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Students March for Tighter Gun Laws; Kushner Battles Kelly on Security Clearance; Kremlin Responds to Indictment of 13 Russians; U.S. Olympic Struggles. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 04:30   ET




[04:31:14] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are here to ask yes or no questions -- are you for or are you against the killing of students? It's a yes or no question. There is no in between. There's no gray area. It's a black-and-white statement.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Florida students take their gun violence pledge to the state capitol, a day after the Republican-lead state house vote against new restrictions. Now the president weighing in but without a concrete plan.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A new report this morning says Jared Kushner is annoyed with the White House chief of staff. He thinks John Kelly is targeting him with changes to security clearances.

MARQUARDT: And Team USA disappointing at the Olympics. Figure skaters struggle, men's ice hockey is done. Lindsey Vonn very emotional after her perhaps final Olympic downhill.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 32 minutes past the hour.

In just a few hours, students from Stoneman Douglas High School will lobby lawmakers in Tallahassee to tighten Florida's gun laws. Activists and Parkland students and teachers will rally in front of the state capitol. But the students are already getting a quick lesson that demanding change is easier than persuading someone to vote for it.

MARQUARDT: Isn't it?

Now last night, Florida's Republican-led state house rejected a proposed ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The bill was defeated by a vote of 36-71. And of those 71, all but four had strong ratings from the NRA. The Florida house vote came as some Stoneman Douglas students watched from the gallery. Emotions ran high during the vote and after.


SHERYL ACQUAROLI, JUNIOR, STONEMAN DOUGHLAS HIGH SCHOOL: The next death of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It's going to be on them, and it's going to be their fault that those people are dead and that those people aren't going to go home to their families and that there's going to be an empty space in people's lives. And it's going to be their fault.


ROMANS: Heartbroken and disappointed teenagers there. Instead of guns, lawmakers will begin to debate on a bill to declare pornography a public health risk. Despite the setback, students are vowing to march on with their message. Planned meetings include with the attorney general and the Governor Rick Scott.

MARQUARDT: Now, ahead of Governor Scott's sit down with students, he's laying out a new timeline but few ideas for getting something done quickly on gun violence.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: My goal is Friday I'm going to come up with a proposal. My goal is to come up with something that is going to move the needle and make parents feel more comfortable that their kid's going to go to a safe school. That's the goal. I mean, these kids have got to go to safe schools.

We have two weeks left to sessions. Those two weeks after Friday, we're going to get something done.


MARQUARDT: Not previewing any details there, but last week, Scott told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that everything is on the table in the effort to solve the gun violence problem.

ROMANS: President Trump weighing in on gun regulation twice yesterday. Last night, he called for reforming gun purchase background checks. In a tweet, whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening background checks. That edict included no specific proposal. But a new Quinnipiac poll showed support across the board, including from gun owners for putting all gun buyers through a background check.

MARQUARDT: Earlier on Tuesday, the president had said that he has directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose a rule banning those bump fire stocks used last year in the Las Vegas massacre. The gunman used that bump stock on his rifle to make it fire like a fully automatic weapon. Again, the president was not officially ordering a new regulation, just asking for quicker delivery of those proposals.

ROMANS: The NRA reserved comment on this bump stock development saying it would wait for an actual proposal.

[04:35:01] White House Press Secretary Sanders also noncommittal on several gun measures, getting a new look in the wake of the Florida school shooting.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Background checks are something that the president's supportive of making more efficient and looking at better ways to improve that process. The president supports not using bump stocks, and that we expect further action on that in the coming days.

REPORTER: Does the president believe there should be an age limit for those who buy an AR-15?

SANDERS: I think that's something on the table for us to discuss and that expect to come up over the next couple of weeks.


MARQUARDT: Sanders says that's on the table and that the president's listening session on guns today will include members of the Parkland community. But no word yet on exactly who. There will also be others affected by previous school shootings including Columbine and Sandy Hook.

ROMANS: Tonight, Jake Tapper hosts a CNN town hall on guns, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action." Officials including Senator Marco Rubio will take questions. That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

MARQUARDT: Now, "The New York Times" is reporting overnight that Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are feuding over the presidential son-in-law's access to classified information. Kushner now has an interim security clearance and he's had that for more than a year in his role as a senior White House adviser. "The New York Times" says Kushner is resisting giving up that access. He is also concerned he is a specific target of Kelly's recent directive which is overhauling the White House clearance system.

ROMANS: Kelly's order cancels top-level clearances at the end of this week for any staffer whose background investigation has been pending since last June. The White House clearance process has been under scrutiny since staff secretary Rob Porter was forced to resign after both of his ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. In a statement last night, Kelly expressed confidence in Kushner's ability to continue performing his foreign policy duties.

MARQUARDT: Vice President Mike Pence came very close to meeting secretly with the North Korean delegation at the Winter Olympics. Remember, he was there for the opening ceremony. Pence's office says he was set to meet with North Korean officials including Kim Jong-un's sister, but the North Koreans pulled out of the planned meeting two hours before it was set to start. Officials believe that the abrupt cancelation was a sign that attempts

by the U.S. to exert pressure on the regime are indeed working. President Trump had signed off on the Pence meeting with the caveat that he would not back off the U.S. demand that Pyeongchang abandon its nuclear weapons. It says it regrets North Korea's failure to seize this opportunity.

ROMANS: The White House doubling down on President Trump's claim he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor. The president, of course, has frequently refused, refused to condemn Russia for its interference in the 2016 election even after last week's indictments against 13 Russians. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offering a cryptic statement Tuesday as part of the White House defense.


SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions, he's taken away properties, he's rebuilt the military. He's done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia. Just last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.


MARQUARDT: This morning, Moscow is finally reacting to last Friday's indictment of 13 Russian citizens and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And the Kremlin is not ruling out some kind of retaliation.

For the latest, let's bring CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Moscow.

Fred, what are they saying this morning?


And they were talking about the anger in the Kremlin and generally in the Russian government after those indictments were handed out. And I can tell you, the reaction from the Russians was a lot more forceful and to basically any of the other things that have been announced as part of the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And this morning, the deputy foreign minister is coming out and saying that there might be tit-for-tat measures, as he calls it, and sanctions by the Russians against U.S.

So, he says, we always react including with tit-for-tat measures. We have our own list of individual whose entry to Russia has been restricted, but there are other ways to respond, as well, he says. The Russians are saying they want to see if there is going to be any additional sanctions on the part of the U.S. in the wake of those Mueller indictments.

Now, the interesting part about all this is that the Russians are apparently also trying to somewhat turn the tides in all of this. They're saying that they believe the indictments handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller are a political measure aimed to meddle in Russia's upcoming election, which is set to happen on March 18th. They say that they believe all of this was timed by the Americans to influence the political process here.

So, you can see a lot of anger, a lot of rumors flying around Moscow. And it's really something where these specific indictments by the special counsel certainly causing a much bigger reaction than many of the things that we've seen over the past year since we've been reporting on the alleged election meddling in 2016, Alex.

[04:40:12] MARQUARDT: All right. A vague threat of tit-for-tat response. Thanks very much, Fred.

Another Democratic victory in a deep red state. Linda Belcher winning the special election for Kentucky's 49th district with 68 percent of the vote. Belcher reclaims her seat after narrowly losing the race in 2016 to Republican Pastor Dan Johnson. Johnson committed suicide in December after an investigation found that he had sexually abused a 17-year-old girl. Johnson's widow, Rebecca, lost to Belcher last night. This is the same district that President Trump won with 72 percent of the vote in 2016. Belcher's win marks a huge 86-point partisan swing.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-one minutes past the hour.

The Trump administration unveiling an alternative to Obamacare, proposing regulations that make it easier to get short-term health plans. The administration says these offer Americans more choice and lower premiums. Short-term plans are cheaper than Obamacare, costs as little as 20 percent of the cheapest Obamacare plans. That's because it excludes Americans with pre-existing conditions. It does not offer comprehensive coverage like maternity care, prescription drug or mental health benefits.

Insurers can now also limit how much they pay out, meaning costly medical emergencies could leave consumers paying out of pocket. Advocates and industry groups worry this move will hurt Obamacare. They claim the cheaper plans will attract the younger, healthier consumers, driving up Obamacare premiums for anyone else.

The administration pushed back on that concern claiming estimates show only 200,000 healthy enrollees will make the switch, adding that these policies are designed to fill a temporary gap in coverage. So, watch this space.

MARQUARDT: Health care debate continues.

ROMANS: It sure does.

MARQUARDT: President Trump's son, Don Jr., is in India this morning. Ethics questions are following him because of meetings that he's holding out there. What Don Jr. says about that live from Delhi, next.


[04:46:15] ROMANS: Tensions between the U.S. and Palestinians clearly visible at the U.N. Security Council. The Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley saying that the Trump administration will not change its decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Haley also responded to comments this month by top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who said that Haley should shut one her criticism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator. I will not shut up. Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths. The United States stands ready to work with the Palestinian leadership, but we will not chase after you.


ROMANS: Haley says she won't chase after anyone because Abbas left the room before she spoke.

MARQUARDT: Donald Trump Jr. is on a visit to India this morning, his company's biggest international market. He's now fueling ethical questions with meetings and dinners with people buying Trump-banded apartments.

What's Don Jr. saying this morning? CNN's John Defterios is live with us in New Delhi.

John, this is -- he's conflating -- doing both politics and business at the same time. It's not a really good look, is it?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN ANCHOR: It's not a good look, but I would say that Donald Trump Jr., Alex, is being defiant about the Trump organization's business ties here in India. He's got four days on the ground, visiting four major cities from the east and west, north to south, looking at five major projects.

As you suggested, it is the Trump Organization's largest international market. We're looking at millions and millions of dollars of different developments. Today, he's heading west to a city outside of Mumbai to look at towers there.

But let's give a glimpse of what he's been doing for his first full day on the ground. He started here in the capital of New Delhi meeting with developers and a very select group, I should add here, of journalists. And then he went to Calcutta to host a dinner with investors. And along the way he said, look, these words about conflict of interest are overblown. And in fact, he said we're not getting credit for pushing deals away.

Let's listen to his tone.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: There is the opportunity to close some deals that we're not able to do that don't get discussed. When people talk about it these days, it's profiteering from the presidency and all this nonsense. Wait a minute, I can't do deals, I've spent over a decade creating relationships to now where we have five incredible deals that are all active and we could do so many more, and we're not doing those. But no one wants to talk about those kind of deals.


DEFTERIOS: Donald Trump Jr. referring to the fact in 2016 they made a promise not to build out any more international projects, just living with what's on the table. After having a very high-profile rollout with ads in national papers saying that Donald Trump Jr. has arrived, have you, they're downplaying it, the organizers. They're not telling us, for example, what the machines are in the financial capital -- what the plans are in the financial capital of Mumbai. He's going to be coming back to the capital on Friday.

He says he's speaking as a businessman, but in front of the prime minister of India under the title of increasing or improving Indo- Pacific ties. It does sound like a foreign policy speech, you two. But he's claiming it's all for business.

MARQUARDT: Yes. And the prime minister of India will be also at that speech. So, it clearly has the -- looks like a foreign speech.

Thank you very much, John Defterios, in New Delhi.

DEFTERIOS: Yes, certainly.

ROMANS: All right. Wall Street's winning streak is over. Walmart partly to blame. So are almost 3 percent ten-year note yields. That hasn't happened in years.

We're going to check on CNNMoney next.


[04:54:24] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.

Skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn brings home the bronze. It will sadly likely be her final Olympic downhill run.

ROMANS: Oh, and the tears were flowing. Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang.

Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Alex.

There was near silence from the Americans that were there at the downhill event when she crossed the line and saw the time. They knew how badly she wanted this. Downhill, perhaps her best chance at gold. She already missed out on a medal in the super g.

She cried afterwards because she was talking about how she wanted to win this so badly for her grandfather who fought here in the Korean War, not far from Pyeongchang. [04:55:02] He passed away just a few months ago. She was hoping he'd

be here. But a bronze medal at the Olympics, not bad. At 33 years old, that means that Vonn is the oldest woman ever to medal in Olympic alpine skiing. She has one more shot at a medal in the alpine combined later tonight.

All right. What happened to the American women in the short program of figure skating? They couldn't put together a clean routine. Mirai Nagasu and Bradie Tennell both fell. Now, Tennell hadn't fallen all season. She even said afterwards that she couldn't remember the last time she fell. Karen Chen had to put a hand out to keep from falling. The U.S. sitting at 9th, 10th, and 11th place heading in to the free skate on Thursday.

More disappointment for Team USA. For the second straight Olympics, men's hockey will not meddle. It was close going into the shootouts against the Czech Republic. The Americans eliminated from the tournament in a 3-2 heartbreaker.

All right. Good news now, the 17-year-old freckle-faced sensation is back. Red Gerard qualified for the snowboarding big air competition and he could become the second youngest man in history to win two Olympic gold medals. He shocked the world and himself when he took the slope-style competition. There was a break during events, so he flew back to the U.S. to do a media tour.

And, Christine, Alex, he went coast to coast. He said he was on board with flying halfway around the world and coming back because he'd rack up a lot of airline miles. The final is on Friday night in the states. And it will be must-see TV. It is a new competition here in Olympic Games. And these athletes go big.

ROMANS: Yes. They do.

All right. Coy, thank you. Nice to see you this morning.

WIRE: Thank you very much, Coy.

ROMANS: All right. A high-speed car chase in Los Angeles took a bizarre turn overnight. Police say the driver of a stolen truck tried to make his getaway. He slammed into a taxi, kept trying to avoid police.

Watch this video from the chopper. The car actually followed the rails of a commuter train line on street level. That's when the car just disappears and ended up in the train tunnel. Local train service was suspended. The LAPD managed to track down the driver who they think was the driver and a passenger.

Let's get a check on CNNMoney this morning. Wall Street's six-day winning streak is over and the drop could continue today. Right now, global stocks and U.S. futures are lower. Both the Dow and S&P 500 fell yesterday. The Dow dragged lower by Walmart's worst day in 30 years. Walmart's stock fell 10 percent on disappointing online sales. That weighed on stocks, as did bond prices. This week, the government auctioning off debt to help pay for tax cuts

and increased spending. That sent yields, bond yields, to a near four-year high.

3M will pay $850 million to settle claims it contaminated water in Minnesota for five decades. 3M is based in St. Paul. Minnesota's attorney general alleges it polluted water in the twin cities, dumping chemicals used to make Scotchgard from 1950 -- 1950 -- to the early 2000s. Officials say 3M should have known it posed a risk to the environment and residents' health. 3M says it will work with the state but does not believe there is a related risk to the public.

The co-founder of Guess stepping down amid harassment claims from supermodel Kate Upton. Paul Marciano will give up the day-to-day responsibilities during this investigation. Upton says Marciano verbally harassed her, touched her very inappropriately, groped her after a photo shoot in 2007.

Marciano denies the accusation. But the allegations are costing his business. Guess' stock has dropped 20 percent since Upton first spoke out. Wow.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Some powerful allegations there.


MARQUARDT: EARLY START continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are here to ask yes or no questions -- are you for or are you against the killing of students? It's a yes or no question. There is no in between. There's no gray area. It's a black-and-white statement.


MARQUARDT: Florida students take their gun message to the state capitol this morning, a day after the Republican-led state house voted against new restrictions. Now, the president is weighing in but without a concrete plan.

ROMANS: New report this morning says Jared Kushner is resisting changes to his security clearance. He thinks John Kelly is targeting him with new changes.

MARQUARDT: And a new breaking point for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Hundreds killed in the latest regime shelling, leaving the U.N. literally at a loss for words.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: Nice to have you here today.

MARQUARDT: Great to be back with you.

ROMANS: Dave Briggs is on vacation.

I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, February 21st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the east, exactly here, noon in Damascus, 7:00 p.m. in Pyeongchang.

In just a few hours, students from Stoneman Douglas High School will lobby lawmakers in Tallahassee to tighten Florida's gun laws. Activists and Parkland students and teachers will rally on the state capitol. The students are already getting a quick lesson that demanding change is easier that persuading someone to vote for it.