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President Trump Eager to Release Memo; Nikki Haley Says Russia Did Meddle in U.S. Election; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: The president refusing to stand in the way despite loud objections from intelligence and law enforcement.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: And the head of the CIA is defending meeting top Russian intel officials on American soil. Why was Mike Pompeo welcoming someone already banned from the United States?

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ryan Nobles.

MARSH: And I'm Rene Marsh. It's Friday, February 2nd. Groundhog Day. And it's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Well, President Trump is 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're working in this House intelligence strictly on partisan -- on a partisan participation.

Devin Nunes, pardon the pun, he has neutered the confidence that people could ever have in the House Intelligence Committee.


NOBLES: The president reviewed the memo on Wednesday, the 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 Post" there was never any hesitation by the president. According to "The Post" the president believes the memo will help build a case for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the Russia investigation. "The Post" also reports that the director of the National

Intelligence, Dan Coats, has also expressed reservations about the release.

Our coverage starts this morning with Jeff Zeleny. He joins us from the White House -- Jeff.


Today is the day that that 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. And of course, this is setting up a huge confrontation between the White House and the FBI.

The FBI director, who 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 that 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 crying foul. They believe that this should not be released, a matter of national security. Of course, the Justice Department and the FBI also believe the same thing.

After the president signs off on it, the House Intelligence Committee expected to release that sometime today.

Now this, of course, not necessarily going to change anything except the rhetoric around this. This has been somewhat of a distraction. Again, the investigation, of course, still going forward with Bob Mueller's special counsel here. But a big day in terms of the confrontation between the president, 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, Florida tonight -- Rene and Ryan.

MARSH: A busy day indeed. And CNN has learned top White House aides are worried FBI director Chris Wray will resign if the memo is released, although Wray has not directly threatened to step down.

NOBLES: Well, his predecessor James Comey offering support, tweeting that, quote, "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart. American history shows that 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 are named for Joe McCarthy."

MARSH: And the FBI Agents Association also publicly thanking Director Wray, expressing appreciation for his willingness to stand shoulder- to-shoulder with them as they work to protect the country from security threats.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says that the memo does not target law enforcement. Take a listen to his argument.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: 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.


MARSH: Well, joining us live this morning is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good morning. Thanks so much for joining us.


MARSH: This morning, Julian, you know, all indications are that the president is going to release this memo.

[05:05:05] What is the fallout here? Will the head of the FBI quit? Does this discredit the Russia investigation and does it at all back fire on the president?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it's already helping to discredit the investigation with the supporters of President Trump. That's the intention of the memo. And that's frankly the intention of the discussion of the memo. It's already accomplished its job.

We don't know if Wray will resign. But it's not clear that if he does, there'll be this huge political backlash that everyone imagines. It's not the Watergate era anymore. And partisan loyalty is very strong. So people might stay exactly where they are.

NOBLES: It's great that we have a historian here because there's obviously historical implications. We saw James Comey's tweet, comparing this to Joe McCarthy. I mean, from a historic perspective, how unprecedented would it be for the White House to defy its intelligence community and its own FBI and release a memo like this?

ZELIZER: Well, there's always been tension between presidents and the FBI. That's historic. They fight over policy. They often have personal disagreements. But the way this is all happening in the public, in front of the American eyes, where the president is working with Republicans to systemically not just discredit the investigation but to discredit in some way the entire intelligence operation. That's pretty unprecedented. And that's why some law enforcement officials are really upset and concerned.

MARSH: "The Washington Post" has a pretty stunning op-ed this morning. I mean, they talk about this whole issue about going after institutions like the FBI. And granted you saw it. What's your take on this and just -- even the strategy behind, you know, Republicans going after the FBI?

We do have a portion of a "Washington Post" op-ed here. It says, "Once a bipartisan responsibility that lawmakers treated soberly, as they still do in the Senate, oversight under Mr. Nunes has become another affront in Mr. Trump's assault on law enforcement institutions investigating the president and his associates." And it goes on.

I mean, Julian, your take on what they're saying and just larger picture as far as strategy here.

ZELIZER: Well, those are strong words. This is not oversight. This is a partisan attack. This is an effort by the Republicans with the Republican memo to discredit this investigation. And that's why you hear strong words from "The Washington Post." And when you do this, when the president supports this kind of attack, it's hard to take it back. And it will affect other kinds of operations that the FBI conducts. People will remember this.

So I think that's why you're hearing that. And I think it's generally on target. This is a partisan memo. The Republicans have coalesced behind this memo. And they are pushing with the president's support to release it as if it's some kind of serious oversight. It's not -- this is a partisan talking point.

NOBLES: And meanwhile, even though the president has done everything he can to discredit the investigation into Russia, his own ambassador to the United Nations was pretty tough on Russia in the speech to Republicans yesterday. Take a listen to what Nikki Haley had to say.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Russia is not, will not be our friend. And yes, Russia did meddle in our elections. There is no reason to think the Russian interference made any difference between who won and lost in the U.S. elections. But the very fact that they did it is an outrageous thing and something the administration is taking steps to prevent in the future.


NOBLES: This is one of the president's strongest allies, Julian. And she said something the president has never said. That Russia did meddle in our elections. Do you think that maybe everyone would be viewing the investigation a little bit differently if the president would actually concede that Russia played a role in meddling in the election?

ZELIZER: Absolutely. If President Trump had said that months ago or if he had said it in the last few weeks, it would change the tenor of how we cover the administration, and what members of both parties think is going on. But he keeps refusing to say the words in the same that way she did. And so it keeps raising suspicions and it brings up these questions repeatedly.

He should just repeat her and what she said. And that would really change the narrative. But he doesn't want to.

NOBLES: And he could say they meddled in the election. Didn't affect the results. But we need to look at this and just -- we cannot ignore Russia's role in all this.

ZELIZER: And that's at the heart of the investigation. That's really what people are concerned about. Not that he won because of that, but there was this interference. That's where it started.


MARSH: It could happen again. And how to prevent that from happening again.

ZELIZER: Yes. Exactly.

MARSH: Julian Zelizer, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We have plenty more with you on the back half of the hour.

Well, CIA director Mike Pompeo defending recently revealed meetings he had 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 United States.

[05:10:09] The meetings first came to light in a January 30th tweet from the Russian embassy.

NOBLES: A U.S. official says it is no accident that Russia announced the meeting and the target was sowing discord in the U.S. On Thursday, Pompeo defended the meetings in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He declared that he and other officials met with Russians, quote, "to keep Americans safe."

Schumer kept up his criticism, telling CNN yesterday, quote, "If this administration is ignoring sanctions, that's very serious."

MARSH: Well, a State Department spokeswoman says that sanctions can be waived in cases of national security. Last year, Russians also revealed an Oval Office meeting between the president and Russia's then-Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

And it's fair to note that past administrations have also met with Russian intelligence officials.

NOBLES: But a headline that should not get lost in all this Russia news, the U.S. government is set to run out of money again in less than a week. The House plans to vote early next week on another short-term spending bill to keep the money flowing through March 22nd.

It's the beltway's version of Groundhog Day. The hope is to give lawmakers enough 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 speaking of immigration, the president tweeting about it last night. He 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."

Of course March 5th is the president's deadline for a deal. Take a listen to remarks he made from the GOP retreat in West Virginia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people call it Dreamers. It's not Dreamers. Don't fall into that trap. And I said the other night, you know, we have dreamers, too. We have dreamers in this country, too. You can't forget our dreamers. I have a lot of dreamers here.


NOBLES: President Trump told Republican lawmakers that they will need to work with Democrats and make some compromises or else they're going to have to win a lot of seats in 2018.

MARSH: Well, coming up, officials now say a school shooting in Los Angeles was an accident. But a 12-year-old girl is facing charges this morning. We have more coming up.


[05:16:29] NOBLES: New developments in one of the most notorious unsolved cases in the U.S. The death of actress Natalie Wood. New witness statements could alter the events surrounding Woods' 1981 drowning death. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department says two new witnesses recalled yelling, arguing and crashing sounds from the state room on a 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 Woods' drowning remains suspicious. Investigation was reopened in 2011.

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

NOBLES: The fired Hawaii state worker who started that false alarm about an imminent nuclear attack plans to sue the state for defamation. While officials have not formally identified him, his attorney says enough information has been confirmed that residents in Oahu know who he is and some have even made death threats. The worker claims officials have made him appear incompetent. The state of Hawaii declined to comment to CNN affiliate KHON about the lawsuit threat.

MARSH: So will there be six more weeks of winter? Well, we'll know in just a couple of hours. Today marks the 132nd National Groundhog Day. At about 7:30 this morning, Punxsutawney Phil will come out of his burrow in Gobbler's Knob. According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, we get an early spring. I am hoping he does not. Don't put too much stock in whatever happens. Only six of Phil's last 30 predictions have been correct.

NOBLES: So maybe we'll flip a coin and if we get better results, we'll go with that.


NOBLES: Does that sound good?



NOBLES: The weather in Minnesota is starting to warm up ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl.

MARSH: You lie.

NOBLES: A balmy minus five degrees right now in Minneapolis. Seriously. Coy Wire taking the easy way out.

Coy, why aren't you outside right now?

MARSH: Yes, man.

NOBLES: Stay indoors for this morning's "Bleacher Report." We'll hear from Coy next.


[05:23:24] NOBLES: The countdown to Super Bowl LII is upon us. Kickoff in Minnesota just two days away. And it looks like one of Tom Brady's biggest targets will be playing.

MARSH: That's right. And Coy Wire has more in this morning "Bleacher Report." He is live in Minneapolis where all the action will happen this weekend -- Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Rene and Ryan. It warmed up. You know, the real feel here is actually negative four, not negative five, so I'm all good.


WIRE: Hey, Rob Gronkowski was in the NFL's mandated concussions protocol after getting hit in the head in the AFC championship game. That's like football purgatory where you just don't know if you're going to make it to the glory of game day but yesterday Tom Brady's number one target, the Gronk star, was finally cleared to play and he says he's ready to rock.


ROB GRONKOWSKI, TWO-TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPION: Everything is looking good. I'm just looking forward to the big game now. I'm ready to roll. And that's all I'm looking forward to. I'm in the Super Bowl. I'm good. I'm ready.


WIRE: Pats fans looking forward to watching Gronk perform and many looking forward to the performance of pop icon Justin Timberlake at halftime. It was an awkward moment at the Super Bowl Half Time press conference yesterday when a reporter asked if Timberlake's 2-year-old son Silas would follow in his footsteps as a performer or maybe even play football. Listen.


JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, 10-TIME GRAMMY AWARD WINNER: He will never play football.


TIMBERLAKE: No. No. I mean, yes, it 's kind of like that thing where -- where my main objective is that he becomes a great person and if he wants to get into the arts or sports, then yes. I mean, I would fully support that.


[05:25:08] WIRE: Well, all right. It is almost game day and it's almost time for our kickoff in Minnesota. CNN's "Bleacher Report" special where two-time Super Bowl champion Hines Ward and I will join EARLY START's own Dave Briggs. We're going to bring you some of the unique and intriguing story lines surrounding the big game. It's tomorrow at 2:30 Eastern on CNN.

And Buffalo boy, Ryan, I may have even found a way to work the Bills into our Super Bowl special. So you have to tune in.

NOBLES: I heard your interview --

WIRE: After you, kid.

NOBLES: I heard your interview with John Murphy in Buffalo. So I'm excited for the story, Coy, and it's going to be great.

MARSH: Yes. We'll be watching.

NOBLES: Looking forward to it. All right. We expect to find out today what's in the Republican memo

alleging FBI abuses. The president will not block the release. So will it hurt the Russia probe or fizzle the Washington microscope?