- literally one month after he was appointed and then bring up issues such as golf fees as justification for that. And thank goodness that McGahn pushed back and said that he would rather be fired than to carry out the order.

BRIGGS: Yes, The Mooch also blamed or at least appeared to blame Steve Bannon for leaking this information. That's a whole another discussion which we'll have to get into later because many feel this goes right back to Don McGahn, why might he have leaked this information.

Areva Martin, thanks for being here. We'll check back with you in about 30 minutes.

MARTIN: Thanks, Dave.

BRIGGS: OK. Some mixed reactions to the latest immigration proposal offered up by the White House. It calls for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants based on employment, education and good moral character. The White House framing the deal as a dramatic concession by President Trump because it affects those who are eligible for DACA at hundreds of thousands of others who meet the broader criteria.

ROMANS: In exchange the White House wants a $25 billion trust fund for a border wall and border security technology, more funds for personnel. Closing legal loopholes so people can be deported more easily. Cutting family-based or chain migration beyond spouses and minor children. And an end to the diversity visa lottery program.

BRIGGS: Several hard-line Republican senators back the White House plan. Those you see here. The response from House Republicans largely muted, a sign conservatives are not exactly in love with the president's proposal.

Democrats are unhappy, too. Despite the offer of a pathway to citizenship one immigrant advocate calling the plan a way to get every item on Stephen Miller's white supremacist wish list.

ROMANS: The Democratic Senator Dick Durbin tweeting, "The White House claims to be compromising but this plan would put the administration's entire hard-line immigration agenda on the backs of these young people," meaning Dreamers. And this from Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, "It

would be far cheaper to erect a 50-foot concrete statue of a middle finger and point it toward Latin America. Both the wall and the statue would be equally offensive and equally ineffective."

[04:05:02] BRIGGS: All right. The populist president on this global stage. Four hours from now, President Trump delivers his America First message at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Ahead of that speech, the president making some very interesting comments on a controversy he sparked last year.

CNN's Nic Robertson continuing our coverage live from Davos.

Nic, good morning to you. The president doesn't do many interviews back here, but over there, he's been rather busy talking about various controversies. What are you hearing this morning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. He met with British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday. She wanted to meet because she believes that the United States and Great Britain have a special relationship. President Trump called it a great relationship. But one of the things they discussed beyond the business deals Britain wants to strike after it leaves the European Union was President Trump's visit to Great Britain.

Now this was -- came at the invitation of the British prime minister last year. But the relationship between the two countries became very clouded and mudded following President Trump's re-tweets of a small right-wing British national organization, Britain First. And British broadcaster sat down with President Trump to try to sort of clear some of that up, if you will.


TRUMP: I'm in the United States. So I don't read as much about it. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain. Perhaps it was a big story in the UK. But in the United States, it wasn't a big story.

MORGAN: Can I get an apology out of you just for the re-tweets I'm talking about?

TRUMP: Well, if you're telling me --

MORGAN: I think it would go a long way.

TRUMP: Then here's what's fair. If you're telling me it's horrible people, horrible, racist people, I would certainly apologize if you'd like me to do that. I know nothing about them.


ROBERTSON: So Piers Morgan there seems to be sort of trying to set the stage, if you will, to help President Trump at least ease some of the British public that his visit to the UK wouldn't be terribly offensive. A lot of people in UK consider it inappropriate that this time of big political burden for the British prime minister. But -- I mean, one of many at this time, but for President Trump, everyone watching the meeting he's heading into right now with the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, who's the chairman of the African Union. This is expected to perhaps get into some of the issues of what President Trump has said behind closed doors at the White House about some Africa and other nations -- Dave.

BRIGGS: And Nic, to clarify a few things. Piers Morgan has said repeatedly on Twitter that the president apologized. He did not. That may be the closest thing we've heard to an apology. And also it was huge news when he tweeted those videos back here. Maybe not on Trump television, but for most of the country, that was a massive and concerning story.

But we appreciate all the developments there live from Davos. Nic Robertson, thank you.

ROMANS: At Davos, words can move markets. The U.S. dollar rebounding after President Trump told investors don't worry.


TRUMP: The dollar is going to get stronger and stronger and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar.


ROMANS: The dollar jumped 1 percent just a day after the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's words that a weaker dollar was good for trade. That sent it to a three-year low. That's the biggest one-day drop in a year for the dollar on those comments.

Trump said Mnuchin's comments were taken out of context. But his remarks break with 25 years of American policy and earned a tongue lashing from the head of the European Central Bank for violating an agreement not to start currency wars.

At Davos today, as other world leaders preach globalization, President Trump prepares to defend America First in his speech, raising alarms about protectionism. Not so says National Economic director, Gary Cohn.


GARY COHN, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: The president delivers his speech tomorrow. He's going to talk about the role that America plays in the world and as America grows, the world grows. And it's good for the world to grow. We benefit when the rest of the world grows and the rest of the world benefits when America grows.


ROMANS: So America First, but not America alone. That's the message from Team Trump in Davos. Cohn says it's about a level-playing field, not protectionism.

BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news overnight. At least 37 people are dead, more than 100 others injured in a hospital fire in South Korea. Fire officials still do not know what caused the fire. They say it started in the emergency room when the first floor of the Sejong Hospital in the city of Miryang, about 160 miles from Seoul. A spokesman says many of the victims were elderly and died from smoke inhalation. It is South Korea's deadliest fire in nearly a decade.

ROMANS: All right. After days of spreading information that could discredit the FBI, Senator Ron Johnson now taking a different approach. What he now says about texts between two FBI officials. The latest twist in this non-conspiracy conspiracy theory.


[04:18:46] BRIGGS: 4:18 Eastern Time. Some new excerpts of text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appeared to show the two discussing the Hillary Clinton e-mail justification including whether or not a special prosecutor should be brought in. Page who is an FBI attorney writing in February 2016, "She might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear." Strzok's response? "Agree."

ROMANS: The Republicans have been using this and other issues to try to discredit the FBI including a text by Page suggesting a secret society within the bureau. Days after raising alarms about this secret society text, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is now backing off.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, do -- these text messages seems to be a comment about secret society was in jest. Do you agree that it appears to be it was in jest?



BRIGGS: A possibility. Not exactly strong enough there from the senator. But Justice Department inspector general also informing lawmakers that a trove of missing text messages between Strzok and Page has been recovered. He says forensic tools were used to recover text exchanged during a five month span from December 2016 to May of 2017.

[04:20:01] Melania Trump unannounced. Flying to West Palm Beach and certainly some mystery surrounding her travel. The reason for her Florida visit not yet clear. Also unclear whether the first lady is back in Washington this morning. Earlier in the day the first lady made an unannounced visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This Saturday marks the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance. Mrs. Trump was supposed to go to Switzerland with her husband but her office blamed scheduling and logistical issues that forced her to cancel.

ROMANS: There have been no public comments from the first lady since the story broke of an alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, four months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son Barron. The president's attorney allegedly paying Daniels $130,000 for her silence. Mr. trump denies the affairs. His attorney denies the payoff.

Stormy Daniels is scheduled to appear on Jimmy Kimmel's show Tuesday night after the president's State of the Union Address. No comment from the first lady on any of this. I think no surprise there. But a lot of folks wondering if she is coming back today from --


ROMANS: From Mar-a-Lago. She's spending the weekend there. And, you know, I think Monday was their 13th wedding anniversary.

BRIGGS: No comments about their anniversary.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: And as for the one-year inauguration interview, that fueled some speculation when Melania had a statement put out that didn't mention her husband, didn't mention the president and showed a photograph of her and an unnamed military adviser.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Or escort. So it was interesting. You can read into all that. We shall see when we hear from him.

The U.S. Olympic Committee wants the entire board of USA Gymnastics to resign over the Larry Nassar scandal. Now state and federal calls for investigations are growing.


[04:26:11] ROMANS: The United States Olympic Committee calling on all current members of the USA Gymnastics Board to resign in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. In a letter obtained by CNN, the head of the USOC is giving board members until the end of the month to leave once an interim board in place by the end of February, citing the need for a fundamental of the USA Gymnastics culture.

BRIGGS: In a statement, USA Gymnastics says it, quote, "embraces requirements laid down by the USOC," but did not commit to resignations. Several members of the House and Senate now calling for congressional inquiry into the USOC and USA Gymnastics. More than 150 women and girls spoke out about being sexually abused by Nassar. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also says her department is investigating the actions of Michigan State University where Nassar was employed as a sports doctor.

ROMANS: Students at Michigan State are going ahead with a planned march today even after embattled university president Lou Anna Simon resigned. Organizers say it is now a march for survivors and change.

CNN has learned President Simon has the option of returning to the faculty at her resignation at her current salary of $750,000.

BRIGGS: The latest in the Me Too Movement. Casey Affleck, last year's Oscar winner for Best Actor, has withdrawn from this year's Academy Awards. If tradition held, Affleck would have presented the Best Actor's Oscar to this year's winner. No official reason for the move but Affleck was sued for sexual harassment by two women in 2010. He denied the accusers' claims and their lawsuits were settled out of court. Academy officials in a statement say they appreciate the decision to keep the focus on the show and the great work of the past year.

ROMANS: The president and first lady had their eyes on a Van Gogh at the Guggenheim for their private living quarters. According to the "Washington Post," when the White House asked to borrow it, the museum politely declined and made a counter offer. A fully functional solid gold toilet. The toilet was part of an interactive exhibit called "America." In sat in a public restroom on the museum's fifth floor for visitors to use. The Guggenheim's chief curator told the White House the exhibit was finished and the toilet was available if the Trumps wanted it installed.


BRIGGS: So not their number one offer, but they got a solid number two offer.

ROMANS: The Van Gogh and then there's a gold loo. There's a difference.

BRIGGS: I can't get enough of that one.

It may be the scariest yet least surprising news of the day. Scientists have moved the hands of the symbolic Dooms Day clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. So we are now two minutes from global annihilation.

Happy Friday, everyone. The president of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the non-profit group that created this clock cite the extraordinary danger of the moment including concern over nuclear weapons and climate change. The last time this clock was this close to Dooms Day was 1953 at the height of the Cold War when the hydrogen bomb was first tested.

So we got that going for us, which is nice.

ROMANS: Looks like cocktail hour to me.


BRIGGS: Cheers, everyone.

EARLY START continues right now with this breaking news that the president wanted to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

Some breaking news overnight. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth just got a lot more interesting. President Trump ordered Robert Mueller fired as special counsel last year. Why did he back down?

ROMANS: A White House immigration plan is on the table. It includes a path to citizenship for nearly two million, but really toughens up many other immigration policies. One Democrat calls the deal ransom for Dreamers.


MORGAN: Can I get an apology out of you just for the re-tweets I'm talking about?

TRUMP: Well, if you're telling me --

MORGAN: It could go a long way.

TRUMP: Here's what's fair.


BRIGGS: Wait until you hear how the president answered that question. He is said to take his America First message to a global audience at the World Economic Forum this morning.