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GOP Memo Changed, Was White House Involved?; Another Loyalty Request; North Korean Athletes Arrive in South Korea. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:15] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Was the White House involved in changes to a Republican memo alleging abuse at the FBI? Changes were made after the committee saw it. How significant were they?

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: And the president once again blurring the line on loyalty with law enforcement. CNN has learned Mr. Trump asked the deputy attorney general if he was, quote, on my team.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh, in for Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good to have you, Rene.

I'm Dave Briggs. It is Thursday, February 1, 4:00 a.m. in East, 6:00 p.m. in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is where things are starting to move ahead of the Olympics.

All right. The Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee chairman accused this morning of secretly making significant changes to a classified memo, a memo whose release could have implications for the Russia investigation. The ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, says Chairman Devin Nunes sent a version of the memo to the White House that was materially different than the one the committee approved along party lines.

MARSH: Schiff's accusation means the West Wing is not looking at the same version of the document that the committee approved. The president could decide as soon as today to release the memo alleging FBI abuses. The Democratic committee source tells CNN the changes tried to, quote, water down some of the stronger GOP assertions.

BRIGGS: Congressman Schiff is demanding the committee vote again on whether or not to release the memo. Nunes spokesman does not dispute that changes were made, but only their degree, saying, quote, in the increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo, the committee minority is now complaining about minor edits to the memo including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and the minority themselves.

MARSH: But what is not clear is what changes were made in the memo. Why Schiff's staff pushed for alterations and whether the White House had any hand in the changes.

BRIGGS: In a transcript from the committee meeting where Republicans voted to publish the memo, Nunes refused to say whether his staff had spoken to the White House.

Democratic committee member Mike Quigley tells CNN he does not believe Nunes was being candid.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He is with a few staff, I think, acting as an agent for the White House and has for an entire year. This is the president of the United States acting to defend himself legally and politically at the expense of our national security and complicit in that is the speaker of the house and chairman Nunes.


BRIGGS: Last year, Nunes was forced to step aside from leading the Russia investigation after it was revealed he secretly went to the White House to review classified evidence.

Before Congressman Schiff leveled his accusation, he wrote an op-ed on "The Washington Post", arguing the Nunes memo crossed a dangerous line. Schiff asked, why Paul Ryan has not stepped in, suggesting the House speaker, quote, lacks the courage to stop Nunes. Schiff writes, Ryan seems not to understand the central bargain underpinning the creation of the intelligence of committees after Watergate in exchange of the committee -- for the intelligence community's willingness to reveal closely guarded national secrets to a select group of members and staff for the purposes of oversight. The committees and the congressional leadership pledge to handle that information responsibly and without regard to politics.

MARSH: Well, FBI Director Chris Wray clashing very publicly with President Trump over the Nunes memo. The FBI issuing a rare public warning, expressing grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy. The comments from President Trump's FBI chief coming after two days of private talks where top Justice Department officials tried to convince the officials not to release the memo.

Here is Chief of Staff John Kelly on the document's release.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me, work for the president, they are slicing and dicing it and looking at it so that we know what it means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see it?

KELLY: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?

KELLY: It will be released pretty quick I think and the world can see it.


MARSH: Well, President Trump was overheard after State of the Union telling a Republican congressman he will, quote, 100 percent release the memo.

BRIGGS: That's despite the fact that Sarah Sanders stated he did not read it.

Meanwhile, Congressman Nunes is a key figure in another episode of President Trump asking for loyalty from an FBI official. CNN reporting Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December and asked the president for help fighting off document requests from Nunes.

[04:05:05] Mr. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel investigation was heading. Our sources tell us the president asked Rosenstein if he was, quote, on my team.

MARSH: And we are told the deputy attorney general was actually surprised by the president's question and responded of course we're all on your team, Mr. President.

Of course, that conversation could raise further questions about whether the president was seeking to interfere in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. No comment this morning from the Justice Department or the White House.

BRIGGS: Special counsel Mueller is training his sights on hope hicks and her role in the aftermath of the Trump tower meeting with the senior aides and Russian lawyer. The New York Times reporting that Hicks allegedly told Donald Trump on a conference call in an e-mail to Trump Jr. would never get out.

MARSH: Well, three sources tell "The Times" that former Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo was concerned that Hicks could be thinking of obstructing justice. Hicks lawyer, however, denied she ever said that or suggested that the e-mails would be destroyed.

BRIGGS: Another prominent Republican House Member Trey Gowdy calling quits. The South Carolina congressman who chairs the oversight committee says he will not run for a fifth term. A former federal prosecutor, he says he plans to return to the justice system. There has been a spike House Republicans headed for the exits ahead of the mid terms. At least 38 have announced they are leaving their seats. Unlike many of his Republican colleagues, Gowdy was not facing a tough reelection campaign.

Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats in November to retake the majority.

MARSH: And the GOP retreat in West Virginia is going on as planned today. That after the train carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers hit a truck on Wednesday. The driver of the vehicle was killed. Four people remain in the hospital this morning. All members of congress, though, and their family members are said to be okay. Minnesota Congress member Jason Lewis was taken to the hospital for a potential concussion. We know the NTSB is sending its go-team to the scene to investigate what happened. The president will make his first remarks at the retreat today.

BRIGGS: All right. A check on CNN Money. Deadline to raise the debt ceiling just moved closer, thanks largely to the new tax law. If Congress doesn't raise it by early March, the Treasury Department will run out of cash. That's according to the Congressional Budget Office.

It originally estimated the U.S. had until April, but the new tax bill reduces government revenue. Starting today, workers will pay about $15 billion less in payroll taxes each month. Now, that's great news for you, but with less money coming in, the special accounting measures the Treasury uses will tap out sooner than planned.

In a letter this week, Secretary Steve Mnuchin told lawmakers treasury can fund the government through February but urged them to increase the limit as soon as possible. If they don't, it will prevent the U.S. from paying its bills on time and defaulting will be chaotic, could shake global financial markets and likely delay Social Security checks or other government payments.

MARSH: Well, President Trump is breaking with tradition and will not do a Super Bowl interview. Sources at NBC say the White House has rejected their interview request. But they say the president still has an open invitation if he changes his mind. A pre-Super Bowl sit down with the commander in chief has become tradition over the past decade. When Fox televised the game last year, Mr. Trump was interviewed by then-FOX anchor Bill O'Reilly.

BRIGGS: Of course, the game is on NBC. So, that would be? Lester Holt, that didn't go so well the last time with Lester. Did it?

All right. The winter Olympics eight days away. Activity in Pyeongchang overnight includes the arrival of the North Koreans. We are live with the site of the Olympics, next.


[04:13:20] MARSH: Well, North Korea's athletes arriving this morning in South Korea ahead of the Winter Games which kicked in a little bit more than a week. And it's being closely watched as observers hope for a potential breakthrough in the tensions engulfing the Korean peninsula.

Our Paul Hancocks in part of the CNN team covering the games from Pyeongchang and she joins us live this morning with the very latest.

Good morning, Paula.


Well, we are expecting any moment now to see that 32-member delegation from North Korea arriving in South Korea. They're landing at an airport very close to here. I'm here in Pyeongchang where the games are taking place. And we are only about 50 miles away from the DMZ, the demilitarized

zone that splits North and South Korea. So, what we are expecting is ten athletes, three coaches and 18 supporting staff. And of course, we already have North Korean athletes who are here in South Korea. The women's ice hockey team had been here since last week. They are training up with the South Korean counterparts as they are having that joint team.

So, it is very unusual for the plane to fly from North Korea to South Korea. It is highly unusual, even though they, of course, are so close -- two countries which is still technically at war.

So, this is a very significant moment to have the North Korean athletes come here, the culmination of the many weeks of very intense negotiations between with the North and South Koreans. And on the plane South Korean skiers at the ski resort in North Korea, the one where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un opened himself as part of a culture joint event -- Rene.

[04:15:02] MARSH: Paula Hancocks live for us this morning in Pyeongchang -- thank you, Paula.

BRIGGS: The U.S. conducted a key missile test in Hawaii on Wednesday and it failed. The Pentagon is not commenting, but several administration officials confirmed a missile failed to intercept an incoming target. Defense officials are trying to determine what went wrong here. The missile being tested is designed to intercept the range missile that North Korea is threatening to launch against the United States. The trial was also designed to test new defense concepts with the missile launch from shore rather than a Navy ship.

MARSH: Well, sources tell CNN the Defense Department is considering a ban on personal cell phones at the Pentagon. It is part of the fallout from revelations that a fitness tracking app could pose security risk for U.S. troops.

We get more from CNN's Ryan Browne at the Pentagon.


RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Good morning, Dave and Rene.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is actively reviewing whether the United States will ban cellphones from the Pentagon, the world's largest office building. Now, this review has been going on for some time. Officials are saying it was only reinforced after recent revelations regarding fitness apps potentially revealing details about U.S. troops overseas.

Now, this review is really concern with the security risk posed by personal cell phones. These cell phones are potentially able to get information from classified areas and be transmitted. This is what led to a similar ban being imposed last month for White House staff.

Now, this has all come as Secretary Mattis is reviewing fitness apps, smartphones and cellphone use. However, the officials are saying the logistical challenges involved with the Pentagon, some 25,000 military and civilian staff work here makes the actual ban very difficult to implement and it's casting some doubt whether a full ban will, in fact, take place.

Now, people would have to leave their cell phones outside the building. That's a lot of lockers they have to install. Many employees here come via public transit. And all these issues are part of this ongoing review which we are told no final decision has been made.

Back to you, guys.


BRIGGS: All right. Ryan Browne, thank you, my friend.

Homeland Security officials announce the protected status of 7,000 Syria nationals in the nationals in the U.S. is being extended for another 18 months because of the ongoing civil war there in the country. Protections for Syria were first enacted in 2012. They shield recipients from deportation while authorizing them to work in the U.S. Syrians who arrived here after August 2016 will not be eligible for the extension. It is the first time since protections were created for Syrians that new immigrants cannot apply.

MARSH: All right. Well, coming up, a Michigan doctor detained by immigration officials after 40 years in the U.S. is one step closer to getting his life back. Details are next.


[04:22:27] BRIGGS: Four-twenty-two Eastern Time. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigning in amidst of a deadly nationwide flu outbreak. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald stepping down one day after "Politico" reported she purchased tobacco stock after taking the position. That kind of investment is clearly at odds with the CDC's mission. According to "Politico", Dr. Fitzgerald also invested in pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Bayer, as well as health insurance company Humana.

MARSH: Well, the Justice Department filing to dismiss charges against Bob Menendez. An 11-week corruption trial resulted in the hung jury for the New Jersey Democrat. The prosecutors accused the senator of accepting bribes from Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist, in exchange for political favors. Charges against Dr. Melgen were also dropped. Menendez expressed gratitude to the Justice Department for reevaluating his case and coming to the, quote, appropriate conclusion.

BRIGGS: A Polish-born doctor detained by immigration officials after leaving in the U.S. for nearly 40 years expected to be released on $10,000 bond today. Dr. Lukasz Niec was taken into custody by ICE agents in mi-January. The Michigan doctor was five years old when his parents pled Poland in 1979. He received a temporary green card and later became a lawful permanent resident. Dr. Niec originally came under scrutiny because of 18 encounters with

police, most traffic violations. One child abuse clam against him was investigation and found to be unsubstantiated. His family has launched a legal fight to keep him in the United States.

MARSH: Well, in San Francisco, they will dismiss all misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. The city district attorney says the decision stems from a provision in the California law that just legalized recreational marijuana. Officials also plan to review all marijuana felonies recorded during the same time period and in appropriate cases resentence them as misdemeanor offenses. The move affects thousands of people, but it does not happen automatically. A person convicted of a marijuana crime must first petition a court to have their record changed.

BRIGGS: FEMA is trying to ease concerns of Puerto Ricans alarmed by the decision to halt new shipments of food and water to the island. The agency is stressing it is not planning to leave or stop handing out crucial supplies. FEMA has stockpiled 46 million liters of water and 4 million meals and snacks.

[04:25:04] And distribution of those will continue. Supplies should hold out it says until normalcy returns. Many Puerto Ricans are still dependent on FEMA's aid. And some are skeptical the agency's stockpiles would be enough.

MARSH: Well, former First Lady Michelle Obama reliving an awkward moment in his first television interview since leaving the White House. She plain explains to Ellen DeGeneres what she was thinking when First Lady Melania Trump handed her that blue tiffany box on President Trump's inauguration day.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: There is all of the protocol. I mean, this is like a state visit. So, they tell you, you're going to do this. They're going to stand here and never before do you get this gift.

So, I'm sort of like, OK. What am I supposed to do with this gift? Everyone cleared out. No one would come and take the box. I'm thinking, do I take the picture? And my husband saved the day. He grabbed the box and took it back inside.


MARSH: Yes. We were all wondering what was inside that box. Well, she says inside the package was a lovely picture frame. The full interview with Mrs. Obama appears today on "Ellen."

BRIGGS: Always an awkward moment there. Nice gesture, nonetheless.

MARSH: Right, right. So, now we know what was in the box.

BRIGGS: You're always happy to get the blue box, right? It doesn't matter what's inside. MARSH: Yes, tiffany's. You know it is good.

So, a Republican memo, though, alleging abuses at the FBI was changed after the Intel Committee saw it. Did anyone help Devin Nunes and will the revelations stop the president from releasing the memo as soon as today?