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Releasing The Memo; Questions Swirl Around Pompeo Meeting. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: A Republican memo alleges abuses by the FBI and it's set to go public. The president refusing to stand in the way despite a lot of objections from intelligence and law enforcement.

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: And the head of the CIA is defending a meeting with top Russian intelligence officials on American soil. Why is Mike Pompeo welcoming someone already banned from the United States?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh.

NOBLES: I'm Ryan Nobles. It is Friday, February 2nd. Yes, it's Groundhog Day and it is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And President Trump poised to allow the release of a controversial House Intelligence memo alleging surveillance abuses at the FBI. The president hopes the memo might undermine the Russia investigation. The relentless move to release it sets up a clash between the White House and intelligence officials who warned the document distorts facts and could jeopardize national security. On CNN last night, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia slammed House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes for pushing the memo's release.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We don't come from the Senate side, unless we have agreement in bipartisan way. They are working in this House intelligence on partisan participation. Devin Nunes, pardon the pun, he has neutered the confidence that people could ever have in the House Intelligence Committee.


MARSH: Well, the president reviewed the memo on Wednesday, a day after he was picked up on hot mic, telling a congressman he was 100 percent determined to release it. A Trump adviser tells "The Washington" there was never any hesitation by the president. According to "The Post" the president believes the memo's release will help build a case for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Russia investigation.

Our coverage starts this morning with CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.



Today is the day that the classified controversial House GOP memo appears to be on the verge of being released. President Trump gave that order on Thursday, saying he read it and reviewed it. Of course, this setting up a confrontation between the White House and the FBI. The FBI director whom the president appointed said he had grave concerns over the release of this memo.

But the White House appears to be going ahead with this. The president on Thursday gave his final go ahead to his advisers. Now, this, of course, is the latest episode in this long running Russia investigation. We know the president was calling friends and associates saying he believes the release of this memo will discredit the investigation because it will show in his view there is bias in the top ranks of the FBI.

Now, of course, Democrats are crying foul. They believe this should not be released and a matter of national security. Of course, the Justice Department and FBI also believe the same thing.

After the president signs off on it, the House Intelligence Committee expected to release it today. Now, this, of course, not necessarily going to change anything except the rhetoric around this. It has been a distraction. Again, the investigation, of course, still going forward with Bob Mueller,l the special counsel here. But a big day in terms of the confrontation between the president, and his FBI director appointed only six months ago.

Today certainly proves to be a busy one here at the White House before the president flies to Mar-a-Lago tonight -- Rene and Ryan.


NOBLES: All right. Jeff, thank you, in Washington.

Last minute changes to the Republican memo are not easing worries at the FBI. A U.S. official with inside knowledge says there are still grave concerns at the bureau. And CNN has learned top White House aides are worried that FBI Director Chris Wray will resign if the memo is released.

Now, Wray is not directly threatening to step down.

MARSH: And his predecessor, James Comey offering support, tweeting: All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart. American history in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.

NOBLES: And the FBI Agents Association publicly thanking Director Wray, expressing appreciation for his willingness to stand, quote, shoulder to shoulder with them as they work to protect the country from security threats. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the memo does not target law enforcement.

Listen to his argument..


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. What it is is the Congress' legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly, and that if it wasn't being used correctly, that needs to come to light and people need to be held accountable so that we do not have problems again, because this does affect our civil liberties.


[04:05:12] MARSH: Most Republicans are standing with the president on releasing the memo. But Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Thune of South Dakota both publicly expressing concerns about making it public.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, CIA Director Mike Pompeo defending recently revealed meetings he head with top Russian security officials on U.S. soil. One of those officials, the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service is a target of U.S. sanctions and supposed to be barred from entering the U.S. The meetings came to light in a January 30th tweet from the Russian embassy.

MARSH: A U.S. official says it is no accident that Russia announced the meeting and the target was to, quote, sow discord in the United States.

Now, on Thursday, Pompeo defended the meetings in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He declared he and other officials met with Russians, quote, to keep America safe. Schumer kept his criticism, telling CNN yesterday if this administration is ignoring sanctions, that's very serious.

NOBLES: And a State Department spokeswoman says that sanctions can be waived in cases of national security. Last year, the Russians also revealed an Oval Office meeting and Russia's then-Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is fair to note that past administrations have also met with Russian intelligence officials.

MARSH: Well, Nikki Haley slamming Russia at the Republican retreat in West Virginia. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. telling Republican lawmakers Moscow is not and will not be our friend. She defended the administration handling of Russia even though it failed to impose new sanctions as mandated by Congress.

Here is Michelle Kosinski at the State Department.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Rene and Ryan, look at the timing of this. I mean, this comes amid all of the controversy and development around the Russia investigation. It comes when members of Congress are questioning whether the administration is seeking to listen to them in their bipartisan effort to punish Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. We now see the administration, via Nikki Haley, deliver this very pointed speech. This was before Republican members of Congress at the retreat last night.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: There is no reason to think the Russian interference made a difference between who won and lost in the U.S. elections. But the very fact that they did it is an outrageous. But with all of the talk that goes on about Russia and its role in our elections, one huge fact has been massively overlooked. That fact is in the last year, this administration has been tougher on Russia than any American administration since Ronald Reagan.

KOSINSKI: Note that she is very careful to make the point in there too that even though she is clearly stating that Russia did meddle in the U.S. election, she says there is no reason to think that interference affected the outcome. And she says that the administration will continue to be tough on Russia until it starts to act like a responsible country -- Rene and Ryan.


NOBLES: All right. Michelle, thank you.

A headline that should not get lost in all the Russia news, the U.S. government runs out of money again in less than a week. Speaking of Groundhog Day. The House plans to vote early next week on another short-term spending bill through March 22nd. The hope is to give lawmakers more time to strike an immigration deal and protect the nation's Dreamers. But there really hasn't been much movement on that issue.

MARSH: And last night, President Trump tweeted: The Democrats just aren't calling about DACA. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have to get moving fast or they'll disappoint you again. We have a great chance to make a deal or blame the Dems. March 5th is coming up fast. March 5th is the president's deadline for a deal.

Listen to the remarks he made from the GOP retreat in West Virginia yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People call it dreamers. It's not dreamers. Don't fall into that trap. We have dreamers too. We have dreamers in this country too. We can't forget out dreamers. I have a lot of dreamers here.


NOBLES: President Trump told Republican lawmakers they will need to work with Democrats and make some compromises or just win a lot of seats in 2018.

CNN's Phil Mattingly with more from the GOP retreat in West Virginia.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rene and Ryan, as the Republicans wrap up there 2-1/2-day retreat here in West Virginia, one thing is clear: they will not be leaving this place, going back to Washington, D.C. with any type of resolution, both intraparty or just in general when it comes to the issue of DACA. Obviously, there's been a lot of pressure on both parties to try to figure out some way to solve the problem of 690,000 individuals who would be subject to deportation. Depending on the court order based on the actions of President Trump, putting an end to executive order to allow those individuals to have work permits and stay in the country.

[04:10:08] That hasn't keep the president however continuing to urge Republicans to back his plan. The big question now is, what is the pathway forward if there is one?

The president says he's not totally sure the Democrats want one. How does he know that? Because he put a pathway to citizenship which a lot of Republicans reject on the table.

Take a listen.

TRUMP: One of the reasons I gave a number that was I thought a very generous number was because I wanted to see whether or not they were interested in approving that, because if they don't approve something within that sphere, that means very simply that they're not looking to approve it at all.

MATTINGLY: Talks are still ongoing. But given the reception to the president's proposal, given the reception internally in the Republican Party and given the outright rejection from Democrats to what they have seen from Republicans up to this point, it's clear, guys, that one thing is more clear than anything else, there is no clarity. We just have to wait and see -- Rene and Ryan.


MARSH: Phil Mattingly reporting.

And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Mexico this morning, hoping to soothe strained relations. Mexico City is the first stop on the tour of Latin America. Tillerson hopes to repair the strained relations with the U.S. and Mexico, a relationship now tense and shaky after more than a year and a half of flaming rhetoric from the president about DACA, Mexican criminals and gangs. But officials there are tightly focused on saving the NAFTA trade deal from collapse.

NOBLES: Well, officials now a school shooting in Los Angeles was an accident, but a 12-year-old girl is facing charges this morning. We'll have more on that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:15:48] NOBLES: New developments this morning in one of the most notorious, unsolved cases in the United States. The death of actress Natalie Wood. New witness statement could alter the events surrounding Wood's 1981 drowning death.

The Los Angeles sheriff's departments say two new witnesses recall yelling, arguing and crashing sounds from the state room on the boat where Wood was last seen alive with her husband, actor Robert Wagner. The sheriff's department says it doesn't have enough information to make an arrest. But Wood's drowning remains suspicious. The investigation was reopened in 2011.

MARSH: But can America's job market stay strong in 2018? That is the question after 87 consecutive months of job gains. The longest streak on record.

In about four hours, the Labor Department will release the January jobs report and economists expect another healthy month. They predict 175,000 jobs added. A better number than December. The unemployment rate should remain at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, and the wage growth should tick up.

Now, the wage growth has been sluggish for years, the weak spot in an otherwise strong labor market. Globalization and more part-time workers have kept wages in check. But we should see a boost in 2018.

There are two reasons why: 18 states raised their minimum wage in January. And the new tax bill as a result. Several big companies gave their employees raises and bonuses.

NOBLES: The U.S. Olympic Committee was reportedly told of sexual abuse complaints against Larry Nassar as early as 2015, but failed to intervene. "The Wall Street Journal" says the former head of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penney, alerted the committee that raises questions about why the Olympic committee which oversees USA Gymnastics did not reach out to athletes or Nassar other employees before allegations against him went public about a year later. Now, during that time, Nassar continued to allegedly abuse patients in Michigan.

MARSH: Well, an attorney for Penney refused to comment to CNN, but a spokesperson for the USOC says that the committee learned of a doctor who is accused of abusing an athlete, but claims that the matter was reported to the FBI. Nassar who is already facing up to 175 years in prison is due back in court in Michigan today as the sentencing continues for abuses at a gymnastics club.

NOBLES: Police investigating the shooting at a Los Angeles middle school Thursday, they say was not intentional. The 12-year-old girl, though, has been booked in a juvenile facility charged with negligent discharge of a firearm. Five were injured in the shooting, four students and an adult. Two had significant gunshot wounds, including a 15-year-old boy shot in the head. Doctors were able to stabilize him saying he was very lucky. Officials say classes at South Castro Middle School continued Thursday after the lockdown was lifted.

MARSH: So, will there be six more weeks of winter? Gosh, I hope not. We will know in a couple hours, because today marks the 132nd National Groundhog Day. At about 7:30 this morning, Punxsutawney Phil will come out of his burrow. According to the legend, if Phil says a shadow, there will be more six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, we can look forward to an early spring.

National Weather statistics show Phil is far less accurate than flipping a coin. Only six of his last 30 predictions have been correct. So, I'm not going to put too much weight in that.

NOBLES: You know, you can't trust Phil.


NOBLES: But I remember growing up outside Buffalo and so wanting winter to be over. I rely relied on his prediction --

MARSH: You were hanging on --

NOBLES: Something to just hold on to, yes.

Well, you may have noticed Dave Briggs isn't here today. I look a little bit like him, but I'm not Dave. He is in Minnesota for the Super Bowl.

Boy, how did he get that gig? How did he end up --

MARSH: He's lucky.

NOBLES: Well, tune in tomorrow for "Kickoff in Minnesota", a CNN bleacher report special with Dave Briggs, along with some pretty good football players, Hines Ward and Coy Wire.

[04:20:07] That's at 2:30 Eastern tomorrow afternoon.

MARSH: I'm going to be watching that.

Well, a major city on the verge of running out of water. What is being done to help in Cape Town, South Africa? That is next.


NOBLES: We have some breaking news out of Shanghai, China. A van plows into a crowd of pedestrians, injuring 18 people. Police ruled the crash an accident. They say the vehicle caught fire, causing the driver lost control and veered on the sidewalk.

[04:25:04] A preliminary investigation found the 40-year-old driver was allegedly carrying hazardous material illegally and smoking. That is what caused the fire. The driver has no criminal record. The injured pedestrians were hospitalized and none has life threatening injuries.

MARSH: Serious situation in South Africa. New water restrictions imposed in Cape Town, South Africa as the city faces the very real prospect of running dry. Residents are now being asked to curb the amount of water they use daily to just over 13 gallons. That's about half of the current limit. Officials estimate if the water levels continue to fall as feared, South Africa's second most populist city will run out of water by April 16th.

Cape Town is in the middle of the three-year drought. The worst in a century, changing climate and rapidly growing population have made matters worse. Officials say residents have not been doing enough to curb water use.

NOBLES: There's some good news this morning. All of the miners trapped underground at a South Africa mine have now been rescued. The company that manages the Beatrix gold mine says a violent storm knocked out power to the mine Wednesday night. More than 1,000 miners were stuck until ground until power can be restored until the lift brought them to the surface.

And we expect to find out today what is in that Republican memo alleging FBI abuses. The president will not block its release, so will it hurt the Russia probe or fizzle under Washington's microscope? We'll examine that coming up.