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EARLY START

Long Time Trump Aide Hope Hicks Resigns; NYT: Kushner Companies Took Big Loans; Trump Stuns GOP Lawmakers On Guns; President Putin Rattles Nuclear Saber. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:31:16] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: If she stepped down it should be only a short time before he does, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, maybe not hyperbolic.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Let me know because --

ROMANS: Forty-eight hours of chaos at the White House punctuated by this. Hope Hicks is stepping down, leaving the president without one of his most trusted aides.

BRIGGS: Now pressure is ramping up on Jared Kushner, the first son- in-law. A new report says big loans with his family business after he met with those lenders at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the guns first, go through due process second.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Take the guns first, go through due process second. That really happened.

President Trump leaving Republicans and the NRA shocked. He appeared to back Democratic-favored gun measures, even to the left of the Democrat's gun measures. Now, several big companies are taking the lead on gun violence.

That was -- they were talking about mentally ill people and -- he was talking about --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: -- talking about mentally ill people and taking the guns away before the system proves them mentally ill.

BRIGGS: Right -- due process. That's -- ROMANS: Exactly.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: Can you imagine if Barack Obama had said that or Hillary Clinton or --

BRIGGS: Any president ever --

ROMANS: -- anybody?

BRIGGS: -- said that.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. We are stunned. Five thirty-two eastern time.

We start with the president who, of course, values loyalty above all, is now without arguably his most loyal aide. White House communications director Hope Hicks is resigning. The longtime Trump staffer said to depart in the coming weeks.

The decision comes just a day after Hicks admitted she told what she called "white lies" to protect the president.

ROMANS: A White House official says there is quote, "nothing nefarious about Hicks leaving."

The president calling her outstanding, a great person who he will miss.

An ally close to the president tells CNN the president had berated Hicks after her testimony to Congress on Tuesday.

A tearful Hicks announced her departure to the White House communications team, saying she felt like now is the right time to go.

BRIGGS: One of Hicks' close confidants tells us quote, "The last few weeks were really, really hard for her." The friend says Hicks starting thinking seriously about resigning when the Rob Porter spousal abuse scandal erupted. Hicks and Porter were romantically involved.

ROMANS: For those keeping score, that is four White House communications directors, plus one who took the job but never served, in just over a year.

BRIGGS: The average for that position, 580 days.

Another damaging report this morning concerning Jared Kushner. "The New York Times" reporting his family's real estate business secured substantial loans after Kushner held meetings at the White House with the lenders.

Those loans including one for $184 million from Apollo Global Management, after the company founder went to the White House to discuss infrastructure.

ROMANS: Another loan for $325 million from Citigroup came shortly after a White House meeting between Kushner and Citigroup's CEO.

Kushner stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Companies when he started at the White House but the "Times" reports he has retained a vast majority of his interest in the firm.

Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told the "Times" he has taken no part of any Kushner Company business since he joined the White House.

BRIGGS: The battle lines between Jared Kushner and Chief of Staff John Kelly appear to be even more entrenched after Kushner's security clearance was downgraded. The source says Kushner remains exasperated by Kelly's decision, openly asking others in the West Wing why is Kelly doing this and feeling that everyone is out to get him.

Now, "The Wall Street Journal" questioning whether Kushner and first daughter Ivanka Trump should have positions in the White House at all.

ROMANS: The "Journal," on its typically conservative editorial page, is suggesting they could serve the president better from the outside.

"Mr. Trump's second year could determine his presidential fate as Mr. Mueller's probe rolls on and midterm elections give Democrats a chance to take the House and impeach him. Mr. Trump needs the discipline that Mr. Kelly has imposed. Mr. Kushner and Ivanka have to decide if they'd serve themselves and the president better by walking away from their formal White House roles."

[05:35:06] That is the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal".

BRIGGS: All right.

The monumental task of describing what happened in the last 24-48 hours falls on Tal Kopan's shoulders. Good luck to you, Tal.

Let's start though with Hope Hicks. Most of America has probably never heard of the communications director but that does not describe how valuable she is to President Trump, how long she's been there.

How big a loss is this and how will we know?

TAL KOPAN, REPORTER, "CNN POLITICS": Well, it's certainly a tremendous loss when you talk about the sort of emotional loyalty connected -- you know, sort of people around the president. Hope Hicks has been with him since the very beginning of his campaign.

There's almost no one else, even in the country but certainly in the White House, that has had that kind of longevity with him besides his own children. And so, you have seen reports of almost a father- daughter relationship between the two.

Certainly, when you talk about communications director you'd think her focus was communications strategy, but she really was a Trump gatekeeper. She was at his side. There were reports she was always the last one to walk him to the residence at night so she has certainly been right there with the president.

And it will be interesting to watch what the effects of her departure are in terms of what we see coming out of the White House and who they bring in to replace her, and whether there's anyone in the White House who can fill that -- all those gaps that will be created.

ROMANS: She was really a gatekeeper with reports, too --

KOPAN: Yes.

ROMANS: -- of the president and his -- the president is his own communications strategy --

BRIGGS: Sure.

KOPAN: Right.

ROMANS: -- really. She was the one who helped him execute that. I mean, she could be beyond all of the -- we just showed some video of people who are also not there anymore -- but Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer --

KOPAN: Right.

ROMANS: -- and Reince Priebus and others.

She was Donald Trump's direct connection --

KOPAN: Right.

ROMANS: -- to the media -- around them.

Let's talk about Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. You know, this -- the president's running the White House like a family business -- he really is -- and he said he was going to do that, you know? He said he was going to drain the swamp and do it his way.

But the pressure on Kushner is pretty significant here and now you've got this new reporting this morning. The Kushner meeting with the CEOs of companies and then his family's business then is getting loans.

KOPAN: Yes.

ROMANS: Is this sustainable?

KOPAN: It's hard to say whether it's sustainable, Christine. And certainly, this comes on heels of the reports of how he couldn't maintain his security clearance and had to be downgraded, which cuts him off from a substantial amount of intelligence that diminishes his ability to be at Trump's right hand on a lot of issues.

And, he sort of came in and was supposed to be a fix-it guy who was going to take on everything from Middle East peace to I.T and the federal government and we'll have to see how much of that -- sort of, mister everything he can maintain. But then, there's the question of sort of the interpersonal relationships in the White House and the feuding between Chief of Staff John Kelly and Jared Kushner and whether they trust each other.

It's hard to say whether it's sustainable but keep in mind ethics officials say it's not just about whether there's impropriety, it's whether there's the appearance of impropriety. And it certainly -- even if these loans had nothing to do with those meetings it doesn't look good for the administration -- for the government to have that kind of connection between a White House official and that much -- hundreds of millions of dollars moving to a private company.

BRIGGS: Yes. Questions have always been asked about the north a billion-dollar loan they have out on 666 Fifth Avenue and how that will impact Kushner and the White House.

KOPAN: Yes.

BRIGGS: But when it comes to Kushner and Hicks we always say that the president values loyalty.

KOPAN: Yes.

BRIGGS: How much he offers it is another question because Jeff Sessions is under attack yet again. Sessions was pretty much the first senator to come out and support this president as a candidate -- give him conservative credentials.

Well, Trump hits him again on Twitter. "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the inspector general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey."

It goes on and on and then finishes with that doozy in all caps, calling him "DISGRACEFUL."

A couple of questions here. How does the guy that 24 hours earlier said he would run into a school shooting without a gun, not have the -- whatever you want -- the bravery to just fire a guy, and how does this dysfunctional relationship continue?

KOPAN: Well, it certainly seems untenable but I also feel like we've been having this conversation --

ROMANS: Yes.

KOPAN: -- periodically since June-July --

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOPAN: -- when it really felt untenable then and both of them sort of toughed it out and didn't want to be the one to blink.

And, you know, one of the things that's really fascinating to me about this is you talk about sort of the palace intrigue of Trump being mad at Jeff Sessions, but it sort of actually is hiding what may be arguably a much more serious issue which is that the President of the United States repeatedly is trying to direct his Justice Department's investigatory resources.

[05:40:00] And, you know, you talk about the attorney general. The attorney general -- historically, that role has been to make sure the Justice Department is independent.

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOPAN: The American democratic system requires that the Justice Department is above politics in its investigations and that is why there are guidelines and there are rules about what the White House can and cannot --

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: -- and what the president can and cannot direct.

And so, yes, this is him attacking Jeff Sessions again, but the reason you saw Jeff Sessions fire back is that it's also him trying to say what the Justice Department should investigate and how. And that is a growing concern as well in terms of the relationship between the Justice Department --

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOPAN: -- and the White House.

BRIGGS: Weaponizing the DOJ --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- problematic, to say the least.

ROMANS: Let's talk about weapons, by the way, because the president, yesterday, with his extraordinary meeting -- bipartisan meeting on guns where he talked about the mentally ill and how he says the mentally ill should be stripped of their guns -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Take the firearms first and then go to court because that's another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court -- it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures and you could exactly what you're saying. But take the guns first, go through due process second.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This is how the "Daily News" puts it. They don't love Donald Trump over at the --

BRIGGS: Yes, not so much.

ROMANS: -- "Daily News." His hometown tabloid there.

Tal, oh my gosh, if a Democratic candidate said that there would be they're taking our guns. This is against the constitution.

KOPAN: Yes, basically. I mean, you know, it's astonishing to have a politician -- not just a politician but an actual officeholder suggest removing due process when it comes to taking away guns. And certainly, this has always been the sort of conspiratorial attack from the right-wing.

ROMANS: Was he just talking tough? I mean, he's just talking tough. You know, the president likes to be --

KOPAN: Yes.

ROMANS: -- tough and say we're just going to do it.

You know, you heard him talk about --

BRIGGS: Or is it just theater?

ROMANS: -- when you arrest somebody you put the suspect in the -- you know, in the car.

KOPAN: Well, and --

ROMANS: He goes, you know, you don't have to be too easy on them.

KOPAN: Yes.

ROMANS: You know, this is how he talks.

KOPAN: Yes, and he's not a big fan of due process in general. I mean, you know, there are a number of ways he sort of chased at the notion of this sort of court procedures as he references. It's not just in this instance. I mean, he's apparently reportedly talking about being much, much tougher, including perhaps executing drug dealers.

So, it's not -- it's sort of consistent with that thread from the president in terms of being all frustrated with some of the democratic --

ROMANS: Yes.

KOPAN: -- processes that this country has.

But, you know, it was always this notion surrounding Trump and the campaign that some said well, he's the one who can break down the walls of the partisan politics and go places that no other politician could go. Certainly, this is one instance where he said something no other politician would.

The follow-through is always --

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOPAN: -- the big question here.

ROMANS: Right, true.

BRIGGS: Right -- deja vu. Is this Tuesday-Thursday --

KOPAN: Right.

BRIGGS: -- Trump, like we saw on immigration?

KOPAN: Right.

BRIGGS: Was this just political theater?

ROMANS: All right, Tal.

BRIGGS: We shall see.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

KOPAN: Thanks a lot.

ROMANS: OK, to -- the nation's leading gun sellers are limiting sales. Walmart will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21. Recent events inspired that change, they say, adding that it's a heritage that has been serving sportsmen and hunters and it will continue to do so in a responsible way.

You know, this announcement came just hours after Dick's Sporting Goods raised its age to 21 -- its minimum age to 21. And, Dick's will also stop selling those modern sporting rifles -- those AR-15-type weapons that seem to -- I don't know. They inspire something in some of these deranged kids. That the gun that was used in the Parkland school shooting.

Since then, students and consumers have pressured companies to cut ties with the gun industry, forcing many brands off the sidelines.

Here's the Dick's CEO yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARD W. STACK, CEO, DICK'S SPORTING GOODS: We concluded that if these kids are brave enough to organize and do what they're doing, then we should be brave enough to take this stand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You know, he said -- it was so interesting. He said he didn't want his business to part of this story.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: he didn't want to read about a school shooting or a mass murder and hear that the gun had been purchased -- or the shooter had bought something at Dick's.

More than a dozen businesses have cut NRA ties. Corporate activism can be good for business which has some questioning the motives. Consumers love companies that take a stand, especially young consumers.

And as this "New York Times" op-ed says, "People may prefer that their brands prove this love by identifying which favored social causes rather than through the old-fashioned expedient of paying their workers a little bit more money."

There's always a cynic who is going to find a way to say they're not going to do this unless it's good for them. Maybe in the near-term, you lose some customers --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: -- but in the longer-term, they think they're on the right side of history.

BRIGGS: And, Stack reminds gun owners he is a gun owner --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- and he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

ROMANS: You know, I'll saying something else on Walmart. Walmart also will no longer sell toy guns or those airsoft -- those non-lethal airsoft rifles that are really popular among kids who -- you know, B.B. guns that you can go out and play soldier -- play Army in the woods. They're not going to sell those for kids, either.

BRIGGS: All right, some big stance.

[05:45:00] Vladimir Putin giving his annual address to lawmakers and he's making some claims about missiles and nuclear warheads. That should startle you. We're live in Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: In an abrupt shift, all public schools will remain closed in West Virginia today. Governor Jim Justice said union leaders had announced a deal to end the teachers' strike there. The deal had been subject to approval by legislators but thousands of school employees and their supporters returned to the Capitol demanding immediate action on health insurance and a proposed pay increase.

Today, then, marks the sixth day of the walkout.

BRIGGS: Dalton High School in northern Georgia closed today after a teacher barricaded himself in a classroom and fired a gun out a window. Randal Davidson charged with aggravated assault and terrorist threats.

[05:50:03] Police say the 53-year-old social studies teacher refused to let students into his classroom and when the principal tried to enter with a key, Davidson fired a handgun, sending the school into lockdown. The teacher eventually surrendered.

No one was injured except for a female student who injured an ankle while running. ROMANS: Jury selection begins today in Orlando for the trial of Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. Prosecutors allege Salman knew -- she knew about her husband's plans for the 2016 attack that killed 49 people and wounded dozens more. She is charged with obstruction of justice and providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Mateen had declared his allegiance to ISIS.

The trial will take place just two miles from the Pulse nightclub.

BRIGGS: All right. After another down day on Wall Street, a fitting end for its worst month in two years.

ROMANS: A raging February.

BRIGGS: Romans with "CNN Money," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:22] BRIGGS: Five fifty-five eastern time.

Right now, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering his annual address to lawmakers and making some bold claims about Russia's nuclear and missile capabilities.

Matthew Chance live in Moscow with the latest. Good morning, Matthew. What's he saying?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Well, it started off as quite a pedestrian kind of speech to the Federation Council, which is the upper house of the -- of the Russian Parliament where Putin was talking about the economy and stability and what needs to be done to improve economic growth.

But then, the mood of the speech changed quite dramatically and Vladimir Putin started talking about the military prowess of Russia. And he spoke of how the country is developing missiles -- or has developed missiles that no other country possesses. And he went on to list the kind of weaponry that the country has come up with and successfully tested, apparently, in the past several months.

He said that they've developed a supersonic or a hypersonic weapon which cannot be tracked by anti-missile systems and cannot be countered by them.

So this is a new super-fast missile that they -- that Vladimir Putin says is not operational essentially. It has been tested successfully. But it's so fast that the U.S. anti-missile shield, which has been deployed around the world and around Eastern Europe, in particular, will not be able to intercept it in any way.

He also spoke about another kind of missile called the dagger missile which was so maneuverable that the anti-missile defense system from the United States and from NATO would also not be able to counter that as well. He said that these weapons were like meteorites, they were so quick.

And so, that's a worrying development, I suppose, from the western point of view when you see Russia sort of countering the U.S. and western defenses in this -- in this way.

BRIGGS: The president receives his intelligence briefing at 10:00 a.m. You would think that would be a part of it.

Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Global stocks falling overnight after another down day on Wall Street. The Dow lost 380 points or 1.5 percent. The S&P lost a little more than one percent.

A fitting end for stocks' worst month in two years. February was a wild month on Wall Street. Inflation fears sparked a market sell-off. Two 1,000-point plunges for the Dow in one week, followed by its best week ever in five years so, wow.

Inflation worries are here to stay. The concern, to combat inflation the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates faster than planned.

Spotify is going public but its IPO is not like others. Spotify plans to have a direct listing, meaning it will sell shares directly to you, the investor.

It won't hire a big Wall Street bank to underwrite the stock offering and that will save Spotify hundreds of millions of dollars in investment banking fees. But, underwriters provide price stability for a new stock, right, so Spotify is warning people it may have a volatile start.

Spotify is the biggest music streaming company in the world with 159 million monthly users worldwide.

Hashtag TimessUp for the gender pay gap, maybe -- at least in some workplaces it could be. According to a recent survey, 48 percent -- almost half the companies are reviewing, right now, their pay policies to close the pay gap between men and women. The survey was inspired by the MeToo movement and the call for women's equality in the workplace.

On average, women earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The gap is even wider for women of color.

And now, companies -- I also there's some selfish motives here, too. A very tight labor market. There is a war on for qualified workers.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: You want to make sure these companies want to make sure that they have a level playing field for men and women and so they can keep those great women workers.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" has it covered -- three hours. They'll have Joe Manchin reacting to the gun news from the president and Anthony Scaramucci "The Mooch" on Hope Hicks' departure.

See you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president said he's going to go into a tailspin without her around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we've seen from the very beginning of this administration is nothing but chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think she was forced out. There's a shelf life working in the West Wing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're seeing Jared Kushner meeting with executives in the White House and then, the companies are giving very sizable mortgages to his company.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whose business is he doing when he's in the White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jared Kushner simply cannot continue in his present role.

TRUMP: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. If you add conceal carry to this you'll never get it passed.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Mr. President, it's going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, March first, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line." Chaos in President Trump's West Wing.