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EARLY START

Trump's Muddled Message on Guns; White House Silent on Interim Security Clearances; Ivanka's South Korean Trip Sparks Tension; Hope for Calm in Syria. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:48] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. We have it fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: He calls them patriots. The president says he is willing to fight the NRA, but after hearing from the NRA and having a meal this weekend with the lobby, the White House appears to be backing off a proposal to raise minimum age on guns.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Does the first son-in-law Jared Kushner have access to classified information? The White House won't say even after the deadline to deal with clearance has come and gone.

ROMANS: And a pause in fighting in Syria ordered by the Russian president. Why is it Vladimir Putin's call? And is the peace -- fragile peace holding on the ground there?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Four-thirty-one Eastern Time. Good to be in the chair. Good morning to everyone.

Lawmakers and the nation waiting for clarity from the president on guns, well, they're still waiting. The president mentioning a few possibilities when he spoke to governors Monday at the White House. He was firm on the issue of bump stocks.

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TRUMP: By the way, bump stocks, we're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself, OK?

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BRIGGS: President Trump also told lawmakers he is willing to stand up to the NRA and they should be too.

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TRUMP: Don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what, if they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Despite that, the White House now appears to be backing away from the president's earlier call to raise the age requirement from buying some weapons to 21.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to raise the age of --

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: They did not bring up the age raising one time in that meeting. And again, the president is listening to the stakeholders here, the governors at the local levels. When they don't bring it up, that's very telling to him.

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ROMANS: Listening to the stake holders, one of the biggest stakeholders, the NRA, with the president's ear here. The president suggested raising the age last week before sitting down with those NRA leaders over the weekend.

BRIGGS: The president is standing by his proposal to arm teachers. At least the ones he says can handle it.

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TRUMP: I don't want teachers to have guns. I want highly trained people that have a natural talent like hitting a baseball or hitting a golf ball or putting. How come some people always make a four-footer and some people under pressure can't even take their club back, right? Some people can't take their club back.

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BRIGGS: The rare golf/guns analogy. The president did renew his push for stronger background checks, but lamented the lack of better options for dealing with mentally ill.

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TRUMP: We're going to have to start talking about mental institutions, because a lot of the folks in this room closed their mental institutions also. So, we have no halfway. We have nothing between a prison and leaving him at his house which we can't do anymore.

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ROMANS: The president made a bold claim when he discussed a sheriff deputy who waited to enter Stoneman Douglas High School while the mass shooting was under way.

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TRUMP: You know, I really believe you don't know until you are tested. But I think I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon. I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: CNN's Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to clarify.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was stating as a leader, he would have stepped in and help the number of the individuals that were in the school, the coach and other adults. And even a lot of the students stepped up to protect other students.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is he trained in firing a weapon? Is he trained in using a handgun or firearm of some sort?

SANDERS: I don't think that was the point he was making. He was saying that he would be a leader and would want to take a courageous action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump's suggestion of arming teachers is troubling many officials, including Washington State's Democratic Governor Jay Inslee.

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GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes.

[04:35:02] Now, I understand you have suggested this and we suggest things and sometimes we listen to people about it and maybe they don't look so good a little later. So, I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here and more listening and let's take that off the table and move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Some good split screen action.

It is not only Democrats who have concerns. For more, our Jeff Zeleny reports from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump is said to be with Republican lawmakers today at the White House from the Senate and the House of Representatives. Of course, one key topic on the agenda today is gun policy. The president has been talking about that for days here at the White House, of course, holding a listening session last week, meeting with the nation's governors here on Monday, talking specifically about gun policy.

And, of course, he's talked a lot about arming school teachers. He believes that is a deterrent and way to keep people safe. One Republican governor, Florida Governor Rick Scott who was visiting the White House on Monday said he disagrees with his president's proposal.

Governor, you believe arming school teachers is not the way to go. Why?

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I believe you should make sure you have law enforcement. I'm going to work with my legislature. We're going to make sure there is significant law enforcement presence in all the schools. So, law enforcement is going to protect the schools, along with hardening, rather than having teachers. I want the teachers to teach.

ZELENY: Now, the White House is clear they have been in favor of many potential issues. They are just putting ideas on the table for discussion. But it does seem like the idea of arming teachers certainly is taking up the majority of the president's time. There is criticism of that idea on both sides. Of course, the NRA does support that plan.

On Wednesday here at the White House, a bipartisan meeting of legislators, specifically on guns. This suddenly is a priority for the White House and president -- Christine and Dave.

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ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

An overwhelming majority of Americans say they want tougher gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting. But there's not much movement on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana repeating a line he has used before, insisting we need quote idiot control more than gun control.

BRIGGS: Even modest proposals ran into roadblocks on Monday, including a plan to tighten reporting to the nation's gun background check system. House and Senate Republicans will hold closed door meetings today, simply enforcing current background check is not enough for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat says stopping there would be a, quote, dereliction of duty.

ROMANS: The sheriff's deputy who stayed outside Stoneman Douglas High School says the investigation will ultimately cleared him. Scot Peterson resigned after the shooting. He was armed but never entered the building. Listen to what president said about him and other deputies whose

actions are now under scrutiny.

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TRUMP: I got to watch some deputy sheriffs performing this weekend. They were not exactly Medal of Honor winners. The way they performed was, frankly, disgusting.

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BRIGGS: The attorney for Scot Peterson insists attacks against the former officer's character were unwarranted. He says, quote, the allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance under the circumstances failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue. Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate.

ROMANS: He has a detailed explanation of why he was outside of the building. He said he was the first to call for the code red lockdown and that he was the one who let the sheriff's -- called Broward County -- anyway. So, he's got a detailed explanation.

BRIGGS: Sure. I'm quite certain the 17 families would not call his actions appropriate on that day.

ROMANS: Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. Melania Trump says she is encouraged by students nationwide speaking up after the shooting in Florida. The first lady making a rare public appearance, addressing spouses of the nation's governors, and she urged them to help America's young people find their voice.

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MELANIA TRUMP, U.S. FIRST LADY: It is important that as adults, we take the lead and the responsibility in helping our children, manage the many issues they are facing today. This means encouraging positive habits with social media and technology, even limiting time online and understanding the content they are exposed to on a daily basis.

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ROMANS: The public comments from the first lady were the first since intense scrutiny of her marriage began. Her first actually this year, first public comments this year, and since there was scrutiny over his husband's alleged affairs.

BRIGGS: The White House is refusing to say whether any interim security clearances were revoked last week. Earlier this month, Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered a stop to all interim clearances pending since June 1st, including first son-in-law Jared Kushner. That deadline passed on Friday. So, did anyone get their interim clearance revoked?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: As we said many times before, we're not going to discuss individual clearances.

[04:40:01] That goes to a broader number or an individual number. So, I'm not going to get into that today just as I haven't in the past.

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BRIGGS: Kelly ordered the revocation of all interim security clearances and fallout from the Rob Porter scandal. Former White House aide served for one year under temporary clearance despite domestic abuse allegations against him and several warnings thereof.

ROMANS: All right. CNN has learned President Trump plans to go to the U.S.-Mexico border next month to look at the prototypes for a border wall. Sources say it would be in the San Diego area, as part of his first trip to California as president. The president has not been there since taking office. Vice President Pence did make a lucrative fundraising swing through California in October.

BRIGGS: A Supreme Court decision easing the pressure on Congress to act quickly on Dreamers. The Trump administration had appealed a lower court order to keep the DACA program going. On Monday, the high court declined to hear that appeal. Originally, President Trump had terminated DACA, allowing a sixth-month grace period ending March 5th for anyone with expiring status to renew. The decision by the justices gives lawmakers more time to come up with a permanent solution for DACA and is roughly 700,000 participants.

ROMANS: Right. It has been six months since Equifax has breached affected 145 million Americans. But most still are not checking their credit reports. A recent survey half of U.S. adults have not checked their credit report or score since that hack. Through Equifax, criminals accessed Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses. They can use that data to open up new credit cards of take out loans, folks, with your information.

That's why checking your credit score and report should be part of your routine. Several credit card companies include credit scores on their monthly statements. If you see an unexplained drop, it could be a red flag. But your credit report is the best insight into fraud.

How can you get one? You can request a credit report from each bureau for free once a year. There are three big credit bureaus. So, experts recommend checking every four months. You can order yours on this Website, annualcreditreport.com. I was surprised more people were not freaked out about that breach.

BRIGGS: I think not enough people do what you just instructed, including myself.

ROMANS: Once you find out soembody's got a loan, once you find, you know, some of the things that happen to people. For example, getting another mortgage on your house, how would you like to go and try to sell your house and find somebody else has taken money out? That happens. BRIGGS: Terrifying.

All right. Ahead, the decision to send Ivanka Trump to the Olympic closing ceremonies is not going over well with some inside the White House, including the chief of staff. We're live in Seoul next.

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[04:46:48] ROMANS: The decision to send Ivanka Trump to South Korea for the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games is not sitting well with some senior officials in the West Wing. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Chief of Staff John Kelly was not enthusiastic about sending the president's daughter, that's because the tensions over North Korea looming, the stakes were considered far higher and far more complex than a typical closing ceremony.

And overnight, we learned a key figure in the relationship between the U.S. and Pyongyang is leaving his post, a seasoned diplomat is retiring.

Let's go to Seoul and get the very latest from CNN's Ivan Watson.

Hi, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. That's right. This diplomat's name is Joseph Yun. He's the specialist representative dealing with North Korea and former ambassador and more than 30 years with the State Department. He says it is his choice to step down. The State Department put out a message saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regretfully accepted Mr. Yun's resignation letter, and also stressed that the U.S. government would continue its, quote, maximum pressure campaign to isolate North Korea.

Now, Some of his former colleagues, other veteran diplomats are lamenting, saying that Joseph Yun was one of the best of the best, somebody with vast experience in Asia and with North Korea. Last year, he had the delicate and ultimately tragic assignment of going to Pyongyang to retrieve the university student Otto Warmbier who then turned out to be essentially dying in a coma. And the loss of the man at a time when diplomacy is so important because the stakes are so high on the Korean peninsula is something again that some colleagues are lamenting special since to this day the U.S. still has no ambassador stationed here in Seoul -- Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: Suggesting that he is retiring because he's at odds with the White House on policy or anything?

WATSON: Again, he stressed to CNN, no, this is entirely his own decision. But it's another example of experienced people stepping out and also it kind of highlights the empty positions that continue to exist at top positions in the State Department and embassies around the world.

ROMANS: Important context. All right. Ivan Watson for us in Seoul, thank you. BRIGGS: Meanwhile, the White House demanding the Syrian government

honored the U.N. declared cease-fire and stop bombing the rebel-held areas so humanitarian aid can get through. The call comes amid reports of chemical attacks being launched against terrorize civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering a daily five- hour pause in hostilities in the battered Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. It runs from 2:00 to 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Sam Kiley monitoring the latest for us live from Istanbul.

Sam, is the piece holding? And why does Vladimir Putin get the call the shots here?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, the peace is not holding, although the level of violence has gone down. But there are reports of artillery attacks, of multiple rocket launching system attacks. But no serious air attacks.

[04:50:01] So, I suppose one could be thankful for small mercies there that Ghouta could be thankful for that mercy. But mercy it most certainly isn't. It's a five-hour period in which the Russians have exercised considerable influence over the Damascus regime to ask for humanitarian pause. The Russians are saying the Syrians will open up a humanitarian corridor to get patients out and get people evacuated into hospitals in Damascus. That hasn't happened. There continues to be skirmishing along the front lines.

And, Dave, as to your point about how come it's the Russians that are calling the shots here, well, they own all of the military equipment. Without the Russians, the Syrian regime would have fallen two years ago. It was the arrival of a particularly Russian air defenses that prevented the further collapse of Damascus.

ROMANS: All right. Sam Kiley, thank you so much for that, in Istanbul this morning. Thank you, sir.

"Black Panther" raking in bucks at the box office. Now, Disney is giving a cut to children. Details on CNNMoney next.

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[04:55:30] ROMANS: The search is on for a killer who shot a North Carolina man as he was broadcasting on Facebook live. A warning here. Some of you might find this video disturbing.

The 55-year-old Prentis Robinson was killed in Wingate, about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte. The video shows him using a selfie stick and approached by a man asking him, are you on live before shots are fired. This happened about a block from the police station after Robinson went to report a crime. CNN affiliate WSOC says Douglas Colson has been identified as the suspect. The incident once again raising questions about violent content on Facebook Live.

More than 200 rivers near flood stage this morning from Texas to the Great Lakes and more rain is headed to these hard hit areas.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest.

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PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Dave and Christine, another soggy set up here really to wrap up the month of February. You take a look, additional round of wet weather right along the Gulf Coast. The ingredients in place here to not only draw some both moisture potentially cap into a little bit of pacific moisture, but unfortunately, the areas of East Texas, parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, really the regions that were hit in the last couple days in particular, Little Rock, point south is Shreveport, that's where we have the additional flood watches in place this morning for another round of heavy rainfall.

And you look at the gauges, all over the place, really from the Gulf Coast to areas of the Great Lakes, over 200 gauging reporting flooding. With the additional rainfall and notice some amounts are high, four to six inches, maybe locally higher amounts in northern Alabama and Mississippi as well. So, if we're going to watch that carefully for additional flooding concerns through the next couple of days. But how about these temperatures?

Upper 70s and almost 80 out of New Orleans. In Jacksonville, closing in on 80 degrees, double nickel out of New York City and looking at 60 degrees here to wrap up the last few days of February around in Chicago -- guys.

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ROMANS: All right. We'll take it. Thanks, Pedram.

Let's get a check on CNNMoney this morning. Right now, U.S. futures are lower, but, boy, global stocks having a great performance following by the tone set by Wall Street. Big rally for U.S. stocks yesterday. The Dow up almost 400 points.

For now, investors stop worrying about rising rates. Every day I've been telling you, it is an extra rate game. Cool a bit. Stocks rally. The tiniest news about rates can move stocks.

We may get more today. New Fed Chief Jerome Powell will testify before Congress. Apple stock jumped 2 percent to near an all-time high. Warren Buffett said his company bought more Apple shares this year than any other.

And big tech moves markets. In fact, three tech titans have fueled the S&P 500's rise this year. Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix. And for the record, Dow has clawed back from the losses this month.

To home sales now, new home sales hit a five-month low in January, falling for the second month in a row. New home sales are a small slice of home sales. But sales of existing homes dropped in January, the sharpest annual drop in three years.

Something is cooling in the housing market here. Home buyers already face low supply and rising prices. That is sideling many first time home buyers. And economists worry two things will slow housing demand this year, rising mortgage rates, they're near a four-year high and the new tax bill, it caps mortgage interest deduction.

"Black Panther" is raking in big bucks to the box office, hitting $700 million worldwide. Now, Disney is giving a cut back to children. It will donate $1 million of its profits to the Boys and Girls Club of America. The money will support its STEM programs for kids and teens, that's science, technology, engineering and math.

In a statement, Disney CEO Bob Iger said it was thrilling to see how inspired young audiences were by the spectacular technology in that film. Really, and it's just raking in the dough off that film.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. We have it fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President says he is willing to fight the NRA, but after hearing from the lobby, the White House appears to back off a proposal to raise the minimum age on guns.

BRIGGS: (INAUDIBLE) classified information. The White House won't say after the deadline to deal with clearance has come and gone.

ROMANS: And a pause in fighting right now in Syria ordered by the Russian president. Why is it Vladimir Putin's call and is the peace holding on the ground? Early signs not so great on that.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, February 27th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.