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Florida Students Press for Tighter Gun Laws; Mueller Expands Interest in Kushner; Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life; Israeli Police Arrest PM Netanyahu Confidants. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:51] CAMERON KASKY, SURVIVED FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE: Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Students from Florida and across the country mobilizing to bring change to the nation's gun laws. And a new poll shows Americans think Congress is failing.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The special counsel's interest in Jared Kushner now extends beyond Russia. His business efforts with other investors including China now under the microscope.

BRIGGS: And a big move by Facebook to prevent election meddling. We'll explain how the high tech giant is turning to the U.S. Post Office.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning. Nice to see you all this morning.

You know, six days after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, the nation's youth are seizing the microphone, the megaphone, demanding changes to America's gun laws. More than 100 teens and their supporters staging a lie-in outside the White House on Presidents' Day, an effort to pressure lawmakers to toughen gun regulation.

BRIGGS: Today, about 100 students will board buses from Parkland to the Florida state capital. They'll speak to state lawmakers tomorrow. Last night, students in Florida were rallying and promising to take their message to Washington.


KASKY: This is simply a matter of are you with us or are you against us? Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?

We are not letting the United States be run by that terrorist organization. My friends and I, my community and I have stared down the barrel of an AR-15 the way you have not. We have seen this weapon of war mow down people we know and love the way you have not. How dare you say we don't know what we're talking about? You have no idea what you are talking about.


ROMANS: These kids not old enough to buy a beer or rent a car. But he had numerous weapons.

There is support for the students view that Washington is falling short. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found 87 percent of Americans believe Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, 62 percent say the same of President Trump.

New momentum growing behind a bipartisan effort to improve the background check system. The president speaking with Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn about the bill he introduced with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

BRIGGS: Measures of modest proposal ensures the states and federal authorities comply with existing law to report criminal history to the congressional background check system, with consequences if they don't. The White House says the president supports efforts to improve the background check system, although this bill does nothing to expand that system, really just enforces current federal law.

ROMANS: It is worth noting, the president did not push for the Cornyn-Murphy bill when it was first introduced. The White House has scheduled what it's calling a listening session for the president tomorrow. He will meet with high school students and teachers, although it's unclear if students from Parkland will attend.

ROMANS: Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland has announced plans to reopen gradually. Staff members return Friday morning. A voluntary campus orientation for parents and students set for Sunday. The school district says the goal is for classes to resume on a modified schedule next Tuesday. Officials say support services will be able to students and staff during the reopening process.

ROMANS: Funerals and viewings for five of the victims are set for today. They are students Peter Wang, Cara Loughran and Carmen Schentrup, along with Stoneman Douglas High's athletic director Chris Hixon and football coach Aaron Feis.

BRIGGS: The gun violence cause also apparently been taken up by Russian bots. "The New York Times" reporting suspected Russian accounts are flooding Twitter with hundreds of posts on various sides of the gun violence issue. The tweets starting just one hour after news broke about the Florida high school shooting. Before then, many of those same accounts focused on the Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling.

Experts say these automated messages are meant to widen the divide on the emotional issue of gun violence. ROMANS: Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation moving further

into the Trump inner circle. CNN has learned exclusively that Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contact was Russia.

[04:35:05] The probe now includes the first son-in-law's efforts to secure financing for his real estate company from foreign investors during the transition.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has the latest from Washington.



CNN has learned that the special counsel Robert Mueller is now asking questions about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the presidential transition. We are told by people who are familiar with the investigation, then Mueller's lawyers are asking about discussions Kushner had with potential Chinese and Qatari investors.

Now, this is the first indication that Mueller wants to know about contacts the president's son-in-law had with foreigners outside of Russia. The discussions revolved around this building in Manhattan. At 666 Fifth Avenue, which Kushner's company owns. The financing on the building is in debt by over $1 billion.

Now, it's not clear what is behind the Mueller's specific interest in the financing, but we're told that the special counsel hasn't asked the Kushner companies for information. He also has not asked for interviews with other executives from the Kushner companies.

A spokesman for the special counsel has declined to comment. But we do have a statement from Jared Kushner's attorney, Abbe Lowell, responding to our story.

And Lowell had this to say. Quote: Another anonymous source with questionable motives now contradicts the facts -- in all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked nor document sought on the 666 building or Kushner Company deals. Nor any reason to question the regular business transactions.

And it's important to note that while his attorney seems to think the story was based on one anonymous source. We can tell you that we spoke to several sources for the story who explain to us that these inquiries and this line of questioning has been under way by the special counsel team for several months -- Dave, Christine.


BRIGGS: Shimon, thank you.

President Trump's weekend Twitter barrage on Russia extended into the holiday. He dropped another tweet Monday, heavy on frustration but a little light on facts. Quote: Obama was president up to and beyond the 2016 election. So, why didn't he do something about Russian meddling?

Here are some facts. Obama officials insist they took steps to stop interference, including the confrontation with Presidents Obama and Putin at the September 2016 G-20 Summit in China. The Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in December of 2016. An Obama aide says for him to speak out more vocally against Russian meddling would have seemed overly political, especially candidate Trump was claiming the election was rigged.

ROMANS: They expelled 35 Russian diplomats. They closed to Russian embassies. They sanctioned nine Russian companies, and individuals. And at the time, there were those who said it wasn't strong enough.


ROMANS: But what the president did --

BRIGGS: Including Adam Schiff currently, Democrat Adam Schiff says it wasn't enough. But I think it begs the question, what is President Trump doing right now to prevent further meddling and it doesn't appear much.

ROMANS: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour.

Is an old postcard in the mail the answer to high tech foreign meddling on Facebook? "Reuters" reports that a senior Facebook exec says they will verify online political ad using postcards. That's right, they're going to send verification codes to potential ad buyers to make sure they live in the U.S. Buyers will need that code then to publish the ad.

Facebook told "Reuters" sending codes in the mail won't solve everything, but it's the most effective way to combat foreign interference. Facebook faced a lot of criticism for allowing Russian meddling during the presidential election. Facebook unveiled this plan a day after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians for election interference.

BRIGGS: Tech giants using snail mail. Interesting development.

Ethical concerns clouding Donald Trump Jr.'s trip to India. His schedule includes dinners in at least two cities with buyers of Trump branded apartments. That fuels questions about the lengths between the president and his family business.

ROMANS: One of the dinners was promoted by a series of front page ads in the two of the country's biggest newspapers. The other sit-down is in the city of Calcutta where an invitation seen by CNN says 60 percent of the Trump tower apartments have already sold.

BRIGGS: President Trump has endorsed Mitt Romney in his bid to replace retiring Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. The president tweeting about Romney, quote: He will make a great senator and worthy successor to Orrin Hatch and has my full support and endorsement. The endorsement marks the latest chapter in what has been a, let's

call it, tumultuous relationship at times. Romney was a frequent Republican critic of Trump's behavior during the 2016 campaign. Romney responded last late Monday night, thanking the president with a tweet of his own.

ROMANS: President Trump may feel like he has entered the lion's den, sitting in the same room with many of the top U.S. journalists he has criticized for more than a year.

[04:40:00] The president will attend the Gridiron Club dinner next month in Washington. He opted out of last year. It's an invite-only white tie dinner where the journalistic elite dine and perform comic musical numbers, yes, old school.

The West Wing says no decision has been made about attending this year's White House Correspondents Dinner. The president skipped that dinner last year.

BRIGGS: Do you perform comical musical numbers?

ROMANS: I do not, I do not. I try to keep that -- I sing in the shower only.

BRIGGS: Wolf Blitzer?

ROMANS: I don't know if Wolf does it. Little white tie. Soft shoe. We'll have to see.

BRIGGS: Quite an image.

OK. President Trump quick to tout his greatness. But in a new survey, experts say otherwise. He ranks historically low in the 2018 American Political Science Association's Presidential Greatness Survey. It was released on Monday, Presidents' Day. President Trump came in dead last. We should note, 57 percent of the respondents were Democrats. Only 13 percent were Republicans. Still, President Trump ranked 40th out of 44 Republicans.

ROMANS: I think what we learned here is political science leans to the left. Some of the seven greatest presidents are unchanged from the last time the survey was done back in 2014. They are in order, you can argue amongst yourself, folks. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

BRIGGS: We always like presidents more long after they're gone. Obama got far more popular in recent years.

ROMANS: That's true.

BRIGGS: Look at President George W. Bush.

ROMANS: That's true.

BRIGGS: A lot more popular today. Ahead, new congressional lines for Pennsylvania are out. They could play a big role in which party controls the House of Representatives next year.


[04:45:48] BRIGGS: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposing a congressional map that appears to give Democrats a big boost ahead of the midterm elections. The new boundaries follow a ruling that Republicans unlawfully redrew the state's districts to maximize GOP gains. The biggest changes come in the Philadelphia suburbs where three Republican-held seats were already Democratic targets.

Republicans in the state legislature say they will challenge the new maps in court. The U.S. Supreme Court also considering other cases from Wisconsin and Maryland addressing limits on partisan gerrymandering.

ROMANS: Kentucky Fried Chicken forced to close locations in the U.K. after running out of, wait for it, chicken. About 800 of the roughly 900 KFC locations in Britain had to close at least for the day. Some were able to reopen for business.

A company official say the chicken shortage was due to problems with the new delivery partner DHL. The shipping acknowledged some deliveries had been incomplete or delayed because of operational issues. KFC said it is too early to say how long it will take to restore normal service.

BRIGGS: Pop star Fergie apologizing for her widely panned rendition of the National Anthem at the NBA all-star game on Sunday.


BRIGGS: The singer issuing a statement, saying she wanted to try something different, but did not strike the, quote, intended target. Fergie went to say, I love this country and honestly tried my best. Critics slammed her sultry two and a half minute performance saying her sexy delivery was not exactly typical for a patriotic song.

ROMANS: It was long. Two and a half minutes, it was long, wasn't it?

BRIGGS: It was about 25 seconds longer than the Pink national anthem at the Super Bowl. It introduced a new rendition of Roseanne Barr's awful, hideous, worst ever national anthem. I played it for my kids. They were amused for hours.

ROMANS: I forgot all about that.

BRIGGS: The worst ever.

ROMANS: All right. A record winter heat wave east of the Mississippi and record cold in the West.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the very active forecast for us.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

How about this set up here where we have the extremes across the country. Here are the record cold back towards the West, the record warmth on the eastern side of the country. We will take it for now. Look at this trend here where 60 plus records could be set today alone, where 20 or so records could be set on the western side of the country for extremely cold.

But we are talking upper 70s in places like Nashville, Cincinnati. Low 70s in St. Louis. Little Rock at 76, even Chicago at 56 degrees. It's more than 20 degrees above what is normal for this time of year. And it actually lasts a couple of days. And you see a gradual trend back towards the cooler set up by Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

But really the big story from this, besides the warmth, is the moisture available to the atmosphere right now. We're pumping a lot of gulf moisture, more than 30 million people dealing with the flood watches that are in place. High pressure is parked off to the east here and really beginning to surge in a lot of moisture. So, the flood threat remains extremely high, going again for the next couple days.

When you highlight how much rain is expected in expected? You can clear see why, upwards of four to six inches could come down in places like Little Rock, in and around St. Louis, working your way toward Chicago as well. So, this is certainly a story we're going to be following into this weekend -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that.

OK. "Black Panther" roaring into the top of the box office.


ROMANS: Shattering expectations, notching the fifth biggest opening ever. CNN "Money Stream" next.


[04:53:51] ROMANS: Journalists and other media professionals in Turkey sentenced to life in prison. They are associated with a U.S.- based cleric whose religious and social movement is accused of plotting a failed coup attempt in 2016. Amnesty International slamming the harsh punishment, saying it set a chilling president on trumped up terrorism charges.

CNN's Arwa Damon spoke to the daughter of one of those jailed. She is live in Istanbul for us -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine. We spoke to a woman named (INAUDIBLE). Both her father and her uncle

are among those six who received what many are describing as being an incredibly harsh sentence. She says that her father and other defendants had nothing to do with the Gulen movement that as you mentioned there Turkey says is behind the failed coup attempt.

She says her father is an acclaimed novelist. He also is a journalist. He was the editor in chief of a liberal newspaper that fell out with the Turkish government quite a few years ago.

Now, what Turkey is accusing all of these individuals of being members of is the media branch of the Gulen movement.

[04:55:04] And from Turkey's perspective, they are well within their legal rights to bring down this type of sentencing upon them because that is what according to the Turkish judicial system is what the crime that they're being accused of merits. Of course, they are all proclaiming their innocence. The daughter saying that they weren't entirely surprised by what happened, but, of course, it is an incredibly bitter moment. They're still hoping to be able to somehow reverse this through an appeals process.

But you can just imagine the alarm bells that this is raising when it comes to the broader conversation about press freedoms and freedom of speech in Turkey. Worth noting that Turkey, historically, no matter who its head, Christine, has been at the top of the lists when it comes to number of journalists behind bars. In fact, as we speak, there are about 150 journalists right now in Turkey behind bars in various different stages of the judicial process.

ROMANS: A hundred fifty. Wow.

Arwa Damon, thank you so much for that. Live from Istanbul this morning.

BRIGGS: New trouble for Israeli's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Police arrested seven people, including some members of Netanyahu's inner circle in the widening corruption probe. It is the fourth investigation involving the Israeli leader or those close to him.

CNN's Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem with the very latest.

Good morning, Oren.


And this case locally is known as case 4,000. It comes less than one week after police said they have enough evidence to indict Netanyahu in two separate investigations, known as case 1,000 and case 2,000.

So, what is this one all about? Well, part of the suspicions focused around the government ministry of communications and an Israeli telecom firm known as Bezeq. The suspicion in initial probe was that the ministry of communications illegally advanced Bezeq's interests to benefit its owners and part owners. In exchange, Netanyahu would get favorable media coverage.

Crucially, Netanyahu himself was the minister of communications during the time being investigated. One of his close friends is not only the part owner of Bezeq, but he's also the owner of the media company there.

Who has been arrested? Well, of the seven arrested so far, that includes Netanyahu's former family spokesperson, as well as the part owner of Bezeq, that owner's wife and son, the director general of the ministry of communications who is servings under Netanyahu and a few others. The suspicion: obstruction, breach of trust, fraud, bribery and more.

All of this increases pressure on the prime minister himself as either Netanyahu himself or others in his inner circle have been implicated in four cases. Dave, Netanyahu insists he is innocent. He has called this a witch hunt fueled by media pressure.

BRIGGS: Sounds familiar. Oren Liebermann, live for us in Jerusalem, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN money stream this morning. It's a short trading week for Wall Street. The market was closed yesterday for Presidents' Day.

Last week was the best in years for U.S. stocks. That's why you don't sell when they're going down because then you miss the bounce, right? There have been wild swings in the month.

Dow rose six straight sessions. The S&P up 4.3 percent. That's the best week in five years. The Nasdaq also had its best week since 2011.

Will the rally endure? Doesn't look like it. U.S. futures are lower right now and global markets mixed.

Small banks nearing a big win on Dodd-Frank. Banks like State Street and BB&T and SunTrust have fought regulations brought on by the financial crisis. They have argued that smaller banks should not face the same scrutiny as the big players on Wall Street, and that the current rules hurt their ability to lend. The new bill will raise the threshold for oversight from $50 billion to $250 billion, shielding two dozen midsized banks. The bill is expected to hit the Senate floor at the end of February, and it has bipartisan support.

All hail the king. "Black Panther" roaring to a record-breaking box office, shuttering expectations, raking in an estimated $235 million over Presidents' Day weekend, $235 million. That's the fifth highest opening of all time. The record-breaking weekend is also a watershed moment for Hollywood. "Black Panther is Marvel's first film with an African-American director and primarily black cast.

And can tell you that Rotten Tomatoes has got near perfect 97 percent, setting the score, gives it an A-plus. Everyone we talked to said --

BRIGGS: Still 100 percent in the CNN studio. (CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I haven't seen it yet.

BRIGGS: But Ryan Coogler, 31 years old, the black director of that film, a bright future.

ROMANS: I'd say so.

BRIGGS: He is crashing it.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest on gun legislation here in this country.


KASKY: Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?


BRIGGS: Students from Florida and elsewhere mobilizing to bring change to the nation's gun laws. In a new poll this morning Americans think Congress is failing.

ROMANS: The special counsel's interests in Jared Kushner now extends beyond Russia, his business efforts with other investors, including China, are now under a microscope.