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Dems To Push Measure Protecting Mueller; Trump Prepares For State Of The Union Address; Opposition Builds Against White House Immigration Plan; Hillary Clinton Trolls President At Grammy's; Kremlin: Sanctions Are U.S. Meddling; Afghan Military Base Attacked. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 05:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on that special counsel.

Democrats want to protect the special counsel. This comes after the president wanted Robert Mueller fired last year. What do Republicans think of this idea?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The state of the union is just one day away. The president will make his pitch to the nation. He won't actually hit the road to sell it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by. Take one.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He had a long-time fear of being poisoned. One reason why he liked to eat at McDonald's.


BRIGGS: Yes, she's back. That was just one note from a politically charged Grammy Awards. We have the big moments from Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar.

And reports from Washington, Moscow, and London where we are following another deadly terror attack in Afghanistan's capital. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, January 29th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east. Democrats are weighing new steps to protect Robert Mueller following news the president wanted to fire the Russia special counsel last June.

A Congressional aide tells CNN Democrats will seek extra protections for the special counsel in the upcoming spending bill talks. Current funding expires next Thursday. The details are still being worked on, but among the ideas being floated, giving the special counsel the right to challenge his firing in court. BRIGGS: Now their idea stipulates that the special counsel can only be fired after a judge finds misconduct or other good cause. Republicans reaction mixed on whether legislation protecting the special counsel is needed.


SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It probably wouldn't hurt for us to pass one of those bills. There are some constitutional issues with those bills, but it would certainly wouldn't hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have legislation protecting Mr. Mueller and I'll be glad to pass it tomorrow. I see no evidence that President Trump wants to fire Mr. Mueller now. I don't know what happened last year, but it is clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump's presidency if I fired Mr. Mueller.

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: The president and his staff have fully cooperated. That's why they are moving forward, and I think we will continue this investigation to see where it goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think there is a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller.


ROMANS: Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia tells CNN's Jake Tapper he is not ready to back such legislation yet. He says the president was probably just blowing off steam.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I believe in the rule of law as it pertains to all of us. We are all treated the same. People from New York have a different way of talking and speaking. I think that, you know, literally, I say OK. He blew off about some things.


BRIGGS: The latest Justice Department official to find himself in President Trump's crosshairs is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That's according to four sources. Trump has vented at times about removing Rosenstein from overseeing the Russia probe. The president's advisers convincing him that is a disastrous idea.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Phil Wegmann, a commentary writer for the "Washington Examiner." Good morning. Thanks for joining both of us this morning. It's so nice to see you. Do we need legislation to protect Bob Mueller's job?

PHILIP WEGMANN, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, let's be clear about one thing. The biggest gift President Trump could give Chuck Schumer is if he fired Bob Mueller. Obviously, it's because it would tantamount to an admission of guilt and like Lindsey Graham said it would be political suicide for the White House.

But the president has done that. In fact, he's done the exact opposite. Recently, he even offered to be interviewed by Mueller. So, let's be clear about what these pushes for protections for Mueller really are. They seemed to be Democratic messaging.

BRIGGS: OK. But let's be clear about what Lindsey Graham is saying. That everyone seems to know that it would be disaster. You are telling you think Republicans in the Senate are going to line up and say no to this president about anything let alone firing bob Mueller?

He would have to fire Rosenstein, we believe, first, because Rosenstein said publicly he will not fire Bob Mueller. Are you telling me if he tried to make this move, the Republicans in Congress would stand up and draw a line?

WEGMANN: Well, what I think we would see is that the president definitely likes the majority in the House and Senate. He has been able to get along with them kind of. If he doesn't like their push back, he will hate the push back of Democrat majority in those two chambers. So, the best thing that he could do for them going into midterms is fire Mueller. I don't think that is on the table right now.

ROMANS: All right. Tomorrow, we have coverage starts tomorrow, state of the union. We will have a clock soon.

BRIGGS: We will.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the state of the union and the president. He will not go on the road to sell it, we know. We know he is taking all the credit for the economy and the stock market. What do you expect from him tomorrow?

WEGMANN: Well, I think that President Trump has an opportunity if he takes it. You know, after the government shutdown, President Trump for the time actually kind of looks like the adult in the room.

[05:05:12] So, if he decides to plug his achievements from last year and pitch DACA reforms, his DACA reforms, I think he has a good opportunity to launch Republicans into 2018. Look, don't count him out just yet. Last year, he gave a joint address to rave reviews. He can do it again if he is self-controlled and gets out of his way.

ROMANS: We are told the theme is unifying. It's going to be a unifying message.

BRIGGS: Look, he did a nice job in Davos in terms of making a speech. It was fairly well received. Can he stick to the script? Will he lash out at the media? Will he mention Hillary Clinton or electoral college win? What's the area where he should not go?

ROMANS: Will he be more Gary Cohn or Stephen Miller? That's the question.

WEGMANN: Yes, and what the president needs to realize every time that he is attacking his opponents, he is not hurting them. Instead, what he's doing is he is taking oxygen away from the arguments that he needs to be making right now.

He needs to be showing the voters that he is the guy who is willing to make those deals he promised and by attacking the media or Hillary Clinton or Jay-z, he is not helping himself out.

ROMANS: The Jay-z kerfuffle over the weekend really surprised me, you know, I mean --

BRIGGS: Did it?

ROMANS: It did. I mean, you know, I mean, it did.

BRIGGS: You heard the Jay-z comment just waiting. What he says is interesting and what he tweets the next day. How important is the speech and how important is the rhetoric that follows, Philip?

WEGMANN: So, if the president goes and he hits it out of the park and does a great job selling his agenda to lawmakers and has a good walk in the sun tomorrow night, he needs to move out of the spotlight immediately afterwards. He needs to let his words take effect. What we saw last year during the joint address is that he had a lot of goodwill built up and he spilled it all.

ROMANS: He takes credit for the stock market and the economy. Fine. He has been in office for a year. Time to say this is the Trump economy. Why don't his poll numbers reflect the same kind of numbers that he touts and takes credit for? That is my big question.

WEGMANN: What he can do is reach across the aisle by making a bid towards bipartisanship. He could maybe move toward some of the more big ticketed items that he wants this year, which would definitely be helpful for Republicans.

BRIGGS: All right. Philip Wegmann from the "Washington Examiner." I want to ask you about the political theme of the Grammys.

ROMANS: Let's talk Grammys next. Thank you, sir.

All right. A growing number of lawmakers say the Trump administration could sink an immigration deal by doing too much at once. Democrats are voicing fierce opposition to the White House proposal. It does offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers, but demands $25 billion for a border wall and sharp cuts to family immigration visas.

BRIGGS: Democratic leaders accuse the president of leveraging the DREAMers as ransom while severely cutting legal immigration. Republican Congressman Will Hurd, one of two congressmen behind the bipartisan House bill, to address DREAMers and the border, agrees the White House deal is too broad.


REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: I still believe that a narrow bill is most important thing that we can get through our Congress. Both houses, the House and Senate because the more things you add, you start creating coalition of opposition. Let's keep it narrow.


BRIGGS: White House officials reject suggestions that the president is asking for too much, calling the path to citizenship a dramatic concession.

Expect some Twitter reaction from the president this morning after trolling reached new heights at the Grammy awards. In a spoof called "Fire and Fury" celebrities from John Legend to Cher, Snoop Dogg and others all read excerpts during the audition. Then came one final reader you may recognize.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He had a long-time fear of being poisoned. One reason why he liked to eat at McDonald's. Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. We got it.

CLINTON: You think so?


CLINTON: The Grammy's in the bag?


ROMANS: The bit from Hillary Clinton got big cheer from the New York audience. Did not get cheers from the administration. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeting, "I've always love the Grammys, but to have the artists read "Fire and Fury" book killed it. Don't ruin great music with trash. Some of us love the music without the politics thrown in."

BRIGGS: The president's son, Don Jr. weighing in with some counter trolling of his own, "Getting to read a fake news book excerpt at the Grammys seems like a great consolation prize for losing the presidency."

ROMANS: There were plenty of political notes of the awards show. Camila Cabello addressed being a DREAMer. U2 played with State of Liberty as a backdrop mentioning s-hole countries, which was bleeped. The "Me Too Movement" also a dominant theme. Stars wore white roses to the ceremony.

[05:10:01] And Kesha gave an emotional performance with the "Me Too" theme.


BRIGGS: That was a powerful performance. Surrounded by women, the singer has been in the legal battle with producer, Dr. Luke, stemming from 2014 allegations he drugged and emotionally abused and sexually assaulted her. ROMANS: As per the music, Grammy night was gold for Bruno Mars. He won three of the Grammys top honors. Record and album of the year and song of the year for "That's What I Like."

BRIGGS: Also a big night for Kendrick Lamar winning five Grammys including best rap album. Alicia Carl won the Grammy for best new artist. What a night it was. You see the white rose all throughout there.

ROMANS: All-time high for political contest.

BRIGGS: Seemed odd, though, that the Hillary Clinton "Fire and Fury" thing. The conversation has moved on from the book that has been discredited. It was an interesting night.

Today is the deadline for the Treasury Department to implement new sanctions against Russia. The sanctions passed in the House and Senate in July by unanimous votes, but the administration is slow to name names and meet mandated deadlines since then.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Good morning, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. We literally just got some reply from the kremlin a couple of minutes ago to all of this. They say the list published by the Treasury Department today is an attempt to influence Russia's upcoming election.

They believed that the negative press that all those going get is aimed at influencing Russian politics. They also say that they are going to study it once it comes out and analyze it and see whether or not they will respond to it.

Now all of this has a lot of oligarchs around Vladimir Putin concerned. The list itself is said to come out and not bring immediate sanctions, but it will for the first time disclose not just the names of some of the oligarchs around Vladimir Putin, but also their financial information and potentially also the financial information of their spouses and children as well.

The big question for the Trump administration will be is that information going to be used for new sanctions or will Trump hold back in the hopes of improving relations with Moscow and Washington?

The other thing we are looking forward to seeing is whether or not that list will be published in full or whether some of the names will be redacted and hidden confidentially in an annex.

The Treasury Department sometimes does that so that you can't trace where that information actually has come from so very interesting to see. Again, a lot of folks here in Moscow are quite concerned -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All eyes on Russia sanctions today. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Moscow, thank you. ROMANS: All right. It's 12 minutes past the hour. Breaking overnight, nearly a dozen killed in a terror attack on an Afghan military base. The latest assault in a surge of violence in Kabul. We have a live report next.



ROMANS: Breaking overnight, another deadly terror attack in Afghanistan. Afghan officials say 11 military personnel were killed and 16 wounded in an attack on a military base in Kabul. ISIS is already claiming responsibility. Four of the five attackers, we're told, are dead.

BRIGGS: The attacks comes amid the surge of violence in Afghanistan. An ambulance packed with explosives blew up on a crowded street in the Afghan capital Saturday killing 103 people.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh monitoring all of this live for us in London this morning. Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is all about the deterioration of security inside what was supposed to be known as the ring of steel, the Afghan capital of Kabul. This morning's attack was against the military academy getting through one checkpoint using suicide bombers.

You've heard that the death toll now at 11 Afghan soldiers. It was ISIS who claimed this. They appear to be, if you like, a race for the low ground of extremist brutality against the Taliban, the longer kind of more super annulated insurgency in Afghanistan.

ISIS younger, more extreme, losing ground in Iraq and Syria, find themselves with some territory in Afghanistan now. But it was Saturday's attack that was claimed by the Taliban. That too was near diplomatic mission secure areas.

An ambulance used as a suicide car bomb to get through security, a hundred lives claimed by that. We say these things with such fluency, but these are staggering numbers. Rewind a few days earlier, in the east of the country, a children's charity attacked by ISIS about four dead during that attack.

Rewind to last weekend on Saturday, the Intercontinental Kabul Hotel attacked by the Taliban over a dozen killed there. President Trump has said he wants to win in Afghanistan and now sending hundreds more troops. They are in a hurry to try to make that happen, but things keep getting worse and worse -- Dave.

BRIGGS: It has been bloody there. Thank you, Nick.

Super Bowl week has finally arrived. The Eagles in Minnesota. Patriots fly out today. Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report" next.



BRIGGS: Eagles have landed. Philadelphia Eagles arriving in Minneapolis ahead of Super Bowl LII.

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

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. Super Bowl week is finally here. The two teams are going to meet with the media tonight. The Eagles arriving in Minneapolis yesterday. Got off the plane in a hangar.

The forecast for Super Bowl Sunday right now calls for a high of 7 degrees. Luckily the game is indoors. Walk into the stadium should be fun for everyone. Patriots are scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis later today. Good news for the team.

Rob Gronkowski practicing for a second straight day. Gronk was knocked out of the championship game with a concussion. He looks to be on track to play on Sunday.


TOM BRADY, PATRIOTS QUARTERBACK: Great to have him out there. He is a great player and great person and great teammate. Big part of what we do. Obviously, it hurts when he is not out there for a lot of reasons. He is doing the best he can do and we're all hopeful.


SCHOLES: The ageless Roger Federer coming through once again over the weekend. Federer defeating Marin Cilic in five sets to win the Australian Open for his 20th grand slam title. The 36-year-old has been fighting back tears while he was thanking everyone after the match. Federer's comeback at this age has never been done. He won three grand slams in the last three years.

Former UFC champion, Ronda Rousey, back in the ring last night, but it wasn't the octagon. Rousey making a surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble. She inked a deal to be a full-time wrestler with WWE. Rousey telling ESPN that the WWE is her life now. She could have done many other things to make more money, but this is something she has a passion for and really is going to enjoy.

BRIGGS: She will kill it there. She will be huge. How about the single digit temperatures you talked about in Minnesota? I'm not sure how well it will go over with the crowd.

SCHOLES: Dave, the low is 2 on Super Bowl Sunday. It will be fun doing live shots outside of the stadium.

BRIGGS: Outside? I was hoping we were inside.

SCHOLES: Outside the stadium on game day which will be rough. BRIGGS: All right, buddy.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

Should job protections be in place for the Russia special counsel? Democrats exploding it as part of a spending bill due next week. Would Republicans sign on?