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EARLY START

FBI Director Upends Rob Porter Timeline; Shaun White Wins Historic Gold Medal; Benjamin Netanyahu Faces Possible Corruption Indictment; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Jordan; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:31:33] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Day eight of the Rob Porter story and the White House still can't get its timeline straight. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly under increased scrutiny as sources tell CNN the president is looking for possible replacement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Frankly, the United States is under attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A stern warning from top U.S. intelligence officials. Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections. What they said about President Trump's willingness to fight back.

KOSIK: And redemption for Shaun White in South Korea. A live report with all the Olympic headlines you have missed overnight.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. He was fantastic. It's 4:32 on this Ash Wednesday. We start with these conversations over who could replace embattled White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. They are heating up this morning.

CNN is reporting that President Trump called associates in recent days discussing possible replacements for Kelly in the wake of the Rob Porter spousal abuse scandal. Multiple sources telling the U.S. -- telling us the president has made no decision to push Kelly out, but they say names being floated if he does include chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, and Budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Mulvaney has already denied he's under consideration and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday the president has confidence in Kelly.

KOSIK: OK. This all coming as the White House struggles to control fallout over allegations Porter, the former White House staff secretary, physically abused his two ex-wives. Porter denies the accusations.

Chief of Staff Kelly is defending his handling of the situation, telling the "Wall Street Journal," quote, "It was all done right." But scrutiny only intensifying on Tuesday after the director of the FBI upended the White House timeline of events.

BRIGGS: A quick recap now. On Monday the White House said top officials learned the, quote, "extent of the allegations" last Tuesday and that Porter's background check was still ongoing. Then yesterday, FBI chief Chris Wray told the Senate Intel Committee the bureau notified the White House of the allegations months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July. That soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: This all comes as we learned Porter was actually in line for a promotion at the same time the abuse allegations were emerging.

Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta has more.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Alison, the White House is once again at odds with the FBI, this time over the timeline in the scandal involving former staff secretary Rob Porter.

The director of the FBI testified that his agents had completed their investigation into Porter's background last July, contradicting what White House officials have said for days that they only became aware of what happened last week.

The White House offered a new explanation saying that the FBI background check went to the White House Office of Personnel Security. Asked about the shifting explanations, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said she's doing the best that she can. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously the press team is not going to be as read-in maybe as some other elements at a given moment on a variety of topics.

[04:35:05] But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have and we get those from those individuals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Aides to the president are becoming frustrated with the information they're receiving from top officials inside the West Wing. One White House official complained White House counsel Don McGahn received much of this information over last summer and did not share enough of it with top staffers -- Dave and Alison.

BRIGGS: All right. Jim Acosta there at the White House.

President Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen says he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to porn star Stormy Daniels who once claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump. It is the first time Cohen has acknowledged making the payment since it was first reported last month by the "Wall Street Journal." Sources say Cohen paid Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, out of concern the accusations could damage the president.

In a statement, Cohen says, "The payment to Miss Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone. Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump."

KOSIK: Cohen says he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. He has previously said the president denies any affairs with Daniels. She has dodged questions about an affair in recent weeks but has not publicly denied it.

BRIGGS: The nation's top intelligence officials sending a unanimous full-throated warning to the White House -- Russia is already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.

Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, telling the Senate Intel Committee Russia is convinced its previous meddling efforts were successful and he says the Kremlin will continue using propaganda and social media to widen the political divide in the U.S.

Listen to senators questioning the intel chiefs about President Trump's role in combating the Russian threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRAY: We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt the Russian effort --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it directed by the president?

WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Director Pompeo, have you received a specific presidential direction to take steps to disrupt these activities?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm not sure --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you --

POMPEO: wait, I'm sorry. I'm not sure how specific.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Despite the testimony from his top intel agencies, three sources familiar with the president's thinking say he remains unconvinced Russia interfered in the 2016 election. KOSIK: President Trump calls the immigration debate now underway in

the Senate the last chance for Dreamers. But negotiations are off to a rocky start with Democrats and Republicans in a standoff over how debate should even proceed. Majority leader Mitch McConnell trying to open the session with a vote on legislation to punish sanctuary cities. Minority leader Chuck Schumer objecting to the measure because it has nothing to do with the Dreamer Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There's no reason -- no reason not to come together and get a solution this week. This has been going on endlessly. They shut down the government over this. I want to see what they want to do.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Finding 60 votes for something that meets the needs of both sides and can deal with the Dreamers and border security is not easy. We all know that immigration is fraught with peril but this is the closest we've come and everybody has to make a really final effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: So with the floor debate faltering, a bipartisan group of senators claims to be making progress behind the scenes on an immigration plan that could get the 60 votes needed to pass.

BRIGGS: A second federal judge temporarily blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA. That's of course the program protecting young immigrants brought here illegally as children. The judge ruling Dreamers in states who filed suit likely to succeed in their claim President Trump's decision to end DACA was arbitrary. Last month a federal judge in California came to the same conclusion. DACA was originally set to end on March 5th.

KOSIK: OK. It's time for an EARLY START on your money. President Trump discussed the state of the steel industry with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday saying he's considering a range of options to address imports that he believes are hurting U.S. steel workers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot be without a steel industry. We cannot be without an aluminum industry. And so what we're talking about is tariffs and-or quotas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: The president said these restrictions would help save struggling steel companies from foreign competitors like China that dump low-priced metal on the United States. It's an issue we heard a lot about on the campaign trail. He framed it as a national security issue, saying he doesn't want the U.S. to rely on steel from a country it could be fighting with in the future.

Republican lawmakers urge caution on this saying they don't want to start a trade war over steel and aluminum dumping issues, because then we can wind up seeing price spikes. It is the administration's latest jab on trade according to the Commerce Department. Trade investigations rose 81 percent in the first 12 months of Trump's presidency with tariffs imposed on solar panels, washing machines, lumber, and paper.

[04:40:11] The fate of NAFTA, that's the trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, yes, that still hanging in the balance.

BRIGGS: Yes. That was interesting because a lot of Republican senators were very clear right to the president's face.

KOSIK: Right.

BRIGGS: Be very careful here, we don't want to start a war on this.

KOSIK: What's interesting is we saw aluminum and steel company shares spike yesterday after Trump talked. But everybody is saying, listen, caution, caution here.

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOSIK: Because this can really upset the marketplace for consumers, for you and me.

BRIGGS: This is a big deal. Keep your eye on this.

Everybody today, though, talking about snowboard superstar Shaun White who soared to historic gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

KOSIK: Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang. Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Alison and Dave. At 31 years old, Shaun White captured his third Olympic gold and redemption after he failed to medal in Sochi. But more than his age, it was his mind coming into these games that was holding him back. Just four months ago, he attempted a trick that left him with a gash and over 60 stitches in his face. He said earlier this week that that had him questioning why he's even still competing. Well, now we know why.

Needing to do something outstanding in his final run to take the lead, White did that same trick and he nailed it. Scoring nearly a perfect 100. He secured the United States its historic 100th gold medal in the history of the Winter Games. Once his score was announced, he burst into tears. Dad said he had never even seen him cry before. He was sobbing as he hugged his mom, dad, and family members.

Happy Valentine's Day to you, Alison, Dave, and all of our EARLY START friends. Dave, maybe this is the year you get that gift right.

KOSIK: Just a heart?

(LAUGHTER)

WIRE: But a lot of Olympians here, they can't be with the people they love to celebrate. Right? They're competing. But two U.S. Olympians will be taking each other ice skating. Meet Alexa and Chris Knierim. The married couple has advanced to the finals of pairs figure skating which airs later tonight on the East Coast. CNN's Christina McFarlane asked them about competing on this special day.

BRIGGS: This is a nozzle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That will be really, really special. I think we will be the only married couple in the world to say that they got to skate at the Olympics on Valentine's Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we're setting a record there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Even though they're on ice, they are melting each other's eyes. So what else to look for here coming up? Elsewhere in Pyeongchang, women's hockey as the USA improves to 2-0 in pool play. Next up is rival Canada. And you also have men's hockey tournament getting underway with the U.S. taking on Slovenia in just about two hours' time.

Guys, Happy Valentine's Day. Love you.

BRIGGS: And to you. How's that go? I got it.

KOSIK: Is there a heart? It's like this.

BRIGGS: All right. Happy Valentine's Day to Coy's pregnant wife.

KOSIK: That's right.

BRIGGS: She's probably sleeping right now as is mine so that will fall on sleeping ears.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: But Happy Valentine's Day to you.

KOSIK: Same to you.

OK. Israeli Police saying there is sufficient evidence to indict the Israeli prime minister. We're going to tell you what Benjamin Netanyahu is accused of, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:47:20] KOSIK: Welcome back.

Israeli police say there is sufficient evidence to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on criminal charges in two separate corruption cases. The prime minister insisting all allegations against him will be dismissed. CNN's Ian Lee is live from Jerusalem with more.

So, you know, we heard throughout this entire investigation Netanyahu saying there will be nothing because there is nothing. But it sounds like investigators have found something.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And now they're trying to get the attorney general to agree. It's up to him to decide whether or not to move forward with this indictment. If it does go forward, expect this to be tied up in courts for a number of years, going up all the way to the high court.

If the prime minister is found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison, according to legal experts and also, of course, lose his job as the prime minister of Israel. You know, he -- last night he went on television. He gave a defiant defense of himself. He went back through history talking about it. Israelis were glued to their televisions, watching this.

And he said there isn't -- there isn't anything to these cases. But what are these cases? Case 1,000, the first one, deals with alleged bribes that the prime minister received from a businessman in turn for political favors. Case 2,000 deals with the prime minister allegedly colluding with an owner of a newspaper for more favorable coverage. In return he would limit the circulation of a rival newspaper.

Now this morning we were looking at the political scene to see how this was playing out. His members of his coalition, they are supporting him so far. Obviously the opposition is saying that he needs to resign. But it's interesting, in a speech early this morning, one of the members of his coalition, the minister of education Naftali Bennett said that the prime minister was not living up to the standard expected of Israel's leaders. So we may be seeing a crack there in his coalition -- Alison.

KOSIK: And Netanyahu is Israel's second longest serving prime minister. We will keep a watch on this.

CNN's Ian Lee, thanks very much.

All right. When you are picking out your Valentine's Day bouquet today, one company says they've got a bouquet that lasts -- get this -- an entire year.

BRIGGS: I'm in.

KOSIK: Details on CNN Money Stream, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:54:14] BRIGGS: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's tense Mideast trip continues in Jordan where he's meeting with the foreign minister as well as King Abdullah. During his trip he has discussed keeping pressure on ISIS and announced $200 million in aid to help stabilize and rebuild Syria.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski live in Amman for us this morning. Good morning, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. And yes, what's happening right now, too, is that the secretary's signing this memorandum of understanding with Jordan that increases aid to the country to the tune of more than $275 million each year. And that's just a minimum. So even though what we've been hearing repeatedly from the administration and especially from the president himself -- I mean, over the last couple of days, he's been tweeting and saying that all of the money spent in the Middle East over the last 10 or so years was a mistake and sad.

[04:55:06] And he characterized it as $7 trillion which many people take issue with, saying that's just not the amount at all. But this trip proves that, you know, at least from the State Department's perspective and the administration as a whole, they are willing to spend that money and even increase foreign aid when it's in the U.S. best interests. So -- and that's absolutely one way to smooth over these relationships is to show that contribution and that the U.S. commitment is strong.

You mentioned the additional $200 million to help stabilize Syria. But the Jordanians and others have huge concerns about the U.S. just announcing that it's going to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Big concerns there. These are going to be tough conversations, and as the State Department terms it, tough diplomacy -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. Very difficult trip for the secretary of State.

Michelle Kosinski, live for us in Jordan this morning. Thank you.

KOSIK: A high-ranking Chicago police officer shot and killed in downtown Chicago. Officials say Commander Paul Bauer, a 31-year veteran, was gunned down while pursuing a suspect who fled from other officers. The 53-year-old Bauer had been in the area attending active shooter training when he heard an alert and responded to the scene.

BRIGGS: There was an honor procession Tuesday for the slain police commander. Bauer leaves behind a wife and a daughter. Police recovered a gun from the unidentified suspect who was reportedly wearing a protective vest. He's in now custody.

KOSIK: A hiker who fell over 700 feet off the south side of Mount Hood in Oregon has died. Officials are not releasing his identity. Seven other climbers from two groups who were stranded on Hogsback Cliff, they have been rescued. Police say strong winds and sunny conditions, all of that causing rocks and ice to thaw making the popular climbing spot extremely hazardous.

BRIGGS: Another scary sight here. Passengers called it the scariest flight of their lives after part of the cover tore off the right engine on a United flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. Now imagine what you'd think if you saw this outside your window? Passengers say they heard a big metallic bang. Then the plane began to shake for more than 40 minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The captain kept trying to tell everybody it's going to be -- you know, he was just -- I don't know how they did it. Thank God for that crew. That's all I got to say. They were calm and they -- there was just horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Can you imagine? The United spokesman says the plane made an emergency landing in Hawaii. But passengers got off at the gate just as they normally would. Only terrified. Presumably they didn't put a lay on all of them like you typically would to Honolulu. Frightening.

(LAUGHTER)

KOSIK: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stocks are mixed at the moment with U.S. futures pointing higher. The stock market finally calming down a bit Tuesday after two volatile weeks with the Dow closing higher for the third day in a row. But the smooth ride, oh, no, it may not last. The government coming out with reports on consumer and producer prices this week. So investors are going to be watching those reports to see if there's a pickup in inflation.

It's those fears about inflation, that's what drove the market selloff that began on February 2nd and included two 1,000-point plunges in the Dow.

Almost a third of main street businesses say this is the best time in decades to expand, at least that's according to a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business. It's the highest level of enthusiasm since 1973. Wages and prices are also seeing a boost. 31 percent of small businesses reported paying employees more. That's the highest since 2000. The NFIB credits the Republican tax bill for the sense of optimism.

So you can say anything with flowers this Valentine's Day, but, sending a lint bouquet makes the wrong impression. So flower company Venus Et Fleur specializes in boxed roses that this company says -- and get these -- these roses can last an entire year. The company works with a farm in Ecuador to develop a wax-based solution that preserves each rose's texture and shape and even smell.

The company harnessed the power of celebrity to promote their buds. Sending bouquets to Chloe Kardashian, DJ Khaled, and Gigi Hadid, to share on social media. But these roses, no, they don't come cheap. A single flower is going to cost $39.

BRIGGS: OK.

KOSIK: And a box of 40 -- a box of roses is going to run you almost $400. But you know what, if they last that long, eternal roses?

BRIGGS: Yes. That's great as a decoration for your home.

KOSIK: The smell -- BRIGGS: That's not going to work as a gesture to your wife, though,

because then you say you're off the hook.

KOSIK: For a year.

BRIGGS: But you buy one thing of flowers for the year?

KOSIK: That's $400 of the same --

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGGS: You're not off the hook. You're not.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: You're not. Good decoration, but -- all right. EARLY START continues right now.

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